If Your God is a Jerk—It Might Be You

“To listen to lots of Christians—God must be a real a-hole.” – A non-Christian friend

Sitcom actor turned evangelical celebrity Kirk Cameron took to social media to remind us that the series of massive hurricanes currently leveling large swaths of the planet—are just God trying to tell us something.

In a video recorded at the Orlando Airport (on his way out), Cameron sermonizes:

When he (God) puts his power on display, it’s never without reason. There’s a purpose. And we may not always understand what that purpose is, but we know it’s not random and we know that weather is sent to cause us to respond to God in humility, awe and repentance.

The storms are not random, he says, they are on purpose—God’s purpose. They are intentional creations. Never mind that scores of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands left homeless, and many in these very moments enduring unimaginable fear, Kirk wants you to know that God did it to you—and well, you need to figure out why.

This is the Christian Right’s go-to move. For decades celebrity evangelists and Bible Belt pastors have appointed themselves sanctified meteorologists; telling us why a loving but angry God is pummeling His children with tsunamis, tornadoes, and floods. They blame the abortionists and the gays and the Democrats, for the Creator of the Universe dialing up some funnel clouds and tidal waves and tearing up the place—so you’ll want to repent from whatever it is you did that pissed him off. (I mean, sure millions of otherwise innocent people are being devastated in the process of punishing a small segment of the population, but hey God works in mysterious ways.)

Cameron’s variation on this theme is more subtle than some of his preacher friends but just as toxic. It places the burden on individual people to psychoanalyze God; to somehow discern what He is telling them specifically in weather events that wreak havoc across miles and for multitudes. Talk about an ego trip: figuring out why deadly storms causing billions of dollars of damage—is somehow about you.

A few years ago I was having a rough week, I was exhausted, and really wasn’t feeling like speaking on Sunday. (Yes, pastors sometimes pray for snow days too.) That Saturday evening we were hit with a powerful winter ice storm that shut the whole city down for the weekend. When I got the news that services were cancelled, for a split-second I exhaled an involuntary “Thank you!,” realizing almost immediately how ridiculous that was; that I was somehow subconsciously connecting the dots between this destructive weather event—and my personal fatigue. It was as if I was saying, “God, thanks for paralyzing the city, cutting power to thousands, and leaving everyone house bound so that I could have a day off!”

This week, in his first Sunday preaching after the devastation in Houston following Hurricane Harvey, Pastor Joel Osteen said to his megachurch congregation which included many new refugees, “The reason it may seem like God is not waking up is not because he’s ignoring you, not because he’s uninterested, it’s because he knows you can handle it.”

So (Joel claims) God loves and respects these folk’s strength so much—he displaced them, destroyed their belongings and pets, and killed their neighbors. (A pat on the back or a new car would have been sufficient.) I’m not sure that’s a God I’m interested in and I know it isn’t a God that non-Christians will be compelled to seek: one who sounds like an abusive parent or partner: “I love you so I hurt you.”

A non-Christian friend commenting on Cameron’s video today said to me:, “So, according to Conservatives, this year God elected Trump, killed a girl in Charlottesville, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes—He sounds like a real a**hole.” My friend, like many people, sees people like Kirk Cameron or Jerry Falwell or Joel Osteen and is certain he wants no part of that kind of malignant religion.

Christians, for all sorts of reasons it’s really precarious business trying to use any painful or deadly events as a platform to preach—among them:

1) We really have no idea what God does or doesn’t do, and just how if at all, God works in weather patterns and mass shootings and widespread tragedy. It’s more than likely God has nothing directly to do with any of it, but in the absence of surety, we should choose silence.

2) People who are wounded and grieving and heartbroken need to be cared for and comforted and embraced—they don’t need any armchair theology about why this is a good thing, or how it’s a Divine personal message, or what God might be personally saying to them. It’s one thing for a victim to seek and speculate on such things for themselves, but something else for us to do it for them.

