Charlottesville and a Christ-less Christianity

White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville

I’m still thinking about Charlottesville.  A lot of us are.

As a Christ-follower and pastor I am especially interested in the spiritual context in which these events of Charlottesville happened.

The symbols of the Charlottesville protests are familiar:

Confederate Flags.

Nazi Flags.

Nazi salutes.

We’re not as familiar with the spirituality of the symbols.

The symbols represent what I see as a “Christianity with Christ.”

Both Nazism and the Klan draw deep from the well of a “Christ-less Christianity. “

Nazi Germany was both a product of, and established in, Christian Europe.  Hitler’s favorite bed-time reading was Martin Luther.  Luther, though doing many good things (pretty good with a hammer and nail) was not perfect in his theology and practice – who is?
One view of Luther’s, embraced by Hitler, was his anti- Semitism.  Luther hated Jews.  I mean a deep down in his gut, burn down their houses, cut off their limbs, drown them, murder them, kind of hatred.

“Set fire to their synagogues or schools,” Luther wrote.

Jewish houses should be “razed and destroyed.”

“Force them to work, and deal harshly with them.”

“They must be driven from our country like mad dogs.”

Could the seed of Hitler’s hatred for and extermination of the Jews been planted by Luther?

Sure seems so.

On the night of November 10, 1938, Nazis killed Jews, shattered glass windows, and destroyed hundreds of synagogues.  Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Lutheran pastor, immediately saw the connection between this event and Luther’s writings.  Shortly after the event, he published a collection of Luther’s anti-Semitic works.  In the forward, he applauded the “Kristallnacht” (The Night of Broken Glass), especially since it occurred on Luther’s birthday.  He also wrote that the German people should pay attention to the writings of Luther, who was the “greatest anti-Semite of this time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”

In his novel, “Mein Kampf,” Hitler himself named Luther as one of history’s reformers.  Hitler played the Jesus card.  In a speech on April 12, 1922, Hitler said,

“In boundless love, as a Christian and a human being, I read the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in his might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple broods of vipers and adders.  How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison.  I realize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that he had to shed his blood upon the cross.”

Also, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote, “By destroying the Jews, I am fighting Christ’s battles.”

Have you heard anything like the following?  “The national government…will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of out nation rests.  It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.”  That statement is from none other than Adolf Hitler.  I guess not everyone who wants to protect Christianity is a Christian.

What kind of Christianity did Hitler want to protect?  On what kind of Christianity did Hitler base their “collective morality?”

On April 26, 1933, Hitler signed the Nazi-Vatican Concordat (Treaty) and said, “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently  all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”  I think I hear some “Amens!”

One last quote from Hitler.  It’s a clincher.  It’s from a speech he made in 1934 at Koblenz: “National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.”  Wait.  One more…There are so many:  “We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the idea of Christianity…in fact our movement is Christian.”  

If you operate on the “A picture is worth a thousand words” philosophy, check out this “God With Us” belt buckle from Nazi German and a baptismal font showing Jesus hanging with Nazi soldiers:

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Is it possible that Christian teaching supplied the fuel for the crematoria?  Did Christian doctrine pave the way for the poison that filled the showers?  Did Christian teaching lead Germany’s church leaders to advocate murdering six million Jews?

I’m afraid so.  A Christ-less Christianity.  A love-less religion.

We are  more familiar with the connection between the KKK and Christianity.  This pic makes me laugh and scream at the same time.  It’s crazy.  It’s scary.KKK-Christian-Prayer-Meeting-1

The Christian connection still exists and is a prominent feature of the KKK.  Check out this note from kkknights.com, “Our goal is to help restore America to a white Christian nation, founded on God’s Word.” Or this one Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard of the Traditional American Knights of the KKK, “We are a Christian organization.”  

One of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville was the neo-Confederate “League of the South.” Under the “Core Beliefs” section on their website are these words, “…our primary allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.”  

I know.  Unbelievable.  My hands were shaking as I typed those words.

What does this mean?

First, we’ve all sighed with frustration over the, “We don’t recognize the user ID or password” error message we get when trying to log on to something.   I think I hear Jesus sighing as he looks at the Christianity practiced by these groups:  “I don’t recognize your Christian ID.”

The Christianity practiced by these hate groups is not Jesus.  

