The Heresy of Politicized Christianity

Jesus cross 407x

Deacon Greg Kandra published a post today describing a “study” that says that “Christian Progressives” are on the cultural ascendancy. 

I put the word study in quotes because all this study amounts to is some yo-yo with letters after his name who went out and tabulated Google searches, dividing them between “conservative Christian” and “progressive Christian.” His criteria: Google searches for “Christian right” vs google searches for “Christian left.” 

Based on this handy-dandy spreadsheet workout, this person has extrapolated to all sorts of predictions and prophecies about the direction of Christianity in the future USA. 

Aside from the fact that this is about as scientific as predicting the future by studying the entrails of a goat, it does reveal quite a lot about the researcher and the way that Christianity is discussed today. 

After I converted to Catholicism, I encountered a lot of talk about which Catholics were “orthodox” or not. I remember wondering what the tar-heel an “orthodox” Catholic might be. I had some idea about what an Orthodox Jew was. But an “orthodox” Catholic seemed to be one of those vague, do-it-yourself monikers that people hang on themselves in order to chastise other people. To this day, I’ve never heard a useful definition of what an “orthodox” Catholic might be, even though I still read about folks who claim to be one and seem to think they know. 

Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the blogging waters, I find myself repeatedly encountering verbiage that attempts to define Christians and Christianity along political groupings. Even here at Patheos we have a portal for “progressive” Christians. I don’t fault Patheos for this. The moniker is out there everywhere and the Progressive Christians themselves seem to think they are members of some clearly demarcated understanding of Christianity that groups them together and separates them from the rest of us who stand at the foot of the cross. 

Not that I’m saying they don’t stand at the foot of the cross. But I guess they would place themselves in a separate group of before-the-cross-standers that distinguishes them from other, non-progressive Christians. Of course, we also have the “conservative” Christians there before the cross, as well. In this Americanized/politicized version of Christianity I guess the rest of us who don’t want to be “conservative” or “progressive” Christians just wander around aimlessly, or maybe circulate back and forth between the two groups.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider this imaginary portrait I just painted. We have the cross, with the crucified Savior of the World hanging on it. And we have His so-called followers standing there in front of it, looking not at Him, but at each other. The “conservative” Christians are standing as far away from the “progressive” Christians as they can get, and vice versa. They are not thinking about or concerned with the God who died for them on Calvary. They are not grieved by what their sins have wrought. They are not caught in wonder at the love God has for them. 

Nope. They are both like the Pharisee who went to pray and spent his whole time thanking God that he wasn’t like that sinful tax collector over there. 

Pharisee

Does anyone remember what Jesus had to say about the Pharisee? If you don’t, you can find it in Luke 8: 9-14.

I wrote a post yesterday, encouraging Christians to engage with the political structure. After reading the comments it garnered, I repented of that post. We aren’t ready. 

Before Christians can engage the larger culture they’ve first got to be all-in for Jesus. That appears to be a major stumbling block for a lot of people. These ridiculous designations of “conservative” and “progressive” Christians are a symptom and an expression of just how far away we are from actually following Christ, or even taking Him seriously at all.

In today’s America, “conservative” and “progressive” are political terms. If we were being honest, we’d just dispense with those terms and say what we mean. On the one side we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following right wing politics instead of following Jesus, and on the other side, we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following left wing politics instead of following Jesus. 

They are, both of them, following the world instead of following Jesus. And they are claiming that Jesus not only supports them in this, but He is following them. 

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a pew-sitting Catholic who is grateful that, after the things I’ve done, they let me inside the Church at all. But I love Jesus. 

This disregard of Him, this crude claim of ownership of Him, by people who carry His name hurts me. It stings and bites at me when I think about it. What is wrong that so many people can look at the living God and see a self-justifying reflection of themselves?

I repeat: I am not a theologian. But I think that this twisting of the Gospels to suit fashionable politics and political power is heretical. It is also, evidently, deeply embedded in people’s hearts. 

Diamond cross pendant er41160

If you look at the cross and feel smirky holier than thou self-justification for you and your politics, then I would wager that you are not looking at the cross at all. You are considering a piece of jewelry you’ve hung around your neck that is made of cold metal and, without the real cross that it symbolizes, can not save you. 

Conservative/Progressive/Right/Left Christianity is a human invention. It gives us what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” which is to say self-approval. It makes us self-righteous and mean. 

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If you are interpreting the Gospels in the light of your politics, then you are not following Christ. This business of co-opting the Gospels to fit the world has eternal consequences. 

There is one Jesus; one narrow way; one means of salvation; one cross. 

