People like rules to tell them what to do. In America, we like to think that's not so true, but it's just as true here as it is anywhere. It's by following the rules that we know how good we are. It's by following the rules that we know who's winning. It's by following the rules that we know who's better. These rules, though... we just make them up. But, worse than that, we also impose them on other people. After all, you can't tell who's winning or anything else unless everyone is playing by the same rules.
I grew up a Southern Baptist, and I have to tell you the three greatest commandments had nothing to do with the Bible at all.
- Don't drink.
- Don't smoke.
- And, whatever you do, don't dance.
The point is, we make up a lot of needless rules to try to keep everyone in line, and they actually have nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with religion. The worst part about all of this is that Christianity isn't even a faith anymore, not in the USA. It's a political stance, and it's so wrapped up in so many things that have nothing to do with actual Christianity that I can barely stand it.
So I want to go back to the beginning. It doesn't matter what you believe about the truth of these things; this is what Christianity IS as preached by the apostles, especially Peter, and this is what defines Christianity. It's called the Kerygma:
- Jesus, the [one and] only begotten son of God, was born in fulfillment of prophecy.
- He was crucified according to the plan of God and was raised from the dead in glory, witnessed by many.
- He has given us the Holy Spirit as a sign of his present power and glory.
- He will return again in judgment and restoration.
- Those who hear this message should repent and accept salvation.
Now, I believe in definitions. Not because they are rules but because they allow us to understand one another. If you say, "Watch out! There's a lion about to attack you!" It's important that the person being addressed understands that a lion is a lion and not, say, a gerbil. If I say to my kids, "take the trash out," I don't want them shoving the dog out the front door. Definitions are important, and so is this one about Christianity. For, oh, 2000 years it has been understood that to be Christian, you had to adhere to the Kerygma.
Along with this is where Christians gained their definition of what a cult is, because a cult was something claiming to be "Christian" while not adhering to the Kerygma. This goes all the way back to the Gnostics and, while the word has changed through the ages (Gnostic, heretic, cultist), the meaning has remained the same. So, for decades, the Mormon faith has been considered a cult by Christians and, especially, by the Southern Baptists.
I'm not here to pass judgment one way or the other on that. I'm just saying it is. I grew up hearing about the evil Mormon cult at church while having Mormon friends that lived up the street. Just to clarify even more, I also grew up in a church (and an area) where an old lady, one Sunday, had a freak out because there was a [black man] in her church and someone needed to run him out of it. Yes, "black man" is my term, not hers. So I'm not saying whether it's okay or not, but, if I was a Mormon, I'd want to just be a Mormon and not get wrapped up in any of this "Christian" stuff. Just own what I am. Except that's not how it is.
And here's the thing that makes me sad:
This last week, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed Mormonism from its list of cults. This was not done because of any enlightenment or desire to bridge the gap between "Christians" and "Mormons" or "Christians" and any other cult group, because, let's face it, it's rather offensive to be called a cult, just like it was offensive of that woman in my church to call that man what she did. All the other groups labeled cults are still there; it's just that Mormonism has now been embraced into "Christianity" even though none of the definitions have changed.
Except that they have. Because "Christianity," as defined by the Right, has nothing to do with the Kerygma. It's a system of political stances that has risen above religious faith. It's rather like having decided that you don't like the thorns on a rose, but you still like the name rose, so, instead of a rose being a rose, you will now call a lily a rose. People still think when you say "rose" that you mean rose, but, really, you mean lily. It's kind of a clever trap, because you get people to elect a lily for president when they thought they were electing a rose. Or whatever.
Likewise, you don't just get to call yourself a rose if you're not. Daisies are daisies no matter how many times they try to claim to be roses. They're not gonna spontaneously grow thorns through word usage.
This whole thing bothers me, if you can't tell. There was no announcement. No change of stance. No "we've realized that this list is offensive." No nothing. They just quietly removed Mormons from the list to further their political agenda. And that's what Franklin Graham (Billy's son, and the person I think was most responsible for all of this, because he's more politically ambitious than his father ever was) said, "We don't want anything to stand in the way of getting Romney elected." That's a paraphrase. Basically, we're going to set aside what we believe in and what we've stood for for decades not because we've had a change of heart but because we don't find it politically convenient.
That way of being just... well, it just burns me up. If you believe in something, if you're going to say it and tell people about it, believe in it. Do it. Walk the talk. This amounts to me raising my kids telling them that they should treat other people the way they themselves want to be treated, which I do. Teach them that, that is, especially when it comes to how they treat each other. This is the basis for everything I teach my kids in many ways. However, if at some point I decided that I need to not follow that anymore, that I need to treat someone in a disrespectful way, because I have some justification that I feel goes beyond the "Golden Rule," so I tell them, "You know what? All that treat others the way you want to be treated stuff? Forget that; we're not going to encourage that anymore," because it's convenient for me to set those things aside to achieve my agenda, well, that would be the same sort of thing.
If you believe in something, it's not about convenience, it's about belief. If you lay it aside because it's not convenient, you didn't believe it in the first place.
And this has nothing to do with the stance on Mormons specifically; it has to do with the stance on Christianity. If you believe the Kerygma, and, theoretically, if you say you're a Christian, you are saying that you believe the Kerygma, whether you know what that is or not, you don't get to just toss it aside because it's not politically convenient, and, if that's the way the Right and "Christians" are gonna be, well, maybe I don't want to be called a "Christian" anymore, because I certainly don't believe in a lot of what the Right says you need to believe to be a "Christian," none of which seems to have anything to do with the person of Jesus.
Maybe what I want to be is a Kerygmaist.
At any rate, Billy Graham is someone I've respected my whole life. I remember watching him on TV when I was, like, six. Billy Graham stood for something. He held to his beliefs, stood by them, but, because there is such opposition to a [black man] (who professes to be Christian) being in the White House, the organization is willing to toss aside their "beliefs" to elect a man that just a few years ago they would have dismissed as a "cultist." Which is what I'm sure they still believe, but it's better to have the white cultist than the black Christian. [Yes, I do believe it's a racist issue; after all, I've heard how my own family has talked about having Obama as president.]
I don't blame it all on Billy; he is almost 94 years old, after all; I think his son played a huge part in swaying his decision, but, still, it hurts me to see a man I have admired laying aside his beliefs because it's convenient to do so. Much better that he'd had an actual change of heart.
I'd much rather deal with a (wo)man I disagree with but who stands by his/her beliefs than someone who will lay them aside for the sake of the current convenience.