A decade ago I was referred to a dermatologist for a minor skin irritation. A prescription made short work of the problem but my meeting with the dermatologist scarred me for life.
The first time I met him he entered the room talking as if he knew me. Almost immediately he began to share his thoughts about all sorts of unrelated issues: his schedule was too full; he had lots of annoying patients; his two hour commute was unbearable; his wife kept their social life too full. He hated the government (every government) and he still resented the fortune in back taxes they had forced him to pay.
The doctor moved on to a crop of conspiracy theories (before it was fashionable like it is now) and my polite smiles changed to questioning frowns. He barely had time to scribble a prescription before the next appointment brought a glorious end to mine.
I returned a couple more times over the years and he was always the same: angry with the unfairness of his life and ready to take advantage of whoever was in his way.
The lesson? Anybody can be a self-absorbed fool, regardless of education, money, popularity, or accomplishment.
And it doesn’t take much time watching the news before you bump into some religious person who is just as abrasive or weird as my doctor. I could fill this page with the oddities, manipulations, lies, and sins of high profile evangelicals in the news … just this week.
From anti-masking pastors, to conspiracy-peddling televangelists, to faithless faith healers, to power-addled ministry heads, there is no shortage of personalities who work hard to keep us misinformed and defensive. Influential christian leaders often insist on telling us what to believe.
But if the Church’s job is to love God, love our neighbour, make disciples, help the helpless … then a whole crowd of narrow-minded religious hucksters need to be fired.
Just keep in mind they are dispensing their own opinions, through their own lenses, depending on the rest of us to support them. Everybody else, be damned.
monuments are just monuments
Remember all the kerfuffle last year when various monuments of historic figures were being toppled or removed? In the U.S. most of them were confederate heroes but the fun even spilled into our area where local statues were defaced and threatened.
Some people saw the monument ‘tipping’ as an attempt to erase history. For my part, I love history but I don’t believe monuments are important in preserving it – the unseemly habits of pigeons show even they know that. We have libraries for preserving and learning history. Monuments aren’t based on merit either because they are erected by people with subjective views and the resources to build them.
While traveling through Europe and North America, pastor/author Brian Zahnd realized that most communities he visited had a statue of a conquering hero, sword in hand, sitting on a horse. The statues became a sermon when he observed wryly that, “There’s always some dude on a horse.”
Christianity needs fewer monument heroes and more nameless heroes.
yep, gassy alright
We have a bent relationship with truth. Like most other parts of our lives, we are conditioned to measure it with tangibles of size, personality, influence, certainty. How else can we explain why some christian ministries focus on individuals like the infamous Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, The Jim Bakker Show, or the John MacArthur Study Bible?
I cringe when I hear church-speak that says, “Isn’t he a good preacher?” or “You can feel God’s presence when she prays” or “He’s a natural leader”. It might be true but it’s not truthful. Instead, those attitudes stray dangerously close to admiring performance theatre where smooth talking extroverts are presumed to be more God-ordained.
Paul was a head-strong religious guy who met Jesus and was dramatically changed by him. Naturally he has some thoughts.
“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.” – from 1 Timothy 1:3-7, NIV
This quote from Bill Bullard rings true with me: “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.”¹
I know I’ve written about this before but I am very concerned about the evangelical obsession with personality and performance. Let’s be honest: many (gladly not all) local church leaders get their theology and direction from ‘successful’ national personalities.
That’s why a shocking … yes shocking, amount of misinformation and gaslighting is happening in the name of God. It’s how we explain the Trump cult. It’s how we get the bad theology, abuse, and wealth building that is common in christian circles. (I’ll be focusing on the subject of religious gaslighting in my next post.)
Be careful of christians who specialize in being ‘right’ rather than being humble:
They’re not understanding, they are demanding;
They’re not kind, they are abrasive;
They don’t build faith, they build empires;
They’re not creative, they are institutional;
They don’t disciple, they train;
They don’t edify, they blame.
They are more concerned with the words of god than with the image of God.
begin with virtue
Yet the Bible is full of stories where God chooses to work through the weak, poor, low, less accomplished, least eloquent. In fact, it’s not unusual to read of boisterous, proud characters who need to be humbled before they can please God.
God’s Spirit moves mysteriously and works through more intimate gifts like faithfulness, discipline, humility, sacrifice.
Poor public speakers can be amazing pastors; being a good person is every bit as blessed as leading a church; unspoken prayers can be deeper than loud ones; a worship team is no more glorifying to God than singing in the shower; donating a million dollars is no more valuable than helping a neighbour.
Esau McCaully ties it all together with this comment (about christian social media): “The darkest parts … are the places where people have convinced themselves that their sincerely held doctrines release them from the responsibility to display the fruit of the Spirit. Virtue is also biblical.”
That is a good measurement for truth. Is it virtuous?
There is only one who is fully virtuous: Jesus.
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¹ By the way, I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I’d love it if you would honestly weigh why I’m saying it.