20 January 2009

Anytime You're Ready (Part Three)

Rick Warren

You've just read messages from people who are not ready for liberation. Now I want you to read a piece of writing by someone who is ready! While discussing the forthcoming inaugural prayers of Rick Warren and Gene Robinson (the celebrated openly Gay bishop that President Obama invited in order to "balance" his Bible contingent), I asked my friend Jerry Maneker what invocation he would give in either man's place. His reply intrigued me, so I challenged him to write that invocation.

What he came up with, first seen last week on the front page of his Christian LGBT Rights blog, would never survive the inaugural committee's vetting! It's too long for an inaugural prayer. It's not a patriotic God-and-country speech that evokes the American flag glowing in rockets' red glare. It's not a giddy celebration of Barack Obama's ascent to the presidency. It's not a unifying statement by any stretch of the imagination. I daresay it's the kind of oration that could get him banned for life from Presidential functions! It might even trigger an FBI investigation (how's about that, Jer? A government dossier with your name on it)! For sure, it's the last thing most people would want to hear at the installation of America's first Black head of state.

In my opinion, it's also the finest thing Jerry has written to date! He does not, as Bishop Gene Robinson did, offer a punches-pulled, middle-of-the-road, interfaith blessing. This is an uncompromisingly Christian prayer, and truth be told, it's not a blessing at all. It's an indictment!

Jerry, himself a Reform Catholic priest, takes laserpoint aim at the institution that spawned him, the organized Christian church, lambasting it for inconsistent adherence to the Savior’s Gospel. His incendiary words bring to mind Jesus Christ rebuking the Pharisees! It's a warning to captains of a lurching ship that their vehicle must right itself. It's a denunciation of those who value symbolism over substance. It's a clarion call for social justice, and quite frankly, it’s beautiful! Here are its main points, slightly edited for style:

The Church, made up of the Ecclesia, "the called-out ones," called . . . to be agents of God's Grace in the world, has all too often gotten it wrong when it comes to its rhetoric and treatment of assorted minority groups, those discounted by the larger society . . . and many professing Christians are continuing to make the same un-Godly mistake.

Breaking God’s commandment to love one another equally . . . if any mistake can be called un-Godly, it’s that one!

The Church, as Jesus initiated it, was never meant to be enmeshed with the larger society, but was, in fact, called to be counter-cultural, to preach and live out the only Gospel that is to be found in Christianity: The Gospel of Grace (God's unmerited favor to all of us), Faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances), Love toward all people, Peace, Reconciliation, and Inclusiveness of all of God's children. There is no other Gospel!

Are you listening, Rick Warren? Shouldn't you rethink your church’s ban on openly Gay members? Not to imply that any of us should consider joining his bloated congregation; but doctrinally, he can’t justify denying us that option!

Since most of the institutional Church (has) enmeshed itself with the secular social, economic, and political forces within society, we can see that the larger culture has affected the Church far more than the Church has affected the larger culture. Indeed, the Church has all too often taken on the values and prejudices of that larger culture, and the results have sullied the Church, Christianity (and) the mission and work of Jesus . . . (it) has done inestimable damage to assorted disenfranchised and marginalized people.

I mean to tell you, sugar!

We have seen this tragedy played out (in) the treatment of women, the treatment of (American and European) slaves, the treatment of Black people in South Africa, the treatment of African Americans in the US, and the treatment of God's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and (Transsexual) children.

Let’s not forget about the vicious Bible-based persecution of both Jews and Palestinians, either!

Rather than be the arm of Jesus in teaching, practicing, and enjoining the secular forces within society to embody love and include everyone as equals, the Church and its functionaries have all too often adopted and encouraged hateful and exclusionary prejudices . . . indeed, all too many churches and clergy have even encouraged and provided religious justifications for hateful prejudices and hateful acts of discrimination, to the point where those clergy and their many followers have fomented and, indeed, encouraged the oppression that has (brought) untold shame upon the very Person of Christ, as well as shame on His Church . . . (they) have caused untold sufferings and even deaths to their targets of oppression and persecution.

For anybody who’s still puzzled why Rick Warren’s presence at a President’s inaugural would cheese off LGBT folk, this, in a nutshell, is why! Suffering and death is exactly what his kind of vilification leads to! When a self-professed man of God says such evil things, it has far greater impact than if anyone else had said them.

By aligning itself with reactionary social, economic, and political forces within society, the Church has ceased to be an instrument of God's Grace in the world, and has (lost) sight of the fact that every time Jesus dealt with the religious and political leaders of His time, it turned out badly for Him, as it did for all other leaders of the fledgling Church.

Public denunciation, police brutality, humiliation, torture, execution . . . it certainly did turn out badly for him. And Rick Warren had the colossal chutzpah to call his critics "Christophobic"?  All he’s had to endure is scattered protests from a despised and disorganized minority. Dude can’t even imagine the intensity of suffering visited upon our Savior!

You see, the Church has always been meant to be set apart from the values of the world. Indeed, it has been called upon to confront those values that in any way sully the name of God, sully the Gospel message of love, and that in any way oppress any of God's children . . .

Are you listening, Joseph Lowery? It isn't just about equal rights for racial minorities!

It does Jesus, the Church, and Christianity itself a grave injustice to in any way cozy up to those who discriminate and seek to disenfranchise any of God's children. Once the Church aligns itself in any way with prejudice and oppression, whether in "religious" or secular society, it is no longer the "Church," as it fails to in any way represent Jesus. To the degree that the Church enmeshes itself with oppressive secular and/or "religious" powers, it's to that degree that it not only loses its moral compass, loses its credibility, loses its reason for being, but also ceases to be the Church, (and) becomes a mere handmaiden to oppressive forces within secular society . . . the Church itself becomes an instrument of oppression that the world would be far better off without.

What’s that I heard just now? I could swear it was echoes from a Birmingham jail.

The early Church was horribly persecuted by oppressive political and "religious" forces, and that's the way it was always meant to be! To have a "peaceful" Church, to have a self-satisfied, smug, discriminatory bunch of people who call themselves "Christians," is not what Jesus had in mind, and is not what Jesus's Church has ever been.

Go ahead on, Jerry! Bear down!

And to the degree that the Church partakes . . . in the discrimination against God's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and (Transsexual) children, or in the discrimination against any other group of people for that matter, it ceases to be the Church, as it has ceased in any way to represent Jesus.

This statement applies to Conservative "Christian" churches like those in Atlanta, Georgia, which are hostile territory for LGBT faithful, and whose clergy recently spit on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by inviting Rick Warren to stand in the same Ebenezer Baptist Church pulpit that he preached from. The occasion? Dr. King’s 80th birthday celebration. Bible bigots have no shame whatsoever!

To the degree we don't stand up for those who are perversely viewed as "outsiders," targets of oppression, it's to that degree that we cease to be a Church or Christians, and become actors playing a part that the culture defines for us as being appropriate for "Christians" to play. All those who profess to be Christians must understand the basic Gospel message that Jesus and the Apostles left us, and that is that we are to love one another unconditionally, and never judge, condemn, or discriminate against other people.

Is this the message being preached at your church? If it isn’t, then don’t waste any time: Make like a tree and just leave, sugar!

“Anytime You’re Ready” concludes with Part Four.

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