3) By trying to interpret natural disasters and terrible circumstances, we easily convert them into a sort of weaponized religious propaganda, we end up assigning to God all our fears and prejudices and hangups—we run the risk of believing and making other people believe, that God is as much of a jerk as we are.

I can barely figure out how my microwave works, let alone interpret how a horrific weather event is being wielded by God to teach you or me or gay couples a lesson—and I’d feel like a reckless fraud pretending I know what’s happening. I guess guys like Kirk Cameron and Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson know better, though I’m doubtful.

It’s ironic that Cameron refers to the book of Job. When Job loses everything and is stricken with grief, at first his friends show wisdom by simply sitting with him in his grief. Only later do they fall into the temptation of placing blame and playing God.

Maybe we who claim faith should refrain from pretending we understand how this world works when it comes to faith and pain and suffering.
Maybe we should admit the mystery, discomfort, and the tension that spirituality yields in painful, terrifying times.

Maybe when people are being terrorized by nature or by the inhumanity around them, instead of shouting sermons at them—we should shut up and simply try to be a loving, compassionate presence.
Maybe we should stop trying to make God into something as petty, hateful, judgmental, and cruel as we are.

If the God you’re following and preaching to people in their times of pain is an a-hole—it’s probably not God at all.

It’s probably just you.

 

Betsy DeVos, and Why Sexual Assault Victims Don’t Come Forward

Sometimes you look at the world and you understand just why things are the way they are. 

The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN)  reports that 11.2 percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault while undergraduate or graduate students.

A 2015 survey of women places the number at 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4.

Additionally, RAINN reports that only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 2 out of 3 go unreported. Many suffer the worst kind of violation in one devastating moment—and then with each passing day are traumatized again and again by carrying it in silence.

This week Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she is beginning the process of rolling back Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault, and as she did she reminded us why so many survivors don’t step forward—and why fewer probably will now: They know there’s a great likelihood that they will be victimized a second time.

As someone who’s worked with high school and college aged students for the past two decades, I’ve been on the front lines with young people and I’ve seen the hell survivors go through; not only from the violence perpetrated against them initially, but by the way others inflict injury after the fact. 

When a young woman braves the physical and emotional wounds, when she pushes through near debilitating fear and finds the courage to share the experience of  her assault, abuse, and harassment—the crowds watching from a distance rush in with all sorts of fresh aggressions: victim blaming, critiques of her clothing and her dating history, excuses of intoxication, suggestions of mixed signals, distorted definitions of consent, and benefit of the doubt for the perpetrator. Accusers face an almost insurmountable obstacle to making their assailants accountable and coming out of the process without further humiliation.

Other survivors watch this unfolding again and again in their campuses; they see the way already devastated young people are further battered by shaming, lack of institutional support, and systemic misogyny—and they decide that it isn’t worth enduring. They stay silent, they remain in the shadows, and they’re forced to carry an invisible but real and crushing weight of someone else’s making.

Betsy DeVos’ suggestions that she cares equally for both those victimized by sexual assault and those who are falsely accused of such crimes, ring terribly hollow given the fact that she works for a confirmed predator who’s boasted of uninvited physical contact with women, of unsolicited and vile advances toward them, of abusing his position and privilege to indulge his crudest inclinations.

The idea that she and this President (who has shown nothing but a complete disregard for the inherent value of women), are actually really advocates for survivors is as laughable as it is infuriating. 

DeVos said in her statement: “If everything is harassment, then nothing is.”

I have the feeling that the desired goal of a President who said, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p*ssy. You can do anything—is to create a world where nothing is harassment.

I think this President believes men are entitled to do whatever they want to women, because he’s always done what he wants—and he’s always escaped responsibility, dodged consequences, and actually been rewarded with the highest office in this country.

People like Betsy DeVos enable men like Donald Trump, they perpetuate an environment where young men are incentivized to do damage, and where survivors of that damage are less likely to speak about it.

