Stop Saying “God Is In Control”

protestIf you’re looking for the reason (well, one of the biggest reasons) why evangelical Christianity is now on America’s shit list, here it is, in living color.

With the election of Donald Trump, the resulting dumpster fire in DC, and the ever-mounting unrest in our nation, anyone who expresses concern over these developments will, at some point, receive some version of “Take a chill pill.  God is in control.”

True enough–in an ultimate sense, I guess.  In the ultimate sense, God works all things for good.  There is not a thing in the world that he cannot and/or will not use to advance his redemptive purposes for humanity.

But those words, spoken into this particular context, at this particular time–well, here’s what that sounds like:

It sounds as if God meddles in election outcomes.  (Of course there are a few evangelical leaders running around out there who say that the outcome of this election was a God thing.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if evangelicals are now free from any and all culpability for a vote which they may now be regretting.  (Of course there are more than a few evangelicals who are not regretting this at all or who just don’t care.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if we are excused from any responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ to people who feel shunned, devalued, and degraded as a result of this election outcome and who are now concerned and fearful of what the future holds for them.

Essentially it passes the buck to God for human injustice and human suffering.

This is unacceptable, people.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But he has called us to work with him in bringing his kingdom to pass, on earth as it is in heaven.  He has called us to be his hands and feet to a hurting world that is desperately in need of his healing touch.  When you say “God is in control” as a means to justify your inaction in these troubled times, you have essentially abdicated your calling and responsibility as an agent of God’s kingdom.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But God is not magical or forceful.  God works to bring his peace and his healing touch into this world through people who aspire to those qualities in themselves and who choose to exercise such power as they may possess right where they are standing.  Jesus is not beamed down from heaven–he is made real in our world through the actions and lives of those who believe that others for whom he died are worth sacrificing and caring for, that mercy is the greatest gift, and that love is revolutionary.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But there is one thing God is NOT in control of (John Piper be damned).  It is you, people.  You are in control of you and God is asking you to be love and mercy and compassion in a way that changes the narrative of the story in which we all find ourselves living.  What are you willing to do to be love and mercy and compassion to a world that is desperately in need of these things–or at least that part of the world in which you happen to find yourself?

Would We Have Taken Part in the Sins of Our Ancestors?

protestIf you have been tracking with me around here or on social media, it is no secret that I am vehemently opposed to our current president and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state which feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.  I believe that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to everything we are as America and as Americans.  I believe that history will one day look back on this moment and demand of each of us, to know which side we were on.

But before we go any farther down that road, allow me to direct your attention to a piece by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast which appeared around this time last year and which will guide our thinking today, sort of.

In a hilarious and snarky way, Ortberg hits upon one of our most natural human tendencies:  to reflect upon the great struggles and moral crises of history and imagine that, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the right side of things.

The truth of the matter is that we probably would have done no better than our ancestors in the moral struggles which they faced.  We would probably have been right there with the people who were burning witches in Salem.  We would probably have been contributing in our own way to this grave injustice.

And here is where I have to get gut-level honest with myself:  A huge part of the reason why I now stand with #TheResistance is that it costs me very little to do so.  For the price of a Coke or a six-pack of Bud or a one-night stay at an Airbnb, I can commit an act of political defiance.

But if that state of affairs were to change, I would probably be rethinking things a bit.  If Donald Trump were to start jailing political opponents (could happen–I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steve Bannon or the new attorney general Jeff Sessions), you could probably expect me to start toning things down around here.

Because, like Ortberg, I am the sort of person who places a high value on physical safety and comfort.  If the cost of resisting Donald Trump were to get too high, I would probably bail.  I would like to think that I’m a better person than that.  I would like to think that I would stay and fight for the right no matter what.  But I am not there yet, and I have a long way to go to get there.

You see, despite what I have said here and in earlier posts about being on the right side of history, we really can’t worry about that.  Our job and calling in this age is the same as it is in any age:  to resist the injustice of our present age, whatever form it may take.  We can look to the past for guidance, but it is not our job to fight their battles or to imagine how we would have fared if we had lived in their times.  As soon as we do that, then we are in danger of missing the injustice that is right in front of us every day.

Jesus had some not-too-kind words for the Pharisees of his day, who imagined that they would not have taken part in murdering the prophets of Israel had they lived in the days of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-32).  Their eyes were closed to the injustice that was happening right there in front of them, that they themselves were about to perpetrate against the one who was greater than all the prophets.

So I must fight on.  I must resist.  It is not my job to worry about being on the right side of history, or about if I would have been on the right side of history in the great moral struggles of the past.  It is not your job either.  Our job is to resist the injustice of our present day.

I will not do it perfectly.  Lord knows, if the cost gets to be too great, I may not do it at all.  Like Ortberg, I place a very high priority on my physical safety and comfort and there is probably little if any limit to what I will compromise if these things are at stake.  So I can have no illusions about being a hero or being on the right side of history.

But at the end of the day, there is still a battle to fight.  There are people out there who fear–legitimately–what the future holds for them in a Donald Trump presidency.  These people need to know that they are not alone.  There are people out there who hear the name Christian and for them it is inexorably linked to the Republicans and the KKK and the Neo-Nazis and many other things which are completely opposite the character of Christ.  These people need to know that this Christian does not approve.  These people need to know that when 81 percent of evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic agenda, they do not act in my name.  I may not fight this battle perfectly, but not to fight–that is not an option.

Morgan Guyton: How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues?

Today I direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton, a college pastor in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Guyton blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

Guyton, who grew up in the same evangelicalism where I have spent the vast majority of my collegiate and young adult existence, asks a poignant question.  In the evangelical world I remember, it was all about absolute truth, but the notion of absolute truth was presented like this:  There is an objective universe out there that exists, regardless of the myriad of vantage points from which people perceive it.  Objective facts matter.  You don’t get to make up your own reality.

This is how we differentiated ourselves from all those godless liberal relativists who believed that each person got to make up their own truth.  Now here we are, and don’t look now but we’ve become the exact same thing that we used to (and still do, in some places) accuse those godless liberals of being.  How did we get here?  It all started as a reaction against Bill Clinton and the excesses of his administration–somehow it was OK to cook up absurd conspiracy theories about a morally sleazy politician because his sleaziness justified it, and when those conspiracy theories are debunked just cook up a whole shitload more.  From there it snowballed, and now here we are.

Guyton posits that this is due to another way of defining absolute truth–not as the existence of universal truth but as obedience to an infallible authority.  Evangelicals claim that this authority is the Bible but the way it works out in reality is that the true authority is those who interpret the Bible and the doctrinal/theological framework within which they interpret the Bible.  Apply this to a partisan political platform and it’s no surprise that evangelicals are all about Donald Trump.

The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.

…I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Read:  How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues? by Morgan Guyton