Sunday, June 14, 2009

In God's Name

When I was a child, my parents taught me that God was about love and forgiveness, not hate and punishment. And that's what I have believed all my life.

As a teenager, when I heard Bea Arthur, in her first major TV role as Archie Bunker's nemesis, "Maude," tell someone that "God'll getcha for that," I laughed because it was the opposite of what I believed. And that, it seems to me, is the essence of really good comedy.

Because, you see, I don't believe that God will "get" anyone for anything.

I'm not sure, frankly, what I believe about God or the existence of an afterlife, but I can say this. If there is a God, I believe he is a loving God who realizes that his children are mere mortals, that there are many things we don't understand, and I believe he would never condemn any of his children to eternal punishment.

(I'll admit, though, that, in the last year or so, I've become less likely to believe that God has a plan, and each of us is playing out his/her role in it. The logic behind deliberately permitting such widespread failure and pain escapes me — but if this is part of some elaborate plan, I suppose God has his reasons.)

Anyway, when Maude confidently asserted that God would "get" someone for something, I laughed. I thought it was funny.

But there hasn't been anything funny about the conflict I have felt when other people have expressed thoughts that contradicted those things that I believe in my heart. Unlike Bea Arthur, they haven't said those things to be funny.

And there may never have been a time in my life when I have felt that conflict as keenly as lately, when I have read reports that Southern Baptist Rev. Wiley Drake says he is praying for Barack Obama's death.

Drake's comments have been dismissed as "unbiblical" by the present leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I would hope so. Asking God to kill someone seems like a very un–Christian thing to do. Well, it seems that way to me, anyway. Doesn't it go against what Jesus taught?

And I hope most Southern Baptists agree with me. In Arkansas, where I was brought up, Southern Baptists are the largest religious group, and I knew many when I was growing up. Most seemed then to have an affinity for the concept of being "born again." I presume they still do.

Some were my friends. Some still are. In fact, the first person I voted for in a presidential election openly called himself "born again."

(Actually, the pastor of my church, a branch of the Methodist denomination here in Dallas, touched on this in one of his sermons recently. And I think he makes a good point when he observes that "when you read the Bible, there doesn't actually seem to be anything called a 'born again experience.' " It all comes down to the translation, he says. In some instances, the word is translated as "again." In others, it is translated as "above." And that affects the meaning of the rest of the sentence.)

I gather, from what I have read of Drake's comments, that he considers himself "born again." And, frankly, that is fine with me. To me, such a phrase is no different from saying one is "saved." It reflects one's commitment to what one believes, which is something I can respect and admire.

The problem I have with the "born again" mentality is that, most of the time, it seems to be an exclusive label — like knowing the password that gets you into a ritzy club. I've known some people who considered themselves "born again" and yet could embrace all Christians, even those with whom they did not agree on every issue. But many seem to feel that, if you do not call yourself "born again," you are not an authentic Christian — and, therefore, not worthy of admittance into the ritzy club.

Drake seems to fall into the latter category.

But, you know, Drake isn't the only religious leader who's been actively shoving his foot in his mouth lately. Obama's former minister, Jeremiah Wright, hasn't been helping matters by blaming "them Jews" for not allowing him to speak to the president.

It seems to me that we're getting some very un–Christlike behavior from some of our Christian leaders.

And that reminds me of a statement from Gandhi that my pastor is fond of quoting. "I like your Christ," Gandhi said. "I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."


1 comment:

When EF Talks said...

Thanks for the shout-out, David. Glad what I've said has been helpful.