Countering the 'Christians'

By Tom Ehrich
Posted May 2, 2012

[Religion News Service] I have been a Christian my entire life, never more fervently than in recent years, and yet I cringe when I hear politicians and public figures announce their Christian faith.

Hold on to your wallet. Even more, hold on to your freedoms and rights as a citizen. Because the so-called “Christian moral agenda” threatens to marginalize, deprive and denigrate many Americans for failing to be “right,” as the Christian right defines “right.”

Homosexuals — off the bus. Women wanting to control their bodies — off the bus. Liberals offering different solutions to a nation’s pressing problems — off the bus. Dark-skinned immigrants, preachers speaking truth to power, anyone questioning big banking, big oil or big business, compassionate feeders of the hungry, hospitals serving all who are sick, educators aiming to raise up all children, environmentalists, scientists — all of you, off the bus.

No respect for you, no dignity, no freedom to act independently. Showy followers of a Savior who said, “Don’t be afraid,” make fear their weapon. They reverse everything Jesus stood for — radical inclusion, justice for all, food for the hungry, respect for outcasts, challenge to the wealthy.

Instead of the actual Gospel, they substitute a fear-driven secular agenda grounded in right opinion, harsh judgment and intolerance, and they call it “Christian.”

Never mind that Jesus said nothing about any item on their political agenda. Like recent presidential candidates, they just make it up. Maybe they find a few obscure biblical citations to justify their views. Mostly they just baptize their prejudices.

No wonder people have come to see “Christians” as “harsh, judgmental, intolerant, argumentative, and angry,” as a recent nationwide survey found. Who would want to affiliate with so much negative energy? As Jesus himself showed, God is about loving humanity, not denouncing people for failing some religious litmus test.

Think about it: if Jesus had applied to his followers the same tests right-wing Christians favor, he would have been accompanied by a small cadre of wealthy white men, and not Thomas, not the fishermen, not Bartimaeus, not Mary Magdalene, not any of the women.

Indeed, Jesus himself wouldn’t have stayed around — not with his penchant for self-examination, questioning, accepting, loving, serving, and staying on the move. No cathedrals and repurposed basketball arenas for him. No prosperity Gospels. No shouting down the divergent.

What right-wing Christians have done to the Gospel in America is both shameful and dangerous. It feels like the late Middle Ages all over again, when Christian hierarchs nearly destroyed Europe with their wars and support of repressive governments.

I think it is time for serious Christians to separate themselves from this right-wing agenda. Those who send missionaries to impoverished lands, those who send emergency-response teams to disaster zones, those who care about children and families, decency and respect, those who seek the Word that Jesus actually lived — they need to turn away from freedom deniers and repression seekers.

I had the privilege this year of evaluating magazines for an Evangelical Press Association contest. I found it profoundly moving. The story of the Salvation Army’s role in 9/11 won my top prize. While politicians and prelates were preening and shouting, the Salvation Army was feeding 40,000 a day, sitting with families, ministering to emergency responders, and all without a shred of bombast, blaming or delicious rage.

Their quiet servanthood spoke of America at its best.

— Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus”and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Statements and opinions expressed in the commentaries herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Episcopal News Service or the Episcopal Church.

Comments (56)

  1. Mallory Hargett says:

    Jesus often preached of allowing only God to judge the wicked and the sinful. Therefore, do not pass laws against them because you cannot justify their actions. Instead, clothe, feed, and shelter your sinful brother in the hope that he may find the right path.

    I believe everyone has a right to their beliefs and their own lifestyle. Try to lead them to Christ and know they will be judged in heaven, as will we all. If they do not wish to follow the way, then that is no reason to curse them or persecute them.

    If you are against abortion, then stand by that belief. However, do not think you have the right to force your beliefs upon others. If you are against gay marriage, speak peacefully and explain your view, but do not attack your brother or sister for their sin. That is not your right.

  2. E. Klapp says:

    Jason you are exactly correct. Jesus did make the way for those who CHOOSE and change their ways. That free will CHOICE is what God desires. It amazes me how you want to dance around the difference between judging what others do (or don’t do) and judging the INDIVIDUAL based on what they have done. It is two entirely different things. As I said above, it IS my job to inform, educate and encourage that individual about the nature of the decisions they may be making. It is NOT my (or your) privilege to decide who is worthy of that attention based on my own perceptions or judgements. I can see that you are on fire for Christ and I applaud you for that.

