Jesus said, “Give Me a Break”

The Christian Right has once again brought a new level of love and acceptance to shine their light upon the world. Homosexuals are no longer lumped with fornicators and adulterers as the axis of sexual evil in God's eyes. They now stand on a pedestal all their own; homosexuals have now been upgraded to a new genus, Aberrosexuals. We can thank this new categorization to the scholarly publication of world renowned scholar Judy Meissner.

The eye of the beholder

Her article, which is a rant against lesbian economic columnist Suze Orman, has been quoted around the internet, although, for the life of me I have been unable to track down the original publication other than a shout out by Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), on the AFTAH website. Or maybe the shout out was his introduction to article itself.

Her academic credentials are staggering. She lives in LA and contributes to AFTAH, although I couldn’t find anything else she contributed on the web.

But it sure sounds bad, doesn't it? Aberrosexuals. I sure wouldn't want to be caught around one of them.

Here's what I don't get about the aberrophobia of the Christian Right. How do gays get set aside as the most horrific of sexual deviants? I find this categorization baffling considering that Meissner came up with the label just as Ariel Castro was going on trial for the serial abduction and rape of three women in Cleveland. On the scale of sexual aberration, I would have to link that above being gay.

At least gay couples are trying to promote the kinds of family values the Christian Right claims to venerate—marriage, home life, families. They want to settle down when Christians are filing for divorce in record numbers.

I'm not clear why Meissner is upset about homosexuals and not dominance sexuality. I can’t imagine clean cut Christians not going nuts over men and women in leather and chains whipping each other to a frenzy.

Why doesn’t Meissner target the producers of movies like Hostel, which promote the kidnapping, torture and sexual brutalization of women? For that matter, why doesn’t Meissner target the men who kidnap, torture and sexually brutalize women?

Personally, I think they miss the point, as always. Jesus actually enjoyed the company of the very people Meissner and LaBarbera hate with such a passion. Whenever Christians rush to label I find myself remembering, not the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, but of Jesus partyIng with the publicans (not Republicans):

And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5: 29-32)

What the verse probably doesn't mention is that Levi hired several gay decorators and caterers because they do such fabulous jobs with with food and decor. You can't tell me that a party that fabulous didn't have at least one brightly dressed aberrosexual to entertain the audience and liven up the conversation. And, at least by Meissner and LaBarbera's standards, no one needed a call to repentance more than Levi's gay friends.

In short, Jesus told those self-righteous posers, “Give me a break. I came for those who want my help.” And who needs his help? Those who aren't so arrogant, so self-righteous, so convinced they're already good enough to pass judgment on others, that they might actually recognize they need his help.

 

Watchful eyes

Americans everywhere are furious that the Obama administration is tracking American texts and emails, as am I. I find is a curious violation of our civil liberties for a democratic administration, regardless of whether they actually read the content of the messages. I am just as upset that Obama would follow this path as I was that Bush did, and am encouraged that many on the far right are being consistent and supporting him as they supported Bush. On this, they will not compromise their values for the convenience of politics.

I would hope that the rest of the Christian Right supports him because keeping an eye on your brother's sins is a cherished Christian tradition. I was raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), and it was considered our Christian duty to make sure that some one knew when a brother or sister in Christ was “straying from the path.”

This was especially true in my case. Members of my church, especially the deacons, ran to my father to let him know when they saw me hanging around with kids who smoked because that meant I smoked, kids who drank because that meant I drank, and browsed the magazine and book rack at the drug store because that meant I was looking through Playboy magazine.

Actually I did smoke, drink and read Playboy but I picked those habits from older BPK relatives, not from friends. Older relatives whose fathers were Baptist preachers like mine. So my associates were entirely innocent. Something the administration should remember when it uses text messages and emails to track connections and associations.

Whether or not our government has the right to track citizens is a Constitutional question. Whether or not Christians should be snooping on the lives of other Christians is a question of conscience and interpretation. Certainly the tradition I was raised in believed that the best way to keep believers on track was to keep a watchful eye on them. I'm not so certain. In my experience, keeping a watchful eye on others was the best way to avoid reflecting on your own shortcomings.

Is there a time to intervene in the lives of other Christians? The scripture makes it clear that their are times when it may be appropriate to do so, but those times are the exception, not the rule. And it should come with great soul searching, something that in my experience rarely happens. We are all aware of intervention syndrome, where the intervention tends to be more self-serving and more damaging than the behavior it is intended to help.

