Figuring Out the Meaning of Life and Other Trivial Matters
Sunday, September 6, 2009
When Pastors Go Bad
SKEPTIC: The above video is about a recent sermon by Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, titled "Why I Hate Barack Obama." In it, he explains exactly why he hates the president (because he's a murderer) and how he is going to pray that Obama dies and goes to hell. Am I safe to assume that we can both agree that this kind of hate speech is dangerous (especially given the recent rise of extremism on the right), and that Pastor Steven has no place behind any pulpit? I'm hopeful that most Christians would condemn this kind of preaching, knowing that it does their cause no good to have lunatics like this representing the faith. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he really does represent the emerging new face of Christianity in America today. That would be truly disturbing.
PREACHER: Pastor Steven Anderson is definitely over the top for most Christians. Even though we don't agree with Barack Obama on a lot of things and maybe even consider him our enemy, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The apostle Paul taught to pray for those in authority, and in those days that was for the Roman government that was persecuting Christians. Extemists on both sides of the spectrum do no service to the causes that they intend to support. It is good to personally know those who are on the opposite side. I don't agree with you on many things, but I know we can live at peace with eachother.
SKEPTIC: Is that as far as you're willing to go in response to Anderson - he's "over the top?" Are you willing to say that he doesn't represent true Christianity and that his ticket to heaven should be revoked? And you can seriously consider the President of the United States your "enemy?" Jeez, I considered George W. Bush to be an incompetent boob, but I never thought of him as my enemy. I know Christians are supposed to "love your enemies," but that seems a bit silly to me. I mean, if you love someone, then they're not your enemy anymore, unless you want to change the definition of the word. My creed is "love your friends and ignore your enemies."
PREACHER: I wouldn't consider anyone's ticket to heaven revoked (not even yours) since I am not God and don't know what the rest of their (and your) story is. Anderson seems to be a very angry man, more emotions than reason. I agree with him that abortion is wrong, but anger and hateful threats don't change anything for good. You claim that you "love your friends and ignore your enemies," so why are you paying attention to him anyway? I think ignoring an enemy isn't very smart when he is making death threats and looks like he really can accomplish them. Loving your enemy is seeking what is best for him, not just making him feel good. It should make him change his mind about you so he can become your friend.
I think there are a lot of people that are very disappointed with president Obama, because he isn't coming through with all the naive promises that he made during the campaign. And, his liberal positions on abortion, gay rights, religion, education, and medical care really don't sit well with mainstream America. I doubt seriously that he will be in for a second term.
SKEPTIC: I guess I'm a bit dumbfounded that you seem unwilling to state clearly that you condemn this kind of behavior on the part of someone who claims to be a man of God. You seem intent, instead, on focusing on President Obama, whom you call your enemy. This is a Christian preacher who stands up in front of his congregation and tells them that he hates the President and prays to God to strike him dead. And by the way, he's not alone. Here's another Christian preacher engaged in the same reprehensible conduct. Is this how you "love your enemy" - by praying that he dies? Can you begin to understand why so many people are turning away from a religion that is capable of producing these kinds of leaders?
And to respond to your political point - you're right that there are people who are disappointed in Obama, from both sides of the political spectrum. I suppose that is to be expected of any president. You can't please all of the people all of the time. But it seems a little silly to write his political obituary after only seven months in office. The problem for conservatives is that they have yet to understand that the American mainstream has moved to the left, so when you say "his liberal positions...don't sit well with mainstream America," I think you're wrong.
PREACHER: Let me make myself clear. I condemn the behavior of praying for the death of individuals that you consider to be promoting evil. I condemn the sin (actions and words) not the sinner (the extremists on the far right and left). It isn't the Christian religion that produces leaders that advocate killing their enemies, it is only those few leaders' anger that has gotten away from them. Listening to the two preachers you have referred me to has convinced me that they need to have some kind of professional help. And of course, these angry preachers get to be on the news because they are so sensational. Actually, they are quite marginal in the mainstream Christian community. Those who turn away from Christianity because of such preachers were probably already looking for an excuse to prove that they were better than religious people.
What you and I consider to be mainstream America seem to be very different. Isn't your mainstream America concentrated in the big cities mostly on the east and west coast, including certain notorious cities like San Francisco and New Orleans. My mainstream America is everywhere else, including the people I rub shoulders with on a daily basis here is the rural Midwest and the South (I am presently in the USA).
SKEPTIC: Thank you for clarifying your position vis a vis these preachers. However, I think I'll go ahead and condemn the "sinner" as well as the "sin," since you can't really have one without the other.
I'm confused when you say that "those who turn away from Christianity because of such preachers were probably already looking for an excuse to prove that they were better than religious people." As one who has turned away from Christianity, it certainly wasn't because I wanted to prove that I was better than religious people. It was a natural process that resulted from a lot of study, debate, and critical thinking on my part. I think your description may be more applicable to many (not all) Christians who perceive of themselves as better than those of us that they consider "lost," "unsaved," and headed for the fiery pits of hell.
As to what constitutes "mainstream" America, I define it as where the majority of people are politically and culturally at a given point in time. If the last election can be used as a barometer (and I believe it can), then it's clear that mainstream thought has shifted to the left. (And as a former citizen of the beautiful city of San Francisco, I'd like to take exception to your description of that city as "notorious.")
One final point: You want to separate those in mainstream Christianity from those who advocate violence, and I'll grant you that - but Christianity has a long and dark history of violence, beginning with an Old Testament God who ordered genocide at every turn. Maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised when pastors like these end up going off the deep end.