    You want a biblical foundation for my assertion that we have a God given free will, here you are:
    Choose today who you will serve – Joshua 24:15
    So choose life in order that you may live – Deuteronomy 30:19
    Choose good – Isaiah 7:15
    Choose knowledge rather than gold – Proverbs 8:10
    You did evil in My sight and chose what displeases Me – Isaiah 65:12

    I agree with you that the final authority on any subject is God’s Word but you may want to re-examine your off handed absolutism on the discussion of biblical concepts. The words Trinity or Incarnation do not appear anywhere in the Bible even though the concepts do. Would you suggest then that these terms shouldn’t be used since they are not used in the Bible? I would also caution you – if your interpretation of a Bible verse has never changed due to a God given revelation, it will happen. I call this a God ah-hah moment. If you are truly open to the Spirit while in the Word, God has this habit of revealing a whole new meaning to a verse you have read for maybe years before. Does that mean your first interpretation was wrong? Absolutely not – just different. The same is true with what He may choose to reveal to you and me about the same verse at any given time. Does it make either one right or wrong. Absolutely not – just different.

    1. Jason Brinn says:

      Mr. Klapp,

      I appreciate your comment and the tone it was delivered in. I hope I have not come across as thinking myself absolute and all-knowing – I never intended such. I am afraid I get very “on fire” when I see postmodernistic tones and spiritual relativism dressed as lambs walking under the banner of tolerance. I am not saying here that anyone who commented holds these views only that some of the comments posted, if not the article itself, seems to suggest tolerance in the form of compromise.

      I am all for tolerance as peace and understanding. I will walk with my homosexual, abortionist brother and grieve with them all the while pointing to the Christ who redeemed me. However, in my opinion it is a far cry more to suggest that I should support legislation (that my tax money will go towards) that will ultimately broaden the road of moral relativism and call it tolerance. NO I will not beat people over their heads spitting on them yelling sinner, but I will neither swing to the opposite extreme and say “to each his own.”

      Lastly, my understanding of God’s word has changed (and I am sure will again) as I grow and God leads me, however, the truth of his word never has/will – it was always the same and I was wrong. There is one interpretation of God’s word – the holy correct one which only HE can reveal. I will work everyday to LOVE my brother as myself, and would I not change something within myself if I knew it to be harmful or outside of the will of the father? We walk after the Spirit, the world walks after and for itself – how then could I toleracomprise (my word here) anything they would raise up?

      Tolerate yes, compromise no.

  3. Kemp Miller says:

    While the rhetoric continues, we should pray for one another.

  4. E. Klapp says:

    Rev. Bowden, your question “What about Jesus saying that within the 2 commandments of Love God and love your neighbor as yourself lie all the laws and the prophets.”, is one that I also keep coming back to and trying to understand. It really isn’t nearly as complicated as some want to make it, is it? I recently wrote a piece for our local paper concerning the power of words in today’s political discourse, especially when they are misused. Here is part of what I wrote:

    “The two buzz words used today that concern me the most however are Christian and values, especially when they are used together. The constant drumbeat from the right about their Christian values seems designed to make everyone believe that in order to be a Christian, or have any true Christian values, one has to be a Conservative. As an Independent Christian I find this personally repulsive and utterly ridiculous. As soon as anyone defines themselves as the authoritative choice that represents true Christian values, they have lost all credibility on the subject. To elevate one’s self in such a manner is diametrically opposed to what God’s Word tells us. The Bible tells us “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Unfortunately, this little nugget of truth has been lost in the white noise of today’s political discourse. Anyone who sets their priority on taking care of their fellow brothers and sisters above the interests of individuality is marked as a socialist, or worse. The truth is actually quite different. Yes, you can be a Liberal, Moderate, Independent or have no political interests at all and also have Christian values. Being a Christian is not about following a set of rules. It is about having a personal relationship with Christ. The values you have will come from that personal relationship and your ultimate accountability for them does not rest in this world. It is pretty simple.”

    The other word that absolutely makes me cringe is ‘traditional’. It is another buzz word used by people today, especially conservatives, to justify their view of the world. It doesn’t matter if what they are describing is actually traditional or not. They use it as a guard against any critical analysis of their position. They will not acknowledge that ‘traditions’ sometimes become outdated or out-grown. After a great deal of study and contemplation, I have found that much of the answer to the question we ask is found in what I outlined above concerning domionism and objectivism. I believe it is a battle between selfishness and selflessness. Selfishness as is objectivism’s basic tenets of I, greed is good, the supremacy of an elite class, everyone else is on their own and NO government intervention in society (it has been described as Marxism stood on its head). Due to its basic premises, God can not exist. This ‘philosophy’ has been adopted by the corporate/business/financial world over the last several decades due to it justifying greed and calling for no government oversight etc. Look at most any plank in the conservative right’s platform today and you will find that its roots are in this faux philosophy. In fact, Rep. Paul Ryan (the Tea Party budget guru) requires her book ‘Atlas Shrugged’ be read by any new staffers as a condition of employment. This atheistic philosophy has found its way into all aspects of this country’s economic, social, political and religious thoughts and institutions. How I asked? A great way to legitimize it is to sell this atheist’s view of the world as being the defender of ‘traditional Christian/family values’. Enter our conservative Christian brothers and sisters. Christ’s teachings about selflessness and concern for others has no real place in that kind of environment. It is only given lip service.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it not only matters what you believe but just as important is where those beliefs come from. I am positive that there are conservative Christians who have read the Bible, prayed and formed beliefs soley on what they hear God telling them. That is as it is suppose to be. If however, people are listening to the rantings of an atheistic lunatic, or her disciples, and forming opinions based on what the world is telling them (because it seems to fit their ‘religious’ beliefs) these people may well be today’s real false prophets. We all know that Satan’s greatest trick was in convincing the world that he didn’t exist. Could his second greatest trick be that he has Christians legitimizing his plan for the demise of the greatest country in the world? Just wondering.

