The Taser's Edge

The Death of the Body of Christ

The end of my last post got a wee bit angry at the Religious Right.  Possibly it was sparked by a quote I recently read on a Facebook page:

“You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

While you might think that quote is from Ayn Rand (sorry, since there have been a ridiculous number of references in the media to her lately, but unlike most folks, I have actually read Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, and I think my comparison is darn accurate, since this quote pretty much sums up what Atlas Shrugged says in narrative), it is actually from Dr. Adrian Rogers.  Who?

From Wikipedia: “Rogers was instrumental in the Southern Baptist denomination’s shift towards the right that began in the late 1970s, as he was elected president of the denomination during a theological controversy within the denomination…Rogers served three times as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest American Protestant denomination with 16 million members. He was first elected to this post on a platform of biblical inerrancy, and under his leadership, the denomination shifted sharply rightward, firing liberal and moderate seminary professors, as well as requiring all employees of the denomination’s seminaries and the national office to affirm their adherence to the Baptist Faith and Message [that link is my addition], a document which Rogers later (when he was no longer president) succeeded in significantly revising. The denomination has remained staunchly conservative since Rogers’ first term as president.”

The problem, in my view, is not that Rogers and the Religious Right have mixed religion and politics.  In a representative government, that has to be assumed.  The problem is that there is not even an ounce of the Gospel in that quote.

He would respond, I would assume, with 2 Thessalonians 3:10b, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” and its immediate context, forbidding laziness in the Christian community at Thessalonica.  Plenty of non-Christian Americans might have heard this quote as schoolchildren; at least in American lore, part of John Smith’s reform of Jamestown was to institute this policy.  But how does a specific instruction to a specific problem in a specific Christian community, become an argument for a particularly cut-throat brand of conservatism (and no, that is certainly not the only brand of conservativism) in a 20th century pluralistic America?

I have no problems with Christians embracing conservative politics, but I do have a problem with a Christian leader arguing that people should get only what they worked for, only what they deserve.  Because the Gospel says exactly the opposite, that we deserve death and yet God gives us grace.

Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross and the theology of glory.  The theology of glory (seeking power, riches, and earthly honor for oneself) is a false gospel, and it was forever rejected by Jesus Christ’s entire earthly existence, from his birth as a poor Jew to his death as a poor Jew, homeless and dependent on the kindness of others (from infancy at his mother’s breast, to an adulthood which began with rejecting the temptation to be self-reliant, when asked to turn a stone into bread in the desert) in between.

The theology of the cross is not just about the fact that Christ was king of the universe, but he had to borrow somebody else’s donkey to ride into town, not just that he chose not to call legions of angels to save him from the cross.  Christ’s rejection of power and strength is a revelation of who God is.  That is, the theology of the cross is not just descriptive of the character of a particular action or set of actions in a particular person.  It is a revelation of the character of God.

I pray that the American church would die to its own pursuit of power, a prerequisite to pursuing the way of the cross.  Good Friday is a perfect day for the church to die.

Not an Obituary

The picture above is clearly Martin Luther King, Jr., and that’s Andrew Young to the left, but who is the young man in the clerical collar beside King (separated by a newspaper crease, not inserted into the picture)?  Richard John Neuhaus.  Before he died last Thursday, I knew very little about him:

  1. He converted to Roman Catholicism from Lutheranism and at least some LCMSers that I have known still wanted to claim him and his accomplishments based on his heritage.
  2. He founded First Things.  (And while I did know this fact, I still know next-to-nothing about the periodical.)
  3. He wrote an amazing book on practical ministry called Freedom for Ministry, which contains some great material.  For instance, “The pursuit of holiness is not so much the observance of limits as the exercise of freedom.”  I think that sentiment well describes my own experience of vocational discovery during my time at Duke these past three years.

What I didn’t realize was how polarizing his politics were.  Thanks to my friend, Nick, I have begun to get a glimpse.  He directed me to an article on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish blog for The Atlantic, which in turn directed me to an article on Damon Linker’s blog for The New Republic, which names among Neuhaus’ “Protestant friends” Pat Robertson, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Ralph Reed.  Certainly, as far as I know, “friends” is a politically loaded statement rather than a description of warm and personal relationships among these men, but that’s a heck of a crowd for a highly respected theologian to hang out with, especially considering that Neuhaus marched with MLK in Selma and later protested the Vietnam War.  Just goes to show how little we can know about the lives of people whose ideas in one realm (theology) we truly love and whose ideas in another realm (politics) we can find ourselves despising.  Of course, the idea of separating theology and politics into two separate realms may be again showing how unfamiliar I am with any of Neuhaus’ work, but my thought is that he is quite willing and able to forgive the slight (and especially willing since last Thursday, being in Heaven and all).  But I’ll also try to remedy my unfamiliarity with his work.  But I just now typed his name into that 11.5-page single-spaced document I keep, called “Books to Find” (almost long enough to start italicizing the title rather than putting it in quotes),  so there’s certainly the possibility that he and I might meet before I get to it.