God of Immigrants: Three points for Christians to remember

God of Immigrants: Three points for Christians to remember

In some ways, the Bible is a chronicle of immigrants.

This is true from Adam to Abram, Moses to Mary, Jacob to Jesus.

The Scriptures record the sojourns of vulnerable families who set out from their native land in search of safety and provision.

This reality is even enshrined in a “creed” that the Israelites were to recite upon taking possession of the Promised Land.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance… Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders… (Deut. 26.1, 5—8).

MY FATHER WAS A WANDERING IMMIGRANT

One reason for the recitation was to remind the people of their “rootless roots.”

They were not always planted in positions of security and dominance.

Their forefather (Jacob) had been a wandering immigrant in search of food and safety. And his own son (Joseph) had been trafficked to a foreign land.

Thus there was a call to treat later foreigners with hospitality.

“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 22.21).

“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exod. 12.49; Lev. 24.22).

“You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien” (Lev. 19.9–10; 23.22).

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19.33–34; 24.22).

But what implications might this have for us today?

Spoiler alert: I don’t think it means that borders are meaningless and that all illegal immigration is okay.

THE DEBATE

As we know, immigration (both legal and illegal) remains a controversial subject.

Indeed, words like Trump, Syria, and “Brexit” now bear witness to this. (Incidentally, I have it on good authority that for every pun invented to describe an EU exit—a kitten dies. “Brussels pouts” killed untold thousands.)

But back to the topic.

Immigration issues are complex: national security, economic stability, fairness, race, religion, social services, the rule of law, and many more. And as always, both sides have sometimes oversimplified the conversation. With that in mind, there is no way that a brief blog post can do justice to the topic.

Given that, my goal is merely to set out three broad ideas that the American church must keep in mind amid the controversy.

  1. Commands to show hospitality to immigrants still apply to Christians.

While America is not ancient Israel, the Bible is clear that God wants his people to reach out in love and service to the immigrant and the foreigner. This much is non-negotiable. Jesus even says that to welcome the “stranger” is to welcome him. Thus a lack of love for the other may be a lack of love for Christ (Mt. 25).

  1. Care for immigrants does not mean endorsing all illegal immigration.

In addition to welcoming the foreigner, the Bible also calls Christians to respect the rule of law (e.g., Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2). Thankfully, there are many legal ways to show love for immigrants, even if some are undocumented. Many churches lead citizenship classes, offer low-cost legal services, and host foreign language gatherings (see here).

As The Wesleyan Church states:

Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people, and Christ’s love compels [us] to act as agents of Spirit-filled outreach and hospitality to all.

  1. Christians should embrace wise reform over (racist) rhetoric.

One thing that everyone admits is that U.S. immigration policy is broken. Change is needed. Yet wise reform is often impeded (on both sides) by rhetoric that is meant to score political points rather than address a complex issue.

In fairness, not all who call for a wall are being overtly racist. And it isn’t fair to say that those wanting to secure the border do so out of bigotry. Love and law need not be antithetical.

Still, there is often a not-so-subtle current of prejudice behind calls to “take back our country.” (Ironically, a phrase not usually uttered by Native Americans.) I know for a fact that my friends of other nationalities hear it this way.

For believers, the right attitude is that “our [true] citizenship is in heaven” (Php. 2) and that we ourselves are resident aliens (1 Pet. 1).

As Paul illustrates, “Christian racism” is a contradiction, an oxy-moron, and a failure to believe the gospel (e.g., Gal. 2.14). And when directed at immigrants, of whatever kind, it is a failure to remember one of the first “creeds” recited by God’s people:

“My father was a wandering Aramean…” (Deut. 26.5).

CONCLUSION

While these three points are too broad to offer specific solutions to many immigration issues, they may help Christians orient their hearts. And as Proverbs teaches, from the heart “flow springs of life” (Prov. 4.23).

First, say their names: A response to “the response” to Orlando

First, say their names: A response to “the response” to Orlando

“I think it’s important that you hear their names.”

Somehow, that was the line that finally broke me in the wake of the Orlando massacre. While others were discussing ISIS, weapons used, and the political implications, a reporter was slowly reading through a list of nearly fifty names, voice faltering, while adding information about each one.

