Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Jurassic Park

In Michael Crichton's novel (AKA Steven Spielberg's movie), Jurassic Park, people are able to bring back dinosaurs by finding and manipulating fossilized DNA. The humans soon find themselves in hot water.

Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is in some hot water over the preaching of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright spews phrases like "God d--n America" in his version of Black Liberation Christianity.

Democrats point out that Republicans buddy up to preachers who say some wild things, too. One such preacher is John Hagee of San Antonio and TV, who has called the Roman Catholic Church "the great wh-re."

Religious figures like Wright and Hagee are like the dinosaur dabblers in Jurassic Park. Preachers like these dredge up, manipulate and bring back to life issues that are, in some very real ways, extinct. They play God by refusing to accept changes that God has guided.

In Hagee's case, he is using language from the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, mainly from Martin Luther. Luther used the Biblical symbolism of "Babylon, the great wh-re" to attack the corrupt church of his time.

But you would find very few contemporary Lutherans (and we have tons of them here on the Northern Plains) who would use Luther's sarcasm about Roman Catholicism. Yes, there remain serious differences, but God has guided these estranged Christian tradtions to make some amazing progress together.

Hagee and other free-form Christians have a big investment in dredging up and reanimating 16th century European DNA. To have the Vatican as "Babylon" props up a symbolic reading of the Bible to support Hagee's and others' "end times" models. By showing how various churches, nations and events fit a manufactured Bible code for the end of the world, Hagee stands in a long tradition of preachers who have stirred up and mobilized followers with promises of the end, only to leave them disappointed and the Christian message discredited.

By turning the church into Jurassic Park, Hagee does violence to centuries of Christ's work. The excesses of the pre-Reformation church have been, well, reformed in many cases. And fractured Christian denominations have become, if not reconciled, at least better neighbors and more humble in their criticisms of one another. (This is especially true of lay people - but just as the dabblers in Jurassic Park were a small group of "experts", it is usually clergy who keep old conflicts alive).

Jeremiah Wright manipulates in a similar way. He reanimates historical mistreatment of Black Americans. He ignores centuries of God-given healing and progress. He pushes aside the sacrifices of those who gave up their lives as Civil War casualties and Civil Rights martyrs. He is blind to the fact that Americans for the most part war against their own racism. He does not see good news when intermarriage becomes ever more unremarkable. He does not see the meaning when government programs of questionable impact persist: they are there because America confesses racism's historic reality and is willing to try for a better future.

Wright is "right" to say that racism is here - but it will be here whenever different races live together. It is a persistent symptom of human sin, just like murder, adultery, theft, perjury, envy and other signs of our distance from God. But the kind of racist America Wright describes died decades ago (and some of his statements seem to describe a science fiction place like Jurassic Park rather than history). Wright digs up racism's DNA and uses it to build a following, ignoring all the evidence of God's very real transformation and redirection of American race consciousness.

Now, I am an Anglican blogger, so I better say some things about my own tradition if I want to obey Jesus' warning about hypocrisy.

The Episcopal Church (TEC), with its love of tradition and aesthetics, is especially prone to dabble in dinosaur stuff. We fight too much about moving people from one historic "style" of worship to another. We've tried to build a "church" on getting existing Christians to change from one style of church to another - but we don't reach non-Christians and help them meet Jesus Christ. We try to dig up churchy DNA and revive a style of church that is dead and gone, and we are in hot water as a result. According to Pew Forum research, TEC is America's fastest declining (a nice word for "dying") denomination.

I might have to add to the "J" words in my title: Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Jurassic Park and Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of TEC.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Wonderful take on an old problem. Clergy, pastors, priests, evangelists, bishops, rabbis, etc. who keep anachronisms alive to serve their purposes are telling lies.

David Handy+ said...


Well done! You are absolutely right. Alas, this is also a violation of the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness" against your neighbor, as Pastors Hagee and Wright have done.

Put another way, according to Paul in 1 Cor. 13, "Love hopes all things," and "believes all things," as well as enduring all things etc. That is, out of love we hope for the best and believe the best about others, rather than assuming the worst about them.

And that is something that those of us who are actively opposing the "gay is OK" delusion in TEC must also keep in mind. Our adversaries on the pro-gay side have the best of intentions, which we can and should honor, even while we decisively reject their agenda because it actually results in the opposite of what they intend. That is, they intend the liberation of gay people from oppression, but they end up leaving them in bondage to a perverse lifestyle that is seriously harmful to them.

cp said...

What about the good pastor Parsley who is inciting Christian violence against Muslims?

If only people would take the time to listen to or read the full text of not only Wright's sermons, and Obama's excellent oratory about them.

cp said...

We try to dig up churchy DNA and revive a style of church that is dead and gone, and we are in hot water as a result.

True words, Father Tim.

TLF+ said...

Thanks for the link, cp... there was also Pat Robertson's "suggestion" about assasinating Hugo Chavez.

You probably caught the news that Sioux Falls is the fastest growing city in the Midwest, and something like #36 nationwide - part of that is due to an influx of medical professionals, and this will only accelerate as the new Sanford Children's Hospital and Medical Research facility come on line.

Why do I mention this? Because Anglicanism/The Episcopal Church used to be a church that could witness to the kind of rational, community-oriented people that are moving here. But for a host of reasons, we've lost any ability to connect with those outside the church.

I won't play the game blame on this - in fact, Neal Michell (Bishop Canditdate in conservative Dallas) AND the more liberal Diocese of South Dakota agree that TEC clergy and lay people are not good at sharing their faith with other people in any compelling way.