Yes, if you are aware a friend is breaking the law or putting his family in jeopardy you should call it to his attention. I am not sure the scripture obliges you to call it to anyone else's. Once you have made a Christian aware of his responsibility his duty is to himself, God and his family. Not to you. Nor is it to the body of Christ. This may be hard to accept, but it is nonetheless true.

If he is stealing from the church, tell him, then tell the pastor. You don't need to tell the church.

If his or her behavior is harming the church, it will become obvious and the church will work it out. Trust me, there will be somebody else even more eager than you to shine a light on your brother's or sister's shortcomings.

But first, make very sure you are truly acting out of concern for your brother's well being and not avoiding the need to reflect on your own failings. This is one of the central lessons of the Sermons on the Mount and Plain. Jesus was very clear on this, your heart must be pure before God. Everyone else's is irrelevant.

This is a lesson the government should learn as well. When they start focusing on looking for terrorists hidden among ordinary citizens there is a good chance they are missing the miscreants that passed the screening in Washington.

 

Guns R Us

I had planned on signing off until after the New Year with a message about the season of peace, but a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut put an end to that. Even then, I didn't see the need to post about it until the American Family Association and Mike Huckabee decided to drag God into it.

There could be a reasonable debate about the shootings, but that isn't going to happen. Nonetheless, the discussion should be centered around the nation's gun policy (or lack of it). But, as always happens after this kind of disaster, someone claiming to speak for God wants us to know that God had a hand in the events.

I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise. The idea that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and present every where in the world pervades Christian thought, even though it isn't a Christian idea. The idea originated with Aristotle as a description of an impersonal prime mover. The God of Jesus is powerful, but, more importantly, he is all loving.

In the Jewish and Christian scripture we do see the belief that God's hand is at work in nature. But the view that God controls every event is a reach. Furthermore, the notion that God punishes those who turn their back on him is a common theme, but in the Tanakh he punished nations for their sins. He doesn't single out innocents.

Nonetheless, the Christian Right is back again with two different theories about God's role in the massacre. Bryan Fisher, of the American Family Association, offers the “gentleman's theory,” which claims that God doesn't intrude where he isn't welcome. Since God isn't welcome in public schools, he simply watched from the sideline like any gentleman.

We can thank Mike Huckabee for the more traditional interpretation. God punished those kids because prayer is banned in schools.

Of course, those kids had nothing to do with the decision to ban prayer in schools. Sending a crazed assassin to punish them for the actions of the Supreme Court seems to imply that God has a sick sense of justice or he isn't very competent. Nor is prayer banned from schools, only mandatory public prayer. Nor is God banned, for that matter. Christians believe in a personal God who walks beside every believer at every moment of their day. There is nothing in the Supreme Court decision that forbids that.

In fact, if Jesus walks beside believers, there is nothing the Supreme Court can do to stop him.

I forgot the third theory. Westboro Baptist Church contends the children were murdered because Connecticut embraced gay marriage. In the words of one tweet, the members of Westboro will “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” Another tweet claims, “God sent the shooter in small first taste of coming wrath for fag marriage.”

There is this theory: The gunman is responsible. The people who allowed him access to guns facilitated. Instead of trying to hold God or liberals accountable, hold him accountable first.

If there is any war on Christmas, Christians are conducting it.

Christian group outs Jesus

If they aren't calling him outright gay, then he's guilty of promoting a homosexual agenda. Oh, the American Family Association (AFA) won't come out and say it, but if you follow their latest campaign, it's pretty clear that's what they believe.

No, you think to yourself. How can that be true?

No, the AFA would cry. We would never.

But it's right out there. All you have to do is speak Christian. It was inevitable, really. The Corporate Christian Complex (CCC) has been so busy pushing their anti-liberal agenda they were bound to line Jesus in their sights and Dick Cheney him.

Here's the story. The Southern Poverty Law Center has sponsored Mix It Up day for the last dozen years. The purpose of the event is to bring kids from diverse backgrounds together and encourage mutual understanding. Their cover story is to stop bullying, but the AFA has made it clear that stopping bullying promotes a homosexual agenda.

That's right, stopping bullies makes kids queer.

To show how straight they are, AFA launched a campaign to bully schools into dropping the event. According to the AFA, a campaign against bullying is a campaign to stop young Christians' free speech rights to express their disapproval of homosexual behavior.

Free speech by bullying is a well-established Christian and Constitutional doctrine. It isn't enough for young Christian boys and girls to say, “We think homosexuality is wrong.” They have to be able to torture, humiliate and beat those deviants to a pulp. Christian kids know, more than unenlightened kids, that tolerance is the first stage of homosexual infection.

