Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Is Christianity Prejudiced?

Being a part of a mostly liberal denomination--The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I get exposed to quite a few interesting thoughts and ideas.

Recently, I was asked to edit a comment I made on Facebook because it came across as "mansplaining."  My first thought was, "What the hell is that?"  Turns out, it is a made up word by those who are combating the "patriarchy" who see certain comments as patronizing--especially if they are coming from a male.  Behind such wordplay is the assumption that we indeed live in a patriarchy where men dominate women; men are the oppressors of women; and where men have engineered a system to keep women oppressed even in their use of language. 

Such thinking is not unique to the third-wave feminist movement.  There are also such undertones in the sphere of race and identity in our culture.  The term "white-privilege" is bantered about quite a bit these days assuming that society is geared to privilege people with less melanin in their skin.  The very fabric of our society: how it is constructed; how it functions; its very foundational thoughts--are imbued to favor whites.  Therefore, as some have concluded, all white people are racist.

I firmly believe that if you think that all people of a certain gender, skin color, or sexuality are racist, sexist or what have you, then you are actually guilty of major prejudice.  Not bothering to get to know people on an individual basis, you have categorically made a "preconceived judgement or opinion."  You have not judged a person by the content of his or her character; rather, you have made your claim based upon that person's gender or skin color.  Such behavior is misguided at the least.  Evil at its worst. 

Such thoughts got me to thinking about the assumptions that govern Christianity.  Does Christianity make prejudicial statements about people?  Does Christianity assume things about others before getting to know those others?

Without a doubt.

Christianity claims "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  All are infected with the disease of original sin.  (Original sin being an inherent selfishness and desire to be our own god of the universe into which all are born; all struggle with; and all have difficulty overcoming.) 

If I adhere to the historical understanding of the Christian faith, then I definitely pre-judge people in this manner.  Am I misguided at the least?  Evil at worst?

I might be, if I looked at the world through the lens of dichotomy: us/them; oppressor/oppressed; right/wrong.  For if I am a follower of Jesus who is "washed in the blood of the Lamb" and you are not, then I am better off than you are.  I know that I am saved.  I know that I am righteous unlike those who are still wallowing in their sins and condemned to everlasting punishment.

But historical Christianity does not allow me to look at the world this way.  Historical Christianity does not allow me to think of myself as better off than anyone.  For I too am guilty of original sin.  I too am guilty of an inherent selfishness.  I too am guilty of wishing to be god of my own universe.  I cannot set myself against anyone because I am just like the other.

Much of the rhetoric in liberal churches who buy into the oppressor/oppressed lens--translated into male/female; white/black; white/brown; white/insert whatever color you choose; straight/GLBTQ; ad infinatum--draw sharp distinctions between genders, races, and those with differing sexual orientation.  There is a definite dividing line for those who look at the world in this fashion.  One could literally accuse these folks of black/white thinking and be absolutely correct--even though most on this side of the fence claim to see the world in shades of gray.  Actually, they only see shades of gray when it is to their benefit--as do most people, including myself.

Historical Christianity has removed the dividing line.  All have sinned.  All are saved only and solely by grace.  That's the other part generally missing from the rhetoric these days.

Left up to human devices, there is never a leveling of the playing field.  There can only be societal upheaval which seeks to deconstruct systems and institutions and reconstruct them in a more equitable fashion.  Historically speaking, this is never going to happen.  Every single governmental and institutional structure has been shown to be wanting.  Every single governmental and institutional structure has shown to have major flaws.  None have been up to the task of creating a world of equality and egalitarianism.  None.  This is simply a historical fact whether you like it or not.  And all the legal wrangling we try will never get us there.  You cannot legislate a perfect society.  Even God tried that--at least if you take Scripture seriously.  It didn't work because we humans always find the loop holes.  We humans always interpret the law to our advantage.  What is needed is not more law, but complete changes of heart.

That is not accomplished by ourselves--or else we could claim to have an advantage over others.  "I changed myself.  You can too.  You must too.  You'd better too."  Historical Christianity claims that such change comes from God and His action through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Trusting that Jesus saved me means that I cannot claim any sort of superiority.  Trusting that Jesus saved me means that I cannot claim to have an advantage over anyone else.  Trusting that Jesus saved me means that I am incapable of demonizing another; seeing the other as less than human; or condemning the other based upon their actions or physical traits.  Jesus died for the other and saved the other just as He died for and saved me.

In much of liberal Christian thought "salvation" comes by recognizing my privilege and seeking to be in solidarity with those who are oppressed by such privilege.  "Salvation" comes by seeking to become like the other or in solidarity with the other.  In historical Christian thought, salvation comes through Jesus and then seeking to be like Him--dying to myself, my wants, and  my desires and living to the glory of God.  This means loving others including those who treat me wrongly.

Hence, I become prejudiced.  I see people as sinners.  I see them in need of the love of God through Jesus Christ.  But I do not condemn them or hate them because I am also prejudiced in seeing them as children of God and beloved by God. 

This is the prejudice of Christianity, and perhaps it is the prejudice we need more than ever in our society.

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