Saturday, October 27, 2007

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS: Searching for loopholes to ignore God's will

The first time I saw this photo I was devastated to the point of tears. I was shocked by its simplicity. It was not an artful piece of photojournalism by any stretch of the imagination. It was stark and shocking and its message hit me with tremendous force. I was browsing through an article about the photographer, Kevin Carter, and discovered that he’d committed suicide in despair after winning the Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism. It’s easy to understand his despair, even if I don’t fully understand his response. His award was for his work in Africa, work that drained him emotionally as he struggled to answer the question of why such atrocities as starvation and genocide are allowed to exist. It’s a fair question, and the answer has always been with us...but usually ignored because few want to own up to the responsibility that comes with it.

Why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? Only in our Christian faith can we find a satisfactory answer, an answer that has been provided to us in the second chapter of Genesis. And it’s in the answer that we learn that we’ve been asking the wrong question all along.

The right question, the proper question, should be, “Why do we allow it to happen?”

How quickly we forget that God has made us stewards of the Creation. We are our brothers’ keepers in every sense of the term. It’s a job that’s been entrusted to us since the moment God first breathed His spirit into Mankind. Yet it appears that so few of us are truly up to the task. When I think of all the wasted time and energy that some Christians put into attacking others, for wagging their fingers and pointing out how everyone else seems to be getting it wrong, I can’t help but think how much better our world would be if those same Christians put their time, money and energies into making the world a better place for the less fortunate, for “the least of these,” as Christ calls them. I can sympathize with the secular world for feeling hopelessly ineffective, but I cannot understand why so many Christians seem to think that death by starvation and disease is someone else’s problem. I find it terribly sad that even some of my own Christian friends feel this way. They simply shrug it off and say, in some form or another, “That’s the way it goes sometimes.” They’re saddened by it, but feel any singular effort on their part would go unnoticed anyway. I know this because I’m often one of those people, and it pains me to admit it. I do donate my time and money when I can, but I mostly feel ineffective, as though I am working alone and trying to fill up the ocean one drop of water at a time.

Yet the solution is simple, and these are the facts...

There is no excuse for any child dying in the manner of the child shown in this photo. Period. In this world today we absolutely have the resources, the money and the means to ensure that every single person on this planet is properly fed, clothed and sheltered. Every single one, without exception. The problem is that those of us in a position to help—the wealthy countries, and all the individuals who live in them, such as you and I—lack the collective will to fix the problem. We’re often too wrapped up in our own lives to look this sort of death and evil in the eye and commit to fighting it in a collective effort. We’re content to let it have it’s way elsewhere in the world, just as long as it stays out of our backyard, just as long as it stays out of sight in some country that’s too far away to worry about.

As Christians, what price will we pay for turning our backs? We'll be judged for ignoring these types of problems, you know. Christ tells us this in no uncertain terms in Matthew 25:37-40: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

When will people stop blaming God for allowing so many atrocities and start accepting the responsibility not only for fixing them, but for allowing them to develop in the first place? Surely we cannot fix all the world’s problems, but we cannot throw up our hands in despair, either. We often pray for God to help these people, and we forget that as God’s ambassadors on Earth, we are His hands...we are the answer to our own prayers!

When do we start asking the rights questions? When do we start accepting responsibility and start taking action?

We’ll have to answer these questions someday. What will your answer be?

I'll close with these verses from Isaiah 58:6–11. Please keep them in mind as you decide your course of action.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: “Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Africa is a continent on fire, and we are the waters that must put out the flames.

ANN COULTER'S GOD: The Hypocrisy of Militant Christianity

This past spring I watched with troubled fascination an appearance by Ann Coulter on The 700 Club. Her segment was hosted by Pat Robertson’s son, Gordon, who basically gave her a soapbox to espouse her views without being challenged in any way. Based upon some of her very un-Christian utterances over the years, I was hoping that Robertson would bring up a few of her comments and ask her how she could reconcile her Christian faith with some of the nastier comments she’d made. Unfortunately, this moment never materialized.

Ms. Coulter, as many know, is famous for such controversial comments as:

"The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet—it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars—that's the Biblical view."

This next comment, made on September 12, 2001 and referring to the terrorists' act of the previous day, sounds like something an Islamic extremist would say, simply by changing 'Christianity' to 'Islam':

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."

"If you don't hate Clinton and the people who labored to keep him in office, you don't love your country."

And here’s an odd thing for her to say, since she doesn’t seem to operate by this "incidental tenet":

"Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity—as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of 'kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed'."

And of course, as an Episcopalian, my personal favorite:

“The Episcopals don't demand much in the way of actual religious belief. They have girl priests, gay priests, gay bishops, gay marriages—it's much like The New York Times editorial board. They acknowledge the Ten Commandments—or "Moses' talking points"—but hasten to add that they're not exactly "carved in stone."

