Bad Theology! Bad, bad theology!

Watch this:

Now watch this:

Folks, we have a problem. And it’s a theological problem.

The good news is that theological problems can be solved. The bad news is that it takes time to solve a theological problem and I’m not sure that we have time we need.

The irony of the RNC’s clearly articulated theology is that it is in such great contradiction to the words of one of their party’s greatest thinkers. Abraham Lincoln biographer Francis B. Carpenter recorded an exchange between the president and a pastor :

“No nobler reply ever fell from the lips of a ruler, than that uttered by President Lincoln in response to the clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped ‘the Lord was on our side.’

“‘I am not at all concerned about that,’ replied Mr. Lincoln, ‘for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.'”

Lincoln’s humility when speaking for God would find no place in today’s GOP. The assurance that God is on their side and the declaration as those who disagree with them as enemies is the height of hubris, especially in a country where the “enemy” is your literal neighbor with whom you may have political and religious differences.

I grew up in a church that preached prosperity gospel. For those of you who don’t know, it is prosperity gospel is an interpretation of the Bible that equates personal piety with financial and material success. It often manifests itself in church leaders who are very well off, or at least relative to the flock they serve and an emphasis on God’s favor in the form of stuff. It’s more or less the opposite of what I see from Jesus in the Gospels and contradicts James assertion that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. (James 2:5). In fact, prosperity gospel seems to have no place for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized who are the focus of the cries for justice that comes out of the prophetic texts and the gospels.

I’ll own a bit of my own hypocrisy. It is hypocritical to call out for saying their theology is wrong and then going on to say that my theology is right. Yes, it is somewhat arrogant of me to assert the rightness of my beliefs. Forgive me that. Still, I think we have to have to begin to create a counter-narrative when it comes to how we think of and speak about the Divine.

Simply put, I believe that God is love and that God is always on the side of those who are truly hurting in this world. Therefore, to be on God’s side, we must be on the side of those who are experiencing genuine oppression. Not on the side of those who are experiencing hurt feelings, those for whom the ability to live, work, and love in freedom is being impeded. In short, I believe that God is for life lived fully, abundantly, and freely. Those things can’t happen in the face of injustice or prejudice or fear. They can’t happen in the presence of hate. They can’t happen when people hoard goods and services. They can’t happen in places of distrust. God is in the business of building bridges, not building walls.

That’s my theology in broad strokes. That is the litmus test I use to make judgments. This understanding of who God is informs the way that I try to live my life. I fail. A lot. Embarrassingly. Still, this is what I believe I know of God via scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. Despite the fact that I see the world through a Christian lens, it isn’t an explicitly “Christian” theology, though I think the life of Jesus exemplified the way we should be in the world. I read the gospels and see a man constantly standing in between the powers that be and the hurting of his time and giving the latter group access to God that the former denied. I think that’s what the church is supposed to be.

If you’re reading this, I am no doubt preaching to the choir, so here’s where I want to challenge us all: don’t shy away from doing theology and doing your theology in public. The hate-mongers have no problem declaring God to be on their side and, because they are the ones who get the spotlight, many think that what they say about God is what is believed universally. That’s not okay. I refuse to let my faith be co-opted by fear, hate, and intolerance. I will not sit by quietly and let my faith be hijacked by people who would use it to keep people in bondage. We have to call out where we see harmful theology. We have to speak up about the fact that there is a richness to our faith, that many of us our loving, welcoming, and affirming because of our faith not in spite of it.

Some of us are weary in fighting this fight. Some of us have grown tired of saying we’re not “that” type of Christian. It’s exhausting to watch. But the ways that faith has been represented at the Republican National Convention has reminded me that there is still a deep need to redefine what it means to be a person of faith in our culture. There are many who have decided that the entire enterprise of faith is not worth it because of the ways the media tends to capture the vocal, evangelical crowd. You can’t blame people for running away screaming when we say that we are religious. Yet there is a beauty to our faith that I believe is worth sharing. There is a way of being in the world that I think is deep and rich and fulfilling. There is a path that faith takes us on that is rarely easy, but always overflowing with meaning. There is purpose to be found. There is community to join. There is justice to pursue. A deeper understanding of Divine leads us into a deeper understanding of our humanity. The answer to bad theology is not no theology. It is good theology.

3 thoughts on “Bad Theology! Bad, bad theology!

  1. I don’t know if you’ve been watching the convention on CNN, but after Pastor Darrell Scott spoke for Trump, some of the commentators brought up the connection between Trump and preachers of prosperity gospel. I can’t remember who, but she was saying that those who are drawn to the prosperity gospel are drawn to Trump and that she’d like to explore that more. I found it fascinating that this would be brought up on CNN and it reminded me of what you wrote.

    1. I haven’t been watching, but that makes absolute sense to me. They see Trump as successful and monetary success equals God’s favor. I want to introduce those people to some of the folks I know who have the least amount of “stuff” in the world, but are incredibly faithful.

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