The God-and-country religious belief system is the low-hanging fruit of compromised Christian types. These types, a branch off of Protestant fundamentalism, are easily identified and frequently lampooned by the cultural elites in this era of deconstruction and ‘woke’ self-loathing. It is highlighted, aptly, in this picture and the accompanying caption:
Sadly, many of us have an “uncle or aunt” in our lives who non-ironically post things like this on social media… thinking they are doing something good by obliviously spewing compromised civil religion thinking—that it is anywhere close to authentic Christianity.
This, of course, is correct. Jesus was not an American and civic religion is not the Christianity of the New Testament. Those of this category are pretty much putting Uncle Sam in equal standing with the son of God or, at the very least, blending two very different things in a way that only lowers the more significant of the two. It would sort of be like saying “I love my wife, and chocolate chip cookies!”
These are people similar to Peter in this passage and elsewhere:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
(Matthew 16:21-24 NIV)
Peter, like all of the true disciples, had been oriented towards a worldly kingdom led by Christ. This is why he swung his sword to defend Jesus from being arrested by the corrupt religious authorities. He was misguided, yes, but also sincere and truly loyal to Christ despite his vastly incorrect understanding of the Gospel. Eventually he became the example of self-sacrificial love and led the church before his death as a martyr—crucified upside down on a Roman cross.
It is not my place to question the salvation of anyone. However, I will say that if anyone puts their faith in their nation for salvation they will be sorely disappointed in the end and many are learning this hard lesson as institutions fail them. As Scripture says, “put not your faith in princess or mortal men in whom there is no salvation.” Great leaders come and go, nations rise and fall, but there is one Lord and Savior of all who reigns supreme from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.
The More Sinister Betrayal of Christ
However, now that we covered the easily ridiculed simpletons, let’s move on to the more sophisticated. There are many critical of this latter type, who also profess to be Christian, and yet themselves are tools for a form of nationalism. Indeed, the rulers of our time are not those embarrassing older relatives called out on social media. No, it is those who reject all religion—Christianity most especially—or at least do until it is useful for manipulation.
Unlike the God-and-country religious types, who wear their cartoonish devotion to consumer Jesus on their sleeves, the subscribers to ‘woke’ nationalism position themselves in opposition to traditional American iconography, recast the stars and stripes as a symbol of oppression, and present love for country as being some form of fascist. The church of “social justice” being merely a branch of this popular political movement.
The irony being that they themselves, the ‘woke’ nationalist, are more in alignment with corporations and machinery of the national politics than those whom they most frequently condemn. Nine out of ten times, those using the word “Christian nationalism” act in alignment with the most violent (and excused by elites) elements in our time, have worked for the government in some capacity, and then, with prissy indignation, blast their working poor “blue collar” neighbors.
This ‘woke’ nationalism is the current civil religion of the Democrat party elites and establishment Republicans alike. The evangelists being the supposedly edgy late night hosts and corporate media. Their dogmas enforced via Big Tech monopolies with doctrines reinforced by their paid shill fact-checkers. Those at the top of this hierarchy mock Christianity and find more in common with Karl Marx than they do Jesus Christ. But they are happy for the help of the religious useful idiots.
Indeed, like Zionism takes eyes off of Christ to the nation-state of Israel, this woke nationalism also takes the eyes off Jesus and places it on those designated victims of oppression. Sure, they can claim that this as part of their obligation to the Kingdom of God—a fulfillment of the Christian mission prophesied by Isaiah 61:1: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Unfortunately it is anything but that.
No, woke nationalism, along with most of neo-Anabaptism, is the modern-day equivalent of Judas throwing the words of Jesus in his face. Under the facade of correct language and noble sounding intent, these are a scornful and nasty people who attack those who are actually most vulnerable in this present time. They, like Judas, use the words of Jesus as a means to attack even the good-faith efforts of others:
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
(John 12:3-8 NIV)
Judas pitted the words of Jesus against him. Unlike Peter, who once unwisely rebuked Jesus, the betrayer spoke in arrogance. He, like Satan twisting Scripture to tempt Jesus, was malicious and a hypocrite (stealing from the collective pursue) under his phony virtue-signaling about the poor. Sure, Peter was also oriented towards a worldly kingdom, and yet Judas seemingly had a lust for power that he thought would be fulfilled in Jesus.
Who does this today?
How about the kind who attack those using the expression “thoughts and prayers” in response to tragedy?
Or maybe those who made their wealth at taxpayer expense writing Tweets targeting the projects and achievements of others couching this in concern for the poor?
The word of God is powerful and I believe that there is good reason why we have the detailed account of Judas attacking the worshipful act of this woman. It is to highlight the toxic mentality of those who can quote the words of Jesus when it is politically (or otherwise useful) and yet have a heart far from God. We are told that the Pharisees diligently studied Scripture. But they did it for personal advantage over others and to attain rank in their social or religious circle.
The reason that I have spent far more time trying to expose woke nationalism, as opposed to other forms of civic religion, is because it is both the more dominant force right now and also the most blatantly anti-Christian. Despite the clever packaging as being opposition to racism or concern for the poor, woke nationalism is all about political power and having absolute control over others.
These are people who can’t love their own literal neighbors and somehow delude themselves to thinking themselves saviors of the oppressed. They don’t merely misunderstand and mischaracterize Christ as the God-and-country religious types. No, they believe that they are essentially His equal and twist His words to their political ends while imagining themselves to be better than everyone else.
They are out saving the world and can’t even save themselves.
Many of us are defined by the hurts we have experienced. Truly, how we interact today, the anxieties we have, are often a product of something in our past, injustice or injury, that has warped our perceptions.
For many years of my life, I felt unloveable.
I had gotten off to a bad start in the romantic realm. After some failed efforts, stinging rejections, my confidence fell off a cliff, I would self-sabotage even when I had chances and spiraled even further into fear and doubt. With every “not interested” answer came increased feelings of shame and the stigma of being someone not good enough for even a first date.
I still apologize, sometimes, or actually more all the time, when asking to have dinner with a woman.
Well, not because I’m a terrible person. I’ve always been a good friend and respectful of boundaries. I have much to offer even in terms of platonic relationships and have proven myself in this regard over and over again. But still, because of the value others have assigned to me, I look at myself as possibly being a burden to the person I’m asking and that hesitancy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because it makes the person being asked uncomfortable.
If you see yourself as being worthless it shouldn’t be a big surprise when other people agree.
Breaking free of these cycles can feel impossible when stuck in them. The most frustrating advice I’ve ever received was “be confident” as if I was simply choosing to see myself as garbage for no reason whatsoever. I mean, I had been confident enough to express interest, even overcome the oppression of my social anxieties, only to be swatted down one more time by young women who had their eyes set on 5′-10″ or over.
Of course my plight, as a shy person on the shorter end of male stature, was not at all helped by the conservative Mennonite culture that had been overcome by purity culture teachings. Young people had it drilled into them that dating that didn’t lead to marriage equated to defilement. So, if you didn’t have the superficial tools, there was really no means of building a relationship or mutual respect that could lead to a deeper commitment.
The Letters We Are Forced To Wear
The Scarlet Letter, a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, is set in the 1600s, in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, and follows a woman, named Hester Prynne, who—through an out of wedlock pregnancy—was found guilty of adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” for her sin. It contrasts her plight to that of the child’s father, the town’s minister, whom she protects with her silence and lives in constant fear of being exposed for his concealed sin.
Like Hester, some of us wear our shortcomings more visibly than others. Those who obviously lack something according to the prevailing social standard, whether exposed to public scorn and ridicule or simply excluded from institutions and driven to the margins, are forced to deal with feelings of humiliation. Of course, that’s not to say that those who appear to be outwardly pure and undefiled are free of pain, those with less visible faults often live with a tremendous fear of being discovered and guilt.
We all want to be accepted and yet have those letters to wear. It could be that we’re typecasted, “oh, that’s George, always big talker!” We have heard the labels, the declarations, “she’s a flirt” or “he’s desperate,” and sometimes it is hard to know if it is that person or the group making that reality what it is. It is not all completely negative, it could be “they’re meant to be” or any statement that builds an expectation, but it certainly can keep a person confined and limits potential.
Once you fill a particular role, in the minds of the group, it is often difficult to break beyond it.
For example, my biggest fear, when I took a job driving truck, was that I would be branded a “truck driver” and thus not eligible for other work. My concerns were fulfilled, years later, when I talked to a business owner friend about my desire to get off the road and they offered that maybe I could drive a truck for them.
These kinds of things aren’t necessarily even spoken. But we know there are those individuals or that don’t quite live up to the ideal of the group, who have a blemish visible or invisible, and are tolerated more than embraced. In some ways, it would be better if our chests could be emblazoned with these symbols of shame, that we could be told exactly you get told by an eligible young woman “you’ll make a great husband someday” and yet nobody (including her) seems to want that greatness.
However, not all of this is imposed. Some of this punishment, if not most of it, is self-inflicted.
Shamed No More
The most brilliant theme of The Scarlet Letter is that that this symbol of shame is transformed over the course of the novel. This letter intended to stigmatize eventually becomes a badge of honor for the protagonist and something she wears willingly rather than because she must. The letter “A” because of Hester’s diligent work, her charity, and listening to those lower social status, comes to mean “able” or “angel” as the story progresses. She, for her proven virtue, becomes well-respected as humble and wise.
My own life journey, with the investment of love and care of a few, has begun to take that turn as well.
I have begun to realize that my romantic failures were a reflection of a broken courtship culture and not my own lacking. Because of the drip drip drip of Charlotte’s confidence in me, I have become stronger. Not only that, but as a result of my struggle, I also have deep compassion for those who suffer and a desire to free them from the bonds of their insecurities. Now, even when snubbed, because I know who I am and don’t depend on this external definition of what I am for security, I barely care. It is on them, not me. I know I’m a good friend and focus my effort on those who appreciate what I offer.
The reality is that I’ve become a different person. I behave differently than I did when ruled by my anxieties and thus have become more attractive.
No, that doesn’t make what others did to push a person down a dead-end road any more right. The love of Christ should compel us to invest in the salvation of others and especially to help those who want to be helped. Things like slavery and denial of rights to people on the basis of outward appearance certainly do hurt and hinder. And yet, there’s also a way to live beyond our typecasting. to not be confined by the expectations of others, and transcend our circumstances.
For me, there was never that final triumph nor day of reckoning with those who hurt me. My hopes were shattered. My identity crushed. Those who caused my torment continued along their merry way and probably not with a second thought of how their attitudes impacted me. They never did listen to me when I tried to escape from the box they had put me in. But, nonetheless, I did emerge.
The Scarlet Letters others forced us to wear may remain emblazoned on our chest. However, we do not need to accept the meaning others have created for the symbol. In the novel, Hester’s daughter, Pearl, became upset when her mother didn’t wear the letter. For Pearl, the letter represented something other than shame. It represented her loving mother, not sin. That was a seed and very likely helped Hester to see her value beyond the opinions of the judgmental townsfolk. And, eventually, what Hester became changed the meaning of the symbol even for those around her.