  • Jean Carlos Mendez Perez (aged 35). He is remembered by his sister as a doting uncle, who loved to buy her children ice cream.
  • Brenda Lee Marquez McCool (aged 49). She loved to go dancing with her son. He survived.
  • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala (aged 33). He worked at a blood donation center. “He’s alive in the lives that he saved,” said a co-worker.

For some of us,  hearing the names reminded us that this is about real people, not just politics.

A RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE

So while there have been many responses to the shooting, this is not one of them.

It is not a response to what happened because I have no good response to that. It is a response to the response—and especially that on social media.

As Russell Moore notes (here), we used to be able to grieve together as a nation: Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, and 9/11 were examples. We wept with those who wept (Rom. 12.15). And while there was some of that after Orlando, Moore is also right to say that

“the aftermath quickly turned into an excuse for social media wars.”

And as so often with such missive missiles, the minds of all combatants seemed made up so far in advance that the MEMEs had already been written. Indeed, in some cases, the bodies of the slain formed only minor speed bumps to be driven over on the way to making one’s point.

Whatever the debate, each side seemed clear on what this “proved”:

  • Guns: For some gun-lovers, the real problem was that victims themselves were unarmed. More guns in nightclubs; that’s how you fix mass-shootings. While for others, this showed that America’s firearm fixation is literally killing us.
  • Islam: For the new nationalists, this revealed that Trump was right in trying to ban all Muslim immigrants (never mind that the shooter was born here). While for the new atheists, this proved that religion itself is what “poisons everything.”
  • Homosexuality: For a handful of “Christians” (word used loosely), the problem seemed not so much the lives lost, but the ensuing support for the LGBT community. While for ardent secularists, this showed that all fervent “believers” (whatever the stripe) hate gays.

To be clear, I do not think that every point being made was invalid.

I even agree with several proposals on how to begin preventing the kind of shootings that happen in no other civilized country with this kind of stupid frequency.

But that is not what I want to talk about here.

WHAT WE’VE LOST

My observation is this: We seem to have lost the national ability to mourn PEOPLE, before making POLITICAL POINTS. And while some points matter, it is the people who are priceless.

In this case, bodies were still being pulled out Pulse nightclub when the pixeled pronouncements started flying. Donald Trump, for one, “mourned” as he does all things—by Tweeting—“I called it!” he crowed: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”

You know, just like F.D.R. after Pearl Harbor.

Others were more thoughtful (which isn’t hard). Still, in many cases, as I went online last week, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with the insta-battles that broke out even before family members had been notified.

It was not always like this. Social media has changed things. And in this regard, for the worse.

FIRST, SAY THEIR NAMES

What then is my suggestion?

Hear this: I am not saying that those passionate about solutions should just stay silent. Not at all.

But I do think that before we venture into polemics, we should first do what a few thoughtful mourners did, and say their names. Weep with those who weep. Reach out to gay friends and family. Grieve with the grieving. Many people did this, and God bless them. (I especially appreciated this from the new Wesleyan General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt [here]; in fact, it was not a statement at all, but a prayer.)

To recount the names and faces of the fallen reminds us that they were real people, with real dreams, parents, siblings, friends, and children. They are not mere dead weight to be leveraged in the catapults that launch our online arguments.

Biblically speaking, the call to love and serve and grieve is not dependent (even one iota!) on whether the victims were gay or straight, liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist.

The imago Dei is the lone prerequisite.

So while we must seek solutions to such reckless acts of hatred, let’s not forget to weep with those who weep.

First, hear their names.  And perhaps that empathy may, in the end, lead us to work together to prevent such acts in the future.

Requiescat in pace.


Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Luis S. Vielma, Kimberly Morris, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Darryl Roman Burt II, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Amanda Alvear, Martin Benitez Torres, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Cory James Connell, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis Daniel Conde, Shane Evan Tomlinson, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Jerald Arthur Wright, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Brenda Lee Marquez McCoo, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Frank Hernandez, Paul Terrell Henry, Antonio Davon Brown, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, and Akyra Monet Murray.

Why the “wrong side of history” may be right (sometimes)

Why the “wrong side of history” may be right (sometimes)

Thanks to the folks over at Seedbed for publishing a piece that I was asked to write on the threat of being on “the wrong side of history.”

