When the ivory tower replaces the throne of God

It’s hard to get through the day without a good bout of consciousness-raising or thirty. You’d have to be an anarcho-primitivist hermit to miss any newspaper, television news program or social network mention of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner. We’ve heard their names and know their stories.These men of color have changed the way some see police, their own neighbors, and the criminal justice system as a whole. Protests continue to be held around the country; sometimes violent, but generally peaceful. Now, well-meaning whites have armed themselves not with guns, but with hashtags, flooding the #CrimingWhileWhite Twitter feed with righteous confessionals intended to illustrate the disparity between the way whites and blacks are treated by police.

Will these protests, rallies, boycotts or Twitter confessions effect real change at every level of our criminal justice system to the satisfaction of activists? I don’t think anyone can claim to know for sure.

But one thing is certain: Nothing is perfect. These well-crafted and well-intentioned tweets are being hailed as privilege-checking by some and denounced as flaunting white privilege by others. (What a legitimate role for white bodies in civil rights activism, if it exists, would look like is beyond the scope of this essay.) Still, some popular symbols of solidarity expressed range from donning a hoodie and skittles in honor of Trayvon Martin to the (apocryphal) “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” stance in honor of Michael Brown.

Others have taken this opportunity to reflect on other areas of life supposedly affected by current social unrest. The most interesting, to me, is religion. Not surprisingly, Christianity is a major target. Secular piety compels me to throw in a line here like “and I don’t blame them for blaming Christianity one bit, it’s totally reasonable to doubt your faith in light of things like this.” But I will not, because it simply is not true. This is not insensitive or closed-minded, as many would like you to believe.

Fellow Christians, do not allow others to convince you that you should reject your beliefs because they may differ from the worldview of those calling your beliefs into question. We could just as well respond that it is time for those people to reconsider their conception of our beliefs. These agitators’ prejudices are likewise in need of reflection.

Barbra Sostaita, a Masters Student at Yale Divinity School, Young Voices Advocate and Former Students For Liberty Campus Coordinator offers this lamentation on the failure of a grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown in self-defense: “As I look around me, I directed my grief to the paintings and statues of Jesus displayed prominently in the room. Where is your justice, My God? You call yourself the Prince of Peace but the blood of my brother cries out to me from the ground and you are astoundingly silent.”

What I find so bothersome about this is not the outright sacrilege of one of the 7 sentences uttered by our Savior in his final hour on earth, it is rather that Barbara has equated her own conception of justice with that of the will of God.

Surely in error (and drowning in an ironic lack of self-awareness), Barbara thought that because she felt that a man was guilty, the cosmic forces of justice must immediately treat him so to her (material) liking. However, her cry for help rests on shaky assumptions. Here, Barbara has decided that the courts of this nation rule in accordance with the will of God.

But we, as Christians, know better. We know that the laws under which we function are not the laws given to us by God. They are the laws of man. Created by him and for him. In looking at the verdict as a failure of God to deliver justice to Michael Brown’s family, Barbara put God, Creator of heaven and earth, all things seen and unseen, on trial and asked Him to answer to her will.

Beyond the theology of the matter, there is the blatant reality of secular dominance. Surely Barbara does not believe that more among our cohort received their moral leadership from dwindling church congregations than MTV or Jon Stewart. Indeed, this decidedly materialist rant against her own mass consumed iconography is just another manifestation of the trending for-profit morality. To rail against an imaginary dystopia drowning in holy water and dominated by Jerry Falwell as if we inhabited anything close to this world is transparent, silly, boring, and dishonest.

I’ve learned to expect this kind of race oriented self-righteous high-horse heresy coming from progressives. But, libertarians? The party of live-and-let-live? And an SFL-er to boot! Say it ain’t so. I’ve always thought of libertarians as those people who don’t want the government to butt into your personal life. “To each his own” they say. But, it’s starting to feel like they’re taking a page out of the “statist” playbook they hate so much and finding ways to butt in themselves. Telling others what they should think and how they should feel about race and religion — two fairly personal issues — is far from what I ever envisioned coming from any person who describes themselves as a libertarian.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Last time I checked it is not about the color of your skin when God judges you. Unfortunately, this seems to be the focus for people like Barbara. Not just on the color of it either, but, also on the actions of others who have inherited a sinful (but thankfully temporary) body just as they have. Instead of denying this flesh the value our largely secular society places on it, Barbara has embraced it and the brokenness that comes along with it. In focusing on skin color and denying their faith prophetesses of progressivism, such as Barbara, perpetuate the idea that physical characteristics matter in this life — securing a place for their view within the current narrative — and mistakenly, beyond.

Proselytizing from on-high with melanin on the mind, race obsessed progressives fail to notice that Christ never assigned a likelihood of salvation to the color of a persons skin. That might be an easy thing to overlook when they’ve preoccupied themselves with making sure everyone else knows that there are certain biological differences among people which do matter and that there are those that don’t. Race is no exception, progressives spend a lot of time telling other people how to feel about race. But, trade-offs are a real thing. The time these progressives spend ranting about race is time they aren’t spending (trying) to understand the faith they blindly dismiss. And that is truly, a shame.

Ignoring the sacrifice of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in favor of the inherently incomplete form of justice offered on earth is disconcerting to say the least. The very idea that people are willing to abandon their faith because (their conception of) it doesn’t dovetail with their political views is troubling. I can’t help but wonder in light of the reality of this imperial secularism: Why don’t ostensibly Christian people people look up instead of around when they believe the world is in turmoil? It is a sad sight that politics has led people of God to abandon Him because they’ve chosen to believe that it is their own will that should be done when they don’t understand His.