Our job as American Christians is to believe that one Jesus, walk that narrow way, and to conform our lives, including our politics, to Christ and Him crucified.

I want to follow Christ. I do not want to follow conservative Christ or progressive Christ or right or left or middle of the road Christ. I want to follow and I pray for the grace to follow, Christ and Him crucified by conservatives and progressives and rightists and leftists and all the rest of the crowd who will not follow Him without reframing Him to suit themselves. 

That is why I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not because they are easy or politically correct. But because I’ve tried making God in my own image. I know that I can’t judge, can’t decide, can’t know. Left to my own devices I will do horrible things, just as my heretical brothers and sisters on the left and the right are doing horrible things. 

Standing before the real cross means that you know you are not worthy to be there. You know that your own understanding put Him there. You know yourself for what you are and you realize that without Him you are doomed to the hell you have created and earned; to the hell you deserve.

“Lean not on your own understanding” the scriptures tell us. 

It’s good advice. 

Gay Marriage Trumps Freedom of Conscience in European Court

Standing Against Christian Persecution

Gay marriage trumped freedom of conscience in the European Court of Human Rights yesterday.

The Court handed down rulings on four contentious cases which had been brought before it by British citizens. In three of the cases, it ruled with the British government and against the citizens.

Here’s how it went:

1. British airways employee Nadia Ewelda won the right to wear a cross around her neck to work without being fired. Part of the reasoning was that other British Airways employees were allowed to wear religious symbols of other faiths, including turbans and scarves.

2. A British nurse lost the right to wear a cross around her neck to work. The Court based this ruling on the idea that the cross might somehow pose a job hazard by accidentally touching an open wound or something.

3. Two other British citizens, a registrar and a relationship counselor, lost their cases. They had been fired for refusing, on the basis of their religious beliefs, to participate in civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples.

Religious groups are hailing these rulings as “victories,” based on the lone case that allowed a flight attendant to wear a cross to work. This which confounds me. Christians consistently lose in the courts, as the many atheists who buzz by this blog every time I write on the subject try to remind us, and I think these rulings are no exception to that.

One of the things that struck me about these rulings is that they were so specific. Evidently, the European Court of Human Rights does not rule on broad issues of law in the same manner that our Supreme Court does. These rulings were basically, “We uphold this case, but not this.” If the court ruled on principles of law rather than just the specific cases, it didn’t come through in the news stories I read.

I’m not sure what that means in terms of the scope of these rulings. If these truly are specific rulings on specific cases and not on broad points of law, then that could be significant in terms of impact. I’m not saying that’s how it is. I don’t know.

I may not understand the scope of these rulings, but I do know that they were not a “victory” for Christians or freedom of conscience. I also think they were a harbinger of what’s to come for all of us.

Advocates of gay marriage here in the United States are quick to say that re-writing the legal definition of marriage will not impact religious liberty, that no one will be forced to perform gay marriages if it is against their conscience. This clearly flies in the face of the collective experience throughout the Western world.

So far as I know, in every country that has legalized gay marriage, or, as in the case with this ruling, civil partnerships, it is just a matter of time, and usually not much time, before people are losing their jobs because they do not want to participate in performing these marriages.

The Los Angeles Times article describing these court cases reads in part:

By Emily Alpert
January 15, 2013, 1:14 p.m.
A Christian employee was wronged when British Airways insisted she remove the small cross she wore around her neck, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.

But judges rejected claims by three other British Christians who claimed they had been discriminated against in the workplace, including two who had refused to provide their services to couples of the same sex.

Religious freedom is “one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies,” the European court wrote, but religious freedom can nonetheless be restricted where it “impinges on the rights of others.”

Judges decided 5-2 in favor of Nadia Eweida, who was sent home without pay for violating the British Airways uniform code more than six years ago. At the time, its rules banned any visible jewelry. Eweida returned to work several months later after the company changed its policies, but continued to press her case against the British government for failing to protect her freedom of religion.

The European court found that British courts had failed to strike a fair balance between her rights and British Airways’ wish to “project a certain corporate image.” Other employees had already been allowed to wear other kinds of religious apparel, including turbans and head scarves, without any impact on the British Airways brand, it added. The court ordered the British government to award Eweida more than $2,600 in damages and $40,000 for expenses.

“I feel vindicated, that Christians have been vindicated, both here and in Europe as well,” Eweida told the BBC after the decision was issued, a cross visible around her neck.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that he was “delighted” by Tuesday’s decision, a rare bit of British government praise for the European court. The ruling was also cheered by rights groups.

“Nadia Eweida wasn’t hurting anyone and was perfectly capable of doing her job whilst wearing a small cross,” said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties group Liberty. “British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance.”

