As many of you know all too well, I'm no wall flower. If I've got something to say, I come right out and say it and let the chips fall where they may. I've never had much use for the term "look before you leap." Nine times out of ten, it's nothing more than a copout for not having the courage to do the right thing. As for that tenth time, well, I'll own that one, thank you.
When I look at the state of Christianity today, quite frankly my blood boils. I am appalled at how far off the beam it has gone. I dare say that in most of the Western world, the Church is on the verge of being apostate. It serves some purpose, I'm sure. A food pantry here, an outreach there, but, by and large, the Church, on a corporate level, seems more interested in keeping its doors open than helping the communities it supposedly serves..
As more than a few believers have told me, if its miracles you're looking for, go to Latin and South America, Africa and Asia. You will see miracles coming out of your ears. In those countries, the Church is not only relevant in people's lives, it is growing almost exponentially. Christ's grace and mercy have touched the lives of millions of people who heretofore had no hope or reason to live.
How can this be? How can one part of the Church be so vibrant and alive, while another part of it struggles to maintain a status quo? The answer is obvious. Throughout most of the world, the Church is far more concerned with fulfilling the marching orders of Christ: feed the hungry, cure the sick, tend to the oppressed. While in the West, the Church has, for the most part, opted to appease its congregants and not stir the pot. The former lives out its faith; the latter plays out the string.
But that's not the only reason for the great disparity between the two groups. For even a lackluster and apathetic Church could still find some purpose. As I mentioned, food pantries serve a vital function in so many down-trodden communities. Many would be adversely affected if they didn't exist or were to go away.
It comes down to focus. In other parts of the world, the Church avoids anything that could distract it from its mission. In the West, the Church has become a beacon for every kind of distraction - most of them political in nature - and, as a result, has veered off course. Not only does it enable the worst kind of behaviors of its congregants, in many cases it leads the way.
The latest "distraction" has been the gay marriage issue. Now I don't for a moment expect that the majority of Christians, or the Church as a whole for that matter, will ever be accepting of homosexuality. Even Pope Francis, as progressive as he has been, has not abandoned the Catholic Church's stance on it. But the vitriol over this issue is beyond the pale.
There are, depending on who you talk to, somewhere between 6 to maybe a dozen references in the Bible that speak to homosexuality, compared with some 250 references that deal with the use of wealth and 300 concerning how we should treat the poor and strive for justice. The word love is mentioned 310 times in the Bible; 131 in the Old Testament; 179 in the New. Perhaps the most profound mention of the word comes in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to acknowledge that as a theme, homosexuality doesn't appear to be that high up on the food chain. You'd never know that, though, to listen to some in the faith. With millions of Americans living at or just under the poverty level and many children going to school hungry, what are they most corned about? Preventing the wedding of two people who are committed to one another and who wish to spend the rest of their lives together, that's what.
So, like the Pharisees of Jesus's time, they hurl their stones at the "sinners" and fein a righteousness they neither know nor practice in their daily lives. They are no better than those who claim to be pro life, yet concern themselves only with the first nine months of a fetus's life. In your mother's womb we'll defend your right to live; once outside, you're on your own, kid.
And these fools wonder why they are ridiculed so much by so many, and why the Church they supposedly love is in decline. Hypocrisy drips from their very mouths. If ever there was a better example of missing the forest for the trees, this is it.
Sometimes I think Anne Rice was right when she decided to quit being a Christian. Back in August, 2010, she wrote, "It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
Rice is hardly the only critic of the faith. It was Mahatma Gandhi who may have had the best putdown of all when he said, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Sadly, he's right. Christians are so unlike Christ. Not all of them, mind you, not even a majority. But a lot of them. And, as fate would have it, they are the ones typically with the loudest voices; the ones who have taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of Christianity, while the bulk of the rest of us have decided to sit on the sidelines and quietly go out with a whimper.
Well, I've got a message for the silent majority. Get up off your asses and take back the Church from the Pharisees who have seized it. Don't be content to just squirm in your pews while you hear yet another useless sermon on the immoral, secularized America or the phony war on Christmas or how we lost our greatness when our kids stopped praying in schools.
When you hear drivel like that, call it out. Don't let your fears deter you. Trust me, the other side has no such trepidations when it comes to making their case known. And don't listen to all the "disharmony in the Body" crap that gets thrown your way. Funny, they never seem to be all that concerned about harmony when it comes to them. They feel perfectly obliged to point out your sinful natures so long as it suits their agendas.
They'll call you all kinds of names. One of the more popular ones these days is liberal theologian. That's right, you're some kind of Marxist looking to destroy the country. Didn't you know that? Guess who else is being called that name? Pope Francis, that's who. He's being criticized for venturing out of the realms of morality and theology and into areas like global warming and corporate greed. Jeb Bush was recently quoted as saying, "I don't get my economic policy from my Bishops, my Cardinals or my Pope."
I'm assuming by economic, Bush is referring to money. And if that's the case, I've got some news for old Jeb: the Bible has hundreds of verses devoted to money and greed. One of the most scathing of them is in the book of James.
"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on Earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you."
I suggest if Bush isn't getting his economic policy from his church, he either hasn't been listening very carefully or he's in the wrong church. Look, I honestly don't know whether Jesus, if he were alive today, would be a socialist, but I'm fairly confident he wouldn't be reading The Wall Street Journal, and we as Christians shouldn't be afraid to say so.
Nor should we be afraid to say that global warming IS a moral issue, perhaps one of the greatest moral issues of our lifetime. I can think of no greater example of Biblical stewardship than the responsibility of taking care of the planet we have been entrusted with.
When Jesus threw out the money changers from the Temple, he wasn't just having a bad hair day. He was giving us an example of how we should deal with greed in our personal lives and he was doing it with a righteous anger that we ought to be employing far more often. Anger, contrary to what some have said, is not a sin. We know this because Jesus, himself, got angry on several occasions. What part of "You brood of vipers" didn't you get from his exchanges with the religious leaders of his time? I can assure you, he wasn't looking for a group hug, and we shouldn't be either.
We know what the other side is against and what they put their treasure in. It's high time we stretched our vocal cords and let the world know what we're against and where our treasure is in. It's time all of us collectively looked in the mirror and asked what we can do to truly advance the Kingdom here on Earth.
That doesn't mean we all have to go to Calcutta or start a mission in Costa Rica, though many great men and women have chosen to do so. Sometimes, the really tough wars are the ones we fight in our own neighborhoods, sometimes in our own homes. We need to keep in mind that Jesus came not to unite but divide.
Much has been written about the love Jesus had for his people, but he was also a man who never shied away from a good fight and would rebuke those closest to him. When Peter challenged him one time, he said, "Get behind me, Satan!"
If it's true you only hurt the ones you love, it's about time some of us started showing some tough love. Remember, it isn't their feelings we should be concerned about, but the welfare of the faith; a faith that has been besmirched long enough.
If it's inspiration we're looking for, we should look no further than these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. that he wrote while in a Birmingham jail cell.
"So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice - or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? So, after all, maybe the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
Go get 'em!