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.

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

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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.

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Series on The Christian Right 1. Christian Nationalism

First 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.

Christian Nationalism

“To carry the cross as Jesus carried it, then, means taking up a solidarity with the crucified of this world— with those who suffer violence, who are impoverished, who are dehumanized, who are offended in their rights.” Leonardo Boff, Passion of Christ, Passion of the World

This post is the first in a Blog Series on The Christian Right, which has been growing in power for decades. Christian nationalism, the most obvious manifestation of this movement, links church and state (“God and country”) and attempts to impose conservative social and political values and policies on society. Rather than fostering democracy, Christian nationalism promotes authoritarianism, and in some cases, fascism.  A resurgence of Christian nationalism is taking place throughout the global church, for example under far- right leaders like Brazil’s Jair Bolsinaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

This is taking place in a big way in the United States.  In the 2016 election, the majority of white Christians voted for Donald Trump, and many stayed loyal to him after his loss to Joe Biden, continuing to support “The Big Lie” that the 2020 election had been stolen.  This has culminated (so far) in the January 6th Capitol insurrection. This violent insurrection was suffused with Christian symbols. Several groups carried large wooden crosses, leading the way for people with red Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats, clothing and signs with racist and anti-Semitic slogans, Trump paraphernalia, insignia of white supremacist groups and right- wing militias, guns, spears, and even a gallows with a noose. A huge portrait showed Jesus wearing a MAGA hat. People flew “Jesus 2020” and Christian flags alongside US, Confederate, and Trump flags. Banners and T-shirts read “In God We Trust,” “Make America Godly Again,” and “Jesus is my Savior / Trump is my President.” This illustration of far-right political extremism merged with far-right Christianity is an example of Christian symbols being used as religious justification for violent actions in support of antidemocratic Christian nationalism and white supremacy.

My concern in writing this series of posts is this:  As a Christian pastor and follower of Jesus who seeks to love God above all and my neighbors as myself, I am distressed to see Christianity so distorted and misused.  While liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff proclaim a message of seeking solidarity with the “crucified” people of our world, the false religion of Christian nationalism promotes policies that inflict further suffering on those who “suffer violence, who are impoverished, who are dehumanized, who are offended in their rights.”

How is it that the cross and other Christian symbols can represent actions so opposed to one another in meaning? How has Christianity become so divided? I am convinced that the answer lies in how those of us who identify as Christians understand the central story of Christian faith, symbolized by the cross. The meaning that we ascribe to the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus influences how we understand God. In turn, how we understand God has everything to do with our priorities, choices, and actions in the world, including how we respond to the suffering of humanity and the degradation of the earth. The story of Jesus carries both personal and social implications, depending on how it is told.

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 (this post)
  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

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.

Online Book Launch Event

This online Launch Day Event celebrating the release of my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation, was hosted by Richenda Fairhurst on June 14 as part of the Multifaith Climate Cafe. This event focuses primarily on Chapter 4, “Creation Crucified: The Passion of the Earth.”  The host, Richenda Fairhurst, wrote an article and created video excerpts of our discussion, which begins as follows:

The Cross in the Midst of Creation is Rev. Delgado’s third book, following Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, now in a Second Edition, and Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice. The books comprise a trilogy twenty years in the making. The first book rose from faith-based activism, the second expanded into an overview of climate change based on John Wesley’s (Methodism’s primary founder and theologian) teachings on Social Holiness. With this latest book, Rev. Delgado moves into the very core of Christianity, the theology of the cross.

The story of the cross is at the center this new book, and of Christian faith and belief. From the beginning, there were many Christianities, many claiming to be the ‘only’ true faith. These many traditions reflect a garden of thought, love, and faithful expression. But there are also times when interpretations gain hold in ways that are violent and destructive. Theologies of empire, starting with Emperor Constantine, have historically taken us on paths of destruction. And today, as we see life destroyed where it should be flourishing, Rev. Delgado wants to call us back to the cross to try again to understand the deep revelation rising for this moment.

Rev. Delgado spoke about her love for creation as an essential reason for writing this book. But she also writes with a sense of grief and urgency. “I think, the final thing that got me to write [The Cross in the Midst of Creation] was the way that [the theology of the cross] was being distorted—the way the story of the cross is being misused.” It is deeply troubling to Rev. Delgado that “it’s been used in that way to promote the very values that Jesus rejected, the values of status, wealth, and worldly power—the opposite values of Jesus.”

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