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.”


The Cheap Grace of Donald Trump


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.

MLK Wasn’t a White Idol

This piece was originally posted on MLK Day 2016, here. It’s been lightly updated for 2018.

It’s Martin Luther King Jr Day. A federal holiday, celebrated by all Americans, white and black, conservative and liberal, religious and secular, honoring the great civil rights leader. A day when we focus on the things he said and did.

mlk beyoond vietnam--spiritual deathExcept we have a rather narrow focus when we as a nation remember MLK. We focus on quotes like, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Because quotes like that one make MLK tame and safe and part of the establishment. It makes us think about racism as this thing that’s about overcoming a bad reaction to dark skin. It makes the civil rights movement an ascethic dispute that we won because no one hates black people for being black anymore, right?

But here’s the thing: Martin Luther King Jr was not a cuddly teddy bear.

MLK didn’t live to make white America feel better about itself by giving them a black person they could point to as that friend that makes them not-racist.

MLK didn’t act in non-political, safe, widely-popular ways. He didn’t do and say things that the white, conservative-and-liberal, majority establishment embraced. He didn’t make us feel self-righteous and vindicated.

MLK was a prophet in the truest sense, in that he came to challenge us and make us uncomfortable and show us our ever-present racist and bigoted ways.

Most importantly, MLK didn’t come for white America. MLK came from and for black America, and our posthumous adoption of MLK as a balm to ease our own guilt and sin is a terrible (but perfectly representative) example of the white tendency to culturally appropriate the things we like about minority culture, while ignoring the deeper meanings and values.

During his life, MLK fought for the equal rights of black America, not just in places like Birmingham and Selma and Memphis, but in Detroit and Washington DC and Chicago. All of white America was convicted, not just southern KKK members.

And he didn’t challenge white supremacy by asking us to be nice. He challenged it by identifying and calling out the inherent, systemic racism present in our governing structures and civil society. He called out the white privilege of all people, that we walk around with everyday, in all that we do. He not only identified the structural racism, he worked to ease it’s effects by supporting anti-poverty measures and equality legislation like the Voting Rights Act. He was targeted not just by the KKK and other racists, but by the FBI and our very own political leaders.

He understood that the liberation of his people was bound up with the liberation of all oppressed people, including poor working class whites and peasant villagers in Vietnam. That is why, during the last years of his life, he also spoke out strongly against the war in Vietnam and in support of anti-war efforts. It’s why his last work was the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort to raise living standards for all Americans by fighting for a higher minimum wage and the rights of workers to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. When MLK was shot and killed in Memphis, he was there to stand in solidarity with unionized sanitation workers who were on strike for higher wages and better benefits.

Martin Luther King Jr worked for social justice and equality and the rights of all people to live and work and vote in a free society. And specifically, he worked to give black America the means to free itself from the shackles of white America. That fight is not over. If he were alive today, there is no doubt MLK would be in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore and Oakland, standing in support of Black Lives Matter. There is no doubt he would be working against the continued austerity and attempts by elected officials to dismantle our safety net and measures he supported during his life like the Voting Rights Act and Medicaid. There is no doubt he would fight against income inequality and for universal health care. There is no doubt he would be marching against white supremacists in Charlottesville, and calling out the blatant racism and white nationalism being buoyed by our president. There is no doubt he would join the calls to remove the Confederate flag from government buildings, and for stricter gun control. There is no doubt he, too, would be kneeling for the national anthem, and supporting Colin Kaepernick. There is no doubt he would be standing against hate and bigotry towards our Muslim brothers and sisters, and the call for more war overseas. He would not, in short, be a middle class white totem of good feelings and confirmation of our biases. He would still be the object of scorn and hate he was for most of white America when he was alive.

Today, let’s remember Martin Luther King Jr, but more importantly, lets feel convicted by his words and his actions, and know, his fight is on going and we, white America, we are part of what he was fighting against. That’s the first step to supporting his fight. MLK is not our security blanket, or the symbol of our progress. He was, and is, our accuser, and only be recognizing that, can we begin to move towards the America he envisioned.