I believe that regardless of what she says, while Betsy DeVos stewards our high school and college campuses, and while she serves a man like this President— survivors of sexual assault are going to be further pushed into the shadows and further shamed into silence.

And I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

 

Here are some resources, if you are a survivor and you need help, if you want to find out how you can be an advocate for survivors, or you’re 

RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline

Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 

Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military) 

 

 

 

We Should Save Each Other More Often

I watched it happen over and over in Houston, and it brought me to tears every single time: an imperiled human being sits perched atop a nearly submerged car surrounded by rising, rushing water, as a group of strangers begins to assemble and lock arms—instantly becoming a chain of humanity; one by one extending itself, until finally reaching the terrified driver and passing them toward safety.

I don’t know any of the people linked together in those waters and I know nothing about them individually—but I’m quite sure one thing is true of all of them. I’m fairly certain they didn’t get together on dry ground first to compare theology or to confirm one another’s politics. They didn’t discuss who they each voted for, their respective opinions on immigration, their sexual orientation, or what they thought of Hillary’s emails—in order to determine who they were willing to lock arms with, who merited being a link in that salvation chain alongside them, who could be a rescuer.

And I’m positive they didn’t first examine the stranded driver’s Facebook page or confirm their citizenship status or get their opinion on guns or ask whether they’d acted recklessly to get into the mess they were  in—in order to decide whether or not they were worth saving.  

Those who gathered on the edge of the churning water saw another human being in imminent danger, and without having to say a word to each other decided to do something brave and beautiful and redemptive together—because the life on the end of that chain was worth that. The inherent value of the stranger sitting in that filthy, terrifying river was more than anything they believed or considered about one another that might keep them from moving together. 

When we see people clearly in need, obviously in danger as we have this week, we put aside lazy stereotypes, opposing politics, or exterior differences, and we care for them without pausing to examine whether or not we agreed with or even liked them. We become the best version of humanity because we know how valuable life is and we are propelled toward that life when it is endangered.

If only we could realize that people around us are always in need, just less visibly so.

Those we rub shoulders with at work and pass on the street, those who sit near us at restaurants and across from us on our Twitter feed—are assailed in this very moment by crippling grief and catastrophic illness, by financial disaster and marital failures, by depression and loneliness and the nagging fears that they can’t ever shake.    

All around us people are close to drowning. They are pressed up hard against their limits. They are barely holding on—and we need to learn to see them and to give a damn and to do something.

We should save people more often. We should find value in life around us, to realize how dire the situation is for so many people, and to figure out how to look arms with others in order to bring rescue to them.

It doesn’t mean we compromise our convictions or deny our differences or refuse to see injustice. It means we remember that life is inherently worth saving, and that sometimes we can do that saving work with people we don’t agree with—or even like.

Look around you today. There are hurting, struggling, exhausted people everywhere who are living urgently. Respond to them with urgency.

Lives are in great peril today. Find someone to lock arms with, and do something redemptive with this day to save it.

 

Show Us Donald Trump’s Christianity (To Pastors, Evangelists, and Christian Leaders)

To the Local Pastors, Celebrity Evangelists, and Christian Leaders who called (and are still calling) this President a Christian:

Last year you endorsed Donald Trump’s campaign from your pulpits and your social media platforms, you celebrated his Election victory in sermons and in podcasts, and over the past six months you’ve defended his policies, sanctioned his behavior, and justified his tactics—all while contending he is a man of God.

Since you’ve been so vocal about Donald Trump being a Christian through all of this, care to tell us where you’ve actually seen it? Many of us have been wondering—as we’ve found evidence largely nonexistent.

You can start anywhere on this list:

– You could share the ways you seen him loving the least, or looking after the orphans and the widows in their distress, or showing compassion to the harassed and helpless, or welcoming the oppressed foreigner, or praying for his enemies— you know, basic reflecting Jesus kinda stuff.

– You might provide measurable evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) that you see in him, in his Administration, his legislation, his treatment of people. (And by people, let’s say: those not white, wealthy—or you.)

