Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of Your blessed Son, You made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss [note the inclusion of loss] for the sake of Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Tuesday in Holy Week, 220)
Here is a message from God that many American religious folk reject: suffer, even having your rights or preferences taken from you, for the sake of Christ. This sort of pacifism is rejected largely by the political-evangelical Religious Right of our day. They claim to be protecting America from destruction, from the wrath of God, and from foreign invaders that God might, perhaps, allow into the nation as a sign of judgment. They claim that they want freedom for all but what they truly desire is a theocracy that protects their conservative interpretations of Scripture. What does that look like?

First, and foremost, such a practical reality thwarts "the militant gay agenda" of equality: same-sex marriage is denied (which is an equal right for LGBTQ folk to wed), rights protecting LGBTQ persons from being fired or not being hired based solely upon an ontology for which none of us asked, and for protection against bullying and other acts of aggression from those whose intent is to harm physically (or even emotionally and psychologically, e.g., harassment, slander, character assassination).

Some may imagine that writing a political piece during Holy Week is unseemly but I disagree entirely. What could be more political than Jesus commanding the following:
You have heard that it was said [in the Hebrew scriptures], "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." [Exodus 21:24] But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you" (Matt. 5:38, 39, 40, 41, 42)?
Incidentally, the Exodus passage is one of Donald Trump's favorite verses in the Bible. (link) Jesus, however, maintains a contrary position to that of Trump (and his religio-politico devotees). Think of the very radical political statements Jesus utters here.

The Jews are being rough-handled politically and socially by the Romans -- the Gentiles who are considered dogs, ritually unclean, and enemies of the God of Israel. Being genuinely kind to such dogs is pushing gracious boundaries; but not resisting evil people, allowing an enemy to strike you not once but twice without retaliation, giving to a perceived enemy two outer garments, and "going the extra mile" for someone who opposes your very existence is, simply, unimaginable. But these statements here are commands; they are not optional-motivational speeches but overt commands. If you want to follow Jesus then you will forsake your so-imagined rights.


An eternal age is approaching in which a theocracy will dominate the earth -- an existence in which justice will rule and love is the law. But this "law" of love will be written on the hearts of all citizens because each one will have experienced a new and sin-free nature. Now, however, we must be governed differently because we (believers) are not yet fully renewed. Now we have guidelines on the manner in which we are expected to conduct ourselves in public, and in private, as Jesus commands us:
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may [prove yourselves to] be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise [a blessing] on the evil and on the good, and sends rain [a blessing, but also a judgment, depending upon the amount of rainfall] on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors [a hated group who collected taxes for Rome and often took more than what was required] do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48)
Love my enemies? Certainly we all fail this command in a myriad of ways on a weekly basis. Some construct protest signs and stand outside of abortion clinics and shame women who approach the place. Since when is anyone ever converted to a new worldview through the avenue of shame? Some construct protest signs and stand on the sidelines of Gay Pride parades while imagining that they are "standing up for the Word of God" and all that is righteous. I wonder if, prior to their own conversion to fanatical so-called Christianity, they encountered fanatics with signs, the conclusion of which resulted in their conversion? My suspicion is that such never occurred.

Instead of loving -- self-sacrificially giving of their time, efforts, and even life -- those perceived as their cultural enemies some evangelicals are far more comfortable with avoiding (like a plague) the same. Such religion, I am "biblically" forced to declare, is not Christian. If your so-called religious freedom is prioritized above the rights of others then your religion is some other category than Christian. How do I know this to be the truth? I know this to be the truth from the words of Jesus Himself. You can cling to your heroes, à la Mike Pence, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Dobson, Al Mohler, Michael Brown, and too many others to name, but you do so at the risk of denying the words of your professed Leader Jesus Christ. Follow Him and not them.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.