Have Evangelicals become Missionaries of Darkness?

With about three weeks left before the highly anticipated mid-term elections I know it’s hard to keep up on events occurring in other parts of the world. I like to think of myself as someone that is fairly well read, especially when it comes to foreign affairs, but a story from last weeks New York Times caught me a bit off guard. Brazil, the country known for bringing us such fabulous imports like Soccer star Pele and the thong bikini (Aren’t we all indebted to the thong for inspiring Sisqo to produce such an amazing song?) was embroiled in a heated presidential election.

While I’m no expert on Brazilian politics I have followed the countries developments to improve education, eradicate poverty, and improve the welfare state. I was an admirer of previous president Lula da Silva, and was intrigued with Brazil’s desire to implement a Universal Basic Income. I know that the recent President was removed for office and that much controversy surrounded the “soft-coup” that removed her from power. However, I did not realize how polarized the country had become politically.

As I learned in the article Brazil is a country undergoing a radical change in religious values and practices. 22% of the countries population is now “Evangelical Christian.” This is an interesting new development, particularly when one considers that Brazil has historically been an important foundation for the growth and power of Catholicism in South America. Consider that in America, where Evangelicalism plays an extremely important role in politics, culture, and civil society, the U.S has about 26% of the population claiming the “Evangelical” mantle.

While Evangelical Christianity is fairly “young” Brazilian political observers have noticed an increasing influence of Evangelical thinking on the nations politics. Once considered a country set apart for it’s “democratic socialist” ideals, the Pew Forum on Religion notes that some estimates have “54% of the population reporting that conservative political and cultural views dominate their electoral decisions.” What has been the result of such a dramatic change in the religious and political make up of the country?

One thing that stands out is the spread of the American based Assemblies of God organization in the country. The Assemblies of God denomination (for those who may not know, Assemblies of God is the Christian denomination that former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin belongs to) is the “fastest growing Evangelical group in the country.” The New York Times reports that “many American pastors from the Assemblies of God in America have been flocking to Brazil to set up Churches, train Pastors, and create infrastructure to help the organization increase its footprint in Brazilian life.”

As an Evangelical who hold extremely left-wing political views (sorry Mom and Dad) I tend to support organizations like the Assemblies of God that work hard to spread the message of Jesus, and pray that they stay far away from trying to influence local politics. However, as the New York Times is reporting, this has not been the case at all. The Assemblies of God have become deeply involved in Brazilian politics. The results have been nothing short of disastrous.

In Brazil Presidential elections start with  anywhere from 4 to sometimes 10 candidates on a ballot. Barring that any one candidate receives over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates to receive the most votes will head to a final election later in the year. Two weeks ago conservative politician Jair Messias Bolsonaro won the highest percentage of the vote and will be taking on liberal politician Fernando Haddad.

As to be expected the countries Evangelical community is strongly backing Conservative Bolsonaro. However, it’s the statements and political history that make this support so troubling. For starters, Bolsonaro has stated, “human rights are used to support criminals,” and that “I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” If those statements aren’t enough to question why the Assemblies of God are so keen to support this candidate than consider this statement he gave when asked by reporters what he thinks about a female liberal politician whom he works alongside in Brazil’s Congress: “I wouldn’t rape her. She isn’t worthy of it.”

Politics is a messy business. I’ve worked in politics and have seen that it can bring out the worst in people. As Christians, however, we have a special call to follow the words of Isaiah 49:6. In this passage God tells the Prophet “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” As Evangelicals go out to other nations, we must ask ourselves if we are spreading the light that Christ has demanded we let shine?

As an Evangelical who is also politically progressive and uses the scriptures to inform my political outlook I have no problem with Christians getting involved with politics. However, this involvement must be grounded in scriptural justice. That means that when a candidate like Bolsonaro says Black Brazilians “ don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more” we must stand up and speak words of life. We must make sure that “our salt has not lost its flavor.”