Our Perfection Is Not Purity
One of the inspirations for writing this blog was a conversation about matters of sexuality and shame. My contention that the suffering of sexual abuse victims is a product of social expectations, as much as it is about the violation itself, and would be far less painful if we put less weight on perfection in terms of being ‘pure’ in a physical manner.
That’s where the shame comes in. It comes from this idea that by being physically violated, or even touched consentingly by another person, we have somehow become worth less as a person than we were prior. Of course, this is nonsense. Our value does not come from physical purity, a person who was raped is no less beautiful or virtuous even if she does now feel differently about themselves as result. It is this, this change in belief about oneself, that lingers long after the assault and is the real cause of suffering. We are conditioned to see those who have been through this as damaged or defiled.
And that’s not to say that the assault does not do real lasting harm beyond what is physical either. No, rather that a rape survivor is going to be re-traumatized hearing a sermon about saving yourself for marriage. It is going to add to their fears of being disadvantaged and may actually stigmatize them when they really should be loved and treasured. That’s what purity culture does, it heaps shame on those who themselves may have done nothing wrong and often forgives those who should be held accountable.
While holding sexual abusers accountable, like we would anyone who takes what isn’t theirs to take, maybe we should also take on this idea that someone is forever tainted because of sexual intercourse and therefore a perpetual victim?
It isn’t the abusers that define the worth of a person as being their virginity nor is it the abuser who assigns the value to what happened. No, we do that. And one of the reasons why sexual abuse is so painful for those who were raised in a purity culture is because they are convinced that their own value is somehow decreased because of something that happened to them.
Jesus, even in dealing with those who had willfully sinned sexually, was completely gentle.
Well, it is because Jesus valued the individual for more than their physical ‘purity’ and past behavior. Yes, he told the woman at the well, “go and sin no more,” but he did that for her sake. Her lifestyle was not good for her and, unlike the proud religious elites who can admit no wrong, she was already humble enough to know her own shortcomings and want the change.
So, if Jesus could forgive those who sinned of their own volition, why should those who were violated by the sin of another feel as if they are somehow damaged goods?
If we actually believe that our righteousness comes from being clothed in Christ, made perfect in him, then why do we place so much value on the physical and the past?
To be clothed in Christ means that our negative experiences can be redefined. No longer should the sins of the past (our own or by others) define who we are. Instead, we are new creatures. No, these things we have gone through are not removed, yet they can be redeemed and no longer a burden of shame that we carry, no longer a cause for self-pity or self-loathing, because our perfection does not come from our own abilities. Our purity comes from the inside, through spiritual transformation, and no longer by the reputation others give us or regrets we have.
The Symbolism of the Cross
When Jesus was stripped naked, his flesh cruelly shredded by scourgings, battered and bruised, finally mocked under a sign “king of the Jews” while he suffered unimaginable anguish, the whole process was intended to humiliate and shame.
He did not deserve the mistreatment nor was it a pleasant experience. It was the sin of others that put him there. It was a cross and a horrendous image of despair and death. There nothing worthy of celebration in that. But even this, intended to destroy him, could not.
Most of us, put through similar abuse, may curse God or at the very least we would not be in the mood to forgive those who torment us.
Jesus, by contrast, did not let the circumstances define his character. What they did to him was not a reflection of him nor could it be to his shame. And, most importantly, they could not keep him in the grave as much as they tried.
As a result, the cross, this symbol of their hatred and abuse, has now become something we can look to for healing. It is in the cross of Christ that we can see our worth as being more than what the crowd yells, more even than our broken physical body, and to have faith in God’s perfect justice.
Those ensnared in the world of sin and death, whether victims of abuse, self-declared advocates for victims or the abuser, cannot accept the message of the cross. It is foolishness to them. They are slaves of their twisted passions, prisoners of the past and bound to their own reasonings. And, for the victims who harbor grievance, their answer to being mistreated is always the same as what they feel was done to them. They want to take the marker of shame off of themselves and place it on those who harmed them.
But the message of the cross is that even shame itself can be defeated by the grace of God. Those clothed in His righteousness no longer have need to rank above their peers, no longer live for the acceptance of other people, and live for something altogether different from what many others strive for. No, rather than shrink in fear or fall into self-pity, they see their cross as something that is purifying, as the proving ground of their faith, and opportunity to serve.
If something as awful as the cross can be redefined to become a story of salvation, those letters we wear can also be changed in meaning and redeemed. We can be the Hester, in our own story, the one who proved that her character was about more than that one act those many years ago. In the end she was the better person, for what she went through, than those who had looked at her in judgment.
Remember that viral video, from a few years ago, that has a bunch of young people lined up in a field?
As the music plays, we hear an announcer tell participants this is a race for a $100 bill and then proceeds to list off statements that will allow some to advance. If both parents married, if they had a father figure, if they had access to private education, if they never had their cell phone shut off or had to help their parents with bills, and the list goes on.
However it seems many of my former religious peers, raised in conservative Mennonite cloisters, prior to watching this video, had been completely unaware of this ‘privilege’ of family structure. Suddenly their ignorance had been revealed. But, some, rather than simply ponder and reflect, used this new knowledge to bludgeon others and suggest that anything less than feeling deep shame equal to their own is somehow sinful.
One problem with being raised in a religious culture where indoctrination and conformity is preferred to open discussion is that many coming from this background are nearly incapable of critical thought. A media presentation like this dazzles them and there’s no reason they can imagine to question the conclusions. They see what they’re supposed to see, what was carefully edited and prepared for them to see, and what the lecturer tells them to believe.
The video, unfortunately, frames things in terms of race. The one announcing even explicitly saying “if this was a fair race…some of these black dudes would smoke all of you.”
It’s ironic that this man plays on racial stereotype, the perceived athletic advantage that some have, while simultaneously making the case that privilege is about getting the money at the end of a race. He undermines his own thesis. If some young people, as a result of their athleticism, can get into a prestigious university, how is that not also privilege?
More importantly, where does that leave those of us who neither had the athletic prowess nor the academic chops nor wealthy parents to provide for our education?
My father was absent, out on the road weeks at a time, I went to public school because my parents couldn’t afford the Mennonite school tuition, I never had a cell phone growing up and also eventually had to pay rent to my parents for the privilege of living under their roof, is that unfair?
Who is to say that a person raised in single parent home is truly at a disadvantage to someone with a learning disability?
And is it actually true that those with non-athletic scholarships didn’t earn any of that reward through their own hard work?
A big problem with the presentation is how it frames privilege in a very narrow and misleading way. The list of factors is extremely selective. He never mentioned the many other disadvantages (or advantages) that can shape outcomes, things like physical stature or gender, affirmative action and health. There is also no attempt to explain why these factors should be weighted as they are. Ask different questions and the completion of the results may completely change.
Breaking Down Privilege
The problem with the privilege narrative is not that it highlights the advantages that some have over others. We all know that an athletic tall guy is more likely to dunk a basketball, and have a girlfriend, than the 5′-5″ tall perpetually last-picked dude. All of the things listed in the video may very well have an impact on outcomes and yet there are so many other things people overcome that never got mentioned.
The message is right, in that we should be aware of the disadvantages others face, but does a disservice in framing privilege almost entirely in terms of race. And, with that, feeds insecurities, builds upon division, encourages animosity or guilt—all without providing any actual solutions.
To get to solutions we need to break down the framing:
1) Not About Race
The irony of the “white privilege” claim is that, when we get to specifics, the advantages some have are often not actually about race.
Fatherless homes, for example, have nothing to do with race and everything to do with the choices of a prior generation. My dad took responsibility, he provided for his children, my mom remained loyal to him despite his shortcomings, and us children benefited.
Do you know who else had that privilege?
The daughters of Michelle and Barack Obama.
Not only that, Sasha and Malia, had access to private school, prestigious universities, and other opportunities that a working-class child (such as myself) could only ever dream about. Sure, they may have similar skin color to Trayvon Martin, but that’s where the similarities end and to say otherwise is to be absurd. The average blue collar white person has more in common with racial minorities than anyone in the ruling class.
My school friend, Adam Bartlett, the one who eventually killed himself and another man, was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Not only that, but he wasn’t all that athletic, wasn’t a great student, had nothing given to him by his parents, yet we’re supposed to believe that he had this thing called “white privilege” and was actually better off than the daughters of the President?
This idea that privilege is about color, that fatherless homes and poverty is a matter of race, is the very definition of prejudice. It is a message bad for the racial minorities whom it both disempowers and discourages. It is also wrong, an injustice, to the many people deemed privileged who face the exact same challenges and never get as much sympathy or help.
The truth is that statistics never tell us about individuals. There are many born into poverty and poor conditions who do overcome their circumstances. It has as much to do with attitude, the things we believe and are told to believe about ourselves, as anything else. The very things that can be a disadvantage in one case can be motivation in the next.
2) Let’s Address Culture, Not Color!
If we’re truly interested in changing results then we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Why do some children grow up in single parent homes, in poverty, while others do not? More importantly, what can we do to prevent this from repeating?
Woke nationalism, a far-left Marxist political movement adjacent to this sort of privilege propaganda, would have people believe that more money (in form of reparations or government programs) is the solution to disparities in outcomes. Rather than address the root cause of disparities, they blame-shift and promote acceptance of toxic behavior.
Black Lives Matter, for example, doesn’t support the reestablishment of traditional families. And, worse, many promoters of the “white privilege” narrative would have us believe that things like work ethic are somehow related to skin color. They are explicitly encouraging the very things that the video would have us believe hold people back from success.
Just today, while writing this, a BLM leader in London, was shot in the head. Her story not all that uncommon in the inner-city, where gang warfare and honor culture, a criminal underground, leads to many violent ends.
Are we truly supposed to believe this is black culture?
Should I celebrate that the majority of shootings in my little corner of the world are perpetrated by a rather small minority?
My answer is a hard N-O to both questions.
No, we should not accept fatherless homes as normal nor be an apologist for the honor culture that so often leads to violent outcomes.
No, skin color does not, should not, should NEVER determine our behavior.
It is culture, not color, that is shaping outcomes. And to conflate color with culture is the very epitome of racial prejudice. Seriously, saying that black people must act differently, must be more expressive, must prefer particular kinds of music, must talk a certain way, is the same kind of ridiculous thinking behind minstrel shows. We should be beyond this, we should be judging by content of character rather than color of skin, stop promoting foolishness!
3) Life Is Not Competition
The most egregious presumption in the video is that life is a competition and ending up with more money is the goal. Talk about spiritual rot posing as enlightenment!
