Friday, November 20, 2009

Most of us have heard about Steve Anderson - the pastor in Phoenix who has been praying that Obama would die and go to hell. For the most part, people have written him off as being a crazy who is completely on his own at the lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, he is not alone at the fringe. He represents a growing movement. There was a t shirt and bumper stickers being sold on the web with the slogan, "Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8. Sounds innocent enough. Even the verse itself falls pretty squarely in the American tradition of political discourse - "Let his days be few; and let another take his office" (KJV) It becomes much more sinister when the following verse is read - "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Nobody who purchased that t shirt or bumper sticker did so without reading the verse in its context. Nobody who wore it did so without knowing that they were calling for the death of the president of the United States. Ronald Kessler, who wrote a book about presidential security says that death threats against Obama are up 400% over George Bush. It is no wonder... people are hearing "death to the president of the US" from pulpits... and not only from radical Muslim imams in the Middle East, they are hearing it from "Christian" fundamentalist pastors in the US.

Let me say this as clearly as I can. This slogan is not funny or cute. It is heinous. These people are not "biblical" or "Christian." They are using proof texts to back up political ideologies and trying to bolster their cases by attributing their views to God. And finally, any Christian who does not condemn these misuses of the Bible and of Christian theology is culpable for anything that may happen.


Matt said...

I agree that quoting Bible passages that imply the quick death of the President seems extreme, and that doing so likely masks a fundamental inability on the part of those involved to find a more positive way to ease their suffering. However, a violent revolution is well within the realm of the acceptable in American history. To say that this activity is un-American and unpatriotic is a questionable statement. If being American means preserving the status quo, I imagine those involved in the Psalm 109 movement would agree. However, if being American means being willing to attempt to overthrow the government when it is tyrannical, as I suspect their definition runs, they are American through and through. For the majority of those involved, the purchase of those products will be the extent of their protest; however, Schaeffer is likely right that the message may reach those who would try to 'do something about it.'

More problematic, however, is the statement that those who apply this scripture to a contemporary setting are 'unbiblical' or 'un-Christian.' David seems to have wanted some terrible fate to befall his enemies, and he certainly had a political agenda as well. Even if we do create a modern (and I think artificial, given the religious language pervasive in our politics) separation between church and state, it is another thing entirely to apply this to the ancient text. The interpretation of these 'fundamentalists' is a straight-forward reading of the text. It requires a much higher level of mental and emotional gymnastics to make arguments such as are usually given to reconcile the violence of the Old Testament with modern sentiments, revolving around the advancement of culture since then or the supplanting of the old covenant with a new one, etc. Even more critical, though, is the irony involved in implying the ability to de-Christianize someone for radical views, as it can only be done by assuming the role of the divine.

To be clear, I disagree wholeheartedly with the public promotion of a Biblical text as a means to wish the President harm or death. People should speak out against such potentially harmful campaigns. I suggest that we use a different tactic. It is difficult to claim the divine inspiration or literal truth of the Bible and not be forced to deal with many more passages like Psalm 109:8. My resolution to the difficulty raised by this passage would be dismiss it as the product of an individual suffering from persecution and seeking solace in the divine. Most of us have at times entertained thoughts, however fleeting, of how our lives might be better if a certain 'other' or 'others' were no longer around. To project these views (or actions) outward is a symptom of a group that is feeling insecure and in need of comfort. Outright condemnation of those involved only adds fuel to their exclusive fire. Let's also promote our own views by acting out the higher ethic of compassion that all parties involved in this debate need.

Toni Ertl said...

Matt - my understanding is that Obama is a confessing Christian. Regardless of the politics and history involved, it is reasonably safe to say that those who are calling for harm to another Christian are determinedly stepping outside the heart of the Christian faith. I'd agree they are following historical American culture, but Jesus is not American.

There is a deep seated wickedness at work here in your society, where evil is called good and politics is dressed up as faith in God. It is present on both sides of the political divide, and if allowed to grow, will tear your society apart. It is nullifying the good that might otherwise be at work in America and is preventing God from using your country as an ambassador for Him on the world stage. It has stolen your credibility as a Christian nation.

I don't know how the church in the US can come to a place of repentance, but it desperately needs to do so.

Matt said...

Toni, thanks for your comment. I completely agree that Jesus is not American, yet I would argue that it is the contemporary Christian's equation of Jesus and Christianity with contemporary culture that is implicated in this condemnation of the Psalm 109 people.

It simply cannot be borne out by history that Christians killing Christians is not at the heart of the Christian faith. All major developments of Christianity have been accompanied by bloodshed (beginning with Jesus, right?). I often hear the argument that we have just never gotten it right, but this assertion has little functional value beyond the preservation of an ideal despite all evidence to the contrary.

It is precisely because we are so certain that Christianity and America overlap that we can argue against governmental criticizers. I agree that the work of those involved in the Psalm 109 campaign is not helpful in promoting what I see as the ideals of Jesus. If this is the case, why don't we work on embodying those ideals, as individuals and groups, in our actions in the world?

'Christian nation' is a contradiction in terms. Its ability to be held in tandem with a strict doctrine of church-state separation baffles me. Further, though, it enables the individual to criticize dissenters with the understanding that the 'nation' is doing the work in his or her place.

What we need, first and foremost, is to set politics, history, and religion aside and be the kind of change we want to see in the world.

Anonymous said...

"It simply cannot be borne out by history that Christians killing Christians is not at the heart of the Christian faith."

No disrespect intended Matt, but I think you need to filter the actions of men through the bible, rather than the bible through what men do.

I was reading in Micah this morning and really felt the Spirit highlight this conversation as I read Micah 2 1-11 (particularly 5-11 - it's where I started reading) I was not thinking about this at all otherwise. It's about a nation that is enjoying wealth and power, yet wicked men are doing evil things, denying that God sees what is happening. They love to be told 'God is with you' and 'God will make you wealthy' while rejecting those who would dare suggest otherwise.

This is not some crazy westfield baptist church type post, but I can see America firmly headed for more bloodshed if it carries on it's present course.