Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not what Jesus Intended

"Brothers, I am not a pastor. I am a healthcare worker. I do HIV/AIDS work in Khayelitsha." At this everyone nodded. Known as an informal settlement to some, a squatter area to others, Khayelitsha is the third-largest township in South Africa. Its shacks made of scavenged building supplies stretch along the nearby airport road as far as the eye can see, providing substandard shelter for immigrants from villages across the eastern half of the country. Around half a million black and colored people had landed there seeking a better life after the fall of the apartheid, but now they suffered from predictable problems associated with migration, poverty, and unemployment: substance abuse, domestic violence, and HIV infection. Many of these pastors were working in Khayelitsha, setting up tents to conduct services there Sunday by Sunday.

The young man continued, "You pastors are ..." He hesitated as he raised one outstretched hand toward heaven. "You are causing such destruction in Khayelitsha. It reaches to the skies. I know you mean well, but you don't realize that you cause devastation in the lives of the people among whom I work."

Eyes widened, pastors shifted in their seats, and the young man continued. "You come to Khayelitsha every Sunday and set up your tents, which is good, but I have listened to your preaching, and you are preoccupied with three things, and three things only. First, you constantly talk about healing. You tell people they can be healed of HIV, and some of them believe you, so they stop taking their medication. When they stop, they develop new resistant strains of the disease that don't respond well to the medications, and they spread these tougher infections to other people, leaving them much sicker than before. Then you're always telling the people they need to be born again, but after they're born again on Sunday, they're still unemployed on Monday. They may be born again, but what good is that if their problems are the same as before? You know as well as I do that if they're unemployed, they're going to be caught in the poverty web of substance abuse, crime and gangs, domestic violence, and HIV. What good is that? All this born-again talk is nonsense ..."

"Then what do you do? After telling these desperately poor people to get born again and healed, then you tell them to tithe. You tell them to 'sow financial seed' into your ministries and they will receive a hundredfold in return. But you're the only ones getting a return on their investment. You could be helping so much. You could be monitoring people to learn employable skills, you could teach them and help them in so many ways, but it's always the same thing: healing, getting born again, and tithing ..."

"You know your problem? You Pentecostals and you evangelicals specialized. You specialized in healing, in getting people born again, in creating financially successful churches -- but you need to go beyond that. It's time to get a better message -- something bigger than just those things. If you stop there, all your preaching is nonsense ..."

"By talking only about individuals being born again, [you] keep Khayelitsha and our whole nation from being born again in a fuller sense of the term."

Everything Must Change, by Brian D. McLaren.

Putting aside the fact that there were several sects of Christianity floating around in the first few centuries, I often wonder if the gospel went astray with the marriage of Rome and Christianity. As soon as the religion became a political force, as soon as it had that political power and clout and became the only official and recognized religion, and as soon as it persecuted the "bad" religions ... can you really still relate to the oppressed? If your political clout means that you will have access to medicines, and food, and education, can you truly relate to those who struggle? The struggle and oppression are no longer a lifestyle for the Christian. How can you be free from oppression or poverty -- something that Jesus promised, if you're not in either camp?

If you no longer cry out for a Savior to be rescued from Rome, but rather get to dictate how Rome operates, then can you still hear the cries of those Rome crushes?


Mystical Seeker said...

I often wonder if the gospel went astray with the marriage of Rome and Christianity

I agree.

I do suspect that things were already going astray by then, or else the church wouldn't have been so eager to make an unholy alliance with Empire. I think the church had already become an exclusionary institutional hierarchy, whereas Jesus himself was inclusive and opposed the prevailing institutional religious hierarchies of his time. So I think that explicitly allying itself with Empire was perhaps the coup de grace, the culmination of a bad trend that was already taking place.

SocietyVs said...

Very timely message by the person that said in Africa - and the same one needs to be said in America more often...because churches think 'works/deeds' is such a bad thing - it's worse to not have them in the right places.

I tend to agree also with you, this alliance with Rome sent this faith into a conundrum of supporting patriotism over and sometimes versus supporting the 'good news'. It's clear in that African case mentioned by Maclaren - but not so clear to those sucking the teet of Western wealth and country.

Rome to me is not the problem - it WAS the problem. We have to deal with that same idea in the now - the right now and what that means. I guess that would be country morality vs. gospel morality and what that means.

I am a Canadian, and the good thing is, we really aren't all that patriotic about faith (like a Canadian faith system or what have you). We are quite free in our sense of religion - not too rigid to the left or the right. But I also know that I follow the teachings of Jesus over and above our common laws and deceny. Which means, for me, the person in Africa's rebuke is meaningful on a larger communal scale.

I guess we need to deal with the religious problems of church and state - and the ties there that restrict the gospel - or even church doctrine that does this - which I see this blog doing.

Mystical Seeker said...

I would say that Canadians live next door to what is essentially the modern Rome. I like what Crossan has to say about Empire, that Empires are all about establishing a hollow "peace" through victory, whereas instead true peace comes through justice. The American Empire is just the most recent in a long history of empires. One of this historical empires executed Jesus--and yet subequent generations of people who said they followed Jesus ended up making an alliance with that same Empire and adopted the ideology of Empire as their own.

Anonymous said...

"and yet subequent generations of people who said they followed Jesus ended up making an alliance with that same Empire and adopted the ideology of Empire as their own." (Mystical)

It's strange but Crossan's views on this do resonate with me concerning my view of country and faith...I like his perspective (which is also yours). I am yet to buy one of his books - but he is next on a list I have (in my head).

It is true Empire tries to define God and control God. True Christianity will not be embraced by the Empire - because in some senses - it's adverse to it's rulership. One just need view the 60's with a slightly open mind to consider what happened there with the many incidences of country trying to rule freedoms - freedoms our faith see's as God given rights (ex: equality and the right to non-violence - no to war!).

Empire is quite in the face of common decencies and this lastest round we all have to live under - Western Rule - even though democratic - is a slave to dollar bill. The regime us pushed by an agenda of money versus an agenda of human compassion. The church does not see it very celarly - they are not even looking in that direction really - and have become businesses themselves. Yet, the agenda Christ pushed was humanity at it's basest form deserves compassion...and the church's focus is mis-guided. They are part empire and part God's kingdom - fulfilling John's vision - lukewarm.

God is love (kingdom of God) and God is not money (kingdom of this world - empire). Anything that deviates towards either pole will pull one towards their true master.

D said...


The greatest co-opting of religion happened at Constantinople with the Nicene Creed, IMHO. And it's continued ever since.

OneSmallStep said...


Agreed. As soon as your faith/religion aligns with the very system responsible for the execution of your leader, I think your faith is going to run into some problems. Jesus' message wasn't suppose to be compatible with a man-made empire.