Is mine?  I have to look at my life, my behavior, my attitudes and ask, “Does my Christianity look like Christ?”  “Does Jesus look at me and say, ‘Yep, I recognize you as one of mine.’” “I see the love. I see the ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

Second, we need to admit that our brand of Christianity has failed to teach people to love others as they love themselves.  How can people continue to sit in our sanctuaries and Bible study classes and harbor hate toward others?  “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Third, Luke writes that Saul “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s followers” (Acts 9:1). The word “breathing out” is literally to “inhale” – “en pneo” – “in breathe.”  What I breathe in, I breathe out.   I need to spend some time each day breathing – breathing in the character and love of Jesus.  What I breathe in, I breathe out.

Fourth, let’s speak.  Let’s act.  “Where there is hatred, let us sow love.” 

Lord, save me from a “Christ-less Christianity.”

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“White Christians Need to Act More Christian Than White” Jim Wallis

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The events of Charlottesville are heavy on my mind.  Yours too, I’m sure.

The question Marvin Gaye asked in 1971 is being asked today: “What’s Going On.”

The events did not happen in a vacuum.

There is a cultural, political, and a spiritual context.

Let’s talk spiritual.

American Christianity has a troubled relationship with race.  In the days of American slavery,  abolitionists and their opponents were inspired in their positions by their Christian faith.  As President Lincoln observed in his Second Inaugural Address, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God…”  

How can two polar opposite views be based on reading the same book?  Doesn’t the Bible speak with a clear, unequivocal, singular voice?  Maybe not.

Many have found in the pages of the Bible

-comfort in and encouragement for their racist views.

-justification for slavery, for segregation, for feeling superior, for atrocious treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.

Christian slave-owners in the United States had plenty of go-to Bible verses.

“When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished.  But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn’t be punished because the slave is the owner’s property” (Exodus 22:20-21).  Really?  I honestly don’t know what to say about that.  That just doesn’t sound like Jesus.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).  Yep, #10 on the top 10 list of commands.  Do people really want to put a monument on public ground with this command?  A command that puts slaves and women, for that matter, on the same level as an “ox, or donkey”?  I’m afraid some do.

“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all respect, not only for those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:18). Peter’s words were used by Christian slave owners ( and I use that phrase with reservation) to “control their Christian slaves” and keep them from protesting their brutal treatment.

The apostle Paul even returned a runaway slave (Onesimus) to his master (Philemon).  Slavery must be ok!  Look what Paul did.  Why didn’t Paul help Onesimus gain his freedom?  If Paul did not help an escaped slave, then we shouldn’t either!

Then there was the “Curse of Ham” in Genesis 9.  Genesis 9 has all the elements of an HBO special: nudity, sex, incest, dysfunctional families (Sounds like Game of Thrones!).  Genesis 9 describes how Noah cursed the descendants of his son Ham with slavery.  Over the centuries, Ham became widely portrayed as black.  Blackness and slavery and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.  Many historians agree that by the 19th century the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.

Southern Baptists, the denomination in which I grew up, used a tucked away verse in Genesis to justify owning slaves.  It’s Genesis 4:15, which talks about the “mark of Cain.”  The Genesis story says God placed a “mark” on Cain for murdering his brother and lying about it.  Baptists in the South interpreted that “mark” to be dark skin.  Some Baptist pastors taught that there were separate heavens – one for blacks, one for whites.

In the early 1900s, William Archer, an Englishman, traveled by train and horse-back  through the South. He described the South as “sincerely religious.”  Yet, he also sarcastically observed, most southern Christians “would scarce be at ease in heaven unless they enter it, like a southern railway station, through a gate marked ‘for whites.’”

Ancient history?  Not at all.

Fundamentalist Bob Jones University continued its racist ways until 1971 when the IRS stepped in and threatened to remove its tax exempt status unless it integrated.  It was not until the year 2000 that BJU began to allow interracial dating.

And Southern Baptist?  It was not until 1995 that the denomination issued an official apology for its endorsement and  practice of slavery, segregation and white supremacism.

Biblically-based assaults on blacks have for sure decreased over the years but have not disappeared.

Mark Noll, in his book, “God and Race in American Politics:  A Short History,” said, “The Civil War solved the religion and slavery problem, but it did not solve the religion and race problem.”  

Do we still have a religion and race problem?  Consider:

1.   Barna Group released survey results regarding evangelical attitudes about racism in America.   For the study Barna interviewed some 2000 adults about racial tension in the U.S.  They found that evangelicals were almost twice as likely as the general population to agree strongly that “racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present.”    Evangelicals were almost more than twice as likely to “strongly disagree” that people of color are socially disadvantaged because of race.