Of course, if bullied kids turned the tables on Christian kids and tortured, humiliated and beat them to a pulp, Christians would be the first to call it a hate crime. And it would be a hate crime. So those gay kids should just turn the other cheek and take the punishment they deserve.

So where does Jesus come into this? Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek and take their punishment. Jesus told his followers to do unto others as they would have others do to them. And Jesus loved to have mix it up days where prostitutes and gamblers, tax collectors and the faithful would gather at the same table and share.

In fact, Jesus loved mix it up days so much, he wanted everyone to mix it up all the time. And if you speak Christian, you know those are sure signs of someone who promotes a homosexual agenda. Let's be honest, if someone promotes a homosexual agenda, he's really doing it because deep down inside, he's homosexual himself.

Since groups like the AFA insist that Jesus was a bachelor his entire life, I think it's pretty clear what conclusions they want us to draw.

Is God dead or simply AWOL?

One of the running themes in the TV show Supernatural is that God got tired of us and wandered off to another part of the universe. While this is certainly more postmodern than Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” the idea still upsets a lot of people. Mainly Christians.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize the idea isn’t inconceivable, especially to someone who spent his life immersed in Christian faith and traditions. I don’t believe God did abandon us, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

Think about it. The central theme of Christianity is that the divine presence dwelled in human form and allowed himself 1 to be killed unjustly so that we could escape our own guilt. Not only does more than half the world say, “No thank you,” but many of us who don’t have become so unpleasant or noncommittal that the rest of the world can’t help but believe our faith is a fraud.

How many Christians obey Jesus’ injunctions? And I include those who profess that obedience is the first requirement of salvation. Let’s take Jesus’ injunction to not judge others or to criticize the blemishes of others while ignoring the gross deformities of our own, for example. Whenever any of us reads or hears that (including me) the first thing we say is, “That’s right. Those other guys should stop judging people.”

Christianity also teaches that grace replaces judgment for believers. We cling to that promise. Isn’t it unfortunate that our own behavior is so negligent and ungraceful that we convince the rest of the world our faith is little more than sound and fury?

In spite of our protestations to the contrary, if the world doesn’t feel the presence of God in our presence, but instead feels put off by the thought of us, we only have ourselves to blame. Not the devil, liberals, Hollywood, atheists, secular humanists, school system, mass media, advertisers or internet pornographers.


1I say “himself” because gender free language such as “itself” undermines God’s personality. Some would say “herself,” and that would immediately bother others. I could say “themselves” because technically God is a they in modern protestant and catholic theology, but that seems even odder. Of course, the fact that I feel it necessary to even qualify my choice of pronouns in many ways lends credence my thoughts on the matter. back

