Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thinking About Religious Leaders

Dave Black posted this on Monday.
In the Palestine of Jesus' day, the religious authorities enjoyed an allegiance with the imperial forces that were occupying their nation. In the Gospels, Jesus is consistently portrayed as resisting both the religious and political authorities of His day. Political allegiances are always problematic for followers of Jesus. This is true in today's American politics as well. When I heard a certain Republican candidate for president's belligerent talk yesterday -- "If I'm president of the United States and you're thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL, I'm not gonna call a judge. I'm gonna call a drone and we will kill you" -- I could certainly see where he was coming from. Whereas the teachings of Jesus should be a check and a critical corrective to such statements, the assumption among many conservatives today is that world power is politics. They are right, of course. Yet it might be helpful to admit, with Kierkegaard, that much of evangelical Christianity today is "playing Christianity" -- a child's game, a counterfeit even, an ersatz Christianity that masquerades as genuine Christianity but lacks any substance or depth. Being a disciple of King Jesus is meant to be a game-changer. If we are not very careful, political loyalties can easily displace our allegiance to Christ. And if we are not very careful, American Christianity can become so diluted that it ends up mixing easily with allegiances that demand killing without due process of law. Indeed, this already seems to be happening in our nation.
With respect I think Dr. Black might be far too optimistic here. It isn't happening, it already has happened and it gets worse every day. The Republican candidate for President he mentions, Senator Lindsey Graham, is a dangerous and quite possibly unhinged individual, someone who is quite willing to send men and women to kill and be killed to defend some misguided notion of "freedom" and curry political favor with the bloodthirsty among our electorate. Of course the Senator also described himself as a veteran of the first Gulf War even though he never left the U.S.. So no surprise there.

What is interesting though is how Dr. Black's earlier statement rings true today. Like the first century Palestinian religious leaders, many "conservative" religious leaders today have a comfy relationship and even a tacit alliance with the military and imperial forces of Caesar in America. Sure they dress that up in flowery language and noble intentions but there is a very real unequal yoking going on.

One of the dirty secrets of the religious conservative movement is that very few of the prominent thinkers and speakers are Christians. Look at talking heads like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and especially Glenn Beck. Not a one of them is a Christian as far as I can tell, although all of them make noise about being Christians despite being part of a cult (Beck) or being thrice divorced like Limbaugh who was serenaded at his fourth wedding by open homosexual Elton John. The few that are Christians are largely clowns (Ralph Reed) or embarrassing (Mike Huckabee). There are some bright writers and thinkers like Rod Dreher and the writers of National Review but by and large they have some serious theological issues.

Unfortunately a great many Christians, or at least church going Americans, look for direction on matters of doctrine and practice to these individuals, not because they know anything about them but because they are famous and influential and of course they spout the proper political talking points. Having the right political philosophy or at least saying you do is not a qualifier for being a leader who ought to be listened to and emulated in the church. This is not unique to conservatives of course, so-called "progressives" will embrace anyone who says the right things about gender or denying hell or embracing homosexuality. It does tend to be far more prevalent among conservatives simply because there are far more Christians who are politically conservative than there are those who identify as being "progressive".

Something is deeply askew when the church largely looks to famous celebrity men who embrace Caesar and his sword for the sake of political influence rather than taking our guidance from simple men and women who love and serve God and their neighbor right down the street. When we are more interested in hearing what pagan Glenn Beck has to say on an issue than the Christian brother who lives around the corner it is little wonder things are such a muddled mess in the church.

The sooner the church loses our influence, power and wealth in America, the better off we will be.

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