Self-centered religion is repugnant, especially to God. Throughout history humankind has reframed the biblical revelation of the Creator and Sustainer of life to justify sinful and distorted viewpoints that pale in light of divine truth. False prophets were a constant challenge to God’s people from the Old Testament through the early church, especially since they used their own platforms to promote their distorted views, often using religious language. Unfortunately, false prophets are still around. “In our day, the prevailing theology is man-centered, heavily subjective and relative. By man-centered, I mean that people conceive of God as the servant of mankind. He is not the sovereign, omnipotent, Creator-God who fashioned man for His purpose. Rather, He is a sort of Cosmic Aladdin’s genie who exists to make man happy,” wrote Stephen J. Cole.
Even though they spent three years with him, even the disciples of Jesus often twisted his views because of their selfishness. James and John wanted preferential treatment. Judas betrayed him. Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of a Roman soldier who came to arrest Jesus. Jesus’ response was, “No more of this. Put your sword back in place. Am I leading a rebellion?” And then he healed the man’s ear, making clear that the way of God was not based of defending ourselves through human methods. Christians don’t always live “Christianly.”
Piety wrapped in selfishness creates civil religion that can justify almost any wrong or distorted view. It often finds ways to use the Bible and phrases like “my God says” as foundational proofs. As a child, I heard Bible verses that were used to defend racism, even the superiority of white people. I have watched televangelists use backroom sensationalism to defend accumulating shocking amounts of money and then flaunt their greed and materialism as a sign of God’s favor. I have observed American Christians buy into the lie that we are somehow more important to God than other nations, giving credence to the “God is on our side” belief. And now, more than ever, we are witnessing a distorted view of Christianity across our nation that defends hate, rebellion, insurrection and taking up arms as the way to defend ourselves in God’s name. As Ernest Benn said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
The truth is Jesus was, in fact, leading a rebellion of sorts, just not the self-serving kind. He was a radical who dealt with those who did not agree with him through selflessness, servanthood, love of enemies and doing good to those that would hurt him, even if it meant death. He loved the sinner, the poor, the adulteress, the tax collector, the mentally ill and the leper, even while the ruling religious parties screamed for his crucifixion because he dared to reject their rules and ways. And he invited us to follow his ways, not the way of the world’s “might makes right” view.
The most recent decision by the Texas Legislature to legalize a permitless carry gun law, based on its justification by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, and other politicians as our “God-given right to protect,” is yet another step toward twisting the biblical revelation. Even though the majority of citizens disapproved of it, politicians have the power to sign it, just leave God out of it. God is the God of peace, reconciliation, and blessing, not a gun-toting God made in man’s image. Our role is to love him with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. He even showed us how to do it. Even as growing fears increase between rich and poor, political parties, and blacks, whites and browns, the goal does not have to be more access to weapons, but a greater commitment to love and justice.
Jimmy Dorrell, founder of Mission Waco, is pastor of Waco’s Church Under the Bridge.