The real meaning of Christmas

This past Christmas was a first for Carol and I. Carol’s parents left us enough money to fly the grandkids down for Christmas and splurge on presents. As you may have guessed, blogging isn’t profitable (in fact, we lose money every time I write) and Carol’s retirement isn’t close to what she made before the Republicans forced dozens of career state employees into retirement so they could create new executive positions with twice the pay the Democrats allowed.Bryan lives in Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of just about everybody, and where high school students dream of going to college to become greeters at Walmart. Bryan was disabled while serving in the marines (fortunately, just before the Iraq war or he might have had it much worse) and given a medical discharge, which means he can barely afford to raise Eilonwy and her sister Cora.1So we flew them down and spent everything Carol’s parents left us on cool stuff for Bryan and the kids. We got a HiDef 3D TV and Blu-ray player, stereo surround sound system, iPads, iPhones, an X-Box, a Wii, dolls, clothes and, my favorite, a remote controlled velociraptor. Bryan assured me that the girls would love it. On Christmas Eve we treated them to dinner at Hudsons on the Bend, and then, when we realized the girls didn’t really like the espresso-chocolate-chili rubbed smoked elk back strap topped with jumbo lump blue crab and a lime chipotle beer blanc, or the grapefruit and avocado salad on butter lettuce with a buttermilk poppy seed dressing sprinkled with fresh pomegranates, or even the desert of ginger cheese cake with a blood orange marmalade, we took them to McDonalds for chicken nuggets and they loved it.(After we finished our grapefruit avocado salads, elk and ginger cheese cake, of course.)We watched Elf and Miracle on 34th Street (although the girls slept through most of Miracle on 34th Street since it was in boring black and white) then shuffled the girls off to bed. Then we stayed up until one o’clock setting up the new TV set, stereo system, iPad and toys, even though we knew we would tear it all down, repack it and ship it to Michigan when Bryan and the girls returned.With the girls sound asleep and the rest of us bone tired, we fell into our beds to dream of sugar plum fairies and sugar-fueled hyperactive children filling the living room with pile after pile of shredded wrapping paper. Around four in the morning I heard a clatter on our lawn and rose from my bed to see what was the matter.I ran to the living room to see Santa Claus climbing out of our living room window, and, what is more, our living room was practically bare. I followed Santa through the window and found him packing a Ford SUV with everything you were taken.”What are you doing?” I demanded.Too be honest, I didn’t exactly say, “What are you doing?” However, I shouldn’t repeat what I actually said in a column meant for Christian edification. Should you really want to know, I will refer you to a certain scene in the movie A Christmas Story. You know which one I mean.”What does it look like I’m doing?” Santa said, although at the time I doubted highly that he was, indeed, Santa. “I’m taking presents to needy children.””It looks like you’re stealing presents from my grandchildren,” I accused him.”Not at all,” he assured me. “But you know as well as I do that the economy’s bad. BP and Halliburton bought up all the shares of the North Pole and laid off all the elves. This is the only way I can get toys for children who are really in need.”In fact,” he assured me, “as soon as I leave I will be delivering most of this stuff to the School for the Deaf.”By this time I was furious. “At four o’clock in the morning?” I asked with no small degree of skepticism (or sarcasm).”Did you want me to show up when the kids were awake?” he replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” I demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” Santa assured me.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” he said. “At least they can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”You might imagine that I had had enough by that time, and you would be right. To add to the excitement, our argument had roused Carol, Bryan, Eilonwy and Cora from their sleeps and they stood with us, albeit barefoot, on the lawn. It’s a good thing there is no white Christmas in Austin or we might have caught cold.Carol had her iPhone with her, as she always does, even in her sleep (in case a cat should need early morning rescue) and was about to dial the police when, lo, an angel of the Lord appeared before us in all her glory.None of us could agree as to what, exactly she looked like. In fact, Bryan didn’t even see the angel because he was trying to stop Cora from turning the hose on our neanderthal dog Chutney, which was something she seemed to find incredibly funny because Chutney would simply swell her chest to three times her size and then shake the water over all of us.I’m not even sure the angel was a she, but Carol, who didn’t see her either because she was trying to find a reception spot for her iPhone amidst all the trees in our yard, insists God would have never sent a male angel on a mission of such importance.Santa was trying to wrestle the TV into the back of the SUV. He might have seen her, but I didn’t ask.The girls, however, were delighted to hear that I saw a real live angel and insist they saw her too. Eilonwy, however, says she looked like Yvaine, from the movie Stardust, but with wings. Cora swears she looked like Dora the Explorer. With more wings.”Fear not,” the angel said, the night glowing bright around her. “It is better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.” And then the she disappeared and the night went dark.I took her appearance as a sign from God, and even though Carol thought I was crazy, I helped Santa load the rest of the presents into the SUV and I waved as he pulled out of the drive way.I explained to Eilonwy and Cora that they were very fortunate to be able live with their dad, and that many kids in state schools didn’t even get to go home for the holidays. Some deaf kids don’t even talk to their parents because their parents refuse to sign and it’s very hard to read lips or hear adults—even when they’re mad and yelling really, really loud.So instead of the Christmas we planned, we hauled out the old 27 inch TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on one of the many cable channels that re-runs old movies all day long. We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows and ate Carol’s homemade chocolate orange pound cake. During the commercials I explained that, when Carol and I were the girl’s age, a 27 inch TV was just about the biggest television you could get. And that we didn’t get color TV until we were much older and our parents made more money.We planned to do Christmas dinner at Threadgills and all was right in the world except that just as we were leaving for lunch a county deputy showed up. He told us they arrested the Santa burglar and wanted us to press charges against him. It seems the Santa burglar devoted his Christmas eves to burglarizing houses while dressed as Santa, and even drinking the milk and cookie children left out for the real one. This was the first time they caught him with the goods still in his SUV.The deputy didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. You see, this was the same deputy that tried to break up a protest when an out of state company wanted to build a gravel plant in our neighborhood. “I don’t care what your beef is,” he told us, “these are legitimate business men and they don’t deserve to be hassled by the likes of you.” Then he said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up and go home and be good citizens and stop behaving like riff raff.”I suggested he arrest us all and explain to the JP why they were having to conduct bail hearings on two hundred local residents. The rest of my neighbors decided that was a good idea and only after he radioed the sheriff to tell him he was arresting us all and listened to shouting we could hear several yards away did he let us lose.A couple of years later he pulled me over for a rolling stop at my street corner. I explained that I had stopped completely, but he said, “If you know what’s good for you you stop, and count to ten, and then slowly accelerate. Otherwise, if I catch you, it’s a ticket.”Sometimes I don’t think before I speak and when he handed me the ticket I said, “Next time I see you that’s exactly what I’ll do. I won’t even wait to see a stop sign, just in case.”He ran my license plate and discovered I had an outstanding parking ticket. I assured him that I had paid that ticket, and I had the receipt at home to prove it. He could follow me if he wanted. At that point, he had me pull my car off the road, arrested me and hauled me downtown to the Travis County jail for outstanding tickets and resisting arrest. The entire drive he told me that the problem with guys like me is that we never knew what was good for us.Carol brought the receipt proving that I had, indeed paid the ticket, but the deputy wouldn’t release me on bail for resisting arrest because she only had her debit card. She had to drive to the bank to get cash. Before they released me seven hours later, the deputy personally came to greet us and told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll pay the next ticket before I have to throw you in jail. I have no patience for riff raff like you.”The judge dismissed the case, but several times Carol reminded me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll just say ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ the next time he pulls you over.And now, four or five years later, he stood at my front door and, believe it or not, he was still just a deputy. I probably would have gone ahead and pressed charges, except that before I could get a word in, he told me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let us put the riff raff away for good.”For some reason, when the deputy said those words, my entire history with him flashed through my mind. At the same time I pictured the angel telling me it was better to give for the right reasons than to not give for the wrong reasons. I knew what Jesus wanted me to do.I told him that I would not press charges. The so-called Santa burglar was delivering those presents for us to the kids at the School for the Deaf.”At four o’clock in the morning?” he asked with no small degree of skepticism.”Did you want him to show up when the kids were awake?” I replied.”What are kids at the School for the Deaf going to do with a state of the art, surround sound stereo?” he demanded. “They’re deaf.””They can turn it up real loud,” I assured him.”And I suppose the TV and Bluray player are for the School for the Blind?””Exactly,” I said. “They can listen to the dialogue. And the local cable service has descriptive services for the blind.”The deputy was furious, but I sent him off with no charges to press. Besides, I doubted he would remember me next time we met.Carol, Bryan and the kids had the best Christmas ever. Bryan did a really good impression of the deputy, and soon the girls were doing it as well. We found a deck of cards and I taught them a wonderful game called “Bullshit,”2 which involves guessing who’s lying about the cards in their hands. We found White Christmas on another cable channel and the girls were bored to sleep which was fine with us.I don’t know what happened to the Santa burglar, but I hope they gave him a nice meal before they let him go. It was Christmas, after all. I also pray that at some future Christmas the Santa burglar will visit your house and allow you to relearn the meaning of Christmas as he did with us.And the next time someone asks you for a dollar to catch the bus home or change for coffee, don’t rationalize that they will just spend it on drugs. That’s not what Jesus ever did. It really is far better to give for the wrong reasons than to not give for the right ones.


