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.