Dear Thoughtful Pastor,
I consider myself a Christian and I am totally confused with some who seem to feel God commanded them to take on the world if the world does not see Christian values the way they do. Did God order us to work actively to attack others with slightly different ideas and tolerance levels than our own? ~Confused
Have you ever known two people who absolutely agreed on everything? Of course not. One of the joys of life is learning to live with and appreciate differences. However, what if someone disagrees violently with a belief that you have built your life upon? Then what?
The stakes jump higher. Fear raises its ugly head. Tempers flame.
And yes, we can interpret the Bible to say we should actively attack others with different ideas than our own especially when those ideas threaten bedrock beliefs. Many stories in the historical books of the Bible have sections where we read of God commanding the Israelites to attack and kill every living creature in certain towns and villages.
Frankly, the gruesome stories bring a sense of horror to modern day readers. Yet some do pull from such stories the idea that we should get rid of those who differ religiously and morally..
So, is that really what we are supposed to do? The answer all depends on how you see God.
I checked out what someone else had to say on some of those Bible passages that command slaughter. One person wrote, “God lawfully has the right to execute judgment upon anyone,” and then went on to write about what a wonderful thing it was that those sinful people died before they could do more evil and breed more evil children.
This is one way fairly popular way to see God. Those who both are quite sure of their own righteousness and adhere to that view often believe God gives a green light and even commands an attack on people who differ.
Another possibility is to see God as full of mercy. Even more, this merciful God suggests that we should do things like forgive people who wrong us in some way as many as seventy times seven. That’s 490 times for the math-challenged among us. The multiple use of the “sevens” essentially means unlimited forgiveness.
That perception of God takes seriously ideas about loving our enemies and going way out of our way to do nice things for them, like helping them carry their burdens and giving them some of the stuff we own.
You get to decide here. But I’d suggest that the least helpful thing you can do is attack people who think God wants them to attack other people. If you do have the opportunity to get into conversation with them, you might ask them to tell you how they perceive the essence of God’s nature. It will tell you a lot about the basis for their actions.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor,
What hope is there for a believer and former active church participant who is simply (but absolutely) fed up with the rules and hypocrisy of organized religion? ~Fed Up
Dear Fed Up,
My quick answer is “none,” as in no hope at all.
However, I am not called the Thoughtful Pastor for nothing and so suggest there is a more thoughtful answer possible.
I keep thinking about some of the things Jesus did that set the organized religion people of the day off. My favorite story comes from the Gospel of Mark. When the third chapter begins, Jesus has entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, the day of prescribed, organized and enforced rest.
A man with a non-functional arm stands in front of Jesus.
Here’s the fascinating part: the religious leaders of the day expressed concern only about whether Jesus would break the rules of rest by healing on the Sabbath. It did not matter one little bit whether a disabled man would become whole-bodied and able to work again.
In other words, things have not changed.
Now, I am a retired clergy person from a very organized religion, United Methodist. The word “Methodist” came from the “methods” John Wesley developed nearly 300 years ago to help people become real Christians.
Those methods included important disciplines like gathering together weekly and inquiring of one another, “How goes it with your soul?” They also included visiting the sick and those in prison and helping out the extremely poor and less fortunate.
When outsiders used to call those following these disciplines “methodists,” it was meant as insult, not compliment. The name stuck, however, and those very methods created a religious institution that was instrumental in bringing both eternal hope and societal change all across the US, particularly during the 19th century.
Now, however, those once helpful methods are about to kill the United Methodist Church Other denominations organized around extensive rule books face similar issues. Why? Because, and for the very reason you are fed up, the methods themselves have become the end rather than the means to the end.
So what hope do you have? I’d suggest you sit down and re-read the books called Luke and Acts. They are actually one book and are meant to be read together. See how the words and actions of Jesus and his immediate followers breathed fresh air and renewed hope into the stale religious hypocritically dominated climate of the time.
Ask yourself, “How can I do that now? In what ways can I be an agent of fresh air?”
I’d also suggest you rethink the need for “organized” religion. In truth, any living organism must have organization. The more complex the organism, the more complex the organization must become.
Anytime a group gets together to pursue a task or calling, they have to organize. Ultimately, when an organization ceases to exist for the sake of the mission but only for the sake of the organization itself, then it has lost its function.
In other words, if your liver decided that it was too much trouble to keep detoxifying your blood because it wanted to live independently, it would quickly die. It would lose the blood source that keeps it alive. The liver has to keep in mind, assuming a liver thinks, that it exists precisely because it’s part of an organization.
So “organized” isn’t the problem. The problem comes when rules become more important than relationships and even life itself.
Again, is your hope lost? Not unless you decide to live hopelessly.
All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.
[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, September 11, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]