There is a bumper sticker that you may have seen on cars around your town. It’ something of a prayer that says, “Jesus save me from your followers.” Let’s be honest. The sad truth is that some of Jesus’ followers do reflect on him poorly. On the other hand, poor followers don’t mean Christianity is bunk. Let every man be a liar, God remains true – with a capital “T.”
And God’s Truth, if Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, Professor of Theology and past President of Chicago Theological Seminary, is scarier than All Hallow’s Eve (see her editorial at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/28/five-christian-theologies-scarier-than-halloween-2/). Ms. Thistlewaite, also a frequent editorialist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, lists five Christian theologies that are more frightening than Halloween. She admits that Halloween isn’t scary now because it has been substantially tamed by “Gothic and horror literature like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.” But if you “want to be frightened this week” take a look at some Christian teachings “that actually are scary.”
What scares Ms. Thistlewaite are these five “theological themes:” Christian dominionism, hell and damnation, women submitting to husbands, creation science, and God’s hatred of gays.
An appropriate sigh here.
In her view, these theologies are about power and manipulation, anti-science ignorance, male privilege and abuse, and (she suspects) the cause of the recent government shutdown.
Ms. Thistlewaite asserts that Christian dominionism was the theology behind the shutdown. Does she really expect us to believe that there are so many Christians in the House and the Senate that they arm-wrestled the government into a shutdown? Or that it wasn’t really a chasm-wide divide of ideologies and maneuvering for partisan power? No, she insists; it’s the ‘vast right-wing Christian theologian’s” conspiring together.
The actual theology to which she refers is called “Christian Reconstructionism.” Ms. Thistlewaite must have read Deborah Caldwell’s Huffington Post Religion page editorial that creates suspicions and conspiratorial theories of collusions between Tea Partiers, the GOP and a minority wing of the Protestant church intent on ruling America by laws from Leviticus. Ms. Caldwell uses the hackneyed tactic of guilt by association and then asks, “What are we to make of all this?” She answers later, “I don’t know.” So much for unbiased journalism. It’s enough to just throw some meat to the dogs. (See the Caldwell article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-caldwell/christian-dominionism-debt-default-_b_4097017.html).
Hell and damnation, with its fiery hot threats of demons waiting to catch sinners hung over an abyss is scary because it’s about the abusive use of ecclesiastical power as “a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.” (She would despise Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a way to “create and sustain ‘hell on earth.’”) Hell contradicts God’s love and mercy. It’s chic to jettison any talk on hell these days. All people and dogs “go to heaven and look down on us approvingly.” I agree, the doctrine of hell is scary. God intended the place called hell for those who reject his Son. Therefore, hell has at least two purposes, both good news. One is that hell points us to the place of rescue from it. Trust in Jesus Christ is for anyone convinced that they deserve God’s rejection for rejecting God’s Son. Hell is also a place for the execution of God’s justice in the history of humankind. Who is really opposed to rescue and justice?
According to Ms. Thistlewaite, the submission of women to male authority always ends in physical abuse based on the “just battering” tradition of violence against women by their husbands. The “front door of such a ‘religious’ home becomes a doorway to violence.” I’ve been in plenty of those “religious” homes where strong and convinced women with sound Christian theological backbones gladly receive a worthy husband’s authority as a great joy. I actually live with such a woman. She is strong theologically and convinced of God’s truth and even when I fail to live up to my calling as a Christian husband, she respects as well as corrects me. And on top of that, by God’s grace we raised two daughters with the same backbone. It is a convenient target to say that Christian women have been battered into submission. The ones I know have not. They find God’s design for their function in marriage. The function of woman makes her no less important or equal before God as his image-bearer any more than the function of a janitorial engineer makes him or her less important or valuable than the company CEO. They are equal as people created in God’s image, functioning in different ways. The women I know see their functions as a way to fulfill God’s commands to them to serve with their husbands as the vice-regents God intended. The misguided notion of Ms. Thistlewaite is that battering and violence are the same thing as submission. I wonder if she thinks this way when she submits to the speed limit laws of her town.
Creation science is scary because it is theology not real science. While I have some quibbles with the way the Bible is used to prove science (the opening chapters of Genesis are not Moses’ scientific lecture about the creation of the universe but rather a revelation of the Who behind the what and the power of God to create something so massively wonderful.) My only question to Ms. Thistlewaite here would be this: “Is the theory of evolution real science or theory masquerading as a theological truth?” To my knowledge, “theory” still precedes “of evolution” because there has been no definitive proof of the origins of man as Darwin and subsequent Darwinians have taught.
And the biggie: “God hates gays.” This is the ultimate “scary dangerous” homophobic Christian theology. It is widely assumed that gay-bashing is a Christian thing. Christians are the intolerant ones, the unloving ones. After all, who should tell us who we are to love or what we are to do with our bodies? Well, the god that Ms. Thistlewaite cites is none other than the “State.” She writes, the “states are making progress on passing marriage equality.” Make no mistake, Ms. Thistlewaite has a god to which she bows and demands all others to worship – the State. The State defines marriage, not the God of the Bible.
At the end of her article, Ms. Thistlewaite writes, “What really scares me, not only this week but all year through, are the Christian theologies that prey on our legitimate fears of human finitude, physical suffering, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, and the threat of war in order to accelerate anger and alienation . . . . There’s no treat in that, only being tricked.”
It is true that we humans fear infinitude: what happens after death? We are vulnerable to physical suffering and economic uncertainty. Evil can come through other humans as much as it can come from a tsunami. Anger is everywhere. I know plenty of people feeling the pain of alienation. But it is also true that Jesus addressed these very human fears and vulnerabilities by telling us to “take on his yoke” where we would find “rest for our souls” (Matt 11:29). If humanity could have solved these dangers by now, don’t you think we would have? After all, it’s been a few thousand years and the fears haven’t gone away even with the advance of our technologies and multiple gods.
It is also true that Christianity gets lumps from the sinful behaviors of some of its followers. Jesus said the unbelievers had the right to judge the authenticity of our faith (John 13:34, 35). Christians can be rightly judged to be unloving by those who are not Christians when our hypocrisy is blatant.
But more recently, an avalanche of criticism has been heaped on Christianity through a manipulative tactic. Christianity has been distorted so that it can be set up as a straw man for the angry left who also wants to find a convenient scapegoat to sacrifice for our social and cultural ills. The angry left isn’t getting its way, so it resorts to abusive tactics, too.
Why just Christians? No one seems to criticize fiery Muslim theologians calling for “death to the infidels.” No one seems to reference their extreme anti-life, warlike and violent policies that nearly conquered Europe; the roots of those dreamy gone-by days feeding the same angry rhetoric in Tehran’s mosques today. No one criticizes Darwin’s theories that fueled Nazi hatred and slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and Christians in the run-up to World War II.
It’s a good time to be a Christian. Why? Because, as our culture and society decay by departing from its moral moorings inherent in God’s creation (and resident in everyone’s conscience (see Romans 1:18-32)), the heart-hatred for God and the rejection of his Son Jesus Christ will become more blatant and obvious. True Christians (can there be any other kind?) will shine brighter for the gospel and the Son. Christians will continue to be vilified, increasingly scorned, rejected and some will be killed. It’s happening around the world today.
It happened in the most scandalous way in AD 33 when the Son of God received the same treatment.