And He Healed Them All

In the news today:

Health care workers who want to refuse to treat patients because of religious or moral beliefs will have a new defender in the Trump administration.

This, of course, is straight out of the religious right’s anti-LGBT playbook, right along with protecting bakers and photographers and other businesses who want to discriminate. This case, however, stands out for me, because of the direct Biblical implications.

Jesus, among many other things, was a healer. Throughout the Gospels, he heals numerous people, of a variety of ailments: blindness, leprosy, a withered hand, bleeding, even death. He heals people, by touch, who were deemed unclean and unacceptable by the culture of the time. Where other healers wouldn’t go, Jesus went. He loved the unlovable, not in word, but in deed.

thehealericonMost importantly, Jesus never refused to heal anyone.

To take just one example, flip to Matthew 9:20-22. In this story, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus heals a woman who had “been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years,” via her touching his cloak. By Levitical law, she is unclean, and he is made unclean at her touch. In the time of Jesus, this would have been unthinkable and dangerous. Being unclean was the worst thing a Jew could be, according to the Law of Moses, and the rituals required to become clean again, not to mention the massive inconvenience to a person’s life in the meantime, were onerous.

Yet, Jesus never hesitated to heal her. He did not get angry at the women, call her unclean, worry about his own cleanliness, and by extension, his own soul or salvation under the law. Rather, he simply healed, and by healing, loved unconditionally. In fact, he went so far as to tell the woman that her faith had healed her. That is, the courage and trust that she showed in coming to him, was greatly rewarded.

Those who are sick today, who might be considered unclean or unwanted, because of their gender identity or who they love, also come to health care providers in trust, and with courage, believing they, too, are worthy of their humanity, and thus of being made well and whole. I would hope that any health care provider, and especially those who heal under the name of “Christian,” would emulate the unconditional nature of Jesus, and heal all in need. No conditions, no consequences, no caveats.

This attempt by the Trump administration, and the politicized religious right, to divide and dehumanize, to make “us and them” relevant categories again, to try to institute the same kind of blind dogmatism and legalism that Jesus stood so forcefully against, can not be allowed to take hold. If someone in need comes into their operating room, someone the preacher and the politician on their cable news show told them is “untouchable,” and they go looking for a verse of Scripture for guidance, I hope the only one they find is Matthew 15:30:

“Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others, and laid them at his feet,

and he healed them all.”

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Honest to God

You may have noticed a change around here.

I’ve renamed and rebranded. It’s probably about time. The book theme, and my name, have led this blog for the better part of three years now. I’m proud of that look, one I built myself. But, it was time for a change.

As I’ve gotten further into my seminary career, I’ve embraced process theology as my primary field of work. That’s been reflected in my writing here. I plan to write more about process theology in the near future, for those unfamiliar, and to work out my own ideas. Of course, politics and culture will still be the primary emphasis here; some of the work I plan to do academically is at the intersection of process and political theologies.

The name change of the blog reflects my shift in emphasis. Honest to God is the title of one of the most influential books I’ve read, by John A. T. Robinson. While not a process theologian, Robinson was my entry point into Open and Relational Theism, the category under which we find process thought. The name mirrors the journey that has led me to process, a field of thought on the edges of Christian theology: I am trying to be honest about the God I experience and attempt to understand. I am trying to be honest about my journey. I am looking for God, and this is where I’ve come to: a God who is nearby, who is no omnipotent, not omniscient, not arbitrary and tyrannical and unfeeling.

This honesty means casting off the old theistic notions of God. It can be a painful process, but also a liberating one. As Robinson writes,

“I also have a great deal of sympathy also with those who call themselves atheists. For the God they are tilting against, the God they honestly feel they cannot believe in, is so often an image of God instead of God, a way of conceiving him which has become an idol. Paul had the perception to see that behind the idols of the Athenians there was an unknown, an unacknowledged God, whom dimly they sensed and felt after. And to help men through to the conviction about ultimate Reality that along finally matter we may have to discard every image of God – whether of the ‘one above’, the one ‘out there’, or any other. And this conviction, according to the Christian gospel, is that

‘there is nothing in death or life, …in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths – nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lords.’ (Rom 8:38, NEB)

That I believe with all my being, and that is what at heart it means to be a Christian. As for the rest, as for the images of God, whether metal or mental, I am prepared to be an agnostic with the agnostic, even an atheist with the atheists.” (Robinson, 126-127)

Amen to that. Enjoy the new look.

Grace and peace,

Justin

#Honest2God

The Cheap Grace of Donald Trump

 

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Trump and his court evangelicals

One of the Christian right’s favorite ways to excuse Donald Trump’s moral failings as a human being is to say that “God uses imperfect people.” You can read examples here, and here, and here. 

And I get it! God does use broken and imperfect people! I truly believe this; as a process thinker, I think God, in conjunction with each and every one of us, uses every moment of our lives – good, bad and in between – to create new possibilities and realities all the time.

But here’s the thing. I also believe that we are imbued with a sense of right and wrong. We have notions of human dignity and worth, and love for others, embedded within us, as part of the Imago Dei we all carry.

Because of these carried notions, and because humans are amazing, dynamic beings, we have the ability to react to situations, to learn, and the change. In fact, we have a divine mandate to do so. We must learn from our mistakes and shortcomings; it’s bred into our make-up. Human beings would have died out long ago if we didn’t learn and adapt.

In the Christian realm, the leeway we give ourselves and one another to learn and grow and have second chances is called grace. What sets Christianity apart is that grace is unearned, that we get it just because we are.

But, as St. Paul explained, just because grace is unearned doesn’t mean it is free of responsibility. Richard Beck writes, “Grace has been given to us...Therefore. And what follows Paul’s Therefore is a list of obligations and expectations. Like his contemporaries, Paul assumes that grace implies a return. Grace obligates us. Gifts–even God’s gifts–have strings attached.”

Grace without an imperative to change is Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

God may use broken people, but when God does, it is incumbent on us to acknowledge the grace that that is, and do better next time to not keep perpetuating our own brokenness. The excusing of Donald Trumps’s moral failings without requiring him to show any progress is cheap grace. It is an affront to the God who has shown us grace, but who also expects us to react to that grace, not just keep on what we were doing. The brand of American Christianity that keeps excusing Trump is a brand of Christianity built on a foundation of cheap grace; this foundation is like Jesus’ house built on sand.

I’m not saying Donald Trump can never make mistakes. Obviously, we all do and will. But if he keeps refusing to acknowledge those mistakes or make any changes, then it is the Christian duty of his court evangelicals to call him on it. And if they won’t do it, they are abdicating their Christian responsibility, and choosing power over Christ.