1His wife didn’t divorce him because he insisted on naming his eldest daughter after a character in a fantasy novel only fans have read, but most of us would consider it sufficient reason for filing. Sorry, Bryan, but a little constructive criticism….Well, what am I thinking? Kids never listen.back
2Some people call the game “I doubt it” around their kids but to me that’s like telling them there’s no Santa Claus. Childhood should be spent having fun, not learning to behave appropriately around adults who will judge them harshly no matter what they do.back

Herman, what would King David do?

It’s not as though politicians haven’t been caught with their pants down before. Nor will this be the first time they’ve tried to cover it up. But Herman Cain seems to think that because he hasn’t made improper gestures to thousands of women, that seems to let him off the hook for four.

At least that’s the number at last counting.

Herman’s also calling this a lynching along the proportions of Clarence Thomas’ lynching on Capitol Hill. There are a couple of differences. Justice Thomas wasn’t exactly lynched since he’s now one of the top nine legal arbiters in the country. Anita Hill, on the other hand, was brutalized. Can you blame these women for getting lawyers?

Justice Thomas’ written opinions haven’t exactly been prolific since his appointment, however. Maybe he finally learned to keep his mouth shut.

Cain, however, seems to be proud of the fact that four women have accused him of sexual impropriety. It’s almost a certain sign, that he, like Jesus, can be crucified.

I think King David may provide a better analogy, however. Israel’s King David made the moves on Bathsheba, the comely bride of one of his soldiers. He didn’t bother to settle the lawsuit, he simply killed the husband. Now, by anyone’s standards King David makes Herman Cain’s peccadilloes look like those of a choir boy.