– Maybe you’d care to unpack in detail how the blessed virtues of the Beatitudes are on display in his social media exchanges and his press conferences and his personal conduct—how he’s been a meek, merciful, pure in heart peacemaker.

– You could devote a 4-week sermons series at your church to reading the Sermon on the Mount, and highlighting how Donald Trump has replicated it all: how he’s shunned anger, how he’s avoided breaking promises, the way he’s turned his cheek in conflict, how he’s honored his (third) marriage, the way he hasn’t broadcast his prayers, how he’s avoided public boasting and quietly given to the needy, how he’s refrained from storing up earthly wealth, how he’s shown clear, tangible, beautiful fruit of his faith through a daily life that visibly resembles Jesus. (That would make for a great midweek small group study.)

You could try and do all that.

Or—if this proves to be too tall a task for you (which I imagine it probably will be), might I suggest a far easier route, reflecting a far more likely scenario: 

Maybe you could just admit that nothing in him remotely resembles Jesus and never has.

You might confess that he’s never be a Christian by any measurement that matters—and that this fact has never mattered and still doesn’t matter to you.

Maybe you can admit that the Gospels tell the story of Jesus calling himself the Good Shepherd, defending the imperiled sheep from the wolves; from the religious opportunists who prey upon them—and that he and you probably aren’t the sheep or the shepherd in this story. You’re quite likely the wolves he stood in opposition to.

You could run through the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and recall Jesus’ explicit, unrelenting condemnation of the hypocritical Pharisees who leveraged power and the fear of God to assail and exploit the faithful people entrusted to them—and you could cop to the fact that this is the probably the precarious place you’ve chosen to minister.

You might recall that the Bible tells of Judas betraying Jesus for a few pieces of silver—and admit that you may have sold your soul for a President’s ear and a Supreme Court Seat, and that you’re now lying in the bed you’ve made—that you’re probably more likely Judas in this story, than the other 11 who lived and died by emulating him.

You could remember that Jesus’ life was one marked by humility, compassion, and frugality; that he spent his time with the marginalized and the oppressed who were being victimized by a power-drunk Roman Government. You could admit that it’s fairly easy to see that Donald Trump and the Church and State conspiring with him in banning Muslims, taking away healthcare, gouging the environment, and expelling immigrants—they are Rome in this chapter of the story.

I’ve only been a Christian for forty years and a pastor for twenty of those, so forgive me if I’m missing some teaching resources you may have at your disposal that I don’t. It’s possible you have a gift of discernment that has yet eluded me. Maybe my eyes are still blind—and one day with your help I will clearly see.

Perhaps there’s some secret code I’m not cracking here that you can enlighten us all with.

And by us, I mean the great multitude watching all of this unfold; a disparate collection of Christians and non-Christians, of believers and Atheists, of people of every faith who smell something that really stinks here—like death it stinks.

We are all looking for Donald Trump’s Christianity.

We are Muslim families who were stranded at airports.
We are Transgender teens, terrified to use the bathroom in school.
We are Charlottesville marchers, violated by racial epithets, by steel pipes, and by vehicles—by supremacists the President defended.
We are mothers of children born ill, terrified of losing them because we lose the insurance that cares for them.
We are poor rural, suburban, and inner city kids wondering why we’re losing lunches, and arts programs, and aftercare.
We are families standing in waist-high water in Houston wondering why you’re he’s talking about building a wall.
We are terrified dreamers suddenly being ripped from the only home we’ve known and the country we’ve ever contributed to.

And we’re all here wondering what we’re missing; the supposed Jesus you see in this man, the Jesus you claim allows you to support him—the Jesus you’re selling while you do it all.

We don’t see anything in this man or his supporters, what looks like Jesus to us and we’d really like you to explain it in a way that makes any sense at all—and well, that might be a lot to ask.

That might take a bonafide freakin’ miracle.

Maybe you should pray why that is.

Maybe if you want to keep calling yourself a Christian leader—you can stop calling this President one.