You can access that here.

Two brief snippets:

The gist of the “wrong side” argument is that in past centuries, great evils were defended in the name of God and tradition […] There is some truth in this of course. Great wrongs were, and continue to be, defended under the guise of “God’s will” and the oppressive cloak of tradition. Yet the meme is hardly absolute. And in many cases, it is simply wrong.

 

Here’s [another] problem: If history’s moral judgments are the unjust product of the victors’ power plays, then why trust them? If history is written by “those who have hanged heroes,” then perhaps the “wrong” side is actually closer to being right! Perhaps, as some suggest, justice lies more on history’s underside.

If this is so, then Christians have yet one more reason to discard the moral shaming of the “wrong side” argument.

For in a bit of beautiful irony, we believe that history’s crucified victim is also its great victor. The Lamb who was slain is seated on the throne, and his word is weightier than the shifting sands of public opinion. His verdict (not that of “history”) matters most.

Why choosing “the lesser of two evils” is not always a rule to live by

Why choosing “the lesser of two evils” is not always a rule to live by

Last week, I predicted (here) that an increasing number of “evangelical leaders” would begin endorsing a certain Republican presidential candidate, especially after a scheduled “meet-cute” slated for June.

I also lamented this.

To be honest, I don’t like posting on such topics, primarily because discussing politics on the internet is about as promising as trusting your three-year-old with your stock portfolio (Why do we own four hundred shares of Dora the Explorer, Inc.!?).

Still, I feel enough of an obligation to distance the gospel of Jesus from the gospel of Trump that I’m willing to deal with the inevitable fallout. All things being equal, I’d happily write a similar post on Trump’s likely opponent. But it’s not necessary. The number of evangelicals rushing to join the family Clinton is similar those rushing to join the family Manson. Roughly.

THE CRITIQUE

In regard to all the comments, both positive and critical, the most common critique (by far) ran basically as follows:

Jesus isn’t running, so we must choose “the lesser of two evils.”

Because this point was made by many different people, I thought that it deserved a respectful response.

THE “LOTE” (LESSER OF TWO EVILS) 

Since I agree with the first claim (“Jesus isn’t running”), I’m only going to examine the logic of the second part (“In elections, we must choose between the lesser of two evils”).

And I do mean logic. Given this, I will intentionally avoid all mention of particular candidates: No Trump, Hillary, Bush, Bernie, or Adolf Hitler references allowed. Hallelujah. I’m only examining the premise.

Here’s my thesis:

While choosing the “lesser of two evils” (or: LOTE) may often be warranted, it is not always so.

Thus, it is not an “axiom” to live by.

To clarify, an axiom is a statement regarded as being established or self-evidently true.

The LOTE argument is not an axiom, because it is very far from being self-evident. And for Christians especially, there are instances in which it may be especially problematic.

But let’s start with the obvious.

THE OBVIOUS

The fact is that choosing the better of two imperfect options often makes great sense.

To use a ridiculous example: Let’s say you commit a terrible crime and the judge gives you a choice of punishment: “For the next week, you must either listen to non-stop Nickelback, or watch non-stop episodes of PBS’s Caillou.” (If you have kids [or ears], you know the terror of this verdict.) And in this scenario, you should try to choose the lesser of two evils.

I also agree that a LOTE vote often makes good sense. It has even been my own approach.

It’s not inherently wrong; it’s just not always right. So it’s not an axiom.

Here’s why: The following are three instances in which it may be wise to set aside LOTE logic.

1. WHEN YOU REACH YOUR “GAG THRESHOLD”

Personally, I begin re-thinking the LOTE mentality when the two major options presented to me make me feel physically ill. Like: I-need-to-go-lay-down-now ill. Let’s call this “the gag threshold.” Of course, some things that disgust me may not bother you at all. You may like beef in your seven layer desserts (Friends reference). I do not.

In elections, I can easily vote for someone that I disagree with on a variety of issues, especially if I perceive them to be the slightly better option. But once both major choices cross far beyond my gag threshold, I jump off the LOTE boat like it’s the Titanic.

In such cases, choosing either one feels dirty and complicit, as if one is siding with ideas that are base, inane, or dangerous.