Brooke Hempell, VP of Research at Barna, put it this way:  “More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African-American brothers and sisters.  This is a dangerous reality for the modern church.  Jesus and His disciples actively sought to affirm and restore the marginalized and obliterate divisions between groups of people.”

Where are we in the survey?  Are we blind? Are we following the way of Jesus?

2.  How do we determine our ethics? Our values?  It’s a harsh fact that every person who values the Bible has to face:  the pro-slavery side in the days of the Civil War, the segregationists during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights battles of the 60s and 70s, and some of those who marched in Charlottesville, have more going for them in the way of Bible verses.

“The Civil War was also fundamentally a religious battle over how to interpret the Bible…” Mark Noll.

We’re still fighting that battle.  Have you met anyone whose philosophy of Bible reading is “Open it. Read it. Believe it. Do it”?  I have.  I was one.  But I didn’t know what to do with these slavery texts and many others!  Maybe there’s a further standard than the Bible.  Maybe ethics go Beyond the Bible to Jesus?

As abolitionist Gerrit Smith put it, “the religion taught by Jesus is not a letter but a life.”

Where do we get our sense of right and wrong?
On what do we base our ethics?
On what do we base our view and treatment of different races?

3.  Is it possible that the pervasive racism we see today was fomented by a church that was wrong. 

A church which took too long to recognize it was wrong.

And when it finally recognized  it was wrong took too long to confess it.

And in the confession of it, has not taken the necessary steps to

correct it,

condemn it,

make amends for it,

in order to eliminate it and prevent it from happening again?

Did the church help create the spiritual context for what we’re seeing?

Let’s work to create a new world: one of respect rather than rudeness, kindness not meanness, love not hate.

4.  How does Jesus counter the hate shown in Charlottesville?

 

 

 

Removing the Cheese Log Out of My Eye

Image“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”  Paula Deen’s kitchen is pretty hot these days and some of her business partners are getting out.  They’re dropping her like a hot sweet potato covered in melted marshmallows – Ok, enough of the corny metaphors.  The situation with Paula Deen, along with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in Sanford, Florida and the Supreme Court’s action on “Affirmative Action” and the Voting Rights Act this week, and the protest of a Cheerios commercial showing a bi-racial couple,  show that race is still an issue in 2013.

In a teary interview on The Today Show, Paula said, “I am here today because I want people to know who I am and people that have worked beside me, have walked beside me, know what kind of person I am…People that I have never heard of are now experts of who I am.”

When Matt flat-out asked if Paula was a racist, she answered definitively, “No. No I’m not, no.”  I believe her, in that in her own mind, she doesn’t believe she is a racist.  In her eyes, she is not.  Honestly, I don’t think Paula hates black people. But her testimony in the deposition and other comments recorded on video indicates at least an insensitivity.

Admitting that she had used “the N word” with an “of course,” as if “everybody does it.”

Defending telling racial and ethnic jokes, “…Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks.  Most jokes target – I don’t know.  I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know.  I can’t – I don’t know…They usually target though a group.  Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

And wishing she could plan a “southern plantation wedding” for her brother, with African American servers in the part of slaves.

My point of this post is not to “pile on” Paula Deen.
I have some experience with people talking about me in ways that misrepresent me and my views so I am sensitive to that issue with others.
I respect her request of America to “not throw stones.”  While it’s easy to point a finger, I realize that there are three fingers pointed back at me.

I wonder if we like Paul Deen type episodes. They allow us to focus our attention on the splinter in the eye of someone else while ignoring the log in our own eye.

My point is to ask the Lord if I am blind to any behaviors or attitudes that are insensitive and/or offensive to people.

I just fixed some hot tea.  Love it.  The tea in the bag was diffused in the water – effortlessly, completely.  I think that’s what happens with prejudice.  It seems to infiltrate our hearts and culture – sometimes silently.     Psychologists talk about “symbolic racism” – instances of individuals using code words that tend to indicate racial prejudice without being overtly racist themselves.  For example: If you’re complaining that you aren’t allowed to use the N-word while other people get to, you just might be a symbolic racist.

I’m not a Paula Deen food fan.  I don’t put mayo on my corn on the cob. We have none of her cookbooks in our home. We don’t use her recipes.  I think she’s a nice person and I believe her when she says “I have never intentionally hurt anybody on purpose, and I never would.”  She is learning, and I hope I will as well, to know and avoid what hurts people.