A week ago, a gunman opened fire in Christ Church New Zealand, killing
50 people and wounding 50 more people.
I have been particularly troubled by these events. For one thing, this keeps
happening, just last October we gathered with the Jewish Community in
Albuquerque to mourn the loss of life perpetrated by another white
supremacist. This week, we gather with our Muslim sisters and brothers to
mourn after a very similar story.
Perhaps what has bothered me the most about these events is that the
perpetrators are always identified as far right or alt right white supremacist
extremists, but we haven’t recognized another part of their
identity—Christian. Now I know that the immediate response from many of
you is that these people weren’t really Christian—they had perverted the
word of God into hate. Your reaction is the same reaction that good
Muslims have when our media drones on and on about Islamic terrorists. It
is the same thing. The fact that we never identify these White Supremacists
as having been influenced by bad Christian theology ought to be telling of
the bias in our culture.
What gives me hope in the face of all this is that I serve a church that is just
as troubled by this reality as I am. I have heard from so many of you of your
concern, and of a desire to do something about all of this. I have great faith
in your ability, as Covenant Presbyterian Church, to discern the intense
complexity of the problem we are facing.
The sad fact is, that the ideals of white supremacy did grow up right
alongside bad Christian Theology. The KKK grew out of White Christian
American Churches. The Nazi regime created the German Christian
Movement as a church-based propaganda machine to make way for the
Holocaust. And today’s mass shooters may not always be overtly Christian
Church-goers, but their twisted ideologies are the result of churches not
speaking up as the gospel message was being perverted.
We are culpable in these shootings. It is the history of our faith tradition that
led to these things. Of course, we could write this off as being history that
we can’t change. We could point the finger at our forefathers, (and yes that
is intentionally masculine) and claim that we aren’t like that. Perhaps we
are more enlightened, but this violence is happening under our watch.
Whether these atrocities have direct paths to us, or simply those that came
before, it isn’t enough to absolve ourselves of these events by claiming
personal enlightenment. It is our responsibility to fix this. It is our
responsibility to take whatever actions that we can to change this in our
community. It is our responsibility to do our part in our part of the world.
Amidst all of this tragedy, I have hope because of you. The session of
Covenant Presbyterian Church spent time on Wednesday night exploring
ways in which we can take action in our own community. First, one thing
that Christian churches (and frankly any religious institution) have not done
well is to teach their people how we relate to people of other faiths.
Historically, we have taught simply that they are the “other” or the
“unsaved.” We have forced conversion, or we have fought crusades. We
have taught that our only relationship to other faiths is superiority and our
only interaction should be evangelization. That is our history of how we
have related. In the 21 st century, those approaches are unacceptable.
What’s more—they are absolutely not biblical and are based upon bad
theology. It is the intention of the Covenant Session and myself that we are
going to change this. As people become a part of our congregation, we
intend to make sure that learning how to have meaningful relationships with
people of other faiths is addressed. That goes for new member classes and
Second, as one member of session (a school teacher) pointed out, her kids
know that one of the reasons that hatred happens is because people hate
what they fear, and people fear the unknown. Over the years, we have
often times had classes about different faith traditions. We will have more.
Not only that, but it is the intention of the church leadership to have this
inform our Sunday morning worship as well. Not only is it our desire to
learn more about these other traditions, but also to interact and get to know
the people of these other traditions. So be looking for more opportunities to
get to know your neighbors in the near future.
Lastly, one important role that I can play as your pastor is to point out the
idolatry and heresy that have led to bad theology and hatred. This summer,
it is my intention to do a sermon series on pieces of scripture and
theological traditions that have contributed to the current environment of
hatred and to debunk them.
The fact is, one of the most abused pieces of scripture is Jesus’ words in
John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father
except through me.” Now, many of you will have heard this used to suggest
that anyone who does not believe in Jesus will go to Hell. Problem is—that
is utter garbage! When Jesus spoke those words, he was answering a
question from a panicked disciple. The question was NOT, “Do Muslims go
to heaven?” In fact, the question had nothing to do with afterlife. The
question came from a disciple who wanted to know what they were going to
do right after Jesus’ death. What were the disciples supposed to do without
Jesus there to lead the way for them? Jesus’ response is not a theological
treatise on salvation. Jesus’ response is a pastoral one of reassuring
scared people that they are doing just fine, and they will do just fine when
Jesus ascends to the Father, and they must continue on their earthly way.
Let me be clear—to assert that this passage is about who gets in to heaven
is not only irresponsible, but an abuse of scripture, and it is to do violence
with the word of God. That kind of bad theology is what leads to events like
the shooting in Christ Church. That kind of bad theology must be
addressed by Christ’s disciples if we are to be Christ’s faithful church.
Now that is just one example. The sad fact is, there are many more, and I
intend to take those on this summer as a part of our response to the
continued atmosphere of hatred that has arisen as the result of our past.
We may not have been directly responsible, but if we do nothing then we
are guilty of allowing the word of God to be perverted into hatred.
I realize that this is a strongly worded and passionate reflection this
week—it needs to be. However, if there are parts of this that trouble you, I
openly invite you to give me a call and let’s set up a time to talk. I also
invite you to think more about this problem and consider more ways that we
can respond as people of faith, and change the current situation where
hatred based on perversions of our faith runs rampant.
Friends, we are the body of Christ. It is our responsibility to act like it. Let
us join together as a community, and with those beyond our community to
face down the demonic forces that seem so overwhelming in this age. As
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said as he was confronted with the perversion of the
Christian message, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold
us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”