Sunday, May 16, 2010

The mistake of conservative Christians

Most of the preachers at the Union Gospel Mission are talented and passionate and are empathetic (or, try to be) with the congregants.  A few, like Jimmy Roughton and Brett Ingalls, compose exquisite sermons, that have an arc leading to a point, and, in Roughton's case and in the case of those from Heart Talk ministry, love is expressed for guys they are speaking to, explicitly.

But that leaves more than a few who clearly don't work very hard, if at all, at coming up with a sermon.  Often, what they have to say is blueplate fundamentalism, that wanders and can have no point, is mostly accusatory, and can focus quite a lot on the torment of hell.  For them, the finger wagging from an essay Mike Lux wrote is somewhat appropriate.

This from Mike Lux's essay "How Do Christians Become Conservative?" in the Huffington Post [with emphases, mine]:
Conservative Christians' primary argument regarding Jesus and politics is that all he cared about was spiritual matters and an individual's relationship with God. As a result, they say, all those references from Jesus about helping the poor relate only to private charity, not to society as a whole. Their belief is that Jesus, and the New Testament in general, is focused on one thing and one thing only: how do people get into heaven.

The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.

What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord -- which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger -- and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.
I don't know that I have heard any preacher say that "greed is good"; on that, Lux may be out-of-touch. But there is a lot of talk in the general realm of getting stuff from God, countered by a greater number of other preachers who ask the constantly-shifting congregation to not ask for stuff from God - as if He's "a benign Santa Claus in the sky," [quoting an Elk Grove Baptist preacher/speaker last night] - but submit to His will.

Jimmy Roughton
Still there are important sections of the Bible that are little preached on, and I find this troubling.  I Corinthians 13, the Book of James [which extols good works and does not belittle faith, but may seem to], the Sermon on the Mount, and Christ's Commandments to Love [except from Roughton, recently] get scant attention.  I would want one of the preachers to take one of the four I mention and talk about it, exclusively, one night.

[Full disclosure:  I don't claim to be a Christian, and don't expect to become one.  On the other hand, I don't rule it out.  I consider myself to be a Skyhooks Buddhist -- that is, someone who 'buys in' to most Buddhism principles, seeing others as colleague sufferers, but isn't 'reductionist' as many of my Buddhist friends are.  I fully believe that humans came into being 'from the ground up.'  That is, evolution is proved.  I believe that science is a noble truth-seeking field that can be mostly trusted.  But I also believe that in addition to the 'push' from the ground up, there is some kind of 'pull' from above.  What that 'pull' is, I do not know.  God doesn't talk to me.  Jesus has not come knocking at my door.]

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