Sure, your bank account may be somewhat a product of the home, community and culture that you were raised in. Hunter Biden certainly has an advantage over me in terms of earning potential given his father’s high political profile. And, trust me, it has very little to do with anything he’s done. For sure, if he were the average Joe, if the 1994 Crime Bill applied to him, he might be in jail for a long list of crimes. But that ‘privilege’ doesn’t mean he’s a success compared to me, does it?
Some extremely wealthy and visibly successful people are extremely unhappy with their lives. No amount of access to private education, cell phones, health care, or whatever, is going to solve a feeling of inferiority or self-loathing. And, if anything, more wealth in the hands of a disgruntled person will only enable them to do more evil. I mean, was Hitler, a struggling artist and disenfranchised military veteran, improved by the power eventually given to him?
No, not at all.
This idea, in the video, that life is a competition, that more material wealth equates to success, is completely wrong and deserving of the severest rebuke. What is truly shameful is that those religious folks sharing this message never once stopped to consider the metrics of success presented. So much for the first being last and last being first, as Jesus taught, apparently to them life is all about the accumulation of stuff and political power.
Maybe if we would, instead of pitying and patronizing people, start preaching the truth, start telling dead beat parents, or anyone making excuses for themselves, to repent—then we would see positive change?
But that would require us to see others as being our equals, capable of choosing good behavior. It would require being unpopular and to stand at odds with the virtue signaling of the social elites. Those who are honest about matters of culture, who confront woke nationalism and racist lies, they are the only people systemically oppressed.
Jesus Defies Privilege Narrative
No, matters of bad character and toxic culture are not fixed by more money, consider this parable:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
(Matthew 25:14-30 NIV)
Of the parables that Jesus told, this one has to be one of the most harsh and counterintuitive. I mean, who can blame this servant, given so little, for burying his talent?
Was it fair that, before the investment phase even began, the “wicked” and “lazy” servant was already at a severe disadvantage?
While this parable affirms the idea that what we’re born with has little to do with what we’ve done. However, it departs radically from the central notion of the video that success at the end of life is “nothing to do with what you’ve done.”
This flies completely in the face of the social justice gospel and, frankly, everything that comes naturally to me. As one who always felt like the servant given little and thus was fearful of God, this parable confounded me. Didn’t the initial disadvantage, the unequal distribution of wealth, shape the outcome?
Are we now going to say that Jesus lacked understanding, compassion or sensitivity?
Should we cancel Jesus?
We could replace the wealth or talents of the parable with “privilege points” and not change the message. Jesus who said, “to those much is given much will be required,” also said those who are given less by God should be appreciative and invest well rather than make excuses.
In other words, if you have no father, you can wallow in the disadvantage or choose to invest in the next generation so they do not suffer as you did. If you were excluded, as I was, on the basis of lacking stature and athletic abilities or other things not within your control, you can harbor the grievance, let it take over your life, or you can use it as motivation to do unto others what wasn’t done for you.
The reality is that Jesus was being far more compassionate in addressing the spiritual matter at the heart of many negative outcomes and ignoring questions of fairness. Furthermore, life is not a competition for material gain, it is not about the rank we attain in society either, and to frame it in such a way only shows a complete lack of discernment. The privilege narrative is not only racist to the core, it is also at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Instead of chastising innocent people for their alleged color privilege, trying to burden them down with guilt. Instead of telling some people that they lack the ability to be successful simply on the basis of their outward appearance or place they were born, which is a total lie. We should love our neighbors, rebuke this notion that life is a competition for money, and call all to repentance.
A thought occurred to me, while lamenting my persistent unorthodoxness, that eventually the point of any religious practice (with emphasis on practice) is to color outside of the lines a bit. From art, to athletic endeavors, being spontaneous, unpredictable, and original, there is advantage in harnessing some of that creative chaos. So ritual and rigorousness has taken a back seat to emotional expression. Many call themselves ‘spiritual’ for their abandonment of church tradition.
However, an art teacher will tell you and a good writer knows, that there is no natural talent so good that it can’t benefit from studying the masters. Before one can reinvent the wheel, it might be good to at least know what the wheel is and understand the basic function of the thing before improving upon it. No basketball player does well to ignore all of the established fundamentals of their sport nor is it recommended that a weightlifter abandon good technique. Doing things your own way can lead to injury, can limit potential and be a tremendous disadvantage.
Yes, some do “shoot from the hip” and still manage to score some points. My own writing has improved from simply writing and not from having read every style manual written in the past few centuries. And yet I would be remiss, as well as incredibly arrogant, to not give complete credit to the teachers, the many writers, the coiners of terms and all those who have contributed to the descriptive wealth of the English language. And if my desire is to improve, then reading the greats, absorbing their knowledge of the craft, is only going to enhance my own creative efforts.
Only a fool would enter the ring relying only upon their natural and unimproved fighting abilities. Absolutely, Mike Tyson would knock me out without having spent a day training, God gifted him with a heavy weight’s frame and musculature. But, no boxer, no high level competitor, would last a minute against a person who studied form, who learned all they could from the best, practiced hours and came prepared. It is religious devotion that pushes even the elite to the next level.
Jesus is the foundation of the church, that is true, yet this doesn’t mean we should strip it bare to the bedrock each generation. Do we forget that Jesus himself, God in the flesh, was a practicing Jew for three decades before, while reading Isaiah 61, the prescribed text at the synagogue, announced “today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” We know that Jesus would go on to push the boundaries, to correct and build upon the established religion, yet never claiming it was worthless.
What Is Orthodoxy?
This word “orthodox” refers to correctness.
It is the same root used for terms like “orthopedic” or “orthodontist” and basically implies straightening out, correctness.
Orthodox, as the Orthodox Christian uses it, is an adjective and not a noun. Orthodoxy is not a denomination. No, it is an unbending pursuit, a desire to live out the fullness of the faith, it means uncompromised worship and devotion to Christ and the Church.
Unlike Protestantism, that has whittled away at tradition, the Orthodox continue to practice as Christians have for over a millennia. We celebrate the liturgy of St John Chrysostom or St Basil and not because it is required to be a Christian, I’ve never heard those Orthodox proclaim those who profess Christ outside the tradition to be lost, yet we do see established tradition as a useful aid to the Christian.
Orthodoxy is built upon the foundation of Christ. And yet it is not in denial of the history of the Church nor dismissive of the written and unwritten tradition that the Apostle Paul admonished the church of Thessaloniki to keep:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings (or traditions) we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
(2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NIV)
The first thing noteworthy is that the church had a tradition and the second is that this tradition was passed down by the Apostles both in letter and spoken word. But, more significantly, in the same context of keeping tradition, St Paul also speaks of things of the Spirit. The idea that spiritual is odds with traditional is the great delusion of our time and trying to sustain one without the other is proving to be an overall failed experiment. Tradition, passed down by the Church both in written and by “word of mouth” is for our spiritual benefit.
Orthodox tradition is about carrying forward the practices sustained, and that sustained, generations of the Church. It pertains most particularly to the traditions of corporate worship. And, like the tradition of Scripture itself, gives a voice (or vote) to the many faithful who have gone on before us:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”
(G. K. Chesterton “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy)
To be Orthodox one must appreciate that the Church is bigger than their own individual perspective. The Church is bigger than this generation. Yes, we, the Church militant, are still in the the fight and yet undoing the contribution of the Church triumphant is foolishness. It is a special kind of ignorance in an age where ‘progress’ too often means replacing an old church building with a Dollar General.
Christ is the foundation of the Church, but much has been built, from the Apostle’s time forward, that is beneficial to our spiritual growth and also very beautiful.
The Beauty of Orthodox Worship
There is something incredible about participating in a tradition of worship that has passed the test of time. The basic form of Divine Liturgy has endured, despite the severe persecution of the Orthodox, and in to join in this is to join in the choir of all who have worshipped in this manner.
To those who have never been to an Orthodox service, the first experience may feel foreign, especially if there is some ethnic flavor mixed in, and yet why would we expect the Church (which is universal throughout time) to be a reflection of our modern American culture? Are we truly that arrogant to believe that our own practices, built from the clay of Modernism, is superior to the gold refined over the centuries? We’re better than the entire Church spanning the millennia?
Before going further, consider for a moment that every Church has a liturgy, an order to the service, their own unique traditions, and there’s a reason for this. Protestants, from revival meetings to special mother’s day services, have formed their own traditions to replace those more timeless. I’ve heard about conservative Mennonite churches where at least one elder would insist that the ordained men enter in order of their respective ranks.
And, lest my ‘contemporary’ friends see themselves as superior. Not everyone is up front leading the service.
Order is good. St. Paul spoke to this need for order in worship as an alternative to the chaos and confusion of everyone talking over each other. We are creatures of habit, when brushing our teeth or taking a shower, rather than go through the wasted mental effort of finding a new way each time, we repeat a liturgy of a sort. We can get more done when we finally cease these useless arguments over worship style and move on to things of more substance.
Before I had ever entered an Orthodox liturgical service, I (like most or many Protestant borns) would’ve believed it to be stuffy and boring. I mean, how can something prewritten, predetermined, be as authentic or real as my own concept of worship?
However, upon reflection, considering the many times of Mennonite deacons begging for testimonies and prayer requests to a deafening silence or the same requests over and over again from the same people, the liturgical form that covers everything in prayer makes much more sense. Every service the priest leads us in prayer, through a list that covers pretty much everything, and I’ll often think (and pray) for a specific reason while crossing myself to physically confirm my inner thoughts.
Which is the one beauty of Orthodox worship: It is immersive, involves all senses, we love the beauty of the house we share, our temple, that is divided in a similar way to the Biblical places of worship. There is rich symbolism, incense rising as prayer (as is described in Scripture) and an altar, behind the Iconostasis, where the Communion is prepared. Better yet, the entire service is participatory, a sort of call and response style, with the entire Divine Liturgy service centered around our partaking of the body and blood of Christ.
The second thing I have found, as beautiful, is that this repetition of Scripture in song is spiritually like the muscle memory formed from any other practice. I can’t count the times when the music and words of a liturgical service will pop up during the week, either as a comfort or a challenge, and how these phrases have started to shape my perspective. For example, “put not your trust in princess or sons of man in who there is no salvation.” What a great reminder in this time when the institution of government seems to be failing, right?
Well worn pathways are not confining, they are freeing. Why hack our way through the jungle of life, being ‘authentic’ in the way of every other person in this age who has lost both religion and depth, undisciplined, when there is a rich banquet of tradition to draw upon? Does reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over again ever take away from the meaning of the words or cause you to want to rewrite it for our own time? I should pray not!
No, we need good ritual in our life because it helps us to focus. Everything in Orthodox worship is founded upon Scripture and a beautiful expression of obedience. It has richness and depth, from the Lenten journey of fasting and reflection, to the icons, incense, vestments, altars, oil, candles, hymns, recitations and processions. It connects is to centuries of the faithful, in our participation in the Church that they built together on the foundation of Christ and is wonderful.
