Christianity is fundamentally imperialistic. Its aim is to convert and control people with its assumed biblically revealed one true savior of the world. The tip of its evangelizing iceberg is seen in the folly of Hobby Lobby.
Following its recent Supreme Court victory– that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide contraceptive coverage for women employees violated its religious freedom– a New York Times story on Hobby Lobby’s “new project” contains more of its mission to gain power over people– which motivates much of Christianity. The evangelical family-owned craft store chain has purchased a huge, eight-story building in Washington, near the National Mall, to house a Bible museum. Why? Steve Green, Hobby Lobby president is quoted as having “referred to the Bible as ‘a reliable historical document,’” and intends to “’reintroduce this book to this nation.’” (“Family Behind Hobby Lobby Has New Project: Bible Museum,” By Alan Rappeport, July 17, 2014)
Why does The Bible need to be reintroduced to America? Steve Green answers: “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught.” The danger? “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it,” he continued. “If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.” (Ibid)
Steve Green is correct. But not in the way he thinks. Dangerous indeed is “ignorance of this book.” The danger is failing to see how people with power use “this book” to justify imposing their beliefs on others, dehumanizing and robbing them of their rights, oppressing and killing them and stealing their resources and land. It is about power– ordained and licensed by “what God has taught” in The Bible.
The imperialism underneath Christianity’s evangelizing iceberg surfaced right after The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s biblically-based, “be ye fruitful and multiply,” anti-contraceptive desire to control women’s bodies. Fourteen Christian leaders immediately sent a letter to The White House, requesting that their institutions be exempt, on religious freedom grounds, from a forthcoming presidential ruling that would prohibit groups, receiving federal funds, from discriminating against LGBT persons in hiring. To these and many other Bible-believing Christian leaders, religious freedom means the “freedom” not to hire a gay, lesbian or transgender person and, when it is known, the right to fire a same-sex marriage partner—because homosexuality is “an abomination,” which is “what God has taught” in The Bible. Conventional Christian leaders want LGBTQ persons to stay in the closet, i.e., remain invisible, i.e., to not even exist.
What would happen if such Christians had the power to impose all of their biblical beliefs on society? If various Christian denominations could do that? If other religions could subject everyone to their will? If white persons were in complete control? ? If “pioneers” and “settlers”– and “capitalists”– could have their way with others?
The literal belief in “this book” provides the license to dominate — given by an infallible god who favors his own. It is just a matter of obtaining the legal—and military—power to carry out “what God has taught” his chosen people. Beware of this “God.” If he thinks like a man, and talks like a man, and acts like a culturally-conditioned man, then, he is a man—dressed in “spirituality.”
There certainly “are lessons from the past that we can learn,” especially “the dangers of ignorance of this book. . . . If we don’t know it,” as Steve Green said, “our future is going to be very scary”—and like our past and present– very scarred.
Native Americans can tell us “lessons” from the past” about the imperialistic “dangers” contained in “this book.” America’s “Founding Fathers” were guided by what “God has taught” in The Bible. Jesus reportedly told his followers, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16) Believing in a godly “manifest destiny, the “Founding Fathers” and their descendants expanded westward to the Pacific Ocean, using their divine “light” to justify turning the indigenous occupants of the land into terrorist “savages” and casting them into outer darkness.
To this day, U.S. presidents take pride in equating America with that biblical “city built on a hill.” From “manifest destiny” to “American exceptionalism”—with “lessons” now for the whole world of “what God has taught.”
Black persons can testify to the “lessons” regarding “the dangers of ignorance of this book.” Like, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6: 5, 6) Like loving your “master” with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. “What God has taught” in “this book” was used by our white forefathers to justify enslaving millions of black persons.
Our country was not founded on Biblical beliefs, but on the bones of native Americans and the backs of black persons. And many black descendants still live in the shadows of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of political, economic, legal and religious power. With one latest victim repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” before apparently dying from a policeman’s chokehold. He gave voice to the smothering effect of life at the bottom of America’s white-controlled hierarchy.
Women can share “lessons” about patriarchy to which “this book” has subjected them. Such as the New Testament writings of Paul the Apostle, who taught, “Women should be silent in the churches.” (I Corinthians 14: 34-36), and also “subject . . . in everything to your husbands . . . just as the church is subject to Christ.” (Ephesians 5: 22-24).
Perhaps Paul was influenced by the fact that Jesus’ twelve disciples were all men. Or, that Adam and Eve were real people. With Eve tempting Adam to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Violating the commandment of a jealous god, who feared they would become wise like him. A god so offended by their disobedience that he condemned human nature as sinful thereafter, with the punishment of all women being that their husbands “shall rule over” them. (Genesis 3) Thanks to Paul, whether it is contraception or confirmation as a clergy person, or other male-dominated right or opportunity, “what God has taught” is that women take a back seat to men. From Eve’s time on, a primary challenge of women involves cutting the um-biblical-cord of patriarchy.
Jewish people know the “dangers of ignorance of what God has taught.” “This book” blames “the chief priest and the elders” for the crucifixion of Jesus. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Pilate, the all powerful Roman governor, found no evil in Jesus, but supposedly gave in to the Jewish leaders’ repeated cries, “Let him be crucified!” With that, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Then, supposedly, the Jewish “people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’” (27: 15-23) Like a self-imposed death sentence for the ages. It should be obvious that these self-incriminating words were written much later, by a Christian seeking favor and power under Rome’s rule and justifying the ongoing persecution of Jews. From Jesus’ crucifixion on, these assumed New Testament words of Jewish guilt have given license to Christians to commit terrible crimes against Jewish people.
