1 March 2019
As we prepare for Lent 2019, some thoughts about confronting distorted belief and its implications.
The current number of USA hate groups has risen for the fourth consecutive year, pushed to a record high of 1,020 thanks to political and religious polarization, anti-immigrant sentiment, and technologies that help spread xenophobic and racist propaganda on the Internet. This expansion of American hate groups was launched during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Most hate groups are motivated by “in-group love,” a desire to positively contribute to the group to which one belongs, or by “out-group hatred,” a desire to injure an alien group.
Unfortunately, far too many contemporary hate groups claim to be Christian-inspired, following the example of people like Thomas Robb: American far-right activist, Ku Klux Klan leader, and Christian Identity pastor. Robb is national director of The Knights Party, also known as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He took control of the organization after David Duke. Robb’s “Thomas Robb Ministries” website declares that “the Anglo Saxon, Germanic, Scandinavian, and kindred people are THE people of the Bible.” Strange to say the least.
People like the followers of Thomas Robb place such a high priority on their distorted “Christian” view of human life that they undermine the very values found in ALL great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and caring. In their overwhelming seriousness about their unhealthy beliefs, they do not hesitate to intervene in political and social life trying to force society to conform to their values and behaviors.
The contemporary challenge is an authentically Christian challenge: healthy Christians must courageously speak out to challenge unhealthy Christians who make a mockery of Christian Belief. This is a genuine Lenten challenge for all of us, and it demands much more than just passive piety.
Authentic Christianity builds bridges between groups. It promotes love not hatred. There are no “losers” in this vision. Distorted Christianity builds walls of prejudice and xenophobia. Distorted Christianity says only people belonging to the particular in-group have a right to freedom and a happy life. Those outside the in-group have no rights because they are basically dangerous and evil. This is, for example, the position of “white Christian supremacists,” who have bibles in one hand and guns in the other.
Distorted belief is like a virus that infects people and weakens their basic sense of trust and relatedness to the people around them. It thrives on falsehood, fear, and unchallenged suspicions. It surrenders personal responsibility to authoritarian commanders in politics and religion. It ignores people in pain. It sacrifices them for the good of the institution. It rewards the egotistical self-righteous.
Distorted belief promotes a kind of unhealthy Christianity that thrives on ignorance and demands unquestioned obedience from the ignorant. Healthy Christians are secure in their belief but realize that we grow and develop in our understandings of ethics and doctrines, as we move toward the fullness of truth. Asking questions, for healthy believers, opens new doors and enhances one’s appreciation for God and humanity: for human growth and understanding. Unhealthy Christians condemn those who question and those who advocate change and development. Their’s is a static view of human life and a rigidly literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture, which they use to condone misogyny, racial superiority, and homophobia.
The English word “Lent” comes from an Old English word meaning “spring season:” a time to move into new life and new hope. The Christian season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday March 6th, is our annual Christian check-up and renewal period. A time to examine our Christian health. We observe. We judge. We act.
What is happening in the society around us? What needs to be critiqued and changed? How do we apply the vision of Jesus in contemporary days?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.