5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

Fifth Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

“Whether one is oppressed or privileged, structures and spirits like white supremacy, patriarchy, and domination are within us, embedded invisibly in our psyches. Name them and pray them out.”                                             Bill Wylie- Kellermann

The conventional wisdom, or “wisdom of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:6), is based on the values of status and hierarchy, the idolatry of money, and belief in worldly power backed up by violence. These often-unconscious values are at odds with those of Jesus; they express the opposite of his teachings and example, yet they are pervasive in our culture, including in our churches. They are promoted by the Christian Right and used to support Christian Nationalism, expressions of Christianity that are characterized by authoritarian, anti-democratic, and imperial designs.

As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to identify the “structures and spirits” of domination that are within us and to “name them and pray them out,” and we are invited to join the growing number of people who share the values of inclusion, equity, and nonviolence and who are working to build a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world. Surely this is what it means in our time to follow the one who came so that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Many Christians today are engaged in denominational efforts and participating with ecumenical, interfaith, and secular organizations in critiquing the underlying values of the current system, challenging the dominant worldview, resisting idolatrous institutions that harm people and the earth, and supporting movements for social and ecological transformation.

Once such movement is the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of the “Beloved Community,” modeled after King’s original Poor People’s Campaign. It works with leaders of the varied faith traditions and centers the stories and leadership of those who suffer most under the weight of damaging government policies: people who are poor, people of color, and others who are vulnerable to discrimination and injustice. It is an example of a diverse coalition that does the footwork to coordinate a successful campaign, including laying the spiritual foundation, honing its message, listening and sharing people’s stories, choosing songs and symbols, engaging in political advocacy, working with the press, and preparing for coordinated nonviolent direct actions. The slogan that animates this movement is “Forward together, not one step back.”

Even as the death-dealing powers continue their assaults on creation, Christ is risen and the Spirit is alive wherever compassion and justice reign: in peoples’ hearts, in social movements, in transformed people and societies. Living a resurrected life means joining in solidarity with all who seek justice, peace, and healing, especially those who are most vulnerable. By courageously following Jesus, we participate in the ongoing resurrection through actions that reflect the love that brought us into being, the love that can’t be extinguished by any empire, the love at the heart of the universe.

Those of us who choose to bear the cross of Jesus must join with those who are already giving themselves to this sacred struggle for the new world that is possible. By doing so, we demonstrate God’s love for creation and embody hope for the world.

In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the wisdom of God is anti-imperial. It reveals the futility of the wisdom of this world. Worldly status does not confer virtue. Wealth does not signify divine favor. Might does not make right. This is still a subversive message, as it was in Jesus’s time. This is still good news.

In this blog series on The Christian Right, which includes excerpts from my book The Cross in the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The other blog posts in this series are:     

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God (This post)

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 Check out the Table of Contents of The Cross in the Midst of Creation and Contact Sharon to request a free PDF chapter of your choice, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God

Fourth Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God

The belief in an authoritarian God lends validity to hierarchical belief systems, such as the belief systems of the Christian Right, which place God at the apex of dominating power. Such belief systems may assume Christian superiority, justify religious discrimination, and support Christian hegemony as good, right, and normal.

In a 2020 book, Christ and Coronavirus, high-profile preacher and best-selling author John Piper described his views on the pandemic, purportedly to offer perspective and comfort to his readers. In it he argues that (1) God is sovereign and in control of everything, that nothing is outside of God’s will; (2) God sent the virus as punishment for sinners, some of whom will be infected with the disease, and as a wake- up call to others to be ready for the return of Christ; (3) God’s sovereignty is a mystery, so don’t try to understand it; and (4) God is the rock under our feet that can never be shaken. He summarizes his views by saying, “The coronavirus was sent, therefore, by God. This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand.”

The book has over a thousand reviews on Amazon.com, which indicates the popularity of John Piper. It has an average star rating of 4.5. But the lower-ranking reviews include some biting critiques, including the following, with which I agree:

  • For Piper, the secret story of the Bible is that Jesus was wrong. God’s will actually is being done always and everywhere—we just can’t see how everything evil really is good in the end.
  • If God sent the virus to the world as Piper here argues…, then it is hard, nay, impossible, to avoid the conclusion that Piper’s “god” is evil.
  • Piper ascribes to God such a hateful and vengeful nature as to send a virus as divine judgement.
  • Of course, if you accept Christ and ONLY if you accept Christ you’re worthy of his tiny little god’s love.
  • Worshiping a God who has personally orchestrated every death in human history is vile and ridiculous. It is this rank absurdity that made me reject Christianity.

Note how different the tone and message of Piper’s book are from the teachings and example of Jesus. Yet many forms of conservative Christianity promote similar ideas about the nature of God and God’s relationship with human beings.

