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.
All for sake of being politically correct? That's a very prevalent trend today in many areas.ReplyDelete
Religion and rules are from man - relationship and love are from God.
And from your list at the beginning, I thought you were going to discuss Footloose!
My great grandmother was a Baptist and never danced.ReplyDelete
I too had the Footloose thought...
I was raised in a Christian household but these days I'm pretty agnostic. I do agree that Christianity has become a political stance and it makes me crazy (crazier) to think about it.
It's kind of sad to watch the right's fumbling attempts to embrace Romney as one of their own.ReplyDelete
I had to laugh at this because my brother, who is very much a christian conservative (we have the best fights at Thanksgiving!), is having a hell of a time swallowing down his dislike for Romney. It's been sort of fun to watch him contort as he does it, though. :)ReplyDelete
What a much better world this would be if people would "Just own what I am" as you said. I have so much more respect for people who are honest about themselves and their beliefs. Really great post. You should consider posting on a news site or an online magazine. You always write about things in a way that makes the reader continue reading even if the subject is not of their particular interest.ReplyDelete
Well, I have to disagree that the Kerygma IS the definition of Christianity. I disagree with quite a few of your premises, but that's not really the point here. (Though I have to say that as someone who foolishly attended the very Southern Baptist Liberty University for a year long ago, you're spot on about their ridiculous stance on dancing.)ReplyDelete
That said, if we lived in a world where people didn't struggle constantly between their beliefs and their desires, we wouldn't need a Christian Church. People don't magically because consistently good people when they become Christians. The Church is just as full of sinners as the rest of the world and I tend to think that the expectation that Christians should automatically be able to behave better than everyone else just because they know the truth is actually damaging to Christianity. Knowing the truth doesn't necessarily make it easy to follow the truth. Jesus came to minister to the sick but Christians aren't people who are cured, they're people who have checked in to a life long care facility, because we won't stop needing it until we are dead. It would be nice if that wasn't the case, but unfortunately we won't be freed of our sinful natures until we are in heaven.
That's really depressing. It doesn't matter which political side you fall on, it's still pretty sad to see the rules go out the window like that.ReplyDelete
Fantastic post Andrew!! I agree with the person who said you should post in an online magazine or something. You are a talented writer. I am not a Christian,and never claim to be, but I find myself agreeing with much of what you've said. I'm not American either, but I've been following the lead up to your coming election and I totally agree with you that it's a racist issue..I think there are a lot of Americans who are uncomfortable that an independently wealthy white man is no longer in charge, because it's been that way for so long...they want this (black man) out at any cost, even to the point of setting aside their beliefs. It is sad.ReplyDelete
Alex: Unfortunately, those things in Footloose have a basis in reality.ReplyDelete
M.J.: It makes it hard to see Christ through "Christianity" these days. :(
PT: Politically, they've done a pretty good job.
L.G.: I've always been too socially conscious to be conservative enough for the "Church." One day, I'll tell those stories.
Jennifer: Well, thank you!
I'm not sure, though, that any of those places would pay enough to make it worth doing at the cost of what I'm already doing. But maybe I'll look into it.
Sarah: That the Kerygma is the definition of Christianity is not my opinion; it's historical fact. The Apostle's Creed, the center of the Catholic faith, is based on the Kerygma. That we have strayed from even knowing whatthe Kerygma is in the last century is also undeniable, but it does not change the fact it is the central idea of Christianity.
As for the rest of what you said, I'm going to fall back on Paul. If you try to live by the law, you must follow the law. All of it. To the letter. We are only excused from living under the law when we are living under Grace. Unfortunately, the Right does not attempt to live under Grace but under Law and not just for themselves for everyone.
S.L.: Exactly! It's not about which side but the act itself.
Eve: I hate that race is still such an issue after all of this time. Even in my own family (not my immediate family here but my family back "home"). It's really quite disgusting.
Pieces like this are why I admire you so much, Andrew. Beautifully written. Thank you.ReplyDelete
This resonated "integrity" with me Andrew. I was raised Southern Baptist too (funny how a "southern religion" segregates people of color) and I totally agree with your 3 primary rules of acceptance. Always boggled my mind; which is why I'm an agnostic now.ReplyDelete
Still, I worry about "christians" who take a stance of public policy simply because they are Christians, and not because they have any actual opinions on matters. Its just wishy-washy to me.
Thanks for sharing this. Gives me lots of philosophical food for thought.
I couldn't live if I was prohibited from dancing. I would probably wither up and die.ReplyDelete
That said, there's a reason sex is called the "horizontal tango" -- dancing can be extremely sensual. Not *always* but it can be.
Our society is becoming so offended at being offended or giving offensive that we are moving more and more toward that place where we believe nothing or we believe everything. The way I see it either way is about the same. We will be compromising much so as not to have discord with anyone else and in the process we will be homogenizing our values to move us closer to the one world religion. It sounds good on paper, but people-pleasing rarely comes to a satisfactory end.ReplyDelete
A Faraway View
Jericha: No, thank you. :)ReplyDelete
Donna: It's not that they don't have actual opinions (they don't), it's that they've co-opted the church's or the pastor's or whomever's. They have the "accepted" opinion, because they've never bothered to think for themselves. In fact, they are generally encouraged not to.
Callie: Yeah, I get that, which is why there is no dancing, but, really?
Lee: Yeah, we have an "everyone's special" outlook, and when everyone's special...