Augustus*/Pilate 2016: The Preferred Ticket of Megachurch Pastors

Listen to this:

If you are anything like me, you are having this reaction:

post-53126-Bill-Murray-looks-at-camera-gi-68fK.gif

So Pastor Robert Jeffress, who once said that trans* friendly businesses were more of a threat than Daesh (no shit), has come out in favor of Donald Trump because he is a strongman. Okay. That’s a stupid thing to want–you’ve got a doctorate, Bob; read a book on the rise of fascism in 20th century Europe–but it is not totally unreasonable. We’ve seen that on all the continents. And while I think it is a ridiculous political desire, I have to admit that it is one that has shaped politics in the past. Generally for the worse, but people do pull the lever for a strongman. Fine

But the asinine contention that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would not make sense for governance (which is in itself not necessarily a wrongly stated position) because Jesus didn’t claim that it was a governing philosophy shows the danger and limitation of biblical literalism. To wit, Rev. Dr. Strongmanwanter believes that Christians should be against homosexuality because it is in the Bible. Yet Jesus says exactly zero things about homosexuality. But, you might object, there are prohibitions elsewhere. Yes, there are; kinda. But Jeffress argues that the Bible does not say anything about government.

good fellas.jpg

Yeah, no. Evidence? The Torah. Kiiiiiiinda filled with laws about how the covenant community should be formed and governed. Now, there are a lot of caveats. And Christian fundamentalists most often don’t get that the covenant code is not for us; Jewish fundamentalists often forget that the laws are applicable only in a Jerusalem that contains the Temple. Despite the nuances that most certainly are not being discussed in any real form here, it is safe to say that the Bible is absolutely concerned about how a society is governed.

Reasonable people will hopefully agree that Jesus was Jewish and was interested in helping to reform and rejuvenate the religion. (Marcus Borg’s Jesus, A New Vision, is a great starting point for people wanting to understand this perspective.) He wasn’t a law-maker, but he was a law-interpreter. In the Jewish tradition this is know as midrash. Notice how Jesus often says, “You have heard it said, but say to you…” and then goes on to say something that emphasizes the Spirit of the law over the letter of the law? That’s midrash. It’s kinda a big deal.

See, we Christian pastors need to read more than the Bible because we are charged with midrash. It is what we do with our sermons. We need to read books about the Bible. About history. Archaeology. Sociology. Linguistics. Literature. And the good pastor knows this; he has an impressive education from schools that I might not have chosen to attend, as I am not a Southern Baptist, but that are accredited by reputable services and that is no joke. Seminaries lose accreditation if they do not follow strict guidelines; schools like Liberty University don’t get accreditation or try to create their own agencies to circumvent the standards. All of this to say that Jeffress knows better. He knows that Jesus’ words directly relate to the power dynamics that exist between people and the religious hierarchy; the people and the Romans; the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans; and how they pertain to the people’s relationships between themselves. I find it most probable that Jeffress has read or is familiar with Walter Wink’s work on the roles power plays in Jesus’ vision of the faith. In a nutshell, Jesus is anti-strongman. Jesus’ entire ministry is about the kin-dom of God, which he imagines (according to John Dominic Crossan) as God sitting on the throne of Caesar.

Jesus was inherently political is the Greek sense of the word; politics is that which relates to the people. In many ways, our weekly liturgy (which means “work of the people”) is a form of politics, because it concerns our relationship with God (and one another). For Jeffress to argue that the Bible supports a “strongman” is ludicrous. If God likes a strongman, why does David win? If God likes a strongman, why did Jesus come as a carpenter and submit himself to the cross?