In the end, as Father Seraphim reminds us often in his homilies, we are not saved by our church attendance, we can read Scripture, sing, give tithes and it all be for naught. If there is no spiritual fruit this is all empty and utterly meaningless as far as salvation. However, as St Paul speaks of the law being a guardian, the established prescription and pattern for worship, once catalyzed with sincere Christian faith, is an invaluable asset. It may not be necessary for salvation, the repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was never Baptized, and yet it does greatly enhance the life of the believer.
Lastly, Orthodox worship doesn’t take away from our ability to worship spontaneously, in the spur of the moment, like King David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was being processed through the city of Jerusalem. This is not an either/or thing nor have I found the tradition to be onerous or confining in the way one may fear coming out of a legalistic tradition. There is a sort of casualness to our formality, an allowance for imperfection. So simple even children participate.
Structure We Need To Thrive
Us creative types loath structure. We like to color outside of the lines, right? And yet, despite this umbrage, we often live as beneficiaries of the structure that others provide. Many artists would starve, or be overrun, unable to do their work, outside the structure that others have diligently maintained for them. And many would do better, even in their passionate pursuits, if they would acknowledge their need.
The framework that Orthodoxy provides, likewise, for me has been that missing element that I didn’t even know that I needed. This idea that tradition is somehow bad is corrosive, it is creating a generation desperate to find their place, suicidal, distorted and unfulfilled. We are better when plugged in, when a part of something bigger than ourselves. Tradition brings us together and Orthodoxy enhances rather than take away from worship.
There was a time, many years ago, when I had a particularly severe struggle with insecurities, it was likely related to a recent romantic rejection and this mess of anxieties being part of the aftermath. I had walked into a youth volleyball event and, observed, a couple of girls across the room laughing.
I had known how cruel young women could be about guys who didn’t meet their standards, overheard their giggles and comments related to that slightly awkward and unfashionable older guy who was the constant butt of their jokes. So my fears of this sort of ridicule were not entirely unfounded.
But, after a quick self-assessment, making sure I wasn’t wearing my underwear on the outside or anything too obviously wrong, I did my best to ignore that nagging voice and find another explanation. They could have been laughing about anything, there was absolutely no reason to conclude it related to me and yet the unpleasant knot remained in my stomach.
Had I run with this conclusion, based upon my hallucination of their reason for laughing and not reality, this incident would be added to my existing grievance with the female gender. I was already aware that many girls have a 5′-10″ cutoff for guys they will date, the guy that did end up dating the one I had asked was a six-footer, it could be that they were laughing at my expense?
However, had I went with that, even if I didn’t match across the room and command them, “do better!” Something that most definitely would have branded me as a weirdo even if they were guilty and did apologize. Even if I had simply allowed my own explanation of their actions to metastasize, it would be the root of a very toxic attitude which would further marginalize me.
My initial interpretation, born of my anxieties, not their laughter across the room, was the real problem. Even if we banned all laughter or every snickering teenager girl were reprimanded for their feeding of male insecurities, had a plan been devised to force all girls to date short men as reparations for discrimination and height privilege be excoriated by leaders, the actual issue would never be solved.
No, I’m not saying that genuine acceptance doesn’t go a long way towards healing old wounds. Becoming part of the Orthodox world, where I didn’t have a reputation to proceed (and limit) me, where it was possible to talk to the opposite gender comfortably, did certainly help. And there’s no denying that my being in a relationship has lowered the stakes and helped me to relax around other women.
Still, all that only happened once I stopped caring what other people thought and subsequently became comfortable in my own skin. Today, unless it was a really bad day, I would be more likely to laugh with those laughing and then ask them what they were laughing about. Slinking around, making accusations, might gain you a following on social media and earn the meaningless sympathies of those only hearing one side. But it will do nothing to improve self-image.
Painful as it was, I’m glad that things didn’t work out for me because someone swooped in for the rescue. Had this happened I may never have found my internal spiritual footing and, after briefly appreciating the charitable effort, remained as lacking in confidence. Pity the woman who marries a man looking for her to bolster his self-image and mend his brokenness, that relationship is probably going to be hell in a few years.
My physical stature hasn’t changed since my days of paralyzing approach anxieties and there remains plenty of reason that one may laugh in my direction. But my life improved vastly when those voices of self-pity and doubt were muted. At this point it would not matter if those girls had been truly laughing at me, I wouldn’t take them so seriously anymore. I’m a different man.
Being raised in a fundamentalist sect meant taking the Genesis accounts as being a historical narrative. I had been taught, and had for many years accepted without question, the idea that the veracity of the Gospel message hinged on the most ‘literal’ interpretation of the first book of the Biblical canon.
This understanding of this book had worked fine to get me through my school years. I gave my high school biology teacher, Mr. Toohey, an atheist who had once considered the priesthood, a headache debating the textbook claims about mutations, millions of years, and Macro Evolution. At this age, I thought this style of apologetics, debating science using the words of Scripture, was a key to securing the faithful against doubts and winning unbelievers.
Unfortunately, while this understanding may serve well those who do not venture too far from the Young-Earth Creationism intellectual ghetto, against what amounts to strawman versions of secularist arguments, it doesn’t hold up as nicely against a serious challenge and has left many religiously indoctrinated high and dry in their years in a university-level science program. There is a reason why many in my former religious tradition are terrified of higher education.
Even seminary was a synonym for cemetery to one of my childhood Bible-thumping pastors. It should make one wonder. If the foundation of faith is so flimsy that it can’t be tested, that it can only be sustained by ignorance, then what’s the point?
Sadly, it was a false choice, this dichotomy between science and religion, education and faith.
Getting the Cart Ahead of the Horse
The Biblical fundamentalists got everything exactly backward. The truth of Christ does not depend on proving the Scripture, word for word, is completely 100% historically accurate and scientifically verifiable. It is nice when those things do align, sure. And yet, no matter how many mundane parts of the Biblical narrative are established this way, the fantastic claims are never proven.
If a politician lists off ten facts and nine of them turn up true according to the fact-checkers, does that make the final most grandiose claim true?
No, no it does not.
One of the most persuasive tricks of liars is to hide their one falsehood amongst a long list of facts and true statements. And likewise, someone could prove 99.9% of Biblical claims and still not have touched anything of the miracles. The Bible is true because it says it is true might work for idiots and the indoctrinated, but it is always circular reasoning and there being a town of Bethlehem doesn’t mean Jesus walked on water nor establish His divinity and conquering of death.
No rational person believes that a prophet flew from Jerusalem to Mecca, on a half woman half horse with a tail of a peacock, because they read it in a book. I’m certainly not going to wear magical underwear because some dude, a few hundred years ago, claims he received golden tablets from the angel Gabriel. So why would any reasonable person expect someone to believe a book written thousands of years ago? Sorry, Ken Ham, I don’t care how many replica Arks you build, you’re not winning skeptical minds or hearts with this effort.
Human efforts fail.
When Sarai reasoned with Abram to produce an heir through her maidservant, how did that go for them?
We know it didn’t go too well and have the commentary of St. Paul:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
(Galatians 4:21-31 NIV)
Here we see the contrast of human efforts “according to the flesh” and those of a spiritual and Divine origin. St. Paul emphasizes the “son” which is “born by the power of the Spirit” as an alternative to the “son” human reasoning that produced conflict and heartache.
It is amazing how many times St. Paul, and Jesus before him, encountered those who believed Scripture word for word and rejected Jesus as Lord. They, in many ways, had a stricter interpretation of the text than many of us do and did not face the strong headwind of modern science and philosophy either. And yet, even meeting Jesus in the flesh, seeing him with their own eyes, taking Scripture as literally as anyone, they saw Jesus as the imposter and rejected Him. So, how then can we be saved?
Fortunately, that question is answered many times over and over again, by St. Paul, and has next to nothing to do with the book of Genesis. The truth of Scripture is established on Christ, and His church, which established the canon of Scripture and does those “greater things” that Jesus promised would come through the power of the Spirit. Yes, we preach and teach, but only God can bring the increase. So, the apologetics industry starts us out on the wrong foot and doesn’t produce true faith in Christ.
Our salvation does not depend on our own understanding of a book. St. Paul, in Romans 9:16, states clearly, that our sonship depends on God’s mercy, not human desire or effort. Scripture is the cart, not the horse. We accept that the Bible is true because we believe in Christ, and His Church, not because we can establish it through our human reasoning or effort. Faith is a work of the Spirit, a gift from God, not a product of our knowledge or works. Those trying to ‘prove’ the Bible are on a fool’s errand. trying to save themselves, slaves to human reasoning, lost and confused.
What Does That Have to Do with Babel?
Hopefully, the Noah rode on a T-Rex crowd is too triggered with that intro, because now we shift to something they may find more agreeable and that being the even greater monument to human reasoning and effort.
But, first, the tower of Babel narrative:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
(Genesis 11:1-9 NIV)
This story is likely the origin of the phrase, “men plan, God laughs.” Actual historical event, ancient myth or both, does not matter, the tower of Babel narrative is so much more. The account speaks to human limits and hubris, a true story told over and over again in history and a lesson repeated in different ways with each passing generation. The moment humans forget their place, begin to rely on their own cleverness and start to see themselves equal to their own Creator, the clock to destruction begins to tick.
These people, in the Biblical account, had somehow overcome the odds, they evidently were a resource-rich civilization, more powerful than external threats, and ready to cement their name in history. But just when heaven seemed within their grasp, the very thing that they had sought to avoid, being scattered, brought the entire endeavor grinding to a halt. Now Babel, the name a play on words that meant “to confuse,” is a synonym for colossal human failure. Sure, maybe it is an origin story for the diversity of language. But, undeniably, it is also a cautionary tale.
Other accounts tell us that this confusion of languages, by God, was to save humanity from the total destruction of another flood. In other words, it was an act of mercy to prevent an even greater calamity to end this project and scatter the people. But, more than that, it is a lesson about not leaving God out of the equation. What does that mean? Well, that means that we can’t see everything and, without humility to reign in our ambitions, we are an existential threat to ourselves. The proud fall because they cannot imagine the factors that they, in their overblown confidence, have missed.
Our Modern Towers of Human Arrogance
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
(Isaiah 29:14 NIV)
History is replete with examples of bold declarations followed by catastrophe. Neville Chamberlain’s quip of having secured “peace in our time,” through a treaty with Adolf Hitler, comes to mind. Hillary Clinton was, according to the experts, most definitely going to win over Donald Trump.
But now it is time to tie all these threads together. The same thing that brought about the Protestant schism, also led to the Enlightenment, spread of Democracy, and, ultimately, the rejection of God.
