“The Nightmare of Christianity”

Between last night and this morning, I read an excerpt from a new book by Max Blumenthal entitled Republican Gommorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090921/blumenthal/2). While the overall book apparently covers the supposed hijacking of the Republican party by the hypocritical religious right, a term which seems to leave a bad taste in Blumenthal’s mouth, the specific section that I read focused on a man named Matthew Murray. If you don’t recognize the name, you’re not alone; I had all but forgotten it as well. Murray was the man who, just weeks before primary season commenced leading up to the elections of 2008, walked into the Arvada, CO, headquarters of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and opened fire, killing two. Later the same day, he entered New Life Church – where the Rev. Ted Haggard had ministered before being exposed in a drug and sex scandal – and continued his rampage, killing two more.

Blumenthal’s account of Murray reveals a young man who was tormented and marginalized by “Christian” brainwashing, manipulation, and even abuse, whose story, Blumenthal clearly believes, serves as an example of how the morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt “faithful” have hijacked our culture, derailed our progress, and impeded our own free will for well more than long enough.

As a Christian, I found the author’s narrative blatantly prejudiced against my faith, even to the point that I very nearly chose not to finish reading. In hindsight, though, I am grateful for the opportunity to have run across this piece in a random glance at Google News because it reminded me, yet again, of the impact of hypocrisy, inaction, and even tunnel vision in our faith.

To be certain, Murray had experienced the hypocrisy of the so-called faithful first hand. From the blatant, headline-capturing failures of his mother’s favorite pastor, Ted Haggard, who was serving as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals at the time; to his mother herself, who Blumenthal asserts “indelibly scarred” Murray by subjecting him to “a lifetime of psychological abuse.” And the effects of that hypocrisy, real and perceived, were profound. Murray became disillusioned by a religion he considered impossibly strict and inflexible; enraged by a “faith” that he recognized as inconsistent with its idealistic principles of love, purity, and service; and ultimately, obsessed  with the demise of those who embodied it all.

The lesson that we must learn here is clear: it is not enough to call yourself a Christian or even to go to church week in and week and just sit in the pew. We must live the gospel message, pursuing real, practical holiness in our own lives and offering others the way – the redeeming power of Jesus Christ which saved us from our own sin – to do the same. And by the way, remembering that Jesus saved us from our own sin is essential because it prevents us from adopting a holier-than-thou attitude and compels us to minister to others out of love rather than a “you need to do it our way because we said so and we’re right” platform.

Blumenthal also recounts how Murray’s parents and others responded to his downward spiral. Rather than listening to him and helping him work through the problems, they isolated him with home schooling, rejected him by expelling him from programs and activities where he didn’t quite conform, and attempted to reform him by raiding his room and confiscating hundreds of dollars of personal property on multiple occasions. Now, to be fair, as I mentioned earlier, Blumenthal’s prejudice against Christianity is blatant in his narrative, but once again, I think he strikes a note of truth. How often do we believers talk about ministering on Sunday mornings but do absolutely nothing once we exit our pew? And maybe even worse, all too often when we do do something, we’re more concerned about checking it off the list or, worst of all, doing it to bolster or preserve our own reputation rather than helping someone else.

Again, the lesson is critical: we must not let our ministry be reduced to mere words. Indeed, the word “minister” is defined as working to meet others’ needs. Working here implies that we’re not just sitting around. And others’ indicates that we’re far more concerned about working for other people than than even tending our own needs. The church – we believers – must not settle for doing nothing or even doing something with the wrong motives.

And finally, Blumenthal addresses the response to Murray’s horrific actions. According to him, Murray’s mother consulted her pastor and a whacky Christian psychologist to carefully craft an explanation for her son’s deviance. The religious right was quick to demonize him, blaming Satan for all of his problems.Blumenthal even faults the media – CNN’s Rick Sanchez by name – for reducing Murray’s story to a few soundbytes that trivialized the complex dynamics at work and conformed to a conservative worldview. (For the record, I think this is one of the few times in life that I’ve heard CNN criticized for being a pawn of the right!) As diverse as these accusations seem at the surface, though, I think that they all speak to a single problem: we have a tendency to focus on just what we want to see, ignoring perspectives and even revelations that distract from what we think is important or contradict what we understand to be true.

The problem here is classic. It’s actually been around in the church for a thousand years and more. The church rejected the notions of people like Galileo and Copernicus because their ideas might have conflicted with the church’s understanding of the universe. And we continue to sweep under the rug anything and anyone that we believe draws into question the things that we’ve held for so long. But did you know that, at one time, it was the church that supported most science? And as wonderful as all the arguments against Christianity sound, they pale in comparison to the evidence and arguments for the faith? We don’t have to be afraid of questions or ideas that challenge our faith! In fact, we should welcome them as opportunities to explain the truth of Jesus Christ and maybe even explore a little more of that same truth ourselves.

We in the church often write off things that we don’t want to hear or deal with, but the truth is, in doing so, we’ve managed only to write ourselves off in the eyes of the world. The truth is that the only way that we will prove ourselves relevant and our faith true is by addressing these questions head-on, actually engaging in outward-focused ministry, and ensuring that our lives – both public and private – conform to the faith which we espouse.

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