I don’t like to question other people’s faith, but Jeffress’s words make me think he would have made a great campaign manager for the Romans.

aaaaa

*The author is aware that Tiberias was emperor during Jesus’ ministry and execution. But Tiberius/Pilate doesn’t have the same zing 😉
 

On behalf of my people…

I am a white male. Ten years ago, I added Christian to that self-description. While not wealthy, my family is financially stable; my parents grew up in working class homes and, because of the availability of state-funded scholarships and the low price of tuition, both secured excellent educations. As a result, I grew up with food on the table and a roof over my head. To be sure, I have had a job since I was thirteen years old, but I have never known true poverty. For most of my life, I have lived paycheck to paycheck, but when the bottom has dropped out, my family has been able to swoop in with a safety net. I tell you all of this because I want to make one point crystal clear: I have never known what it is like to be in an economic, racial, or gender minority. As a white, Christian, American male, I’ve most often walked into a room and seen people who look like me; turned on the television and seen people who look like me; and, on the whole, I grew up idolizing musicians, actors, and other celebrities that look like me. I have never known that it is like to “represent” my gender, race, or faith tradition. I’ve never had the pressure of being the only white, Christian male in a classroom, or been the first white, Christian male to perform a specific job or join a particular group. And while in primary and secondary school I was bullied and teased about as much as anyone else, I was able to slink into the background because, well, there were plenty of other white males around me.

So this is new for me: I would like to apologize for my people.

This has nothing to do with liberal white male guilt. It really doesn’t. But it does have to do with the fact that white, Christian males have really been stinking up the place lately. From Representative Darrell Issa’s sham of a “hearing” on women’s health to Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting attacks on Sandra Fluke (the Georgetown law student charged with being a “slut” and a “prostitute” by El Rushbo because she had the audacity to point out that birth control pills can help prevent the development of ovarian cysts), I have found myself wanting to go up to every woman I meet and explain that not all of us are Neanderthals with no understanding of the female reproductive system. While Issa argues for smaller government, he and other white males in legislatures both State and Federal want to insert (literally) Uncle Sam’s influence into the vaginas of women across the country. Yet, many of these males—I return to his rotundity, Rush Limbaugh—seem to have a basic ignorance about the inner workings of the female anatomy. Rush and Bill O’Reilly think that a woman has to take a birth control pill every single time she has sex, as though it operates like a tablet of Viagra. To wit, Rush has screamed repeatedly into his microphone of hate: “Did it ever occur to you [women who find it difficult to pay for necessary contraceptive care] to stop having so much sex?!” Every time I hear this sound bite, I want to run up to a random woman and say, “I’m so sorry for my people. But I can assure you, I understand the difference between a Fallopian tube and a drinking straw. I paid attention in my government-funded health class, and I work hard at my church to make sure that boys are able to say vagina without giggling and that they don’t regard menstruation as ‘Satan’s doing.’”

I fight the urge to really do this, of course, because , once started, it would be impossible to stop. If I apologize for the trans-vaginal probe bills and my people’s basic ignorance of the female anatomy, I most certainly will need to apologize for the nonsense coming out the mouths of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. Only white men who have never really known persecution can, with a straight face, accuse the first African-American president (who, in the spirit of full disclosure, is a member of my Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ) of oppressing Christians. Only men who each have multiple graduate degrees can accuse a self-made man like President Obama of “being out of touch” and call him a “snob.” I can see myself, depleted of fluids, hallucinating from the sheer exertion required to continue my apologies, crawling from household to household, crying and gnashing my teeth, assuring the good people of this country that not all of us are so ridiculous. That we not only pay attention to history, but that we place it in its proper context. Assuring all who will listen that there are not vomitoriums across the country filled to overflowing because we just now read President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of Church and State.

So I apologize, America. I know a good number of white Christian males who are solid, reasonable people. And I am not trying to assume the mantel of a “minority.” I understand that I am still a white Christian male. But I do, in some way, feel like I am surrounded by a bunch of people who are so different from myself. Suddenly, individuals of the same gender and who are covered by skin of the same hue don’t look like me. I have a hard time finding myself in the Congress and on the airwaves.

So the next time you see me or one of my ilk, and our behavior is different from those other white, Christian males you see on television, I totally understand if you turn to your friends and say, Well, he’s not REALLY a white, Christian male.