God forgave David, however. And here’s where the two really differ. When David’s misdeeds became public he didn’t say, “For every woman who claims David hit on her, there are thousands more who haven’t.” This could be because there probably weren’t thousands of women in Jerusalem for David to harass, but also because David may have referred to himself with the royal “we” but he never spoke of himself in the third person.

More importantly, David did public penance. In fact, once he realized the seriousness of what he did, he became genuinely penitent. He wore sackcloth and ashes and publicly confessed. Herman Cain isn’t even making a pretense of penitence. He’s trying to paint himself as victim and good guy.

We might ask, given the reality of sexual behavior by American Presidents, whether or not it matters that they carry on behind closed doors. Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson were reputed philanderers. Clinton was busted and Harding had a child out of wedlock.

My answer to the question is, probably not. I was always more worried when the man who could push the button and launch the missiles wasn’t happy and bursting with unresolved testosterone. The true measure of the man, however, is how he behaves when the facts come out.

By that measure David was a class act. He confessed and found forgiveness. Cain claims he isn’t guilty, blamed both parties for outing him and also makes it clear it wouldn’t matter if he was guilty. His misdeeds are our problem.

After all. He earned everything he has.

Corporate Christian Complex: Eisenhower never saw it coming

Before he left office in 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the rising influence of the Military Industrial Complex. Little did he know that the Military Industrial Complex was only a precursor to the much more insidious Corporate Christian Complex, an unholy alliance between corporate interests and Christian marketing designed to seduce true believers into the unholy heresy that Jesus wants big business to be even bigger.

The Corporate Christian Complex grew out of televangelism and telemarketing, thanks to the well meaning hippies and stoners who dropped out and tuned into Jesus in the seventies, and I count myself one of them. Until the Jesus movement, evangelical Christianity kept itself separate from popular culture. In fact, evangelicals prided themselves on being in the world but not part of it.

Sure, televangelists sold Bibles, blessings and prayer squares over broadcast television, but evangelism was decidedly unhip and determined to remain that way. Christians (at least white bread Christians like my family) didn’t listen to rock and roll, they listened to gospel or Ralph Carmichael, who was to Christian music at the time what Robert Goulet was to pop culture.

Christians didn’t have the New Christy Minstrels, we had Up With People. Sure, they sold a few albums, but it was for inspiration and to keep the work of the Lord going. But when the fans of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones realized that Ralph Carmichael made Neal Diamond sound like Roger Daltry, they did what they always did. Started their own bands.

Those bands made money. Much bigger money than the backup singers for Billy Graham. It went further than that. Jesus Freaks bought Jesus Freak translations of the Bible with leather fringe covers, and even leather belt pouches for their pocket editions. They bought Jesus jewelry and Jesus beads, and in a few short years Big Business discovered a huge market for modern day relics as well.

Hippies and Jesus Freaks were political, too, and that scared the evangelical and charismatic sponsors looking to adopt them. Many of us intended to cast our first eighteen-year-old votes for George McGovern. Our evangelical foster parents tried to convince us that Christians avoided politics, but we marched against the war and went to Woodstock.

The new era of rock festivals for Jesus proved to the evangelical old guard that we could be co-opted, and so the evangelicals harvested the energy to march to form the religious right. They might not convince us to give up politics, but they could convince us to change political alliances. If we could give up pot for coffee and scripture, we could give up McGovern for Reagan.

And the dollars rolled in. And in, and then began to flood. You see, the Corporate Christian Complex wasn’t new, it had been lying dormant since the Renaissance and Reformation. Shrewd businessmen cashed in on Christians with relics, pilgrimages and even mass crusades. If you couldn’t bring your husband to Christ, you could buy his way into heaven once he died. If you wanted to be pure and keep on drinking and whoring, you could buy an indulgence.

Today we have Christian Broadcasting Networks, and more commercials for Christian music CDs than the commercials that used to sell Slim Whitman tapes. Even the BBC will sell air time to songs of praise CDs. Churches sell coffee, and their pastors sell books and tapes. Good Christians can now own (and probably do) at least six different translations of the Bible and two more paraphrased editions.

You can find home-based Christian businesses on the internet. You can worship Jesus with t-shirts, mugs, coozies and coolers. You can sit through worship with your Starbucks coffee and power bars. Michael Jackson may have appalled people with his Jesus Juice, but only because he thought of it first. In a few years we can expect to see Jesus Juice, Jesus Jolt and cans of Red Gospel.

