If God is Love (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my collection of snippets from the book by Philip Gulley entitled If God is Love.

The Psalmists boats, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hate. I count them my enemies” (Psalm 139:21-22). Hatred, when directed at those we have judged wicked, becomes a sign of religious devotion rather than a grievous sin. The enemy is not loved, but destroyed, not prayed for, but preyed upon.

We can protest religious hatred and violence are sins of the past, but to do so we must ignore current Christian visions of the future. How do we explain the tremendous popularity of the “Left Behind” series of books? These books, which have sold millions of copies have spawned two movies, portray a future in which Evangelical Christians are saved while everyone else is destroyed. They proclaim a Jesus with a sword in hand atop a charging steed, initiating a violent end.

Our violent religious past and expectations of a wrathful future impinge on Christian behavior today. David Beneke, a leader in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, discovered this reality shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was suspended for eighteen months from his duties and required to defend himself before a variety of denominational panels. His sin was not something as radical as believing in the salvation of all people. His crime was joining with Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh religious leaders in a prayer service at Yankee Stadium. He was accused of praying with “heathens”. He said “This ordeal reveals the hard side of Christianity”.

If fairness, similar stories abound in other religious traditions. This arrogant exclusivity plagues all the great religions. Adherents of each faith hate the “other” — Christians hate heathens; Muslims hate infidels; Jews hate Gentiles. For many, religion is how we decide who to love and who to hate.

As I have said many times Jesus melted down the Old Testament laws into just two: Love God and Love your fellow man. Hate was not in this mix. Why do so many current day religious institutions base so much of their practices on hate? One thing I love about reading Philip Gulley is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He certainly didn’t in this example. 🙂

When the Bible becomes a weapon….

Although I don’t focus very much on the Old Testament I have always been troubled about how it seems to condone slavery. There is an interesting article in USA Today about  this topic.  See it at  In Civil War, the Bible became a weapon – USATODAY.com.  Here is a little bit of it.

God said so

In the 1860s, Southern preachers defending slavery also took the Bible literally. They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). Christians who wanted to preserve slavery had the words of the Bible to back them up.

The preachers of the North had to be more creative, but they, too, argued God was on their side. Some emphasized that the Union had to be preserved so that the advance of liberty around the world would not be slowed or even stopped. One Boston preacher, Gilbert Haven, sermonized, ” If America is lost, the world is lost.”

Historian James Howell Moorhead of Princeton Theological Seminary points out that other ministers drew on the Book of Revelation and suggested that a Northern victory might prepare the way for the Kingdom of God on earth. Still others preached that God would not allow the North to win until it ended slavery. The Battle Hymn of the Republic poetically summed up such Union beliefs:

When we take the Bible literally and for all time the above type mentality often prevails.  St. Paul told slaves to obey their masters so God must condone slavery.  This type of logic did not go away after the Civil War. It is still very prevalent today amongst those who take the Bible literally.  Sad as it is I imagine that there are still many around that believe that slavery was instituted by God. When you take the Bible literally you are stuck with all the verses being literal.  That is a very hard thing to cope with.

Of course many Christians know that much of the Bible was written around the  circumstances of the time and not meant for eternity. If St. Paul had said that slavery was an abomination before God he would have been run out of town on the preverbal “rail”. We must understand that some of the Bible simply reflected the times; some of it was allegory; some of it was just giving historical evidence.

Ending this post on the Civil War topic I very much admire these words of Lincoln:

“My concern is not whether God is on our side,” he said. “My greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Many throughout the ages claim God is on their side. Hitler used that logic and so did the KKK amongst many others. But we should all ask the question “are we on God’s side?”