So, there are quite a few pastors and members of the Christian laity who are still upset with Ol’ Hobbs for questioning Pastor Joel Osteen’s initial reticence to lead from the front on Hurricane Harvey. Some, to my amusement, have questioned whether I even believe in Jesus Christ.
It is time to get some straightening…
To be clear, there is Christianity as the religion to which I profess: (I believe that Jesus was the son of God who died for remission of sins, rose from the dead on the third day, and is a part of the Holy Trinity that includes the Father and the Holy Spirit).
There is also Christianity as a social construct, generally, and as a political entity, specifically. Social and political constructs by which supposedly “Christian” European nations explored and exploited Africa, Asia and the Americas, enslaved my African ancestors, lynched my African ancestors, and segregated themselves from my African ancestors by law only until very recently (late 1960s), while also causing misery and grief among other non-Europeans as well, all supposedly in the name of Jesus. The pastors who purveyed such evil white supremacist dogma were as far from Christ as one could imagine, and such men of the cloth should never be revered or held in high esteem simply because they “called” themselves Christians.
For those of us who profess to love God/Jesus Christ “with all of our hearts, souls and minds,” it is important for us to distinguish between Christianity as our faith and Christianity as the social/political construct. Indeed, through the years I have consulted with clients who have been raped or abused by pastors. I have seen pastors who refused to marry women who had children out-of-wedlock or who had been divorced before despite having fathered children out of wedlock or been divorced before themselves. I have observed pastors who rail against homosexual sex from the pulpit, while engaging in the same behind closed doors. I also know pastors who have endorsed candidates for public office with long track records of racist, sexist, and bigoted behavior all because aligning themselves with this party or that politician helped them to accrue dollars for their church outreach programs or to place them in positions of influence with said politician. This latter point–currying political influence–is not always negative, mind you, but I fully believe that when a pastor endorses a political candidate or takes a position on a subject that is contrary to my own social or political beliefs, or even those of members of their flock, that analyzing or criticizing said pastor’s non-spirit based political or social act is not tantamount to criticizing Christ–it is tantamount to criticizing that man or woman of the cloth serving as a pastor.
I do so knowing full well that perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Protestant Reformation was the end of the belief that a Christian can only communicate with God through the intercession of a priest. Or, that a priest and a priest alone can absolve one’s sins; we come to the Father by confessing our belief in Him and seeking forgiveness in His son’s name, not in the name of Reverend Dr. So and Such.
But far too many of my fellow Christians, be they Protestant or Catholic, are far too at ease with making the priest-pastor the equivalent of Christ. Not only is the folly, in my estimation, but such blind allegiance leads to the aforementioned social and/or political stresses that I mention above with the, “well, if Passa say I got to vote for Donald Trump, I’m gon’ go ‘head and vote for Donald Trump” type of illogical conclusion. Such is why Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. blasted his “dear fellow clergymen” in his seminal “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in 1963 because King knew that those white pastors who were urging that he “wait” or put off his quest for civil rights were not speaking with bold Christian authority, rather, they spoke with the fears of men who on a deeper level, were not personally offended or at odds with the demonic wiles of Jim Crow segregation.
To that same end, when I draft a blog or article that questions the political allegiances or social stances of modern-day pastors or priest, such as my recent criticisms of enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter Joel Osteen, such are not attacks on Christ or my faith, but they are attacks on the political or social positions of Mr. Osteen and any other pastor, priest, rabbi or imam who was slow to recognize the suffering that was heading toward Houston. I also will continue to question modern day pastors who support politicians who would seek to take America back to the not so great years of old, years in which race and gender, by law, were the key components to second class citizenship. To me, the ecumenical leaders that I respect are the ones who take on the hard challenges of our day–the ones unafraid to push back against discrimination and bigotry.
In conclusion, for those so inclined, talk to your pastor about how he/she feels about the Wall to Mexico, the travel ban on Muslims, and their thoughts about police officers who murder unarmed black men, women and children with impunity. Their answers–or lack thereof–not only may be telling, but what is told could inform you as to whether pastor is leading from a spiritual level like Jesus ordains, or whether said pastor is consumed with the fears, hate and vigorous pursuit of lucre and love of money that are the fruits of evil.