I can only suppose that Robertson’s reluctance to question her inflammatory comments stems from the fact that his own father once made a similar comment about Episcopalians, stating: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." (Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991).

So why is Ann Coulter, who claims to be a Christian, so militant in her beliefs? And yes, militant is the right word here. The dictionary defines the adjective militant as "combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause." This description clearly fits Ms. Coulter’s modus operandi. Before I go much farther, I should point out that on the whole, Ann Coulter is very bright, well-educated and articulate. When you read what she has to say, quite a bit of it is based upon a sound core idea. It’s just that she feels compelled to surround these good ideas with cheap shots and nastiness that go far beyond the point she’s trying to make. Does she just do it to sell books? I’m sure that’s a huge part of it, but she’s also stated for the record that she firmly believes everything she says, and that’s what should concern people who call themselves Christian yet enjoy the commentary of Ann Coulter.

Let’s look at her comment about being nice to people, which she calls "one of the incidental tenets of Christianity." Incidental? Last time I checked, that was the primary message, and it entails much more than just "being nice." In fact, Christ calls it part of the two most important commandments in Matthew 22:37-40, when He tells the Pharisees: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Nowhere in that statement can I find anything that suggests Christ’s words are to be regarded as an "incidental" tenet of the faith. In fact, what He has done is to take the Old Testament Law of Moses, and refined it into two commandments that, if followed truthfully, can help us to live up to the commandments and laws of the Old Testament, laws that only He is capable of fulfilling. To say that being nice to people is an "incidental tenet” of Christianity is to ignore the importance of Christ’s statement, which makes it crystal clear that all the Old Testament laws are refined and superseded by these two new commandments. And that brings me to her derogatory and untrue comments about Episcopalians.

I happen to be an Episcopalian, and I know firsthand from practicing my faith that it’s very Christ-centered and focuses heavily on the Gospels for a very important reason: the Gospels, which quote Christ extensively, are the Word of God made flesh in the person of Christ. Here we have God walking among us, assuming our nature, and telling us that the Mosaic Laws can only be fulfilled in Him, and that when we measure ourselves by these laws, we’re often prone to judging others for not getting them right. Therefore, we receive salvation through grace alone, and not through works or any attempts to strictly follow the O.T. Laws.

Has Ms. Coulter lived up to all 613 of the Old Testament Laws, or “Moses’s talking points,” as she sarcastically calls them? I’m certain she hasn’t. I doubt that she’s even been able to keep many of the Ten Commandments. Has she ever worked on a Sunday? If she has, she’s broken a major commandment. Has she ever borne false witness? Just read her comments above, and decide for yourself. Has she always treated her parents with utmost respect? If she hasn’t, she’s broken another major commandment. Has she ever just had to have something, like a new pair of shoes, a car, a dress...and then went out and bought it even though she didn’t need it? If she has, she’s coveted, and she’s broken another major commandment. Has she ever been involved in a physical relationship outside of marriage? If she has, then she’s broken another major commandment, because any physical relationship outside of the bonds of marriage is considered adultery. Has she ever enjoyed lobster or shrimp? If she has, she’s committed an “abomination” in the eyes of God, and broken another Old Testament law.

I could go on, but you get the point. And that’s the problem with so much of some Christians’ militant mixing of faith and politics. It’s hypocritical to adopt a political stance against anything on the basis of religious laws while ignoring your own infractions of them. In essence, quite a few prominent and public Christians have become somewhat like the Pharisees. Remember them? They received Christ’s scorn for holding themselves up as righteous examples while looking down their noses at those who didn't live up to the Law, those who couldn't seem to "get it right." The fact of the matter is that we all get it wrong (myself included), so much of the time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative, we’re all sinners and we need to humbly concede this critical point. Because of it, we're denied the right to judge others. Ms. Coulter seems to believe she’s above this distinction, and lives a very public and professional life that strongly conflicts with her personal claim to be a devout follower of Christ.

And as for her comments about Episcopalians, they certainly don’t apply to the large majority of Episcopalians, who are devout and take their faith quite seriously. In fact, I doubt she could site any sources for her comments as I've never heard of any prominent Episcopalian commenting that the Ten Commandments were merely suggestions. It’s uninformed and unfounded comments like these, tinged with a very real nastiness, that have turned off many Christians to her books. I find it sad, however, that many are still so supportive of someone who publicly attacks others, treats them in a very un-Christlike manner while claiming to believe everything she says, and therefore feels not the slightest need to humble herself or ask forgiveness for her many public transgressions against other children of God, be they liberal, conservative...or heaven forbid, of a different faith than her own.