I think most people know this. We just have different gag thresholds. If the general election came down to Vader versus Voldemort, I’m joining the dark side just because one might technically be worse (#GryffindorForever).

The gag threshold is the first sign that one may look beyond the LOTE.

2. WHEN IT’S UNCLEAR WHO’S WORSE

A second problem for the LOTE axiom is the assumption that one always knows the lesser evil. In some cases, I don’t. And in others, I think I do, but I am probably wrong.

As someone asked me recently: “How does it feel to be wrong?”

Answer: “It feels exactly like you’re right.”

As an axiom, the LOTE approach may presume infallible knowledge of the future, and I don’t have that.

3. WHEN THERE ARE MORE THAN JUST TWO OPTIONS

A third and final problem for the LOTE rule is the idea that there are always and only two options in a given election.

In fact, there’s no rule requiring you to vote for either the Republican or the Democratic nominee in order to be a responsible citizen. Vote for whomever you want. Especially if you’ve reached your “gag threshold” (point one), or if it’s not clear (to you at least) which candidate is actually worse (point two).

Now for the likely objections:

“But I want my vote to count!”

Good news: your vote counts for the same amount regardless. You have one vote (Unless you lived in Chicago in 1960).

Now, if what you really mean is “I want my vote to determine the outcome,” then there’s bad news: your vote has probably never counted, and it probably never will.

“But if I don’t vote for A, it might as well be a vote for B.”

Not exactly. This claim has rhetorical force, but it’s logical nonsense. Strictly speaking, no one takes all the votes for Mickey Mouse and adds them to the total for the Republican or Democratic nominee. Choosing “A” is the same as choosing “A”; choosing “C” is not.

Also, one reason for not always following one’s usual party affiliation is to demonstrate that you will not simply rubber stamp whomever they set forth simply because “the other side” might win. If that mentality wins out, then parties are not held accountable.

“But I want to vote for someone who can actually win.”

Why? Since when is “voting for the winner” a core value in democracy? And when did Jesus ever say: “Blessed are the winners”? That sounds like someone else.

Betting on the winner makes great sense at a dog track, but you don’t get points for it in elections. If you’ve reached your gag threshold, or if it’s not clear who’s worse, then what do you gain from (possibly) siding with the winning candidate? What you might lose is credibility if your candidate proves to be a “Vader-mort.”

To paraphrase the great Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird,

Sometimes [conviction] is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you … see it through no matter what.

CONCLUSION

In sum, I’m thankful for all the interaction on my prior post.  And I completely agree that there is often nothing wrong with trying to choose the better of two imperfect options.

It may be wise.

But it doesn’t automatically make good sense.

And if a day comes when the two major choices make death by Nickelback or Caillou seem desirable, then one is free to look for other options.

Why I won’t be attending the evangelical “meet-cute” with Donald Trump (even though I wasn’t asked to)

Why I won’t be attending the evangelical “meet-cute” with Donald Trump (even though I wasn’t asked to)

Last week, it was announced that a veritable troop of “evangelical leaders” has been invited to a closed-door meeting with Donald Trump. The reason, according to Tony Perkins, is to “have a conversation that could lead to a better understanding of what Trump has to offer the country.”

Sadly, I will not attend.

Trump Bible

One reason is that I was not invited. That part is understandable. I am not that important. Then again, my absence is probably for the best. Because unlike Perkins, I have seen quite enough of what Mr. Trump “has to offer the country.”

But aside from not being invited, and not needing more info on what Mr. Trump is “offering,” I also have a third reason for not attending:

I know a“meet-cute” when I see one.

And the outcome of this one feels, sadly, predictable.

What, you ask, is a meet-cute?

THE MEET-CUTE

According to Google—a trusted source for university professors like myself—a “meet-cute” is a scene from romantic comedies in which an odd couple (two people who would never normally see eye-to-eye) comes together through a zany encounter, and finds unexpected chemistry.

In this case, picture John Cusack from Serendipity, except older, orange, and with a comb-over that defies Newtonian physics. Burn that image in your mind. Meditate upon it. Selah.

And as for the meet-cute between Trump and evangelicals, the movie trailer writes itself. (Pro tip: Use that special movie trailer voice).

This summer:

They’re so different! He’s a foul-mouthed billionaire, with misogynistic tendencies, xenophobic tirades, and a penchant for conspiracy theories.