This “age of reason” got off to a relatively good start, scientific discovery, development of technology, and representive government has enabled us to be more free and prosperous that many prior generations. However, as the tower of our knowledge and independent spirit rose, as we have made leaps in medicine, even landed a man on the moon, when American exceptionalism (the ultimate expression of Protestantism) finally conquered all, and our hegemony was nearly unchallenged, suddenly a day of reckoning seems to be upon us and this colossus, this oversized imagine of human endeavor, seems in danger of collapse.
A couple of decades ago it felt as if we were on the cusp of a new epoch. Racism vanquished, our old enemies irrelevant, the world connected as never before, the internet ready to put all knowledge at our fingertips and the stars seemingly within our reach. Secularism and science had triumphed over superstition and myth, we imagined no religion, nothing to kill or die for, as Coca-cola taught the world to sing. Former seminaries, our universities, forgetting God, became temples of human reason. “We didn’t need church or religion to be good people,” the atheists cried, while standing on the shoulders of theologians whom they dismissed, “in fact, we’ll go further without it!”
However, my own optimism has unravelled over the past decade or two.
Star Trek and the Jetsons still remains, firmly, in the realm of science fiction. The internet is a cesspool, filled with crackpot opinions, censored by billionaires bullies who pretend to be gatekeepers of truth while they spread misinformation, and nothing like a child of the 90s would’ve imagined. As church attendance slips, depression and drug usage has steadily increased—along with suicides and mass shootings.
Our universities, rather than continue to value free thought and expression, now have strict speech codes and safe spaces. The minds that once sought to improve the human experience, now only deconstruct tradition and erode the very ground that their institutional ivory towers were constructed upon, too drunk with nihilism to care. Even Coke brand, that once celebrated human diversity, has joined the graceless cult of woke in attacking “whiteness” and civilization itself—as if they have forgotten what has made their own comfortable ‘privileged’ life possible.
The government, “for the people,” that at least gestured towards the needs of the citizenry, now only serves global corporations, the powerful elites and special interests. The US flag, once a symbol of hope, the American ideal, and our unity as diverse people, something black athletes proudly wrapped themselves in less than a generation ago, has now been reimagined as a representation of oppression and hate. Our faith in our institutions is failing, the left decrying systemic racism, the right suspecting election fraud, nearly everyone feeling unheard.
We’re a civilization consuming itself and maybe it is because we’ve forgotten this:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
We don’t go to church anymore, a trend that started before the pandemic and has only been accelerated, and “love your neighbor” is now used as a guilt trip rather than a reason to change our own toxic attitudes or be involved on behalf of others. John Kennedy’s call to service, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Those words, spoken today, would likely be derided as some kind of dangerous “ism” in today’s me-first, my tribe, my way or the highway, divisive identity driven, you’re literally a Nazi if you disagree, political environment.
Have we reached new heights only to implode?
What is really going on here?
Pride Cometh Before the Fall
Satan, we’re told, was the very best of the angels. His magnificent greatness eventually led him to believe that he was a rival to God. Jesus warned his disciples, having returned exuberant from working miracles, that he had seen Satan “fall like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and reminded them of their place before the Almighty.
Hubris is the downfall of many and the idea that we can find all of the answers for ourselves is that. With each success, with every innovation and breakthrough, there is a danger and risk of overconfidence.
In the past few centuries have seen our knowledge and abilities increase like no other time in recorded human history. The West threw off the authority of Rome, with the reasoning that every man was able to comprehend Scripture outside of the tradition of the church. Not long after, the authority of Scripture itself was called into question. Why do we need a book of myths written by those who lack our sophistication and understanding of the world? God was erased from our institutions, prayers only a ceremonial and many imagine themselves to be self-made or little gods. It is the height of ignorance:
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
(Isaiah 29:16 NIV)
But it isn’t only the cultural elites, the atheists, the politicians who only pay lip service or liberal theologians whittling away at morality until there’s nothing left. This spirit of self-reliance, and arrogance, permeates through the whole civilization. We are blinded by information, buried in jargon, tangled in complexity, yet think we’re englightened.
We should be pumping the brakes, as technology advances faster than our ability to comprehend the consequences, I see it even (or especially) in those emerging from sheltered religious cloisters. Sure, the are the reactionaries, afraid of all change or improvement, but then there are those who have a little education and embrace it all nof realizing the potential. Our brightest minds are working on things much more dangerous than nuclear weapons, creating biological agents, developing artificial intelligence, considering climate altering measures, all potentially having the possibility of irreversible side-effects, and truly playing with fire.
We believe we are in control but are most definitely not and, with our new power, are one or two mistakes from an unmitigated disaster.
Like the tower of Babel, which likely took years of planning and building layer upon layer, our modern civilization was built. Our confidence has grown and exponentially along with our accomplishments. We’re clever, we found cures for disease, invented means to travel to the ends of the earth and beyond. But the higher we ascend the easier it is to forget what we are and where we came from. We didn’t create ourselves nor do we know as much as we think we know and this should always keep us humble.
Thinking we are God or next thing to God will, inevitability, lead to chaos, confusion and ultimate collapse into disorder. The bigger our collective endeavor gets, the more we live on our own reasoning and strength rather than depend on faith, the less able we are to cooperate, we erode the very foundations of civilization and the destruction will be swift. God, in His mercy, will scatter us before we become too foolish, with our great knowledge, to be saved. Human reasoning is a dead end, we cannot transcend ourselves outside of God’s help. If we reject that help we will fall.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
(Malachi 4:5-6 NIV)
That end to the Old Testament has intrigued me. It contains a very clear either/or option. Either the people heed the message of Elijah or the land will be totally destroyed. God desired all to be saved, to be united in love for each other, and yet also doesn’t force the relationship and eventually the opportunity for reconciliation will end.
This is how John the Baptist was introduced in the New Testament:
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
(Luke 1:16-17 NIV)
Unfortunately, we see how this would eventually work out for the nation, as a whole, of those who didn’t repent or turn from their religious elitism. We see it in the following pronouncement of Jesus:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
(Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)
Many picked or else.
They choose their own destruction rather than heed the message and accept the offer of repentance and life.
I’m convinced it didn’t need to be that way, that had the people accepted their Lord and Savior, the city of Jerusalem would’ve stood and would not have been destroyed by the Romans. It was political division, the insanity of the zealots (including Judas) pursuing their own version of social justice, the complacent ruling class unable to make up their minds, that ultimately doomed the city to destruction.
Jesus is uniting or divisive. The choice is ours. Like it or not, the Gospel lays out a choice between unity or division. The truth will set you free or you’ll stay in bondage to your sin, to your preferences, your prejudices and perish. If we would truly choose Jesus then we would let go of all of our other identities, grievances and special privileges, we would be united in love.
Many who profess Christ today are more like those who rejected him. They choose tribe over unity, they choose political gain over peace, they accuse others while being as guilty or more guilty themselves. We would be wise to do as Jesus told his disciples regarding those who refuse to hear, to kick the dust from our sandals and move on to those more receptive.
Peace Through Separation
This theme of peace through separation is throughout Scripture, one example being Abram and Lot:
“…quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
(Genesis 13:7-13 NIV)
Lot picked the area close to the city, pitching his tent towards Sodom, Abram went the other way, and the strife between their clans ended. Nobody was offended, there was no reason to be offended, seperation to avoid unnecessary conflict is a peaceable solution.
We see the same happen in the New Testament:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
(Acts 15:36-41 NIV)
Imagine that. A sharp disagreement, even within the early church, leading to a parting of ways. And it actually seemed to work for the best. Sometimes the best solution to an irreconcilable difference is to go different ways. It seems that actually enhanced rather than take way from their respective ministries. At the very least, we see this affair being stated matter of factly and not a cause for additional drama.
There is, however, at least one case of separation gone awry and that’s when Pharoah refused to let the children of Isreal go. He had refused after first bring asked nicely, relented only after a series of plagues that increased in severity, then changed his mind once again and pursued those seeking freedom from him. Why? Well, because he was exploiting their labor and knew letting them go would cost him.
That is also how an abusive spouse acts. They simply can’t tolerate someone wanting to get away from them, they’re insecure, they need to have control, and would sooner murder the other person than allow them to go in peace. They can’t stand that someone would dare to expose their own ugliness and will slander the other party rather than repent of creating the conditions that led to the other party being uncomfortable remaining with them.
A Christian is able to walk away in peace, without things ending on their own terms, but those who are exploiting others or trying to advantage themselves cannot. Is it better that there is no seperation? Sure. Is separation wrong when remaining together becomes unbearable? Absolutely not! In short, seperation is a peaceable solution for peaceable people. But tyrants, who must have their own way, will refuse to leave others be.
Two Groups, Presenting an A-B Option
About six months ago, in response to the increased promotion of tribalism, I started a group on social media “One Nation Under God…” The point was to present an alternative to these divisive forces. A place where people of all colors, creeds, genders, or orientations could celebrate our common humanity together. The idea being that we could act “one nation” rather than allow our differences to divide us. I featured a picture of a diverse group of American children and posted feel-good stories of people overcoming conflicts, Good Samaritan acts, and kindness.
That group, which is representative of my highest aspirations and my desire to be unified with all, only attracted a handful of friends and remains at only a few dozen members. I would rather that we learn to get along, to hear each other’s perspectives, to find our common humanity, and respect our differences.
That’s definitely my option A.
However, around the start of the new year, after a contentious election season and continuing strife, seeing some voices were not being represented, I decide (on a whim) to start a group where disenfranchised rural people could find a home. My group description contrasted “two different Americans” and went on to note the differing cultural values between rural and urban people, with a lament of double standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution.
Well, on one level, it was option B, to advocate for an amicable divorce rather than continue the perpetual conflict and subjugation of one half of the country or the other every four years.
But, on another level, it was still in hopes of option A, to make those on the ‘other side’ aware of this grievance, to hopefully find a listening ear, and then find an understanding together. In other words, it was the same reason that any other peaceful advocacy group exists, to give some a voice in the conversation, to say our culture matters, to stop sweeping our issues under the rug, and have a dialogue.
First and foremost, the group was created as a haven for rural people, who tend to be more reserved and too often get dominated by their socially adept, politically powerful, urban counterparts. There was no hate or contempt for those on the other side of the divide, only a listing of different cultural values, a lament of double-standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution to irreconcilable differences. Rural people have the same desire to feel safe, to feel reasonably represented, and speak against the cultural imperialism of the truly privileged as anyone else.
Many people are fleeing urban areas to escape tyranny and violence. And they are all welcome to live in rural areas. But, that said, those bringing their problems with them, their tribalism and hate, are best staying where they are rather than have them bring their divisiveness to us. Little old Asian women aren’t being physically assaulted by grown men in central Pennsylvania and some of us would rather keep it that way. We believe in equal justice under the law, merit and not quotas, and no special treatment for some over others.
Respect our values or let us go our separate ways. That’s all. Option A and B. Hear the grievance and maybe we can patch things up. That’s always possible. But, respond with more accusations and hate? Yeah, that will only confirm my own reason to leave.
