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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

When I’m at work tomorrow, I will be praying for Donald Trump.  I’ve been praying for him to have wisdom and compassion, and to make the right decision for all of God’s children living in this country.  Donald Trump will be praying tomorrow too, at his pre-inaugural prayer service.

 

His choice of pastors is deeply concerning.  He chose Robert Jeffress, a man who is best known for his controversial comments in the 2012 primaries where he discouraged people from voting for Romney because he wasn’t a real Christian and Mormonism was a cult.  He is a frequent guest on Fox news and leads a Texan megachurch.  In addition to his critiques of Mormonism, Reverend Jeffress has also insulted the Catholic Church, which he believes is a “counterfeit religion” under the direct influence of the devil, referring to it as “the genius of Satan.”

 

He has made inflammatory comments about Islam, referring to it as a “heresy from the pit of hell,” an “evil religion,” and that Muslims, along with Hindus and Mormons, worship a false God and are therefore not heavenly favored like Christians.  Additionally, he has made despicable comments about homosexuality, stating that is a “miserable lifestyle” that leads to suicide or substance abuse.  He argued that gay rights have the potential to destroy our country and that people who are gay are attempting to brainwash people into being gay.  He compared it to incest, pedophilia, and bestiality.  He has argued that Obama’s support of gay marriage shows the ease with which the antichrist will takeover our society.  I haven’t read anything about derogatory comments about women and their roles in society…but I really can’t imagine that someone who takes these kind of Biblical views doesn’t have those on the record somewhere.

 

This is who Donald Trump has chosen as his spiritual guide as he steps into the Presidency.  It sends a heart-rending message to those of us who believe in a God of love, who see Catholics as brothers and sister in Christ, who believe that Muslims pray to the same God, and who, above all, want this president, who claims to be LGBTQ –friendly, to represent all Americans and to see justice done for them.

 

In addition to that, two of the pastors speaking at his inauguration are proponents of the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel, or prosperity theology, sees religious faith as a contract between the believer and God.  If a person is a good Christian, God will reward them with wealth and health.   Donations to churches or religious organizations will lead to a person receiving more wealth (for more details on this, see John Oliver’s segment on church financing, it probably will make you nauseous).  The corollary of that is, of course, is that those who are poor or sick or otherwise struggling are doing so because they are bad Christians, that God does not favor them or care about them as much, and that it is their fault, for their lack of faith and obedience, that they are not well-off.  This is a theology that I believe is painfully contradictory to the words of Jesus Christ, who exhorted us to care for the poor and to have compassion for all those who were struggling, whose deep and equal love for all human beings is the foundation of Christianity.  I suppose it should not surprise me that someone with President-Elect Trump’s background would gravitate to the prosperity gospel, but I find it tragic that this theology, and the bigotry expressed by Jeffress, is being promulgated on a national level from the white house.

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I’m from Massachusetts. I’m from the state which is right after New York on the “most-likely-to-be-used-in-a-stump-speech-as-an-example-of-liberalness” list. My high school chorus had to change the words to a song to remove any mention of God. We were the first state to legalize gay marriage. I’ve attended a church where parishioners have complained about using phrases like “holy” and “Christ”. I don’t live in the most Christian-friendly state.

Now, I’m not going to be one of those people who is going to explain why Christians are a victimized minority that’s having their faith outlawed. I could write, and probably will at some point, about how being religious in general is becoming more and more uncomfortable for people, but that is not the subject of this post.

This post is about a word. It is a word that is used in many different ways by different groups of people.

Evangelical.

I started this blog because I was tired of being considered an oxymoron. Yes, I’m liberal, no I don’t want to get together and complain about how horrible religious people are limiting abortion and are all crazy. Yes, I’m evangelical, no I’m not going to sit you down and explain that if you don’t convert you’re going to hell. It’s really quite amazing how narrow people think these boxes are. I met a boy once who was unaware that it was possible to be a nerd and Christian (this apparently is not an unusual idea, for some reason, as this has come up multiple times as I’ve tried to explain things like “No, playing dungeon and dragons isn’t sinful”).

Yet, despite the fact that this blog is written around my identity as both a liberal and an evangelical, I haven’t explained much about how I define that, what I mean by that. It’s a word that can be used in multiple ways and which I think is very misunderstood.

Let’s start with the basics. No matter what random “experts” on CNN seem to imply, Evangelism and the Religious Right are two utterly different things. Evangelism is a theological concept. The Religious Right is a political movement. Using them synonymously is just annoying.