Polls are showing that Bolsonaro, with his almost unanimous support among the countries Evangelical’s, will easily win the second round of elections and become Brazil’s next President. I pray for Bolsonaro. I pray that Christ will change his heart. I pray for the Christians of Brazil. I pray that they meditate on the Scriptures and realize that “gaining the whole world and losing your soul” is a process that must be rejected. I pray that justice reigns in Brazil and that hate is shunned. To my fellow Evangelicals I say this: WE CAN DO BETTER! LETS BE TRUE MORAL, SPIRTUAL, AND ETHICAL LEADERS!

 

 

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Sometimes It’s so Damn Hard to Love These People!

 

In social work we talk a lot about resiliency. The idea behind promoting “resiliency” centers on the belief that universally we all experience things that “shock us, disorientate our dreams and goals, and cause severe emotional harm.” The goal of resiliency is to give clients tools to make them stay strong during these “emotional storms” and remain on a path of personal progress.

The scriptures are filled with stories and examples of Christ encouraging the early Christians to be resilient in the face of a society built on oppression and division. Like the early Christians, it’s not unfair to claim that Christians today need to reflect on how to maintain resiliency when approached with societal evil.

This coming Sunday, August 12, a group of self proclaimed “white nationalists” will be assembling in Washington D.C. in an attempt to “unite the right.” You may remember this cast of alpha male characters from such tragedies as last years “unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville Virginia. That rally ended with several injuries and the death of one young woman.

There is much speculation in the news that the rally this weekend will end in a similar way. It’s reported (https://www.thecut.com/2018/08/unite-the-right-rally-washington-dc.html) that the D.C. police are preparing, strategizing, and bringing in help from outside police forces to prepare for both right wing and anti-fascist protesters. I pray for peace, but in all honest expect there to be war.

As the husband of a beautiful biracial woman and father of four biracial children I worry deeply about race relations in our country.  Fans of the current President might call me a “typical progressive “snowflake” and chalk up my sensitivity to issues of police brutality, racial discrimination and hate, as just typical characteristics of a liberal. However, I’ve seen first hand how deeply scared by racism my wife’s side of the family (the African American side that is). I have experienced their fear of a passing police car, fear of being labeled by white people as “other”, and have felt how deeply devastated they are by the scares of America’s “original sin.”

With all that being said, I have to confess that I too feel hatred for those that will assemble in Washington D.C. to promote hate. I feel pride in those protesters that will show up to counter these voices of hate. However, as a Christian that tries to emulate Christ, I feel deeply conflicted over these feelings. Those racist individuals that will show up to dispense their ignorant hatred are no less our brothers and sisters than the progressive voices that will be there speaking truth to power.

While thinking about this I immediately thought about the words John spoke in the Bible. In 1 John 2: 9-11 we see John telling the early Christian Church that“9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

John is really speaking to individuals such as those in the “Rise Above Movement” (RAM) who believe that America has been distorted by “race mixing” and the expansion of Islam in the United States. John is speaking to those men and woman in RAM who believe that sometimes “you have to fight liberals in the streets.” John recognizes that these individuals are guided by darkness. These people have become blind.

Martin Luther King has famously told us that “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” and I truly think that is also what John would have us understand in his scripture. We need to love the “hell” outta people that will be going to D.C. in an effort to expand their racist ideology. We need to love these people who have turned to hate and let the light and love of the Holy Spirit overcome the darkness that has clouded their lives.

So while I support the protesters who will be there to offer a “counter narrative” to the right-wing nationalists I pray that they do so with the understanding that in the war against hate only love will offer peace. Hate and darkness are hell bent on destroying us. I pray that this weekend does not turn in to a “bloody Sunday” and that the love of peace, understanding, and unity reigns. I pray for the Right. I also pray for the Left to be successful and for D.C. to be under the watchful and merciful hand of God this weekend. We must be resilient and continue spreading love.