She’s a small town good girl who likes Chris Tomlin records, Beth Moore Bible studies, and has long since “kissed dating goodbye.” It should never work!

But then the unexpected happens. And as Paula Abdul told us, opposites attract.

Coming June 21st (since that’s the date of the meeting).

MY PREDICTION

All kidding aside, I can’t say for certain what will happen at this pow wow between Trump and evangelicals. Perhaps it’s just a chance to speak truth to power. Still, I do have an unfortunate prediction.

My guess is that in the weeks that follow, we should expect an increasing number of statements like the following from the “evangelical leaders” in this romantic tragedy:

While we’ve had differences with Mr. Trump in the past, we were very encouraged by our time together. He really listened to us! And we feel confident that our goals align in many areas.

In the end, this election is just too important for evangelicals to sit out. We must defeat Hillary Clinton in November. And that is why I am prepared to pledge my support to Donald J. Trump for Sultan, I mean, PRESIDENT of the United States.

Sincerely, Dr. Faustus.

Or as a clever cartoonist captioned recently, the revised baptismal declaration runs as follows:

“Do you renounce Satan and all his works?”

“I do. But I’ll still support him if he’s the nominee.”

I’m having a bit of fun with this, but the prediction about more evangelicals endorsing Trump (after the meet-cute of course) is serious. And I hope I’m wrong.

IF I WERE ATTENDING

But since I’m not attending, there are a few things that I would like someone to have a “conversation” about. So if you were invited (Russell Moore; were they brave enough to invite you?), feel free to pass this along.

Or just tweet it.

I’m sure @realDonaldTrump will give a thoughtful response, per usual.

Here goes:

Mr. Trump,

You’ve been reported as saying that “Laziness is a trait in blacks.”[1] Did you mean to include Mexicans in that? Or do you see them as hard working “rapists” and “murderers”?

And about your theology: You brag frequently (as only you can) about your Christian faith. Jerry Falwell Jr. even likened you to Jesus! That’s huge Mr. Trump. Jesus is like the Steve Jobs of the evangelical org chart. I know, I know, you prefer Messiahs who didn’t get captured, but still, take it as a compliment.

Anyway, given all that Christian fervor, Mr. Trump, how is it that you claim NEVER to have asked God for forgiveness? Not even once!? That’s impressive. Maybe you are more Christ-like than even Mr. Falwell thinks. (He can ask you for forgiveness later.)

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the misogyny, the vulgarity, the extramarital affairs, the over-the-top boasting of sexual prowess, the recent and vocal support for things like abortion, Planned Parenthood, and, oh yeah, Hillary Clinton (as late as 2012).

Then there’s the way you repeatedly misspell the word “White” in your campaign slogan (Seriously, “G-R-E-A-T” isn’t even close, but I guess spellcheck wouldn’t catch that). And the way you repeatedly incite supporters to acts of violence in exchange for legal fees. Classy stuff. Very Christian.

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I could go on and on.

But I realize now another reason why I was not invited to the evangelical meet-cute:

I would totally kill the When-Harry-Met-Sally buzz.

CONCLUSION

In closing, I must clarify that this post is not a veiled attempt to support Mr. Trump’s opponent come November. I’m sure that will be the pushback, but it doesn’t fly. Because fears of “the alternative” do not justify complicity with the kind of shameful nonsense detailed above. And endorsements equal complicity.

Likewise, I do not begrudge anyone for attending the meet-cute. I hope they do. (Especially folks like Russell Moore; we need them there.) And I hope they tell Trump, more graciously than I have, why they can’t support him.

But that hope does not change my above prediction.

Whatever happens, one point stands supreme: As Christians, we must remember that the Kingdom of God—and not some partisan loyalty—is our true political affiliation.

Lordship is a political concept after all–and we follow the Lamb. Not the Elephant. Not the Donkey. Certainly not the Donald.

So while many evangelicals may be swayed by the caviar and cocktails (er…, iced tea) at the upcoming meet-cute, I will not be.

And not just because I’m not invited.

Vicit Agnus noster; eum sequamur.