Pharaoh’s ‘Woke’ Army Is Outraged
I was blindsided by it. A friend went me a private message to alert me. The eye of Sauron had found The Rural Divide and the legions of far-left sympathizing, the hoards of apologists for wokeism and closed social justice warriors were on their way to overrun this resistance to their totalitarian agenda. Behind the buttery smooth words, of well-trained passive-aggressive Mennonite-borns, there was seething rage—a sea of hatred, irrationality and nasty accusations
Murder in words.
Only one person reached out for an explanation. A few others to heap condemnation and clearly unwilling to listen. Even some old friends were unwittingly used as pawns. But the truly disappointing part is that those who led this campaign know me enough to know that their characterization of the group was a lie.
For those who don’t know me, I was the religious odd ball at my school (as a conservative Mennonite) and found my place amongst the other misfits. One of my close friends, throughout my school years, came out of the closet in highschool and never once did I think of him as less a person than me. My cafeteria clique consisted of the only Roman Catholic and Mormon guys in the school, an ethnic Indian Hindu, a Filipino Seventh-day adventist. My other closest friend was an atheist fellow.
After school, I’ve only ever dated women categorized as “people of color” according to the current jargon. I’ve punched an openly racist Kansan (not my finest moment) and lost my job as a result. I was obsessed with the Civil Rights Era and fully embraced what Martin Luther King Jr said about content of character over color of skin. My assailants are mostly whites who grew up in ethically homogeneous enclaves, homeschooled, often privileged over me and extremely gullible too. They, like their forbearers, seem to believe that their own poop don’t stink.
Anyhow, back to the present drama, one particularly sanctimonious religious elite, likely trying to impress his peers with this virtue signaling display, suggested that those who joined the group were not even Christian.
Imagine that, you get a random request for a group, decide to accept the invite to see what it is, and bam suddenly you’re out of the Kingdom. Wow! Yeah, I’m thinking this extremely judgmental elite confuses Christianity with cancel culture. Or maybe it is that they are from a conservative Mennonite background where a marriage partner who separates from their abuser is often treated as the guilty party? The apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree, does it?
I’m sure they are too ‘woke’ to carry on the prior generation’s opinions regarding abused women leaving their abusers. And yet, under this new facade of social justice, they carry on the exact same attitude in regards to those who wish to be separated from those that routinely accuse, slander, and belittle them?
Reminds me of this:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
(Matthew 23:29-39 NIV)
It is interesting, first, that this passage above contains both a loving lament and harsh condemnation, both in the same thought. This goes back to the either/or proposition of Malachi. Second, those who killed Jesus, along with the other prophets, thought they were the enlightened and righteous ones. Saul, who latter become St Paul, harassed, pursued and killed Christians thinking this was God’s work. He found fault in others despite being murderous himself and it was only after repentance that he could see.
The very same people today, who are heroes in their own eyes for attacking peaceable people today, would likely be cheering loudly for Jim Crow laws a few generations ago, or aligned with Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany before their atrocities were fully known. It’s amazing the similarities between abusers, both then and now, rather than live and let live or leave when unwelcomed, they “pursue to town to town” and demand their piece of God’s people like the mob of degenerates in Sodom wanting a to ‘know’ Lot’s angelic visitors:
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
(Genesis 19:4-5 NIV)
The far-left is equally aggressive today in pursuit of anyone who would rather not be with them. If you’re putoff by their nastiness they’ll accuse you of an “ism” or being “phobic” and harass and lie in an effort to have their way with you. To them you have no rights as an individual, you belong to them, and if you refuse their advances they will break your door down…
And those outraged about The Rural Divide acted in the same manner. They attacked in a swarm, relentless, demanding to know why the group existed, trying to infiltrate, and were no different than that enraged mob picking up stones to murder St Stephen for his paraphrasing of what Jesus said:
“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.”
(Acts 7:52 NIV)
A Time To Reconcile, A Time To Choose A Side
If anyone in that cabal of hate and hysteria would like to approach me and apologize, I’m more than willing to forgive the slanderous attacks. Unlike the far-left, I believe in repentance, that people should be forgiven of their faults and can change. I’m willing to reconcile with any of those who participated in this spreading of malicious nonsense about me. A simple apology admitting that they misunderstood or were misled into believing my group was something it was not would be sufficient enough.
There are those whom I blocked on social media for their racism or otherwise rude and elitist behavior that I would gladly welcome back into my life if there was a hint of repentance. That’s option A.
This is option B:
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
(1 Corinthians 5:11 NIV)
St Paul prefaces this by saying that he’s not speaking against association with sinful non-Christians, who God will judge. But he’s talking about those who profess Christ and yet refuse to repent of their sin. This excommunication is necessary to maintain our own integrity and as not to confuse our non-believing neighbors. It applies, not in cases of different preferences, but in cases of clearly defined sin and lack of repentance. In case I’m unclear:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.
(1 Timothy 6:3-4 NIV)
I’m sure this was just St Paul’s white cisgender male privilege speaking right?
More toxic masculinity, I suppose?
Whatever the case, if even Paul and Barnabas had to go their separate ways over a dispute, both early church missionaries and leaders, then why is it so offensive or wrong that some would rather peaceably divide rather than continue in a quarrel? Isn’t that what happened with Abram and Lot when their groups were in conflict? Abraham going the way of the country and Lot picking the life of the city?
In the end, it is laughable that any Protestant religious separatist, especially these proud social justice preaching types who still identify as “Anabaptist” and refuse to seek membership with the universal church, would be at all critical of those rural folks who wish to have a separate space for themselves. Their hateful reaction confirmed every reason why The Rural Divide exists.
The Rural Divide is a group open to all shades of skin color, even those of other cultures, but only where there is mutual respect and not cultural imperialism. And, yes, the unrepentant ‘woke’ nationalists can stay out.
Relax, folks, it is just a Facebook group.
Everyone else has their safe space, wants their communities and values to be respected.
The other day I was filling out a survey and came to the questions about my race and gender. I paused for a second, “what am I today?” And decided to select what applied to me in that moment, which is the answer that I would typically use when asked those questions, and yet continued to ponder this question of identities.
I understand why these categories exist, we do have tendencies and traits as a part of a demographic group. Generalities and stereotypes certainly do have some basis in reality and I won’t deny that. However, what makes me bristle a bit is what this grouping too often does to relationships across category lines. It is divisive, it robs us our uniqueness as individuals and also puts us at odds with those deemed to be different from us.
It is too black and white. Too simplistic and encourages a distorted picture of reality in emphasizing that one similarity we share in common (or one difference we have) over everything else. The labels themselves are even dumb. I’m not actually white. My skin is a shade of brown. Furthermore, I probably only ever started identifying as white because someone told me to fill in that box as a child and I mindlessly complied.
The idea of “whiteness” is a social construct and has come to mean much more than it ever did before. Now some claim that everything from work ethic and politeness to mathematics is somehow a part of being white. Which is appalling ignorance, unexcusable, given the contributions of people of all skin shades and cultural backgrounds to civilization as we know it. All people should be offended by that nonsense.
I had a classmate, a Jamaican immigrant, brilliant at math, well-spoken, very polite, the son of an engineer or university professor as I recall. And, by the current color obsessed paradigm, he’s more ‘white’ than I am. It is a backhanded insult to the many, like him, who have natural talents that don’t fit within the narrow categories or grievance culture narratives of the racially prejudiced left.
Which is the crux of the matter. I hate these categories because they lie. As Mark Twain quipped, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sure one color group may, collectively, produce more elite athletes, another more classical musicians, and another mathematicians. But those group statistics tell you absolutely nothing about individuals nor why some individuals achieved these outcomes.
Much being attributed to color is actually culture. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and America, there are as many cultures as their are shades of skin color. Some European regions are known for their industriousness and superior engineering, others for their laid-back attitude and art. The same is true of Asian cultures. The same is true of African people. So how do we know color has anything to do with these differences?
The two biggest lies of our time…
1) The myth that skin color is synonymous with culture.
2) The myth that group statistics determine individual outcomes.
Yes, there may be some statistical correlations between certain behaviors and skin color categories. But that doesn’t mean that what applies to one of a certain category applies to all. For example, many women love pink, but that doesn’t mean the most or even many women are fond of that color. My younger sister defies many of those sort of feminine associated things, she’s not afraid of any critter, has reptiles for pets, and that does not make her less of a woman than those who freak out at the sight of a spider.
It is a complete farce that a coal cracker kid, raised in rural West Virginia, is advantaged over a college educated “person of color” working as a Wall Street broker. Nah, I’ve been around, I know how the cultural elites sneer at ‘deplorables’ and work overtime to make sure that they know their place. Class privilege is often misidentified as color privilege and misidentified by the very people who benefit most from spreading out the blame for their own sins.
The son or daughter of an immigrant wage-slave has more in common with the ‘black’ category than the trust fund babies of any color pointing the crooked finger. This is what grates me the most. In the real world blacks and whites work together. Out on the road, hauling commodities for the man, I swung the sledgehammer as much as that ‘black’ fellow beside me.
So do I really need my prissy, Che Guevara T-shirt wearing sociology professor cousin, son of a doctor, who could somehow afford to travel the world taking photos while I worked for $7.50 an hour, lecturing me on things that I don’t understand as a white male?
No, no I do not!
Those who associate certain outcomes or behaviors with certain colors of skin, who only ever see skin color in their analysis, are the true racists. There is a stronger correlation between fatherless homes and negative outcomes than there is between skin color and negative outcomes. In other words, things commonly categorized as a color privilege is more strongly correlated with family structure.
Think about that when discussion of privilege comes up.
Unfortunately, there is not much to be gained as far as political power in a “the fatherless unite!” campaign. Racial division, by contrast, is an easy sell. Skin color, indeed, is the low hanging fruit of human difference. Tribalism comes naturally, all you need to do is convince people that they are somehow fundamentally different because of something superficial and their confirmation bias will do the rest of the work for you.
Breaking the Bonds of Designated Identities
I’m not going to minimize the importance of life experience and family inheritance in shaping our identities. I was born into a conservative Mennonite home and that identity was very important to me. In public school it made me a religious minority, subjected me to many inquiries, what would now be called micro-aggressions, and some bullying later in life too.
The strange part is that, while being the Mennonite kid amongst my school peers, I never really felt like I fit in with my ethic church peers either. After years of rejections, both in romantic endeavors and even as far as filling offices or missionary opportunities. Finding my place, complete acceptance, within the Mennonite culture had eventually become an obsession. I desperately wanted to be the good Mennonite for reasons that I can’t fully explain.
That pursuit came to an end with a young woman who declared, “I can’t love you the way that you want to be loved.”
Mercifully, over the same time, a truly fatherly figure, Fr. Anthony, an Antiochian priest and college professor, took me under his wing to help me through this collapse of my Mennonite identity that had left me with a meaningless existence and suicidal.