Religious conservatives were also pleased Eweida had triumphed, but their enthusiasm was dampened by the fact that the European judges turned down the three other discrimination claims. Although it sided with Eweida, the court said a British hospital was justified in barring a nurse from wearing a crucifix because it could touch an open wound or a patient might pull on it. Protecting health and safety were more weighty reasons to ban the cross than buffing a corporate image, it concluded.

Judges also rejected the claims of a relationship counselor and a former registrar who balked at providing their services to same-sex couples. The counselor was fired for violating company policies that he had agreed to; the registrar was disciplined and warned that if she did not perform civil partnerships, she would be terminated.

Christian groups argued that other registrars could have performed the service. “What this case shows is that Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are at risk of being left out in the cold,” said Mike Judge, spokesman for the Christian Institute, in a statement Tuesday. (Read more here.)

Christian Persecution: The Solidarity Cross

I’m going to call it The Solidarity Cross.

The idea began last week with a post about a British woman who was fired for wearing a cross to work.

All these stories of Christian persecution, which range from verbal harassment to genocidal mass murder, lead us to the same questions. What would we do if it was us? What are we going to do to help them? And finally, how do Christians from all over the world, stand together?

Christianity bears the face of humanity. We are every race, almost all languages, cultures and climes. How do we stand together in the face of the growing persecution of Christians that exists at some phase of its continuum just about everywhere, including here in America and the rest of the so-called Christian West?

I think we should start small. With a symbol that can speak as clearly as words. That’s where the Solidarity Cross comes in.

The idea is simple and straight-forward: Christians should wear a cross outside their clothing in protest of the growing social hazing and economic discrimination directed toward Christians throughout most of the Western world. We should also wear it in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who face violent persecution in much of the rest of the world.

When I first made the suggestion, I suggested just any cross. But the more I thought about it this week, the more I felt that we should try to wear a similar cross. The reason is that this makes a statement to anyone who sees it. It makes the point for us.

If we each just get a cross that suits our individual taste and put it on, those who see us will view it as nothing more than an individual gesture. They might think it is a fashion statement, or a personal statement of belief. But the message the you are standing in solidarity with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the face of Christian persecution would not show.

For this to have an impact, people have to know what statement we are making when they see our crosses. This is called “branding” in advertising and politics. It is often created with expensive advertising campaigns created by equally expensive ad agencies. God has not given us those resources.

But we can duplicate some of the things that make branding work. We can be consistent. We can be persistent. We can create a single symbolic cross that will be a symbol of our stand against Christian persecution.

The question: What should this cross look like?

I think it should be:

1. Inexpensive.

2. Easy to attach, such as a pin.

3. Distinctive.

What ideas do you have for this? I am looking for suggestions for what it should look like and how we implement this.

Ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?

British Government to Christians: Leave Your Faith at Home or Lose Your Job

 “Leave your faith at home.”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that. It’s right up there with “Separation of Church and State,” which a good number of ignorant souls seem to think is written down somewhere in the Constitution of the United States of America.

Of course, this particular time, the “Leave your faith at home” claptrap is not coming from an irate, muddle-headed advocate for abortion on demand or some such. It’s straight out of the mouth of a lawyer who is speaking for the Government of one of the great Western democracies. This attorney is representing Great Britain in the European Court of Human Rights against four of her own citizens.

The British government’s ignoble position is that its citizens should be willing to forego simple expressions of their faith such as wearing a cross on a necklace to work. If they aren’t willing to do this, then they have no right to complain when this costs them their jobs.

That is why I’m asking all Christians to begin wearing a cross, outside their clothes, every day. We need a visible, non-violent way to stand together as Christians. 

Join the discussion in the comments section on the best way to do this. All constructive ideas are welcome. 

The article describing the British Government’s position reads in part:

Govt lawyer: Christians should leave faith at

home or resign

Wed, 5 Sep 2012

Christians in Britain should leave their faith at home or accept that they might have to get another job, a Government lawyer has told the European Court of Human Rights.

The comment came as the Court heard the cases of four Christians, including that of registrar Lillian Ladele who was disciplined for her stance on civil partnerships. All four say the UK Government failed to protect their religious liberty. (Read more here.)

 

 

 

Christian Persecution: Saddle Up! This is War! (Of a Sort)

I mentioned in an earlier post, Christian Persecution: In the West, Where the War is Forced Upon Us, that violent persecution of a group of people doesn’t spring fully-formed from the head of some political Zeus. It evolves in an almost invisible progression from a series of smaller things.