 

 

 

 


[1] Unlike all other quotes in this post, this one alone cannot be corroborated with video evidence (hence the qualifier, “You’ve been reported as saying”). The quote comes from the former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel, John R. O’Donnell, in a Trump biography. When asked about the allegations, Trump did not deny them, saying that “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true. The guy’s a f*#king loser.” This acknowledgement came in Trump’s 1999 interview with Playboy. Again, all very classy.

Can Satire Sanctify? The Babylon Bee takes the Internet by Storm

Move over Comedy Central, there’s now a sacred source for stinging satire:

The Babylon Bee.

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Here’s a sampling of the latest faux headlines:

  • “Local High Schooler Pretty Sure Sixth Camp Rededication Did the Trick”
  • “Archaeologists Discover Prophet Daniel’s Weight Loss Diary”
  • “Redditor Takes Ten-Minute Break From Browsing Porn To Lecture Christians On Morality”
  • “Everything Local Man Feels Led To Do He Coincidentally Really Likes”
  • “Rescue Attempt Mounted For Couple Trapped In Post-Church Small Talk”
  • “Steven Furtick Cancels Book Tour After Getting Lost in his Mansion”
  • “Benny Hinn Miraculously Removes Lump From Woman’s Purse”

BACKGROUND

The Bee is the creation of 32-year-old Adam Ford, a dad from Detroit. According to The Washington Post—yeah, that’s right, The Washington Post did a story on this (here)—Ford launched the Bee in March, and it attracted more than 1 million visitors(!) within three weeks. Not bad. The stories are provided by unpaid freelancers (acceptable translation of the Greek phrase “Seminary Students”).

Prior to launching the site, Ford hoped to be a pastor. Then debilitating panic attacks and clinical depression caused him to turn away from crowds and toward writing. He found his niche:

“Most of the articles serve to hold up the truth and let it do the work,” he states. “I hope people leave the site with a spring in their step, or limping.” (Washington Post)

Both possibilities present themselves.

Take, for instance, the recent story about the time Joel Osteen’s happy thoughts made him able to fly (here).

As “Osteen” notes:

“I just decided one day I wasn’t going to let the enemy hold me back anymore, and I started boldly declaring before God each and every day that I was going to fly.”

The report ends with the smiley televangelist soaring high above the one-time NBA arena where his church meets.

And then there is the bulletin about a “Wild at Heart” Men’s Group that got hopelessly lost in a lightly wooded field behind their local church:

“Medics were immediately called to the scene to treat the brave, but traumatized, group of men.”

“After all this, [one member] says he’s not giving up on the Wild At Heart study. ‘There’s something primal, risky, and wild in God’s heart. While we may have come uncomfortably close to death in this harrowing experience, we’re that much closer to finding out what it means to be a real man of God.’”

A SERIOUS QUESTION

I find these stories hilarious.

And perhaps that’s unsurprising.  I have been a longtime fan of Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and John Oliver.

But here’s a serious question: Can satire be a sanctifying agent for the church?

In other words, can it serve a purpose other than just making us smile? Or is it more likely to be detrimental as Christians make fun of each other, or the church at large?

POTENTIAL DANGERS

As someone who loves satire, I must admit that it has pitfalls.

For some of us, cynicism lurks behind the laughs.

Such cynicism is negativity with a smirk. It is a pervasive pessimism marked by punch-lines rather than overt anger. If you’re really angry, you can slap a Trump sticker on your car and fantasize about a giant golden wall in ways that make even characters on the Walking Dead feel uncomfortable.

But if you’re prone to cynicism, perhaps you turn on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

Personally, I’m predisposed to the latter more than the former. But neither is good.

I’ve noticed this danger as I enjoy offerings like The Daily Show, and comedians like Jon Stewart. At their best, they shine the light of truth through humor, but for some of us (read: me), too much satire can reinforce the sense that everyone in politics and media is either a hypocrite, a moron, or both.

For me, cynicism is something I must guard against.

A second danger in satire is a kind of self-righteous meanness (or at least pride) that emerges as we tear down others in the name of comedy .

Sometimes this is done by those who have few accomplishments of their own, as highlighted in this story from the Bee: “First-Year Seminarian Ready To Take Over For Senior Pastor If Necessary.”