Go online and you can order Nativity stickers, Jesus gliders, birthday stickers for Jesus, and bouncing Jesus balls. Headingtoheaven.com promotes itself as a “Christian superstore” with shirts, jewelry, books, games and even home communion kits. Sounds a lot like Walmart. How about c28 or Christiangear.com?

Nor is it surprising that corporate and Christian interests pour millions of dollars into Republican and Tea Party politics. After all, when you’re raking in cash hand over fist from the rubes, you don’t want to pay taxes to fund a government that might regulate your enterprise.

If you read the Gospels, you know that Jesus forgave a lot. He forgave drunks, adulterers, pagans, hookers, and adulterers. He rarely got mad, but one thing really pissed him off. He lost his cool when he saw the entrepreneurs cashing in on God. He got so pissed off he kicked their tables over and drove them out of the temple.

The businessmen and religious hypocrites he challenged got even. They got in bed with the Roman government and had him killed. In other words, they formed their own version of the Corporate Christian Complex, and there was nothing Christian about it. These were the Bible’s bad guys.

So how did they become the heroes now?

Literal love

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve droned on about literalists, but I want to stress that I’m a literalist myself. At least when it’s clear the literal interpretation makes more sense than twisting the meaning and redefining words with meanings that can’t be found in standard dictionaries.

I first got in trouble for this in my high school freshman English class when I told my teacher that the rose in a poem could simply be a rose. (And this was before I read Gertrude Stein). Even in college poetry workshops, I felt that a poem that couldn’t be read literally first probably couldn’t support a meaningful symbolic structure.

So when I question the belief that every word in the Bible is to be taken literally, it’s not because I don’t feel literal interpretations aren’t important. In fact, I think it could be dangerous to ignore the literal meaning of passages. I simply believe that snipping verses and passing them off as “God’s literal word” can lead to as many problems as refusing to accept any basis of truth in the scripture.

Take the phrase “it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” There is a metaphor involved but the metaphor isn’t the point. It doesn’t really matter what the eye of the needle is or how hard it is for the camel to get through it. The point is the literal meaning, which is that rich people will have a hard time getting into heaven.

Even if we don’t understand the metaphor of “eye of the needle” at all, the context of the saying makes it clear. It follows a literal declaration making the exact same point with no metaphor whatever. “…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It doesn’t get more literal than that.

The syntax of the sentence (It is easier for A than B) makes the meaning clear as well. Take other examples: “It would be easier to split a rock with your head than separate something glued with epoxy,” or “It would be easier to survive water torture and electrocution than to sit through another Republican primary debate with Rick Perry involved.” When anyone encounters that structure in ordinary language, we don’t stop to reinterpret it to mean “this will be easy” (or in the case of Christian Republican theology, essential).

And yet I have sat through any number of sermons explaining why Jesus didn’t really mean it was hard for rich people to get into heaven. I’m not just pointing my finger at Baptists here (although most of the sermons I heard came during Baptist revival when giving was at its highest), but Episcopalians and Presbyterians as well.

I write this because I remember a long night spent arguing with a family member about Matthew 22. This family member, whom I won’t name, argued that homosexuals couldn’t be Christians because they didn’t obey God. In fact, she argued, no one could really be Christian if they weren’t in complete obedience. People who weren’t in complete obedience didn’t deserve God’s love or forgiveness.

So I quoted (or paraphrased) Matthew 22: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (This is the NIV version, but it isn’t too much different than the others).

She claimed that verse wasn’t talking about agape love, so we looked it up on the Internet and it was. Then she said, “but love means ‘obey.’ So the commandment is really saying that if we love god we will obey every commandment.”

Sadly, this kind of tunnel vision drives too much of Christian thinking. When the time comes to read a verse literally, we can’t accept it.

I’ve looked up every definition of love and agape on the web (and that includes a number of cranky sites) and couldn’t find one that defined agape as obedience. I’m sure, however, that this meaning has popped up in more than one discussion. It’s easier to redefine words when the dictionary isn’t in front of us.

Here’s my thinking. If the definition of love is to obey, then Jesus was really saying the the most important way in which we can obey God is to obey God. I don’t think Jesus was given to that kind of circularity. If anything, he was too much of an out of the box thinker for most Christians.

But if this is what he really meant, then we are left interpreting the second commandment to mean, “Obey your neighbor as you obey yourself.” I don’t want to discuss the linguistic twists that follow from this thinking.

More accurately, this is a case where we need to think literally. If we really want to obey God we will love him and love each other. Love, in essence, is a commandment, and that doesn’t mean tough love or doing what’s best for someone in spite of their desires, or denying them the love of God because we think they’re disobeying God themselves.