  5. Dan Williams says:

    Preaching political views is not the message that will change the world for Christ. In that respect, I agree with the author. Living the Christian life and preaching the Gospel is our mission – not electing political “rights” or “lefts.” Jesus never muddled with politics, nor officials of the government – He simply recognized their purpose and focused on His (render to Caesar, to God). The current situation with all of its heated opinions is not going away soon. Our country was founded on God and the Christian faith, and with society working to destroy that, Christians are fighting. I’m afraid that acceptable sins are in our camps – that began with legalized abortion and is expanding quickly to include homosexuality, and on and on. I fight these sins in my personal ministry as far as my influence will allow; and of course, I will exercise my freedom to vote for those who think likewise. Beyond that, I have found that preaching political views and preaching the Gospel are not compatible – doing so, results in a following of political radicals instead of those who want to conform to truth of Scripture (Judaism in the day of Jesus had some of that flavor.) My two cents.

    1. Carlen Pumphery says:


    2. Bix Ruecking says:

      The idea that my beliefs are ‘right’ beliefs is the problem at the root of this discussion. God is not so small as to have one truth. Our founders came from states which legislated specific and differing religious beliefs. To create one nation of disparate faiths they established freedom of religion as a foundation which welcomed despised Christian sects such as Baptists and Methodists as well as non-Christian religions such as Jews and Muslims. We agreed to keep our religions in our houses of worship and out of our public square.

  6. Jeff Stewart says:

    Great example from the Salvation Army of taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 seriously, paraphrased: “Just serve and keep your mouth shut.”

  7. Rev. Nathan Meador says:

    As a pastor in the very conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I guess I am one who is under attack in this posting. I agree there are few less tolerant people than those of the Christian left. I also freely admit that there are few people more damaging than the “prosperity gospel” preachers. As was mentioned earlier, there is a both/and aspect to this debate that so many respondents either can’t or won’t see. Our Lord Jesus was not really “inclusive” in the terms of approving of things sinful. He viewed people who were lost sheep without a shepherd. He went to meet them where they were, but didn’t leave them there. Jesus sermon was “repent, because the kingdom of God is among you.” Repent is to turn. Luke 24 instructs that the Church is to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. Notice the word order. Jesus didn’t say “that’s ok, your sins are forgiven.” Homosexuality is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Abortion is a sin. Greed is a sin. Permitting others to sin knowingly is a sin. God’s Word is brought to bear to turn them from that sin and the forgiveness flows freely from Jesus and the Cross. Like Jesus, the Church meets people where they are and moves them to where Jesus calls them to be.

    This meeting them where they are is along the lines of the Salvation Army comment in this post. However, they aren’t the only ones. Our LCMS was on the ground at 9/11. We are STILL on the ground in the gulf rebuilding after Katrina. We are very active in response to tornadoes and floods. But understand this, we serve because Christ has served us.

    Does that makes us haters?

    1. Emmett J. Hoops says:

      Reverend Meador, you make a point that is quite well reasoned — even if, from my perspective, it is reasoning within a narrow framework that is impossible to prove worthy of reasoning. I have not only read both books of the Bible; I’ve studied them. I’ve studied Greek and Latin (not to mention German and Russian!) Yet I do not reach the same conclusions you do.

      Christianity was unique in world religions because it was the first religion to demand ownership of the mind. Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Roman and Greek paganism: not one of them demanded anything but outward signs of honoring the supreme being. Yet Christianity did, and does. How can anyone tell me that there is only one interpretation to a book? Why is it that so many people have merely inherited their belief, rather than experiencing it firsthand in reading and textual analysis? It might, for example, interest many Mary-worshiping Catholics to know that the Hebrew version of Isaiah calls for an “Alma”, a young woman, to give birth to a son and name him Emmanuel; the Greek version of the same calls for a “Parthenos”, a maiden — or, more commonly, a virgin. I choose to see the Catholic Mary cult as a tremendous mistake based on a mistranslation (intentional or otherwise.) And who are you to tell me I’m wrong?

      The problem with you Bible folks is that you believe you not only have a monopoly on goodness, but a monopoly on my mind. And that, most assuredly, you do not.

      To answer your final question, no. It does not make you haters. It does make you intolerant.

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