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

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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.