Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Pharisaic Spirit

Hello, Gentle Readers...

Odd title for a blog: The Pharisaic Spirit. But it is a topic which I feel compelled to address.

First, who were the Pharisees? They had some good things going for them. They believed in the "One God." They believed that humankind had free will. They also believed that God was all-knowing and therefore had foreknowledge of humankinds' decisions. The Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead. Great. These are all teachings that have followed history to this very day.

How did Jesus see them, though?

Matthew 23. The bulk of the writing is the reported words of Jesus about the Pharisees. Let's look at v.2 and 3: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach."


Jesus calls them hypocrites in v.13. He tells them even though they go to great lengths to create one convert, the Pharisees and their converts are children of hell. In v.23 Jesus calls them out for being diligent to pay tithes, but neglecting the more spiritual things: justice, mercy and faith. In v.28 Jesus hits them with the righteous judgment of God: "So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

This last statement, v.28, is the crux of the matter. What is a Pharisaical Spirit? It begins in the heart of a Christian with a thought. In quiet tones it whispers, "You're better than that." You're better than that skid row man who just walked in the back of the church and smells. Oh, you say hello and maybe smile. But you walk away to find your seat; the one you always sit in.

You're better than that one who does not show forth the same gifts. Certainly, you are better, more spiritual, more mature because of it. You're better than that. You smile and say hello, and then make your way to the front of the church so all can see you sing and raise your hands.

You're better than that one who sits in their seat with their head bowed, humbled by the small gift they have to offer. It may be their last dollar, but Jesus views it as the greatest of gifts in the offering plate. What do you do? You despise the offering as lacking faith, shout and make a show of putting your check in the plate, and thank God you're better than "them."

You seek places of leadership, not places of service. You seek recognition and not a quiet closet of prayer. You seek not faith, even though you talk about it all the time. You seek prosperity instead of being poor in spirit and meek in countenance. You find for yourself the head of the table.

And what is God's Word for all of this? Humble yourself before your God and kiss the Son's feet lest He condemn you! We are called to be servants, givers of life and meet the needs of the poor. We are called to be kindhearted, gentle encouragers of those who face adversity!

Galatians 6:1. "My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness..." v.2 "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

There is no room for us to have "better than" attitudes. There is no room for judgment against a brother or sister. Only God is the righteous Judge. Not a single one of us, myself included, should push away one of our own family. A good friend once said to me that Christians are the only army that shoots their own wounded. And I hate to admit that it is so.

I compel you in Christ to look inside and recognize the Pharisaical Spirit and cast it out. (It can be a subtle spirit!) I learned this lesson a couple of years ago and it was heart-wrenching. I suggest to you that our churches are full of Pharisaical Spirits that have caused us to be a laughing stock in the World. Put away this spirit and live, says the Lord. Reach out in love and kindness and restore those who have been wounded. And remember that each of us may be in the position someday to need someone to lift us up, and we would want our friends to care for us, not cast us away.

May God bless these words and carry them to fertile soil.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Real Christians Fight Intolerance

This writing came to me recently on a group in which I participate. I found it quite moving and wished to share it with you. I hope you are blessed by the writer as I was.

Real Christians Fight Intolerance
By Rev. Jim Rigby, AlterNet. Posted July 14, 2006.

Progressive Christians tend to be non-judgemental and to feel that challenging the intolerance of others is itself intolerant. For that reason we often sit by silently when Fundamentalist Christians criticize homosexual persons. We tend to think of this as being open minded.

Not that long ago, it was considered consistent to be a Christian, and yet, hold slaves. The day came when slavery was understood as an affront to the gospel itself. I want to suggest that the day has come when Christians must declare that gay bashing is an attack on the gospel and that real Christians do not participate in any form of discrimination.

Several years ago, I was asked to do the funeral of a gay man who had been beaten to death in a hate crime. At that time, I had never thought deeply about the danger many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face in this culture. That week as I worked on the service, I kept hearing a local "Christian" radio station blaming gay and lesbian people for everything wrong in America. By the end of the week I understood the link between religious hate speech and the funeral I was performing.

I know that critics of homosexuality do not consider themselves to be hateful. They would say they "love the sinner but hate the sin." If the shoe were on the other foot, however, and someone were attacking their families, trying to take their children away, and constantly working to pass legislation to deprive them of basic civil rights, at some point they would understand that "homophobia" is too mild a word for such harassment. "Hatred" is the only proper term.

I was raised in Dallas, Texas and had classmates who were in the Klan. I remember that they did not consider themselves to be attacking other people. They perceived themselves to be defenders of Christian America. Their "religion" consisted of an unrelenting attack on people who were black, Jewish or homosexual. If anyone challenged these views, these Klan members considered themselves under attack and believed that their right to free exercise of religion was being threatened. In other words, they felt that harassing other people was a protected expression of their own religious faith.

In the Gospel, biblical literalists and judgmental people were the negative example in many of the stories. The point of those stories was to teach us the hypocrisy of judgmental religion. When a woman was caught in adultery, the Biblical literalists lined up to protect family values. They pointed out that the Bible literally says that adulterers are to be stoned. If Jesus took the Bible seriously, they claimed, he would have to participate in the mandated biblical punishment of an adulteress.

Instead of following scripture, Jesus tells the woman to get her life together and tells everyone else to drop their stones of judgment. The only way to take this story seriously is to conclude that real Christians don't use the bible to condemn other people.

It violates the teaching of Christ to say that God will get angry if America does not confront homosexuality as a sin. Jesus did not mention homosexuality and it is a lie to say he did. Furthermore, Jesus said "Judge not or you will be judged." These false prophets are saying "Judge or else you will be judged."Jesus was kind and understanding, but he was not silent about those who abused the vulnerable. He called them "wolves in sheep's clothing."

Christians must follow the example of Jesus and confront those vicious predators who use the Christian religion as a camouflage for bullying. We must be as understanding and kind as we can be, but to be tolerant of the oppression of others is not true tolerance.

I believe the time has come to say that genuine followers of Jesus Christ do not participate in discrimination against gay and lesbian persons. Is it intolerant to challenge intolerance? Are we doing the same thing as those we are challenging?

Gay bashing is not just an opinion, it is an assault. Just as the Klan did, religious fundamentalists have a right to believe that homosexuality is a sin. They even have a right to preach a message of hate. But when they harass people in public, it is time for Christians to rise to challenge their intolerance. We have an obligation to protect our neighbors from harassment and slander, especially when it is done in our name.

It is time to say that gay bashing is not only wrong, it is unchristian. If Christianity is grace, then judgment is the ultimate apostasy. If Christianity is love, then cruelty is the ultimate heresy.

The Rev. Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, Tex. He can be reached at