It almost always begins with simple criticism, some of which may even be valid. In time, this moves to unjust badgering, slanders and verbal harassment, which is coupled with agitation for changes in the law that impinge on the rights and freedoms of the group under attack. The legal discriminations begin slowly, again at first in areas that may even seem reasonable. Over time, they cut more and more deeply into the basic rights and essential freedoms of the target group. At the same time, insults and verbal harassment move into hectoring, hate speech and outright attempts to silence people.

This is where Christians are now in the Western World. We are bombarded with verbal attacks on our faith in the media, in our conversations, at our schools and even in our friendships and families. We must make the decision over and over to either be quiet and let this bigotry stand or engage in unsettling and exhausting battles that always seem to involve personal insults. At the same time, law-makers, government agencies and courts create laws, mandates and rulings that attempt to compel us to violate our faith or face legal sanctions, or prohibit us from the outward practice of our faith.

The HHS Mandate is an example of the government intruding on the free exercise of religion. The lawsuit against the British government over a woman’s right to wear a cross on a necklace to work without being fired is an example of how Christians are being forced to resist laws limiting the outward practice of their faith. There are many other examples of both these things that I could add.

The next move after legal discrimination and social hazing is violent persecution. Many Christians around the world face violent persecution, up to and including mass murder, because of their faith. We are not at that level in the Western world, but we have moved quite a distance down the continuum that leads to it.

When I published the earlier post, I received a few angry denunciations and ad hominem jibes, both on this board and in other venues. These comments fell along the predictable lines that I have seen over and again from people who have decided that there is a group of people that they want to persecute and attack.

In my experience, nothing makes people so angry as telling them that they may not kill, discriminate against, exploit, or attack some group of people that they have decided is outside the pale of human consideration.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m also not a theologian. But I’ve always felt that these people were influenced by the devil. There have been times in my job as a legislator that I have encountered such rage and hatred from someone who wants me to give them the legal right to kill or exploit others that it almost singed my skin when they looked at me. It was as if the devil was walking on two human feet, talking with a human mouth, and looking at me through human eyes.

It makes no difference if the people they want to kill, hurt and destroy are the unborn, Christians, immigrants, women, children, prisoners or simply the poor, their attitude of total indifference to them as people and self-righteous assurance of their right to hurt them is stone cold. There is nothing I have ever found that anyone can say to people who are in the froth of this kind of rage that will penetrate to their hearts and move them.

That is what I felt I encountered in some of the communications I received because of the post I mention above. I expect that I may receive more such communications because of this one.

That does not change my mind. To the contrary. It confirms my belief that we are living in a society in which a militant and highly aggressive group of people intends to engage in Christian-baiting and to push for increasingly unjust legal discrimination against Christians and they become enraged and abusive with anyone who tells them that what they are doing is wrong. I believe that this is our present situation in the West.

The question that flows from this is a simple one: What can we do about it?

One of my goals with this blog is to use whatever little bit of knowledge and insight I have to educate and empower my brothers and sisters in Christ about what’s happening and what to do about it. I am not claiming that I know a lot or that I have some all-encompassing Ms Fix-it Solution.  All I’m saying is that I want to share what little I do know and what ideas I have.

Mother Theresa famously said that we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful. My version of that is that there is an ocean of needful things that need doing in this world and none of us can do them all. Also, none of us can control what other people will do or how they will react to our best efforts. We can become overwhelmed by this and let it defeat us before we start.

However no one of us has to do everything that needs doing. There are a lot of us, and if we all do our part, everything will get done. We also don’t have to change anyone’s mind with our faithful witness for Christ. That is the job of the Holy Spirit.

I touched on it in the last paragraph. There are a lot of things that need doing, far more than any one of us can do alone, but that is not a problem.  All any one of us has to do is his or her part. That’s it. Just do your part, say your prayers and trust God.

I think one simple thing that all of us can do is to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are being sanctioned and fired for wearing a cross. I would like to see every Christian in Britain and all the rest of Europe begin wearing a cross, outside their clothes, every day. I would like to see us doing it here in America, as well.

I have a St Thomas More medal that I wear on a chain around my neck. I also have a Miraculous Medal ring that I wear on one of my fingers. When I add a crucifix to that, I’m going to be jingle, jangle, jingling with religious jewelry. But I’m going to do it, just the same. I plan to buy a cross pin to wear on my blazer, my blouse and when I’m just putzing around, my t-shirt.

Someone else might wear a cross on a necklace; another person a bracelet. Your cross might be a pin made of ribbons or even a paper cross colored by a child. It’s the statement of solidarity that counts; not the jewelry.

Will you join me? Add your thoughts and ideas about how we can do this better in the comments section. I think if we combine all our thoughts, we might come up with something really good.


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