I had to break from my ethnic and religious identity because I had no other choice. It was not pleasant. I loved, and still do love, many parts of the Mennonite culture. My parents are wonderful. My church was not one of those Pharisaical nightmares all too common in that denomination. But, as Fr Anthony offered, maybe I had simply “outgrown” the tradition.
And, truly, in Christ, we are all called to a higher common identity:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
St. Paul, in the context of the tumultuous days of the early church, spent much time addressing the many competing identities within the church. He took on the religious elitists, bluntly telling them to castrate themselves in one letter, and spoke up for those being excluded on a class or ethnic basis. That’s what he’s doing in the passage above, emphasizing that in Christ we can all be “children of God” and share one identity together.
The astounding part is that the church then, like the church now, still struggles on this point. Even in the conservative Mennonite church, where we were basically all from the same ethic and cultural background, there were definitely tiers of acceptance. Some simply check more of the ‘right’ boxes, are more popular, find the beautiful adoring wife, have all the opportunities, work their way up the ranks quickly and others not so much. In short, the words to the Galatians are as relevant now as were then.
Christian Identity Makes Difference Beautiful
One of Mennonite cultural distinctives that I had rejected early on is that of uniformity as a part of Anabaptist non-conformity teaching. My own church wasn’t nearly as strict as some. But there is an undercurrent, undeniably, that if a girl talks more than average she’s a “flirt” or a motorhead guy with a nice car was somehow materialistic compared to a wealthy business owner with three farms. Pity the artistic types in those churches more traditional than mine.
By contrast, an Orthodox Christian friend, gave this wonderful description: The church is like a garden, full of different plants and plants, all watered by the same source.
That is the ideal.
Unity in Christ is not about erasing all differences. Galatians 3:28 is not turning us into an androgynous ‘multi-cultural’ blob of completely equal outcomes. Jesus was not a Communist. Having “all things in common” was not about forced wealth redistribution or reparations. Certainly not about getting mine. Rather it was about bringing our diversity of talents and abilities, bonded together as the body and blood of Christ, to the church.
Diversity can be a strength. Not talking about superficial skin deep token ‘diversity’ achieved through quotas either. Instead, what I love is those of many colors, many backgrounds and classes, working voluntarily towards a common goal, having found a shared identity that transcends all others and allows the entire group to reach full potential. Competing identities keep us in conflict, but through Christ we could create the most beautiful harmonies.
In the end we must free ourselves from identities that keep us at war with each other. However, that is not something we do ourselves. There are many misguided efforts. Many are embracing divisive political ideologies, like critical race theory, that will only produce more hate and mistrust. Condemning “whiteness” or heaping praise on “people of color” and otherwise playing favorites on those currently deemed to be victims is never going to do anything besides add to the confusion.
Only in Christ, in repentance, in faith, can our differences in gender, culture, color or class be something beautiful.
The man had charisma. He wore a swanky grey sport coat and a shiny pair of quality brown dress shoes, that all went along with his well-manicured hair. He stood out in this crowd of mostly Amish gathered for the seminar.
I tend not to pay for such things. I have a knack for learning through non-conventional means, namely running into walls until I get to the correct answer, and have also learned quite a bit from observation. My own ticket had been provided by my company and I was there with the rest of the office staff to hear what this life coaching speaker had to say about customer service and listening.
The content was good. It seemed worthwhile advice for those seeking to improve their customer experience and grow their business. However, I kept thinking about the Christian themes mixed into his message. This son of a missionary did not preach a sermon nor did he mention the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, there was definitely an attempt to relate to the audience at a level of their religious values.
This sort of thing, good or bad, seems like the latest development in Christian missions. In times past, the church was the church, those ordained and sent were more open about their underlying goals, urging repent and be baptized, and those personally profiting off the message were condemned:
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”
(2 Corinthians 2:17 NIV)
Now, the man before us, he represented a non-profit entity and was giving advice that pertained to sales and serving customers. Still, he did reference Scripture amongst his quotes of self-improvement gurus and even used the phrase “word of God” at one point in his presentation. He would use our familiarity with the “good book” to bolster his claims and even shared some theological perspective.
Again, I have no problem with this man nor the particular presentation. In the business world this kind of consulting and advice is likely key to reaching the next level of sales and I’m sure we will do many of the things that he recommended.
However, what did stand out, and is the reason for writing this blog, is this trend towards a mission of influence rather than open proclaiming of the Gospel and, in many ways, I was at the forefront of this evolution. My blogs, often a mix of theology, philosophy, and personal observation, is not openly declared as a Christian mission. Still, I have used this media, and my understanding of Scripture, to do pretty much the same thing (minus the monetization) of this life coach of Anabaptist background.
So here’s some thoughts…
Where Did It All Begin?
The church has always had influential men and inspiring women. Some rose in prominence, even have their writings and stories recorded in the canon of Scripture for our benefit. The Orthodox have many noteworthy figures, Early Church Fathers, including St John Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople, a man who took on the abuses of ecclesiastical and political authorities of his own time, and whose Divine Liturgy we celebrate to this very day, his name means “golden-mouthed” in Greek and he definitely had a way with words to match the description.
However, those in Scripture, as well as St John Chrysostom, were themselves all under the authority and guidance of the other Christians. They were also very open about their mission. They were unabashed preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They weren’t your life coach using Christian themes to decorate a business oriented daylong consulting session for $150 a head. St Paul may have made tents to support himself and his ministry, yet I’m not sure that he sold them using Christian themes. Just saying. His ministry was ministry and business was business.
But there is a sort of murkiness to many modern day efforts, where they aren’t part of the church per se nor even announcing themselves as a ministry, and it is by design. So how did we get here?
The starting point of the current Western paradigm is obviously the Protestant schism with the leadership in Rome. The intention of Martin Luther, ordained by the Roman Catholic Church, was not to start a denomination. He wanted reforms and had good reason for his critiques. And yet his written protests quickly became a catalyst, many took things much further than he had ever intended and we have the multitude of denominations as his most significant accomplishment.
Still, despite this, the church, even or especially with those of the radical reformation, remained a collection of individuals with accountability to each other. Sure, the Anabaptists were more localized, led by shared statements of faith and collectively agreed upon congregational rules rather than by a hierarchical structure, but it was never every-man-for-himself or a free-for-all. Those who spoke were ordained by various means, not simply a man full of his own ideas and finding a following.
The turning point?
I think around the turn of the last century represents a shift. The whole tent revival circuit, where a dynamic speaker, an Evangelist, would get up in front of the crowd and wow the audience with his polished salvation message. Many were sold the Gospel in this manner, walked the sawdust trail, the circus would eventually leave town and life would go back to normal or the new normal, I suppose?
The next stage in development was the parachurch missionary organization. By parachurch, these organizations are run seperately from the denomination, are often subject only to their own board members, and seek funding for themselves. Basically, any ambitious person, with some natural musical or speaking talent, interested in travel, can start a prison ministry, missionary training institute or what have you, and only with as much ties to the existing church structure as they want. All one must do is set up their nonprofit, find investors, buy the bus and be on their way to preach the word as their adoring wife glows beside them.
Yet, as all things, the traveling Evangelist and other obvious Christian missionary efforts, including openly Christian contemporary artists, have become tired old tropes. The in your face presentation, the lack of follow-up or one-dimensionality of the presentation, the realization that the novelty had worn off of the original form, the scams and scandals, has led to a third wave of influencer and that’s the one that doesn’t even announce the Christian intentions at all.
Sometimes this lack of openly expressed intention is to avoid legal prohibition. For example, teaching English in Asian countries that would not otherwise invite Christian missionaries. Other times it is to add a practical element, after preaching and charities failed to help solve many underlying conditions, which gave rise to micro-lending groups. Sometimes this repackaging is to sell the mission itself as something exciting, an adventure rather than some kind of dull service opportunity, and part of an effort to make Christianity relevant to the next generation.
After watching the presentation the other day, I suggested to a left-leaning Mennonite friend that we go on tour together for sake of racial reconciliation and healing. Why not? I think I could probably work the crowd, with a little practice, and definitely believe in the cause, could leading faith-related seminars be my calling too?
In theory this cause-oriented Christian influencer thing seems great. We can have sportsman’s banquets, business seminars, and TED Talk the unsuspecting heathens (or even the more traditional religious types) with a flashy Powerpoint presentation, funny stories and down to earthiness. And yet, this does seem to get things out of order, it puts values first and repentance second.
More troubling, from the Evangelist of the past century, to parachurch missionary organization of the past decades, to the influencers of the present, the distance between the activity and actual purpose has grown. The Evangelist preached without providing adequately in discipleship. The missionary went without being sent or accountable to the church. And the motivational speaker, while referencing the Bible, never announced a Christian intention. And it makes me wonder, how far can we detach values or ministries from the Church, and cause of Christ, before it becomes entirely self-interested and divorced from Christ?
At what point is it all just a moneymaking scheme, devoid of actual spiritual substance?
I mean, we’ve all seen it, the shyster, the con man, the ministry with a board of directors full of families and “yes man” friends, the Televangelist, the guy selling a product, an ideology, a Ponzi scheme. There is sometimes a very fine line between the less scrupulous, eyebrow raising efforts, and the more accepted manifestations. Are we some day going to have Christian pornography, subtle Christian themes, maybe an actor pick up a Bible and read a passage before the main event, to hopefully plant that seed of influence?
Where does it end?
The Rise and Fall of the Christian Influencer
David Ramsey, James Dobson, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham, and Bill Gothard are familiar names in conservative Mennonite circles. Ramsey with his financial advice, Dobson with his focus on the culture war, Zacharias with his appeals to reason, Ham for his fundamentalist theme park and Gothard an earlier version of life coaching seminars. The point of all of these men, at least as expressed, was to advise, consult and influence. They are all men who took aspects of their religious values and turned it into an enterprise.
None of the men above represent a church denomination. They rely on selling merch, the loyal support of people like you and donations to expand their reach. They have built ministry campuses, a literal ark in the state of Kentucky, a few massage parlors here and there, and are only accountable to their own ministry boards. Usually the focus, at least initially, is around one illustrious character, a strong personality, who is too often surrounded by the cult he has created rather than those who will challenge.
There now seems like a parachurch organization for every niche. The list of bloggers, authors, evangelists, producers of all sorts, continues to grow and especially now in the age of social media. It costs me nothing but time to set up my account on WordPress and start spewing out my perspectives. Perhaps, if I were a bit more ambitious, I would write a book, do a book tour, and eventually be at your Lady’s Tea event sharing what I learned about life and love from the book of Ecclesiastes. Book your reservations now as available slots are filling fast!