It’s tempting to walk away from such clear injunctions because they seem so trite and obvious. The Beatles said, “All you need is love,” so it must be more difficult than that. Who wants their most important imperative to be reduced to a jingle?

But in the case of Jesus’ followers, it’s an order. If you want to obey God, you will love him and everyone else. Homosexual or not. Unwed parent or not. Had an abortion and still believing it was the right thing to do or not. Planning on having an abortion or not. Or, in my case (and that’s what makes it so hard to love them) whether or not they believe in creationism (as opposed to creation), support the Tea Party, and think Obama is the antiChrist.

Judge not. Even if it’s Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony will be released from prison soon and, judging from the news, more than half of America is furious that she got away scott free for murder. Of course she didn’t get away scott free. She spent three years in prison and just about everybody hates her. And, I suspect, she will be viewed with suspicion for the rest of her life. 1

She now rates below OJ Simpson and Dick Cheney as the lowest of the low. People probably hate her worse than Pontius Pilate. After all, he didn’t kill an innocent baby.

Christians who feel that righteous indigestion boiling from the gut when they think how Casey walked and Caylee ended up duct taped in a trunk will say this is perfectly okay. You can love the sinner and hate the sin.

Of course the Bible doesn’t say that. Anywhere. That’s something somebody made up, and not even somebody as smart as Ben Franklin (he’s the one who wrote “God helps those who help themselves”). Here are two things the Bible does say:

  • Love sinners.
  • Don’t judge anybody.

In fact, on the judgment thing, the Bible makes it pretty clear that God will judge most harshly Christians who pass judgment on others. That includes those who judge liberals, women who have abortions, doctors who perform abortions and Casey Anthony.

Twelve of her peers found her not guilty on any count of murder. None. Nada.

These weren’t elitist bleeding heart Hollywood lawyers, these were jurors from Florida, jurors who could afford to take several weeks up from work—which means they’re probably God-fearing, mostly Republican, jurors. This means that, Nancy Grace aside, the most a conservative prosecutor in a conservative state could convince 12 jurors (odds are more than half of them conservatives as well) that Casey Anthony was guilty of was, well, something.

No one doubts that Casey Anthony is guilty of something, possibly even gross negligence. But she was only charged with murder and lying. So what’s the Christian thing to do?

Forgive her.

That’s right. It doesn’t matter what she did, or whether she wants to be forgiven herself. Our responsibility is to forgive her and move on with our lives, and let her move on with hers and pray she doesn’t become a mother again for a long, long time (if ever). But if she does, it’s still none of our business.

It’s okay for Bill Maher to be upset about the verdict and to say she’s guilty, guilty, guilty. He’s not a Christian. In fact, he thinks Christians are morons. This should be reason enough for Christians whose faith jerks with their knees to forgive her. But it’s actually the Christian thing to do. Well, the Biblical thing anyway.

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I’m well aware of the doctrine of preemptive strikes to sin. Keep an eye on that sinner and keep them out of trouble. This is the same thinking that drove Bush to invade Iraq. But you can’t keep anyone out of trouble, and you’re only likely to cross a line yourself if you insist on trying.

Cain asked God, “Am I my brothers keeper?” Too many Christians answer that question “yes,” and that answer is just as wrong as the decision to kill.

Christians I know often justify their preemptive guardianship by quoting the passage in Corinthians where Paul says to cast out the members of the church who flagrantly and continuously offend other members. They conveniently overlook the fact this letter was written to Corinthians. Corinth made Las Vegas look like Norman Rockwell’s America. For someone to do something so offensive even Christians would take note, it must have been pretty bad.

He never said Christians could set themselves up as arbiters of right and wrong. Nor did Jesus. For Jesus, believers should be like the Prodigal who let his son take off and drive himself to the brink of destruction. He didn’t condemn his son, he didn’t disown his son, he didn’t put his son in rehab or rat him out to the cops. No tough love for the Prodigal’s son. He simply let his son go his own way. And then, when his son reached rock bottom and asked forgiveness, he welcomed him with open arms.

Like it or not, the law has said Casey Anthony is not guilty of the murder of her child. As Americans, and especially Christians, we have to accept that legally she is not guilty. This means any guilt she does have is between her, her family and God.

But, and here’s the hard part, should she come to any Christian and ask for help—for food or even shelter—it is our responsibility to offer her not only the help she requests, but whatever additional help we can afford.


1Unless, of course, she goes on Pat Robertson and declares herself a born again Christian and Republican, writes a book that will earn big money for a Christian book publisher, and goes on tour to raise money for Jesus.back