Secondly, I’m not going to pretend that being an “evangelical” is purely spiritual, and doesn’t have accompanying social mores and culture. Being evangelical in the United States these days, particularly in subgroups such as non-denominational Protestantism, is cultural. We have music artists that we listen to, we have specific vocabulary, we have social practices. However, this is not what evangelism is. Like any culture, there are as many different values, interpretations, and beliefs (political, religious, or otherwise) as there are people. We are not all the same. Forget that, we’re not all even alike. It is possible, in fact, to be part of that culture and not be evangelical.

That’s because evangelical isn’t a culture or a political sub-group, it’s a spiritual choice. It’s also one that manifests itself in different ways. Evangelism doesn’t require you to hand out pamphlets on the subway or to try to convince your non-Christian friends that their religions have no meaning. It doesn’t even require you, in my mind, to be convinced that the only way to heaven is through conscious belief in Jesus as the Messiah (I’m sure many would disagree with that).

To be evangelical, generally, is to want to and to try to share the ‘message’ of Christianity. Note, I said “share”, I did not say “force down someone’s throat”. Let us not confuse those two terms.

Evangelicals, in whatever intensity, do believe that Christianity is “the best”. It is something that they believe is true and is a good thing. It is a very delicate line, and some of us are more concerned about where we cross it, between believing we are right and insulting other faiths. To evangelize is to share your faith, your beliefs, your values. It means to explain why you believe in them, to explain what they give you. Some people choose (and while I’m not among them, I respect their right to do so) to evangelize by buying billboards or passing out literature. Some people will stop you in the grocery market and ask if they can talk to you about Jesus. Some people will simply say, “You know, my church meets at ten every Sunday, you’re perfectly welcome if you ever want to stop by”. There are lots of different ways to share one’s faith or to invite another person into it.

Here up in the liberal Northeast, evangelicals are not very popular. The polite people just think they’re kind of crazy and ignore them. The rude people go on lots of rants. Even many Christians are very quick to say, “Oh, I’m not one of those Christians”. Evangelism is seen as offensive. Frankly, though, I don’t understand why.

It’s not that I dismiss the fact that no one likes to be told they’re wrong or that everyone deserves to have their own views taken into consideration. However, when you think about it, evangelism, religious or not, is all around them.

“You need to try acupuncture. It changed my life. I’m serious, you have to go.”

“The thing that I hate about teachers’ unions is…”

And so on.

Friends, families, even mild acquaintances, don’t feel at all hesitant about giving their opinions on your lifestyle or of trying to convince you of the veracity of their opinion. Until it gets a bit overzealous, no one finds it offensive if someone is trying to convince you that you shouldn’t vote for _______ or that your view on _________ is illogical. It’s perfectly acceptable these days. I frankly don’t see any difference between political canvassing and Jehovah’s witnesses, or between making a passionate defense of your faith versus a passionate defense of abortion. To make a separate case is to hold to some sort of double standard that we have freedom of expression and freedom to share our beliefs publicly on everything, except for religion.

It’s about dialogue. It’s about sharing and learning from one another. It’s explaining why you think something, what are the benefits of it from your perspective. There is nothing inherently disrespectful about the principle. I further don’t believe it is offensive to evangelize because 99% of the time it is non-coercive, and as long as people have free choice, I simply don’t see the problem.

One of my first posts was about this, I believe. I wrote about how at my Christian school, when I was young, they had us debate whether or not we should read a book that had anti-Christian themes. There were a few classmates of mine who said that we shouldn’t, that it might cause us to question our faith. However, I believe that if a faith or an opinion cannot hold up if it’s exposed to a conflicting idea, it’s not worth having. I don’t believe that it is an affront to human dignity to have someone share with you an idea that you disagree with. That’s why God…or evolutionary processes…or both…gave you a brain, so that you could listen to ideas, critique them, evaluate them, and think for yourself.

While I, like many others, have grown to have respect and appreciation for the new Pope, there is a part of me that has been saddened by the reaction of the world. So many secularists or members of other faiths who talk about how unusual his openness and compassion is. For me, those things are what my religion is about, and the fact that people see Pope Francis as an anomaly, rather than as the norm, is a sign that we Christians are failing in the way that we share our faith with the world. Serving the disenfranchised with compassion, saying “I do this because of what I believe about God” that is the Christian evangelism that I believe in.

I am a Christian and I strive to live my life according to principles. I share my faith with those who ask, by be open and willing to explain and to engage in a dialogue. I share my faith by living it out and letting it be known that I make my choices because of my faith. Evangelism, to me, is simply openness.

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