But the parachurch is the downfall of the church. Too often these ‘ministries’ have come at the expense of the local body of believers, submitting and serving each other in love. Too often it is something guided more by the spirit of Diotrephes, wanting things our own way and seeking those who agree, rather than by Christ. That is why we have seen a growing number of scandals come to light, of leaders forced to resign by outside pressure or disgraced after death for their hidden sinful deeds. I know, speaking for myself, it is too easy for me to shun deeper involvement in the actual church because it is difficult, not determined by my feelings of inspiration, and this is something that must be repented.
Jesus was willing to serve, but he didn’t determine the cross he was required to carry and, instead, submitted to the will of the Father. The disciples, and St Paul, likewise, were not Lone Rangers, doing it their own way, without accountability or oversight. Those with gifts aren’t to use those gifts to serve themselves or build their own empires. They were sent and commissioned by the church, under the umbrella of those ordained to lead, and not independent contractors pursuing their own pet causes.
The Christian life is not about values, certainly not about self-promotion or having the right program either, but is about our Communion together with other believers, both past and present, and with Christ. From that, the Holy Spirit, from our accountability to each other, our true obedience, transformation will come from inside out and love will flow out to change the world. The values and culture coming from that rather than taught at seminars, religious institutions or Bible schools.
We don’t need more influencers. We don’t need more parachurch organizations or a return to tent revival meetings either. Many of these things are mere human efforts that will ultimately fail. What we really need is the body of Christ, to partake and participate together in the life of the one true Church.
Jesus was an extremely divisive figure. He said insulting things, routinely called out the religious elites, and was ultimately nailed to the cross for the inflammatory things that he said. Some of what Jesus said, if taken in context, would make Donald J Trump blush. And, lest someone say that this role was reserved for him, as son of God, Saint Stephen was cancelled by an enraged mob for doubling down on what Jesus said and St Paul literally told his religious rivals to emasculate themselves in one of his rebukes.
When someone uses “unChrist-like” to describe something another person did that offended them, it immediately flags that person as an unthoughtful and reactionary person. It is a favorite term of Mennonite religious snobs, with an extremely black and white perspective on everything, and seem to think that Jesus was some kind of Marxist hipster douche, like them, rather than a man who could throw a rhetorical punch, call people out for their hypocrisy and made many enemies within the ranks of the self-righteous religious elites.
If Jesus were in the flesh today he would enrage the ‘woke’ social justice left like he did the Pharisees. He would violate their speech codes, intentionally, like he did by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his disciples to ignore the cleansing rituals:
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
(Matthew 15:2-9 NIV)
These studious religious experts, looked up to within their own religious circles, point out that the disciples of Jesus are not behaving correctly according to their standards. But Jesus, rather than apologize, instead uses what would now be called a “whataboutism” by those trying to deflect legitimate criticism. He goes after their own crafty violation of the law, their legalistic approach that neglected the spirit or intention of the law, and then attacks them personally, calling them hypocrites, with empty words, who merely follow after human rules.
However, what is most interesting about the Gospel account is that those who loathed Jesus couldn’t condemn him on the basis of his inflammatory rhetoric alone. No, they still had to connive to misrepresent the actual intent of his words to paint him as violent and a threat to the powers that be. They maliciously twisted his words to suggest that he was planning to lead a violent insurrection and should therefore be condemned:
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’ ” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
(Mark 14:55-59 NIV)
That passage (above) would, if they had social media then, would likely be rated as being false by the fact-checkers. Why? Well, Jesus did indeed say that the temple would be destroyed:
“Destroy this temple…”
(John 2:19 NIV)
See! Right there it is! Incitement to violence! Jesus, speaking to the crowd, with his followers listen and willing to obey, says “destroy this temple.” Clearly a madman, speaking in a fit of rage after assaulting money changers on sacred ground, attacking established institutions, and a man clearly leading an insurrection, right? No wonder the frenzied mobs wanted him dead, permanently removed, his followers purged from polite society, they were being misled and used as pawns by the powers that be who saw Jesus as a threat to their own religious/political racket.
Follow the Real Jesus—Reject the Leaven of the Pharisees
Christianity, real Christianity, did not parrot the popular narrative. It was extremely divisive, although not along lines of gender, race or superficial difference, and it was those with the blessing of the established institutions who pursued and persecuted his followers. The followers of Jesus, for their part, were defiant like Him, they refused to stop speaking the truth even against the orders of governing authorities. These weren’t no limp-wristed mealy-mouthed educated folk, trying to position themselves for the approval of others.
The followers of Jesus today, as simple blue collar workers, would be called ‘deplorables’ by the elites who despised them. Some of them, as Romans or former collaborators with Rome, would be hated “fascists” or any other of a long list of names used by social justice activists to silence, marginalize or dehumanize their political opposition.
And, yes, the hypocritical religious elites of our day will use “unChrist-like” in an attempt to discredit and shame legitimate critics. They see themselves as being the pure and undefiled arbiters of truth. And you? Well, you’re the unwashed masses, those not privileged with their superior intelligence or education. No, they are, in their own minds, more truly compassionate, those who listen to and represent the downtrodden, while you are too dumb or hard-hearted to comprehend. Of course, it is all hogwash. Nevertheless, they do have a power to lead silly women and weak men astray with their nonsense.
Ultimately, contrary to the myths of the sanctimonious Mennonite progressives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a divisive message. It calls all to repentance, it stands in opposition to all tribalism and identity politics, and offends the elites who are not accustomed to being put in their place. It is not all kumbaya, linking hands singing “praise and worship” around a fire while shaking a tambourine, or unity around the lowest common denominator. No, sometimes it is harsh, raw and divisive truth, like this:
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
(Matthew 16:6 NIV)
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
(Luke 12:1 NIV)
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
(Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)
Those of the prideful social justice mindset, like those of any other errant ideology, the Pharisaical “leaven” of our own time, should be called to repentance. They, themselves, are not arbiters of truth, who can declare a person as not Christian for belonging to a group not their own. No, they are like the self-righteous religious elites who confronted Jesus for his incorrect, according to their own rules of conduct, teachings and example. The religious ‘progressive’ today would imagine themselves on the “right side of history” the same as Jesus sarcastically and very caustically condemned:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
(Matthew 23:29-32 NIV)
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
(Matthew 23:33-35 NIV)
Religious elites today never understand that the words of Jesus address them, personally, as much as anyone else nor are capable of understanding that those who were called “you brood of vipers” were the polished, the educated, those of correct pedigree and how dare this uncouth uneducated man tell them otherwise! They were completely justified in their own minds and this man had no business name calling! I mean, how unChrist-like can you be? The real Christ, according to their own experts and expectations, would be a religious bigot like them, would talk down to those lacking sophistication, and endorse them as rulers.
Let My People Go!
The sanctimonious never mind their own business. No, they’re always out to prove themselves more righteous, thus must pursue and destroy anyone who stands in their way, points out their egregious doublestandards or otherwise triggers the privileged religious elites. They are entitled, they have the credentials, who are you to stand up to their bullying and abuse?
They need a captive audience.
They need to have you around, as their whipping boys, to feel better about themselves.
Cutting to the chase, after years of seeing good rural people belittled and falsely accused, having their grievances ignored by the coastal elites, I decided to start a Facebook group to highlight this growing divide. It was a semi-serious solution, where urban and rural people, with their vastly different needs, would be governed separately and in a way better matched to their own needs. The key operant words words being “peaceful partitioning” of the two divergent Americas as a means to avoid violence.
Unfortunately, and predictably, while enjoyed with light-hearted amusement by the rural folks invited, it was soon met with an extremely vicious response. As aggressive as those men in Sodom knocking on Lot’s door, demanding access to his angelic guests, and not taking “no” for an answer, the assault was on. By the direction of a few agitators mischaracterizing the group according to their own blinding prejudice, many in the social justice mob (or sympathetic) began to stalk the group and harass me. How dare rural people seek to be separate and safe from them! [Insert popular false accusations here.]
It was “unChrist-like,” they cried, with a collective banshee howl, and heaped condemnation.
And yet, those who tell you that there is no Christian precedent for peaceful separation between disagreeing parties are either ignorant or liars. In Scripture there are multiple times when conflict between parties led to separation, as a means to keep the peace, starting with Lot and Abraham who went their different ways to end conflict between their parties. And, even in the New Testament, there was a time when St Paul and St Barnabas, had a severe disagreement and decided to go their separate ways.
The only time where this sort of separation did not go smoothly was when Moses asked Pharaoh, “let my people go!” Evil Pharaoh had initially balked, he didn’t want to lose his source of cheap labor and felt he had all of the power on his side. But Moses persisted, and God assisted by visiting Egypt with a series of plagues, until the tyrant was forced to loosen his grip. Finally, only when the cost became too high, the beleaguered abuser of the children of Israel allowed them to go—only to go against his own word later and pursue them to his own peril.
Maybe Pharaoh is the Christ of the social justice Mennonite?
I’m sure he was polished and prestigious.
Whatever the case, insisting that every American be under the same national flag has nothing to do with Christ or his teachings. I have worshipped in foreign nations, amongst those who didn’t share my political affiliation, and it never ever took away from unity in Christ. No, only when Christianity is corrupted, turned into a political ideology, does this difference in national identity become an issue. And it is not coincidence that those influenced by Marxist political ideology cannot see the vast difference between the two kingdoms. They profess faith, they condemn us as nationalists, yet are the ones who are truly blending religion and politics.
Lastly, there’s something deliciously ironic about a bunch of religious separatists, proud of their Anabaptist heritage, lecturing peaceable folks about keeping unity in the church.
You’re joking, right?
These are people who have no desire to reconsider and reunite with the historic church, that transcends nations, is timeless and complete.
No, they see themselves as superior-minded, able to discern for themselves what is correct ‘Christ-like’ teachings. There is zero self-awareness or introspection as they parrot popular leftist slogans and copy cancel culture against those who dissent to their rule. They are always looking outward, at the Publican over there, praying in his unsophisticated humble manner, trying to justify themselves. They see themselves as the gatekeepers of the kingdom and yet, if they do not repent, they too will be shut out and condemned to outer darkness.
Some day Jesus will divide the sheep from the goats. I ask everyone to consider what side they want to be on in that final judgment. Rural or urban, none of us are in a position to decide who belongs in the church or does not. Those suggesting that being a part of a Facebook group they disapprove of are any less Christian than them? They are delusional. Full of themselves. It is cultural imperialism at best (no surprise some of these are in that special self-congratulatory ‘missionary’ class, who travel over land in sea like those addressed in Matthew 23:15) and is an attitude that will only drive the wedge deeper.
Nobody wants to stay in a toxic relationship. Nobody wants to share a home with their unrepentant abusers. If these elites want to be heard by those of us who have listened to them lecture and condemn year after year, then it is time for them to start listening to our grievances too. If not, if they are incapable, then the most Christ-like thing they can do is let us go our separate ways. It is not peaceable to demand that others see things your own way, there is no reason why Christians can’t go their separate ways, and being in two different nations doesn’t mean we should be at war with each other.