Monday, March 11, 2019

Holy Humanity!!!

Leviticus 19:1-2 
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Matthew 25:36 (NRSV)
“I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me...And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The Catholic Church readings for today are Leviticus 19:1-2; 11-18 and Matthew 25:31-46. Leviticus, defining  holiness in terms of how we relate to one another, shows us God’s attitude towards humanity. Matthew shows us Jesus’ full identification with humanity, and gives us His point of judgement. Later, in Acts, Jesus will ask Paul-“Why are you persecuting me?” 

The question is-who will be humanity for us?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Culture Wars Pt. 2

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

What is going on today in the United States is not a war against the church or against Christianity, it is a battle for behavior control, with the behavior in question mostly involving sex. Christians are not being hunted down and forced to renounce Christ upon pain of torture and death. Christians are not being forced to provide evidence of their repentance by worshiping the emperor (although it certainly seems to me as though some are doing just that). There is not a pulpit in this country today where, on any given Sunday, the Gospel might not be preached for fear of the government’s secret police breaking in and carrying everyone off. 

“...the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

War by nature is violent and implies imposition of beliefs by force of will; thus the term ‘culture wars’ is an appropriate description of our current state of affairs. This is nothing new. The term itself has been around in the United States since at least 1990. It was the title of a book by University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter; Pat Buchanan made it the theme of his 1992 presidential campaign. 

According to the Wikipedia culture wars page, Hunter defined the two opposing points of view as ‘Progressivism’ and ‘Orthodoxy’. The issues at hand (remember, this was 1991) were abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, recreational drug use, homosexuality, privacy, and censorship. Buchanan, in a speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention, added to the list homosexual rights, women in combat units and discrimination against religious schools. 

Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly labeled the opposing sides ‘Secular-Progressives’ and ‘Traditionalists’. Note carefully the labels-Secular Progressive vs (Traditional) Orthodox. The clear implication here is the extent to which the nation is embracing change is also the extent to which we are rejecting God and ‘traditional Christian values’ (my phrase), whatever those values may be. Nearly 30 years later we are still, in the political arena, fighting this same war. 

Much of what Buchanan ‘warned’ us about has come to pass. Today we have women not only in combat units but in some of the military’s more elite units as well. Women have distinguished themselves as combat pilots. Same sex couples may now legally marry. More and more, states are legalizing marijuana. Opiate overdose and gun violence remain hot button issues; gun violence and gun control legislation continue to divide the country while the NRA apparently wields considerably more influence than the church. Which leads me back to my opening statement, and to the question: where is the church in all this? Or, probably more to the point, where is the Gospel in all this?

I have already said today’s religious/political conflicts have more to do with behavior control than inner transformation. By aligning themselves with Conservative Republicans, Evangelicals seem to be abandoning “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” in favor of “[That which has] indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but [is] of no value in checking self-indulgence”. 

But our Gospel says things like  “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” and “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” and “....if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is... [s]et your minds on things that are above [for] your life is hidden with Christ in God.” 

The contrast should be obvious. There is nothing of behavior control in these verses. There is everything of relationship; right behavior is, for Christians, always the result of right relationship; always the result of inner transformation. The problem is just as obvious-once you begin talking about Divine love or a Spirit who goes where He chooses (and bids us come follow) or life hidden in Christ, who knows what people will do. This, after all, was the precise point of conflict between the ‘Orthodox’ Jews of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) day and ‘Progressivism’ as taught and followed by the earliest Christians. Law or Grace? The debate continues. One is easy, the other impossible. One fills our churches; the other arenas, psychologists’ offices, treatment programs, jails. 

Two final points. First, the alliance of church and state has, throughout history, ended badly for the church (consider the Popes who thought they were kings of heaven and earth, for the example, or the crusades). Yet the Church itself endures, without or in spite of political support. Second, up to now I have deliberately chosen to ignore the elephant in the room, our current president whose entire life has been built upon the self-centered, self-promoting attitude which is so antithetical to the Christian Gospel yet continues to enjoy wide popular support among Evangelicals. The same Evangelicals who cry persecution at every turn are being led by a modern Caesar who, like Rome before him, will use every intimidation tactic available to him to get what he wants. The Caesars, at least, were honest in their contempt for Christianity. After all, their power did not depend on Christian support.