Your support is helping expand Progressive Christianity. We are one of the largest sources for progressive theological perspectives, as well as our thousands of resources. It is hard to overstate their value – every time you donate it expands our ability to do all those essential offerings even better. DONATE NOW!

Beyond the “Big Lie” – in Politics and in Church

The crisis in politics.  In the wake of the Trump era, with its emphasis on the “Big Lie” and its concomitant emphasis on conspiracy theories fueled by misinformation, it behooves us to be aware of the consequences of this jettisoning of truth-telling and integrity.  At the core of our community life is the common assumption of honesty and telling the truth in our everyday relationships.  In order to carry on with our lives, we assume some level of honesty. 

Traditionally, in our nation, when an election is over, we assume people will accept the results, even if they are not to their own liking.  We do not have a history of fraudulent elections.  However, regrettably, we are now at a time in our history where, in many states, if a democrat wins an election, republicans are going to claim “fraud.”  In other words, to the Republican mind set, only Republicans can legitimately win elections. 

For example, in the 2020 election in the state of Georgia, even though it was the same electorate that voted-in many “down ballot” Republican candidates, as well as voting for Joe Biden, somehow, only the victory of Biden was deemed fraudulent.  The other victorious Republicans on the ballot were all legitimate. 

Race–the elephant in the room.  The elephant in the room in all of this bickering is race, of course.  Increasingly, huge swaths of white people in our country are upset that by the year 2042, the majority of Americans will be non-white.  Sadly, the symbolism of this transition is horrifying to these white folks.  As Isabel Wilkerson points out in her excellent book, Caste, there is a hierarchy of humanity, global in nature.  In this hierarchy, the upper-rung are the descendants from Europe, with English Protestants at the very top.  The ranking continues downward, through Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, down to the very bottom–Africans brought over to build the New World. 

Wilkerson notes how “Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.”  Critical to this understanding of “caste” is the maintenance of your own ranking by making sure those beneath you in the hierarchy are “kept in their place.”  Let’s just tell the truth: for large numbers of the MAGA crowd, black people (brown people, too, but to a lesser extent) are not remaining “kept in their place.”  Indeed, in recent times, a black person was elected President of the United States; and soon–very likely–another black person will be nominated and approved as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Despite all the recent controversy over critical race theory, this is exactly what is needed to help us sort through all the messiness.  Critical race theory helps us come to terms with the blatant systemic racism which underlies virtually every aspect of American society–in education, employment, housing, health care, policing, and the justice system.  And the list goes on and on.  There is no part of American life that is not touched and influenced by race. 

Question: why can’t we have the courage to tell the truth about this?  Why, indeed?  Are we supposed to act like slavery and Jim Crow segregation never happened? 

The crisis in the Church.  We have a similar crisis in the Church where–too often–church leaders (pastors and denominational leaders) are reluctant to tell their congregations what they know about the Bible, God, and Jesus.  The overwhelming majority of pastors in Mainline Christianity know, for example, (a) that the Bible was not written by its Jewish authors to be read literally, (b) that the “God in the sky,” as a conception of God, is inadequate beyond words, and (c) that Jesus was not God (Indeed, he would have been appalled if he thought we viewed him in this light.) and he did not die for our sins.

This latter affirmation of traditional Christianity is the “big lie” that is most hurtful to the modern church.  (For more on this, check out my article on ProgressiveChristianity.org,  Beyond Atonement Theology–subtitle, Letting Go of the Mantra: Jesus died for our sins.

John Shelby Spong wrote critically about this fallacy for years (He has a whole section on this in his last book, Unbelievable).  In the progressive church, we have to say clearly: human beings are not born in sin.  Think for a moment how ridiculous this notion is.  Do any of us really believe an infant baby is a sinner?  Sin has to do with freedom and responsibility as we grow into adulthood.  It is not a condition we are born with.  Infant children do not need to have their sins washed away in Baptism.  Christian Baptism, therefore, needs to be reconsidered and understood more as a blessing of life.

Consider what the idea of Jesus dying for our sins says about God, Jesus, and us!  Any God who would will the unspeakable suffering and death of an innocent Jesus on the cross is a monster God.  Who could believe in such a God?  The God we Christians are called to believe in is a God of deep love and compassion, a God of forgiveness, kindness, and endless caring.  To cast God into the role of requiring Jesus to die for our sins is a dreadful statement about how we think of God. 

In this “dying for our sins” paradigm, Jesus becomes a helpless victim and martyr.  Rather than dying out of faithfulness to God by freely giving his life away so we might be drawn into a higher level of consciousness, Jesus becomes God’s sacrificial victim to pay for the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden.  What a dark and twisted reframing of our Christian story.  Where’s the love?  Where’s the compassion?  Where’s the joy? 

Then, what about us?  We end up being miserable, guilt-ridden human beings.  The common practice of Christianity today deals way too much in sin and guilt.  Check out the hymns, the prayers, and the liturgy in many of our churches!  Sin and guilt are everywhere.  We can’t even sing one of our favorite hymns without being reminded of our guilt: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  Indeed, where does it end? 

What this is about–in our politics and in the Church–is an appeal to truth-telling, honesty, and integrity so our search for meaning as human beings continues to be uplifted and honored. 

Review & Commentary