Throughout history, many have understood God to be a divine king or judge, a patriarchal authority figure at the top of the world’s power structures who keeps people in line by rewarding, granting privileges, and doling out punishment. Like the God in John Piper’s book, this is a God who directly controls and deliberately causes everything, even great suffering. Sadly, it is not only privileged people who accept this view of God but also many who are sick, poor, or in unjust circumstances. This compounds their suffering and may lead them to blame themselves for their misfortunes or to accept them as the will of God.

Seeing God as a father who demands absolute obedience may be used to justify domination, violence, and abuse. Envisioning God as a king at the top of the world’s power structures may support views and policies that promote unquestioning obedience. Seeing God as a judge who declares everyone “guilty” of eternal punishment, saved only if they accept Jesus, may lay a foundation for cruelty or scapegoating. Believing that God has granted absolute dominion to human beings over creation justifies destructive exploitation of the earth. But the teachings and actions of Jesus point in a completely different direction: toward a God of mercy, inclusion, justice, and love.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the Christian right. There are many ways to view the Christian message without rigid dogma and to experience the gospel message of forgiveness, freedom from guilt, spiritual connection, transformation, empowerment, and the unconditional grace and love of God. By following Jesus, living by his Spirit, and being true to his message and vision, we become familiar with the healing and transforming power of the God of love that Jesus both revealed and proclaimed.

In this blog series on The Christian Right, which includes excerpts from my book The Cross in the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The other blog posts in this series are:     

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God (This post)
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up at the “Follow” link to the right.

 Share with the Social Media buttons below.

 Check out the Table of Contents of The Cross in the Midst of Creation and Contact Sharon to request a free PDF chapter of your choice, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

The Climate and the Quadrilateral

May, 2022, A New Review by Wyatt Robinson .

The Climate and the Quadrilateral

“Looking for a book study for your church to talk about climate justice? Church and Society Theology Intern Wyatt Robinson explores a theological reflection on our climate crisis.”

While engaging in my work on issues of climate justice, I have been reflecting on different resources to help me better understand the theological foundations and implications of the work for justice that we do at Church and Society. One of those resources I have used to guide my theological reflection is a book called Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice by Rev. Sharon Delgado. I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Delgado speak at our Climate & Community Webinar in December and was excited to dive deeper into theological reflection with her written work. What I found in her book was much more than an intellectual reflection on the theological implications of climate change, but a deep integration between Wesleyan theology and spiritual practice to meet the challenges of our climate crisis in practical, intersectional, just, and sustainable ways.

In Love in a Time of Climate Change, Rev. Delgado issues a call to faithfulness, as God’s people called Methodists who have inherited the Wesleyan tradition, and points to signs of hope for churches who embody our Wesleyan commitment to love and justice in the face of our current climate crisis.

Rev. Delgado asserts that the teachings and traditions of John Wesley, that have at their core a love for God’s creation and an emphasis on social justice and holiness, can serve as a useful framework to approach and transform our world as it faces the many climate related threats of our time. She uses one of the central teachings of the Wesleyan tradition, Albert Outler’s Wesleyan Quadrilateral, as a constructive framework for honoring creation and establishing justice, “in a mature way that is consistent with our faith and values.” (p. 9)

Through this framework of the Quadrilateral, Rev. Delgado recognizes the way that true transformation and salvation from the threats of climate change requires both ideological and systematic transformation.

Throughout the book, she acknowledges the simultaneous need for more climate education, changes in individual actions, and collective action to challenge the systems that carry the majority of the responsibility for creating and perpetuating our climate crisis. Most significantly, Rev. Delgado centralizes the stories and needs of frontline communities who are currently facing loss and damage due to climate change, discerning her suggested responses by individuals and churches from the experience and wisdom of the marginalized communities who are most at risk.

Delgado properly recognizes that, “It is time for prophetic words and courageous actions that demonstrate the extremity of our situation and the need for deep and lasting cultural, political, economic, and spiritual transformation.” Love in a Time of Climate Change is an approachable resource for any person, study group, or church that wants to learn how to faithfully engage in the fight against climate change while bringing the full power and witness of their Methodist tradition to the table.

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3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous

Third Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous

Congressional hearings on the Capitol insurrection have included the actions of Secret Service staff on January 6th and their actions leading up to and following those events. Yesterday’s hearing brought up the Secret Service’s role in forcibly clearing peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

On June 1, 2020, then-president Donald Trump walked from the White House through nearby Lafayette Park to Saint John’s Church, accompanied by an entourage of senior administration officials. Just minutes before, federal police had used tear gas to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors from the park and churchyard, along with clergy and laity from other churches who had come out to bring them water and snacks. After the police drove them out, the president posed on the church steps for a photograph of him holding up the Bible, surrounded by his entourage. “We have a great country,” he said. “Greatest country in the world.”

