Anti-Christian September 26, 2020

The other day I was called anti-Christian. It was by a progressive member of my denomination. Of course, the person does not know me very well. I am not writing this in response to them. The accusation though got me thinking about how accusations fly around easily. “You are a bigot,” seems to imply “while I am not.” A statement or a position can be called unchristian but unless the statement is along the lines of “I oppose Christianity,” it cannot be called anti-Christian. Yet, the harsher term is often applied indiscriminately. Something within us feels the need to do that. To act tough and uncompromising is not the tough-mindedness needed to take a stand. It is the way of the world, Caesar, Herod, and the executioner. It is the will to power. To use a biblical phrase it is “speaking half in the language of Ashdod.”

Using The Bible

Nehemiah was appalled by the mixed marriages of Jewish men with women from other ethnic groups. He believed the very survival of the Jewish people was at stake. If the children of these marriages were brought up to worship the gods of their mothers, then there would be no more remnant of Israel. He responded forcefully and did not compromise on the issue. Josephus believed this action led to the development of the Samaritan people and created the mutual hatred we read about in the gospels. (Nehemiah 12)

The same time Nehemiah and Ezra were solving the problem, someone, likely one of the “objectionable” wives, wrote a story. This story has a Moabite woman who decided to marry Israelite men. Ruth is a good daughter-in-law to her widowed mother-in-law. Ruth is widowed herself. But being younger she works to as one of the poorest people among the Israelites to support her and Naomi. The text ends with a genealogy showing Ruth is an ancestor of King David.

The writer Ruth argues that the issue of national identity is not a matter of her birth but her choice to love. “Your people will be my people. And your God will be my God.” She claims the solution Nehemiah uses is draconian and unnecessary. If the identity of the children is at issue, then that is solvable in a way that does not destroy.

Destruction As Anti-Christian

Matthew rejects the desire to destroy, to separate people, or to dissolve useful institutions in his genealogy of Jesus. Ruth is in the family tree. And so is a person treated as a minor figure in the Ezra-Nehemiah stories, Zerubbabel who is of David’s line. Yes, Jesus says some very difficult words about separation and destruction. But that is because the way the world, Caesar, and Herod react to what he proposes. The world sees “peace-making” as a subduing an enemy. Peace-making is different according to the beatitudes.

“Burn it all down” is a sentiment that means to drive terror into the hearts of enemies. I was a childhood burn victim. I have a deep respect for fire. It leaves scars. Trust me on this. A friend who holds with the more traditionalist group within my denomination once called me out for using inflammatory language about someone I did not know. He was correct to do so. I still thought I was right about the person. I realized though what I said left little room for reconciliation with that clergy person. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who I said it to. I should apologize. I will if I ever remember who it is.

Not Being Nice

There are those who operate under the mistaken belief that Christianity is about being nice and orderly. It is not the “Christian way” to avoid conflict. Cowardice is anti-Christian. We confront others in ways that neither compromise nor destroy. The other person matters to God even when that person is in the wrong. Truth and mercy do not balance. They are products of the love of Christ and the reign of divine peace.

C. Don Jones is Pastor of Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee. You can read more about the author here.

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