DES PLAINES, IL—First-year seminarian, George Turner, 23, confirmed Friday that—if necessary—he could easily step in to take over Rev. Gary Price as Senior Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian. […]

Gesturing to his pack of Greek flashcards, Turner added, “And I suppose it’s time to talk to him about that Bible translation we’re using. Ugh.”

Out on a hospital visit, Rev. Price was unavailable for comment.

If you have ears to hear, then hear.

In sum, there are pitfalls to reveling in too much satire or cultural critique. But as I will argue now, I hardly see such dangers as damning to all satire.

POSSIBILITIES

Personally, few (if any) Babylon Bee stories strike me as either mean-spirited or cynical.

They’re funny. And in most cases, there appears to be a light-hearted twinkle in the author’s unseen eye.

As contributor Michael Coughlin remarks in the story from the Washington Post:

“You can be satirical without being cruel.”

And as Jon Acuff states:

“Sometimes the best satire is tempered by love.”

In fact, the Bible itself employs examples of humor, satire, irony, and even sarcasm (see 1 Cor. 4.8-13; Isa. 40.19-20; Jer. 46.11; 1 Kgs. 18.27; Mt. 7.5).

As Walter Kaiser, one of my old Seminary Profs, once said: Humor can help the message go down, like a parent who makes faces at a child in a high chair as a way of getting them to smile, open their mouth, and insert the food or medicine.

Along these lines, Terry Lindvall, author of God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert, claims that satirists often act like prophets, helping believers see where they’ve gone astray.

You can be a prophet with solemn pronouncement. Or you can be prophet with comic pronouncements.

This is true.  But I also think that “speaking prophetically” can be a euphemism–at least as I have used it–for “being a self-righteous jerk.”

Real prophets are more likely to be sawn in two than retweeted.

CONCLUSION

So what’s the big idea?

By my judgment, satire cannot sanctify us. Only God can. And he does it by his word and Spirit.

Yet perhaps God sometimes uses well-placed satire as a way of opening our eyes to realities that need attention. Or perhaps he uses it to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. As Martin Luther liked to say:

“Mock the devil, and he will flee from you.”

There are dangers, of course, like cynicism and self-righteous meanness. But in my view, such problems need not be inherent.

So now for the important question:

What’s your favorite Bee headline?

The Naked God: The Cross and Body Shame

The Naked God: The Cross and Body Shame

The Romans crucified their victims naked.

Indeed, the Gospels may even imply this when noting that soldiers cast lots for Christ’s clothing. Still, the thought of a naked Jesus splayed out before the world is uncomfortable to us. And rightly so. You will not find this painting in your Christian bookstore.

Along these lines, I recall (years ago) a fellow student asking a professor about the possibility that Christ hung naked on the cross. The teacher was incensed. “Of course not! To even think so is offensive!”

While I appreciated the concern for modesty, I remember thinking that the whole nailing-an-innocent-man-to-a-cross part was pretty offensive too. Yet it happened.

To reflect on this nakedness, however, does seem crass, unless there is some insight to be gained. And I think there is.

It has to do with bodies, shame, and those who have been made to feel less than human.[1]

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P: Claudio Ungari

DEFINING SHAME

According to psychologists, we feel guilt for wrongs we have done. Yet we feel shame for who we are at some deep level. The concepts are related, but distinct.

Unfortunately, while guilt can be atoned for by punishment or making amends, shame clings to us more tenaciously. It lodges in our minds and in our marrow. It is the difference between “I have done wrong” and “I am wrong.”[2]

For Gershen Kaufman:

To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense. The self feels exposed both to itself and to anyone present. [It] is the piercing awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way as a human being.[3]

While certain forms of shame may be warranted, this pervasive kind is deadly.

SHAME AND NAKEDNESS

In the Bible, shame is linked to nakedness. It didn’t start this way (Gen. 2.25), but when Adam eats the fruit he feels exposed. He was never clothed, of course, but now he feels it. So he seeks to cover himself. Enter fig leaves. In fact, the stated fear is not punishment, but being seen undressed.

“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen. 3.10).

The problem is shame, but the feeling is a body that we want to hide.

BODY SHAME

Today, the trend continues. In our culture, a common cause of shame is the body itself, especially as it fails to conform to rigid standards of perfection: models, magazines, ubiquitous pornography, and the crucible of comparison. These days, not even the perfect people are perfect enough, as evidenced by the need to airbrush them.