The photo op apparently backfired. The media scrutinized this use of the Bible “as a prop” designed to gain religious sanction for Trump’s policies. Many Christians denounced it, including the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, Episcopal bishop of the diocese that includes Saint John’s Church. Some called it fascist. But among his base, which includes over half of white US Christians, many approved of this display as a symbol of God and country. Several influential leaders aligned with the Christian Right affirmed his actions, including Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham; Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress; David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network; president of the Congress of Christian Leaders Johnnie Moore; and Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

These divergent views about this incident at Saint John’s Church highlight the theological and political divisions among US Christians that parallel the extreme social divisions in US society. The demonstrators, with support from churchgoers, were passionately but peacefully taking a stand for racial justice in the face of white supremacy and systemic racism. The authorities were asserting their dominant role through violence, then using the Bible, a sacred symbol, to indicate divine approval for their actions.

This staged event was done crudely, but such linking of God and country has been part of US civil religion since the beginning of the colonization of the Americas and throughout our nation’s history up to this present time. Religious language and symbols, including the Bible and the cross, have been used to enact the Doctrine of Discovery, which proclaimed God’s blessing on colonization, to initiate and support the slave trade, to promote the idea of “American exceptionalism,” to sanctify Manifest Destiny while clearing Western lands of most native inhabitants, to justify long-standing persecution of Jews and Muslims, to authorize the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps during World War II, to call for a crusade after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment and to justify separating immigrant children from their parents.

As mentioned in my post Christian Nationalism, religious symbols including the Bible and cross were even used as religious justification for storming the Capitol. Following the events of January 6, 2021, Bishop Mariann Budde, mentioned above, said they reflected “the most heretical, blasphemous forms of Christianity.” Linking it to nation’s history, she added, “This has been part of our nativist, racist Christian past from the beginning. What has been different in the Trump presidency has been the legitimization of it.”

Using religious symbols or language in these ways misleads people, misrepresents God, and fosters moral confusion. This is an example of harm caused by civil religion that links patriotism, white supremacy, and domination backed by violence with claims of God’s blessing upon the United States as a chosen (Christian) nation. This form of religious nationalism is pervasive. It is taught, practiced, and reinforced by the dominant institutions of our society, which results in the shaping of our attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs as US Americans.

By exploring these attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs and how they manifest in our personal lives, relationships, institutions, and systems, we create space around them and make possible a change of perspective leading to both personal and systemic transformation. For as Walter Wink points out, we must go further than repenting of our conscious collaboration with the powers. We must “be freed from our unconscious enthrallment as well.”

Six months before the insurrection, following the presidential photo op, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde witnessed to what that freedom from enthrallment to the powers might look like in community: “We of the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in his Way of love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest.” To those who seek to follow Jesus and live by the Spirit, her words ring true.

In this blog series on The Christian Right, which includes excerpts from The Cross in the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The other blog posts in this series will be:

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity 
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous (This post)
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up at the “Follow” link to the right.

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Contact Sharon below to request a free PDF chapter of The Cross in the Midst of Creation, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

2. Two Crosses: A Divided Christianity

Second Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

Two Crosses: A Divided Christianity

“At the beginning of Christianity there were two crosses. One was a real cross, the other was a symbol.” Jürgen Moltmann

What are the origins of Christian nationalism? It did not begin with the earliest followers of Jesus, who sought to follow his “Way” and were often persecuted by Rome.

For the first three centuries after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Christianity was widely understood as being anti- imperial. His followers remembered the “real cross” upon which Jesus and so many others had been executed by the Roman Empire. Following his example, many Christians were martyred for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Roman emperor or serve in the Roman army. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the state religion in the fourth century, Rome began not only spreading but also enforcing this official religion under the icon of the cross. A theology that rationalized just war followed. Now soldiers were required to be baptized and to fight under the banner of a glorified cross to promote the spread of Christianity. The cross had become a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire.

During the past two thousand years, Christian understandings about the meaning of the cross have diverged. Dominant forms of Christianity have often been aligned with the State, as in the time of Constantine. This dynamic is at work today in US civil religion, which promotes American exceptionalism and celebrates the United States as a nation uniquely blessed by God. Christian nationalist groups have used the glorified cross of domination to symbolize racist, sexist, and antidemocratic movements that merge patriotic and religious symbols, as at the insurrection at the US Capitol.

Yet those who are called to follow Jesus are invited to remember the “real cross” upon which Jesus suffered and died. This means keeping alive the story of the nonviolent Jesus, his passion for the reign of God and his crucifixion at the hands of the powers, God’s vindication of his life and ministry in the resurrection, his ongoing presence among us, and life in the Spirit that enables us to follow him.

In this blog series on The Religious Right, which includes excerpts from my new book The Cross In the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The blog posts in this series will be:

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity (this post)
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up  at the “Follow” link to the right.

Share this post with the Social Media buttons below.

Contact Sharon to request a free PDF chapter of The Cross in the Midst of Creation, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up  at the “Follow” link to the right.

Share this post with the Social Media buttons below.

Contact Sharon below to request a free PDF chapter of The Cross in the Midst of Creation, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.