You Brood of Vipers…
Here’s your fair warning — this is going to be political — painfully political. And no, I’m not going to apologize. I can’t just sit by and be silent. My focus isn’t even on the politicians. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t put much faith in politicians, political parties, or ideology. I find most of them to be worthless and primarily interested in power. All of them are seriously flawed and frankly, I expect them to worship their idols of power, influence, money, and their other gods that they create in their own image. I hope this post is extremely uncomfortable. I hope it is inconvenient. I hope this because it sucked writing this. The focus of this post is on the Christians who read this.
‘Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
I can think of no better passage of Scripture that applies to the filthy state of partisan politics today than this passage spoken by Jesus.
Yesterday I received an e-mail with a link to an article by Jeff Roe on why Republicans would be mistaken to abandon Trump in the mid-term elections. Persona and policy can get mixed up. The GOP should celebrate the policies and not the distraction of the persona — that’s the argument anyway. The essential argument is this — the ends justify the means.
Yesterday as I was driving around I flipped through radio stations. Occasionally I flip over to talk radio to hear what the chattering is about. I can usually handle about five minutes worth before having to turn the station. Yesterday I heard the host in his usual blind allegiance of the president and the actions to cover up his affair with a porn star. The ends justified the means apparently. Don’t you know, it was the porn star in the wrong.
Today I saw Rudy Giuliani’s interview on Sean Hannity’s show. During this interview, Giuliani contradicts statements Trump made about knowing there was a payoff and where the money for the payoff came from. When the ends justify the means, who cares what was said before.
Yesterday was the so-called National Day of Prayer. People gathered and there was an official prayer stated. The prayer is eloquent and hits on some very good points — turning from sin, unity of the body of Christ, turning from evil, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, etc. All things that I can get behind, but the problem is that I’m not sure if all Christians agree with the definitions of these terms.
I’m not sure that I have the same definition of unity as our “Christian” politicians and those that support their policies that do more harm than good, that uphold Social Darwinism (where only the strong survive), and where the end justifies the means is the foundation of life.
I’m not sure I have the same definition of turning from evil as our “Christian” politicians and those that support their actions by making excuses for behaviors that are unacceptable for you or I, but seem to be just fine because it was two consenting adults, don’t you know. Yet these same people threw a hissy fit when another president screwed around with someone in the White House — which was just as terrible. But hey, when you believe that it’s a Christian virtue to lay the foundation of your life at the altar of the ends justify the means, then anything goes, right?
Does turning from evil mean that it’s ok to knowingly lie and defend those lies because the truth is inconvenient and is costly? Does turning from evil mean that you pay hush money for an affair or that you defend someone who does this? Does turning from evil mean that you use your Christian label as a pastor to make excuses for a worldly powerful person. I thought we were called to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus if we claimed the label of Christian.
I’m not sure I have the same understanding of the following line of prayer as our “Christian” politicians and those that support their rhetoric:
We pray for all people of all ethnicities and races in America to come together as one, living in peace and unity together.
I’m not sure how anyone can claim to be a Christian and make excuses for a “Christian” politician who offers support to neo-nazis, labels all Mexicans as rapists and murders, who disparages numerous other groups of people. I’m not twisting words here, go back and see what was actually said. If you feel the need to defend these words that he said, why? Why would you defend such vile language from anyone? Would you defend the same exact words, spoken in the same exact tone if they came from a politician that you didn’t like? Or do the ends justify the means?
I’m not sure I have the same understanding of the following line of prayer as our “Christian” politicians and those that support their policy actions:
We pray for God’s power to unify families, workplaces, communities, and cities in America. By Your Spirit, lead us to forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and unity.
I find it hard to say we are all seeking to unify families and communities when we put up more roadblocks to the homeless and poor. We have families who are living in their vehicles at truck stops. And they are working, but don’t make enough to find adequate housing. Men, women, and children living in their vehicles. And the typical response is something along these lines — well, they should work harder. Well, they should have not made so many bad decisions. Well, they get what they deserve. Well, if they only did this or that. Well, the churches can take care of them.
As a pastor who does ministry with the homeless, I can tell you that churches are not equipped to do this. We don’t have the resources, the training, or the people to do this. We can do small things, but we don’t have unlimited resources. We aren’t trained in how to deal with mental illness. We aren’t taught what to do when we run out of money trying to help someone and they end up back on the street again because all the shelters are full and they have nowhere to turn.
If your response is “well, you should open your own doors then,” or some other snide remark, then you are missing the whole point here.
Jesus never said the ends justify the means. That’s about as far away from what it means to be a Christian as you can get. If that is your belief of what it means to be a Christian — then you and I can’t be unified because we don’t have the same foundation.
Is the defense of something and someone who is indefensible worth it?
Or as Jesus said:
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
You want to get mad at me — go for it. I’ve got thick skin. Frankly, I’m not too happy with you either. And I refuse to shut up because I’m pointing out something uncomfortable and inconvenient. Your comfort is not my concern. Especially when we have people who are homeless, people who haven’t had a meal on a plate since August, people who have families that are living in vehicles, people who are being trafficked on our interstates, people who are treated as second class citizens because of their skin color or orientation. If that’s uncomfortable, then it should be. Being a Christian is not comfortable or convenient. It’s not suppose to be. It’s supposed to smack us in the face and make us so uncomfortable and inconvenienced that we respond to the injustice we see around us.
Frankly, I’m tired of Christians who want the label, but refuse to live out the calling. I’m tired of Christians who value their loyalty to a politician or party (any politician in either party — yes, this applies to Democrats just as much as Republicans) above Jesus. I’m tired of Christians making excuses for “bad trees,” as Jesus called them, all because they believe that the ends justify the means when it comes to policies.
We are called to live out what Jesus commands us to do, not to have blind loyalty to some politician who is temporarily in power.
Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, pick up your tweet and follow Trump. Jesus didn’t say, pick up your sign and follow some other candidate. Jesus didn’t say send in a check and blindly follow your party.
These are difficult times in our nation. The call for unity is something that is needed. However, it is not possible to have unity where there is a strongly held belief that not everyone is equal in value and worth. How can there be unity when there are some who create us vs. them situations, where the poor are seen as an expense, where we have leaders who firmly believe that only the strong should survive, where we value things over people, etc.
But not all is hopeless or lost. Last night I heard something that hit me. I don’t remember the exact words, but here’s what I heard — when everything has been exhausted, there is grace.
Even in this situation, there is grace. It’s the only thing that can carry us forward. We humans can’t fix this ourselves — we are too devoted to our divisions and separations. We have blind worship of our leaders and ideologies. We cling to our sin and brokenness.
Only God can fix this. And it may require something else — something that is deeply associated with being a follower of Christ. It will require death. Death of our egos. Death of our loyalties. Death of our certainties and answers. Death of our attitudes towards one another. Death of excuses. Death of our sin and brokenness.
Only then will we experience the fullness of being a Christ follower — resurrection. New life, renewed life, restored life, transformed life.
This is my hope. This is my prayer. It’s time to start acting out what we claim to believe. It’s time to start actually being Christians, not just taking on the label. If we don’t, we’re no better than the people who Jesus called out as a brood of vipers.
Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on May 4, 2018.