So while the apostle Paul once assumed that “no one ever hated his own body” (Eph. 5.29), our culture shouts back: “Speak for yourself!”

It is unsurprising then that so many of our shame words relate to the body.

  • fat,
  • weak,
  • pudgy,
  • plain,
  • pock-marked,
  • bald,
  • scarred,
  • flat,
  • freak,
  • repulsive,
  • and many racial slurs I will not write.

Whatever postmodernity is, it is definitely post-Eden.

SEXUAL SHAME

Then there is the realm of sexual shame.

The statistics are staggering: Twenty-five percent of girls will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen. One in five women will be raped, and 325,000 children will be victims of sex trafficking this year.

For many of us, the numbers include faces that we recognize. Indeed, the pain becomes more personal when listening, as I have, to a student say the following: “I was raped by my first boyfriend. We met at church. No one believed me.”

Shame.

Increasingly, the “Hunting Ground” for sexual assaults are college campuses (see here), where a mix of alcohol, partying, and attempts to hush or blame the victims often combine to add one shame upon another. Over such campuses, the question tolls like a funeral bell: “Where can I go to be rid of my disgrace?”

And that is not to mention the myriad of consensual encounters that leave one or both persons feeling objectified, used, and cast aside.

It is not called the “walk of shame” for nothing.

CHRISTUS NUDUS

But what does this have to do with the shameful nudity of Christ upon the cross?

Everything.

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Ancient graffito, mocking Christians. Note the naked buttocks of the Christ-figure, with the head of a donkey. P: Jason M. Kelly

As one scholar writes:

The whole point of Roman crucifixion was to reduce the victim to the status of a thing, stripping him of every vestige of human dignity, in order to discourage any challenging of the might of Rome.[4] 

The key idea is this: We do not have a Jesus who merely bears our guilt and sin. Nor merely one who conquers death and devils. Nor merely one who loves without exceptions.

In addition to all this, Christ also enters into our deepest experience of shame and nakedness. He was mocked and laid bare not only before tormenters, but before his weeping mother! It does not get more shameful.

So hear this: To the bullied teen who cowers in the bathroom stall, to the victim of sexual assault who feels blamed for someone else’s crime, and to all others made to feel the weight of heaped-on shame, Christ says: “I KNOW.” I have been there.

I am Christus nudus (“the naked Christ”), not merely Christus victor (“Christ the victor”).

The cross is “God’s shame-bearing symbol for the world.”[5]

Upon it, the second Adam assumed the nakedness of the first, for as Gregory of Nazianzen wrote: “The unassumed is the unhealed.” We need a God who bears our shame. And we have one in the naked Christ.

CLOTHED WITH CHRIST 

But it does not end there.

After the resurrection, the New Testament pictures salvation as being clothed. Yet the clothing is not of earthly garments, but “with Christ” (Rom. 13.14). Paul saw this as taking place at baptism (Gal. 3.27).

Thus the early church even began what may seem like a strange practice.

Converts were baptized naked in imitation of a Christ who hung naked on the cross. In response to this, Saint Jerome’s (347–420 AD) oft-repeated motto for the Christian lifestyle read as follows:

nudus nudum Jesum Sequi” (naked to follow a naked Christ).

Because of Jesus, the metaphor of nakedness was transformed from a mark of shame to a metaphor of purity, innocence, and life-giving vulnerability (on that last bit, see here).

This is so because, on the cross, Christ not only bore our shame, he “scorned” it (Heb. 12.2).

This is indeed good news.

Christus nudus; Christus victor.

 

———–

[1] For a mountain of research on this topic, see the published doctoral dissertation of Dan Lé, The Naked Christ: An Atonement Model for a Body Obsessed Culture (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012).

[2] See T. Mark McConnell, “From ‘I Have Done Wrong’ to ‘I am Wrong’,” in Locating Atonement: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics, eds. Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

[3] Gershen Kaufman, Shame: The Power of Caring (Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1985), ix–x.

[4] Philip Cunningham, Jesus and the Evangelists (New York: Paulist, 1988), 187.

[5] Robert Albers, “The Shame Factor: Theological and Pastoral Reflections Relating to Forgiveness,” Word & World 16:3 (June 1, 1996), 352.