"I don't want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it."
— Rev. Billy Graham, Parade, 1981
We’ve always liked this quote by Bob Marley. What it says to us primarily is that you can’t ever put your full faith in another human being. Not your husband; not your wife; not your pastor; not your children; not your mother; and not your dad. We’re all fallible human beings. We’re all going to make mistakes that let other people down. Other people are going to let us down. It’s another reason forgiveness is so important.
The only person who will never let you down is Jesus. He is the only one worthy of your full faith. Let go of your expectations that other people won’t let you down. They will. God won’t. Let go and let God.
“Hey Mister … Are You Jesus?” by Keith Goss, for The Christian Left
“Are you saved?” “Are you born again?” “Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?” These are the formulaic ways that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians will ask you if you are “right with God.” But I have to say that I become uncomfortable when someone uses these phrases as a thermometer to gauge my spiritual temperature. Not only does it seem to be very self righteous, but I start to think that what they really mean is that if I haven’t come to God by one of these particular processes, then I might not be a Christian.
Not to mention that usually in today’s America when a conservative Christian approaches you with such phrases, there is much unspoken baggage behind them. Such as: When you are saved or born again, you will want to become a Republican Conservative. You will want to be very patriotic because this is a Christian Nation. You will want to be for the death penalty and against all abortion. You will want to speak out against homosexuality and lesbianism . You will want little or no government intervention in your life. You will loath separation of church and state. And you will go to war if that war is “just,” etc.
But I don’t like it when people put God in a box. I would like them to throw their formulas away. If I know anything about God I would say that he is very creative and omniscient, and he can bring people to him in many mysterious, joyful and loving ways. It’s like Forrest Gump said when asked if he found Jesus: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.”
Alter calls and “witnessing” campaigns are not for me. The early church met at one another’s houses. When the people around them watched them live their daily lives, they said, “See how they love one another?” That’s how we should be. I don’t think there is one perfunctory formula or living arrangement that we are to pursue to get people to “come to Jesus,” or “get right with God.” As a matter of fact I believe that wherever we are, we “flesh out Jesus.” We show by our actions that Christ lives in us. It’s as simple as that. I don’t believe that we are supposed to get a beatific smile on our faces or have our eyes become glazed over.
We don’t have to speak in tongues or have some kind of carnival show. I have known when I am around a Christian. They don’t have to say anything. They don’t sound like they are on drugs and smile at me like a moron. They don’t keep saying “Praise the Lord!” Praise the Lord! They do praise the Lord by the way they naturally act in love. They are human. They are compassionate. The difference is that they are genuine. You can just tell. I think they have authentic love because they follow Christ and have him and his love living inside of them. They “flesh him out.”
That’s how I would have felt around Martin Luther King. That’s how I would have felt around Gandhi or Mother Teressa. And I’m sure that’s how I would feel if I met Jimmy Carter. There is just something about people who walk in God’s love. You like to be around them. They love you unconditionally and accept you as you are. They don’t judge you.
I think conservative Christians like pat formulas because, in our commercialized world, they have turned Christ into a commodity, something to sell to people. Jesus used various phrases in the Bible to teach people what it’s like to know God or understand his love. He didn’t mean for us to make an idol of them and turn his love into mathematical formula.
There is a story about a business man who was frantically rushing through an airport lobby because he was late for a flight. A little boy was walking along with a puzzle that he had just put together. The businessman smacked into the boy and the pieces of the puzzle, along with the boy, went flying everywhere. The man sat down on the floor beside the boy to see if he was okay. He was going to miss his flight. While he was on the floor with the kid he put the pieces back into their proper places and handed the puzzle fully intact back to the child. The little boy smiled with surprise and said, “Hey Mister. Are you Jesus?”
"Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander." -- The Holocaust Museum
“Let Us Be Broken Together,” by Keith Goss, for The Christian Left
Doing the right thing can be very lonely. Think of all the prophets throughout history. They had their backs up against the wall. To say that they were between a rock and a hard place would be an understatement. Often their own families were against them. Their own religious and societal institutions were sometimes rejecting them. They were called crazy. Jesus’ own mother persuaded him to come home and get some rest because the townsfolk thought he was going nuts. It’s there in the Bible.
Martin Luther King’s fellow clergymen often said, “Calm down Martin. You’re going to ruin the cause. Don’t speak out against the war (Vietnam). That’s crossing the line. You will lose a lot of people.” The very President he was negotiating with in the White House had his brother Bobby, the Attorney general, wire tap a lot of the hotels and motels Martin stayed in during the struggle. Martin knew it. This stalwart practitioner of nonviolence would be beside himself when sometimes his followers broke out in violence and hatred. Malcolm X severely criticized him. So did Stokely Carmichael. Many said he was not aggressive enough. Others countered that he was too incendiary. But despite that he was a fragile person like the rest of us, he had a strong faith in God and the nonviolence of Jesus which kept him going.
I often think of what Progressive Christians are up against these days. Right wing pastors foisting a Gospel of merit and rugged individualism on the public, and that being virtually the only version of Christianity covered by the media. Charismatic health and wealth gospelers incessantly asking for people to send them money, and then claiming that they are so wealthy because they are blessed by God.
Stories like Jerry Falwell spewing that 911 was punishment from God for homosexuality, feminism and the actions of other groups of human beings that he hated. The Westboro Baptist family protesting at funerals with hellish signs and abject hatred dripping from their words. Pat Robertson telling us that natural catastrophes are punishment from God and Sarah Palin wrapping the cross in the flag by promoting her own brand of xenophobia. These distortions seem to be all that is appearing in the press.
It’s enough to make a Christian want to cry out: “This is not what it’s supposed to be all about! Where is the love in this?” Indeed, where is the Christlike love? It is a very lonely time for us. We need to get together in spirit and encourage one another that the love and sacrificial motives of Christianity are still alive. That cheap grace will not reign. That Christ still wants us to reconcile and work for social justice. That sometimes, a lot of times, we can use government and social institutions to help those who are hurting precisely because the love of Christ overcomes the cold bureaucracy that Conservatives seem to be so paranoid about.
At this time in history, being a progressive Christian, emphasizing the good things that the left can do, seems like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. But we have the grace of Jesus. We have one another, and that is why it is so comforting to have a place like The Christian Left to come and visit in spirit once in awhile. To know that there are other people out there who conclude like us that there is something terribly wrong with what is advertised as Christianity today. People who want to be assured that they are not wrong about taking up the cross. About discipleship. About not being self righteous and condemning everyone. About accepting everyone unconditionally with love no matter what.
We are broken people and we fail a lot. And that is why we can let go and put our trust in Christ and let him show his love through us, whether it be through a person to person encounter or government legislation. Whether it be through a charity or a chance encounter with a fellow human being (and yes, animals too). That is a message that many who are hurting want to hear. And that is a message that Progressive Christians can exhibit: Progress is helping others who hurt because we genuinely care and we hurt ourselves. It’s not offering someone a formula for salvation and then advising them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps come what may. We speak by our actions. Let’s all be broken together, love one another and search to help others who are broken and look to the one who was broken for us on the cross. And we don’t need to search far because they will be those who we come across everyday of our lives. As The Apostle Paul said: love conquers all.