This impulse to look around (or in this case, in one’s living room) instead of up is exemplified in the next paragraph of Barbara’s piece:

As I looked harder, it hit me. All of these images of Christ were of a white man. A blue-eyed, blonde haired man whose sacred heart beat for a chosen group of people. If Jesus is white, then whiteness is hailed as divine and all-powerful. White is associated with God and blackness becomes darkness, evil, distinct from the goodness of God. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. We live in a society where Black bodies are not seen as holy or worthy of protection.

Is Christ’s physical image all Christians should derive from Him? Is Christ’s physical image the barometer for salvation? I sure hope not. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it sounds like here. (Perhaps it is a linguistic issue since we speak in English and not Greek though I saw no disclaimer).

This is an attempt to describe our Savior, who is of one nature that is human and divine, strictly by His humanity — as represented in the posters that you chose to purchase and place on your bedroom wall. (Depictions of black Jesus are widely available for purchase.) The early church has already discussed this false materializing prioritization and deemed such a description heresy.

Do you even hypostatic union?

Not to mention, it completely ignores everything Christ did for us. While this isn’t the first time people have questioned Christ for his appearance (hey, the Pharisees were some real haters) one certainly shouldn’t take that as license to view Christ with the same skepticism as those who lobbied Pilate to crucify Him.

While I’m at it, I suppose I should also point out that mankind is not holy. Mankind is broken, weak, fallible and full of sin. The only Being capable of determining holiness is the only Holy One Himself. I believe this point requires further elaboration. It is this sort of hubris that allows man to not only to question God’s authority, but in doing so, to find herself disappointed when this world falls short of her own expectations. It is this sort of hubris that allows one to approach the world around them as if they have complete information. That’s just not true. There is no single human on earth who knows all things.

This propensity to cast judgement on the world as if we are the final arbiters of good and evil, with the the grave deficit of knowledge inherent in mankind, belittles God, His authority and leaves us all subject to the whim of man. This completely ignores what Christ did for us and leaves us seeking the favor of man rather than a salvation and restoration with our heavenly Father.

I was also surprised to find out that whites don’t worship Who they think they do. According to Professor Anthea Butler, whites in this country — Christian or not — believe that white supremacy is their god. Again, someone has taken this time as an opportunity to project their displeasure in their own perception of the God of Christianity onto everyone else.

Not only does this way of thinking allow blacks to only view themselves as a people subject to the will of a god who has forsaken them, rather than true heirs to a heavenly inheritance. It also leaves them in bondage to the things of this world; whether it’s the will of whites, interpretations of their faith by those who see their beliefs as oppressive, or pressure to appease sinful humans who roam this earth right alongside them in search of earthly justice while leaving heavenly justice by the wayside.

Dr. Butler continues: “While I still believe that the nation is obsessed with a punitive Christianity, I would add that white supremacy linked to an American theology of atonement means that brown and black bodies will always be sacrificed, whiteness is the standard, and that the thirst for power and blood is never slaked, never ending. White supremacy always demands the shedding of blood to assert its divinity.”

This sort of view implies that Christ, the only Begotten Son of God, was not a sufficient sacrifice for our sins. What then, does this mean for black Christians? This view leaves them abandoned and worshiping a false god. It also implies that whites — other humans (no matter how you see them) — are responsible for your salvation.

Community with our fellow man is not inherently evil. After all, how can I ever expect God to forgive me my trespasses if I do not first forgive those who trespass against me? Here however, Dr. Butler’s view puts other humans in the judgement seat. And as Christians, regardless of skin color, we know that no human is divine and no human is fit to sit on the throne of God.

Bell hooks (cited by Barbara) and Alice Walker, mentioned in both of the articles excerpted above, are not authoritative figures on Christian theology or Christian social teaching. Bell hooks — an author, feminist and social activist hailed for her views on the oppressive capitalist system (by which her ideas earn her a living) — is cited for her undoubtedly optimistic perspective on race relations in the U.S. both past and present. Homage is also paid to Alice Walker — a writer, poet, and activist — for her book The Color Purple, as Barbara and Dr. Butler provide edgy metaphors and nuanced interpretations of Celie’s trailblazing “spiritual but not religious” outlook, in an attempt to justify a perceived prevalence of racism in a faith abandoned by the main character. But with foolish haste, it is to the ones who look back at them in the mirror whom my fellow fallen daughters of Eve have consulted on the doctrine they are so quick to criticize.

I urge my fellow Christians to stand firm against those who, especially in times of crisis, tell us what we should believe or inform us of “new” theological concerns held by elites about our faith. It is not the ivory tower to which we answer for our salvation. And it is not those who sit on the self-appointed thrones in their new-found cathedrals who will sit on the seat of judgement at the end of days. Remember: We all will be brought before God on judgement day and in that time we must answer to His concerns about our faith.

Rod Dreher put it beautifully in his piece on 12-year-old Devonte Hart, a teary-eyed protester whose tender embrace of Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum was immortalized in an AP photograph: “Now, I have no idea if either Devonte Hart or Sgt. Bret Barnum is a Christian. But I do know that millions of us Americans, black and white, are Christians, and because of that, and despite of our many sins and failings, ought to be finding ways to live up to the love shining through that iconic image above…”

Rod is trying to communicate the true Christian vision, Barbie and Anthea, the perversions. Trying times are when it’s most important to live your faith–and the easiest to castigate others for doing so while posturing yourself as the *true* arbiter of holiness. In styling themselves as above other Christians (a god-like arbiter of true holiness) does injustice to Christianity *and* to the “victims” they exploit to posit their own godliness. May God have mercy on us all.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” – Matthew 24:36

(Image source)

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