Brother West and the 4th of July

A few years ago I went to hear Union Theological Seminary Professor Cornell West give a lecture at the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s Winter Convention (I know what you are probably thinking “they have enough young Socialists that they need to break their conventions into seasonal gatherings?”). For those who have never seen an interview with Cornell West I suggest you give him a quick YouTube watch. He is funny, compassionate, smart, and even if you disagree with his politics he will make you think.

I first heard Brother West (as he so often is called) being interviewed by Sean Hannity. This was during my early days as a “Young Republican.” I remember being shocked to hear such openly “Socialistic” arguments coming from someone with a PhD (Again, I was pretty young and didn’t know much about nothin!). His argument, that “George W. Bush was a Constantine type Christian” thus someone that would use Christianity to mask his plans for political power, really shocked me at the time.

What endeared me to him, and I guess really challenged my notion of what it means to be a Christian, occurred when I started to notice how he referred to everyone as “Brother” or “Sister.” I grew up in Church and feel very at ease referring to people as “Brother Dave” or “Sister Jean.” As a kid I learned early that by invoking “Brother” or “Sister” before a persons name indicates that they are “one of us” and we can know they are a “believing Christian.” So when I heard him use “Brother” when describing people like Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney, I was taken aback.

The use of those signifiers also represents a certain element of “affection” and “Christian Love.” I always appreciated, especially as I got older, that calling someone in Church your Brother or Sister really helped establish a sense of solidarity. It made me feel like these people were more than just my friendly neighbors in Church. So to hear Cornel West use that when describing his “enemies” made me really think.

By the time I went to hear Cornel West speak I had done a complete change in politics and thinking. I was still a Christian (I will always remember the day I went to see Cornel West speak because the previous night I learned that I received a full scholarship to attend seminary- I ultimately didn’t go but that story can be saved for another blog), but my convictions and outlook on the world went through a radical shift. I no longer believed that “Jesus promoted Capitalism” or that “Christians should support war.” I felt more of a conviction to act out Christ’s mission to what he described as the “least of these.”

But hearing Dr. West speak and hearing him repeatedly refer to Conservatives as “Brother” and “Sister” again brought me back to why I was originally intrigued by his message and delivery. As the talk came to an end Dr. West asked if anyone in the audience had questions. There were many of the usual questions on policy, predictions for upcoming elections; however, one person asked him “why does he choose to call people that we as Socialists consider evil as “Brother and “Sister”?” His response is something I think about almost everyday. He told the crowd “I call everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or ideology Brother and Sister because we all come from God and we are all in this together. I believe in redemption and hope. So I believe that people I disagree with, and who are enacting policies that hurt the poor, my “brother” because I have hope that one day this will change.”

Dr. West answer is something that I try to live out in my home, office, and even here on my blog. It’s also why I have struggled with feelings of patriotism. As a Christian I always felt that my biggest sense of identity came from my faith. I always felt like “sure I’m an American and that’s great. But if I was born anywhere else that would be okay too because I would still be a Christian.” Christianity,  and not my identity as a student, Democratic Socialist, PhD Student, or even Father and Husband, has been the foundation for how I view myself in this world.

I really started to feel this more and more as I considered issues of war, death, and violence. I started really to reflect on passages from Scripture like Acts 10:34. In this Passage we read “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” I started to question the increasing pride for our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan that so many of my friends in Church were supporting and at times referring to as “the will of God.” I started to ask myself “if we all derive from God than why should differences separate us? Why should death on the battlefield of one person, who is from the same human family as myself, receive more of my feelings of sorrow and grief than another?” I would ask myself “why is killing okay at all”?

These are heady questions that philosophers, scholars, and theologians have wrestled with for years. They don’t have easy answers. The scriptures, however, offer the answer that I feel is most complete. As Peter said, God does not show favoritism. God loves us all equally. God is also the Father of us all. I can be mad at my earthly brothers and sisters but I can never hate them. On this 4thof July I will continue to do my best to love all my earthly brothers and sisters in the same manner that God does. I will pray that Christ gives me power to “show no favoritism.”