Obtaining power has a way of leading people to forget their own history of oppression—or of using it to justify oppressing another group. Today, Jewish people are doing to the Palestinian people what was done to them. They have robbed Palestinians of their land to create the state of Israel, and continue to grab land in the West Bank with their illegal settlements. They have turned the Gaza Strip into the world’s largest, brutalizing, “open-air prison,” squeezing the life out of 1.8 million Palestinians with a blockade that controls everyone’s movement and their access to water, electricity, fuel, medical supplies and care, and communications. And when Gaza’s democratically-elected government, Hamas fights back against such warring aggression with limited rockets and tunnels, Israel’s overwhelming land, sea and air power counters with the indiscriminate, lopsided slaughter of men, women and children in their homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, UN shelters and other places to which they have fled.
Israel’s current massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is called “Operation Protective Edge.” Its public relations campaign to cover up this present war crime included dropping flyers that warned Gaza’s Palestinians of the impending ground invasion’s barrage of bombings and shelling, and telling them to flee. But the blockaded Palestinians had no place to run or hide.
The tried and true rationalization for “Operation Protective Edge,” repeated by our own president, is that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Here is the blurring of cause and effect—reinforced by America’s mainstream media, which portrays the conflict as Hamas firing rockets and Israel retaliating to defend itself. Never mind the context. The other day, former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya gave expression to the Palestinian people’s reality and current struggle: “We’ll never go back to the slow death.” (“Israel Is Facing Difficult Choice in Gaza Conflict, By Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times, July 21, 2014)
Where does Israel get the authority to deny Palestinians their rights? From “what God has taught.”– backed, of course, by the U.S. government. The Bible teaches that the Jews are “God’s” chosen people, that he delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and led them to a promised land “flowing with milk and honey.” There happened to be people on the land: “Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.” (Exodus 3: 7, 8) They did not matter. The Bible tells us that “the Lord God” commanded the Israelites with, “I will hand over to you the inhabitants of the land, and you shall drive them out before you. . . . You must utterly destroy them.” Genocide, justified by, “The Lord God has chosen you out of all the people on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Exodus 23: 31; Deuteronomy 7: 1-6)
It is not as if Jews lived on the land since the beginning of time. Their entitlement to the land came from “what God has taught”—at the expense of the Canaanites and others. Liberation theologian, author and Biblical scholar Fr. Michael Prior, C.M., Ph.D., now deceased, provided a humanizing teaching of his own here, in saying, “It is high time that biblical scholars, church people, and Western intellectuals read the biblical narratives of the promised land ‘with the eyes of the Canaanites.” (“Confronting the Bible’s Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine,” in Burning Issues: Understanding and Misunderstanding The Middle East: A 40-Year Chronicle, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding, 2007)
“What God has taught” led regular-Bible-reading president, George W. Bush to launch a falsely-based pre-emptive war of choice against Iraq. Prayerfully, he started a “global war on terrorism,” repeatedly saying, “We don’t claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them.” (“How a War Became a Crusade, By Jack Lears, The New York Times, March 11, 2003) Bush followed “:Providence’s leading, saying, “I believe everybody in the Middle East desires to live in freedom,” that “mothers and fathers want to raise their children in a free and peaceful world,” and “I believe all these things, because freedom is not America’s gift to the world, freedom is almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world.” (“George W. Bush on Faith,” beliefnet.com)
“What God has taught” former President Bush led America to commit horrible war crimes against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than “mothers and fathers . . . rais[ing] their children in a free and peaceful world,” their lives and lands are being torn apart. Tragically, the war crimes committed by a Bible-reading Bush was supported by a majority of white evangelical Christians, a number if whose leaders saw the war against Iraq as an opportunity to convert Muslims to Christianity—in keeping with an assumed resurrected Jesus commanding his followers: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28: 16-20) Other Christian groups initially protested America’s bi-partisan government’s war crime against Iraq, but the protest of some was measured, and in time the voices of many faded away.
Certain “revelations” of “what God has taught” violate the humanness everyone shares. The story of a lesbian police chief in Latta, South Carolina provides a helpful lesson here. Mayor Earl Bullard fired Police Chief Crystal Moore when he found out that she was a lesbian and had a partner. The Mayor is quoted: “I’d much rather have somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children, because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be.” (“S. C. town rallies for gay police chief after firing,” By Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, July 14, 2014)
Residents came to the aid of Police Chief Moore, who had 20-years of experience in law enforcement. People recalled Moore’s “civic spirit” as a high school student, who served as a police dispatcher and helped to clear debris when Hurricane Hugo struck. And who, as a police chief, checked to make sure many residents were safe during a crippling ice storm. (Ibid)
Town resident Dottie Waters is quoted as putting Police Chief Crystal Moore’s identity in human perspective: “That’s Crystal. All she does is help people. I don’t get why he fired her. . . . She was the same great Crystal yesterday as she is today, and she’ll be the same person tomorrow.” The Town Council stripped the mayor of some of his power, and rehired Moore. And when she “returned to work June 30, people honked their car horns and gave her a thumbs up as she drove around in her police SUV.” (Ibid)
The challenge is to experience the individuality and worth of all other human beings, and, when necessary, use our power to join in protecting or restoring their inherent right to life. It is about reading The Bible “with the eyes of the Canaanites.”
And The Bible itself provides inspiration for such universal humanness. Like the exhortation in Leviticus 19: 33, 34: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The words also of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O Mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (6: 8) And the teachings of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.“ (Matthew 5: 9) And the great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12: 31)– with no proselytizing strings attached. It is about listening to “what God has said” with the discernment of the universally revered Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7: 12)
Rev.William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells life,” states the review in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling. The publication of his new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away), is planned for this fall. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.