The way many Christians quote The Bible you would think it is the Word of God. And that is the imperialistic rub. Such Christians believe The Bible contains the infallible revelation of Divine truth. They then seek to impose that truth – which is assumed to be a projection of their aspirations and authority needs — on everyone else. Here is biblically inspired and legitimized imperialism, which leads people to become evangelistic, not equalitarian; predatory, not participatory; dominating, not liberating; paternalistic, not democratic; incompatible, not reconcilable. The aim is to gain power over people, not to empower them. What is actually authoritarian is professed to be authoritative, as “it’s in The Bible,” which believers have been taught is absolutely true and beyond question. It is about power and obedience, not authenticity and empathy.
Biblically-bound evangelistic Christians justify the imperialistic nature of their faith by pointing to Jesus’ supposed “Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 16-20: a reportedly resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Never mind that the Trinity was not formulated until some three centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion. (See “Trinity,”www.religiousfacts.com) The inerrancy of 20/20 theological hindsight.
Never mind also that, after Christians suffered severe persecution by Rome, Christianity became recognized as the religion of the Roman Empire. And in the wake of Rome’s imperialistic military conquests, Christians converted and baptized those conquered “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They also used their political power as a weapon to outlaw and purge all “competing religions.” (See ‘THE CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION OF PAGANISM, ’www.worldfuturefund.org) .
The Jews suffered a similar fate as the pagans. As James Everett Seaver writes in “The Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire (300-428), ” To the student of the fourth century, the whole of the Bible was written under the compulsion of divine inspiration. This idea,” he continued, “was very harmful to the Jews when all the promises in the Bible were applied to the Christians, and all the curses and threats therein were leveled at the Jews. A terrible falsification took place.” (University of Kansas Publications, Copyright 1952, vlib.ieu.it/carrie/texts)
The worst falsification is the author of Matthew’s Gospel blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. When Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, the Jews were reported to clamor, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, the Roman ruler of the oppressed Jews, who controlled whether Jesus lived or died, supposedly washed his hands of the matter, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s Blood. It is your responsibility.” The Gospel writer then puts these words in the mouths of the politically powerless Jews, setting them up for their own persecution as “Christ killers” down through the ages: “All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children.’” (Matthew 27: 24-26)
Why would any subject people pronounce such a death sentence on themselves? And on their own children? Unless the Gospel writer wanted to take Rome off the hook for Jesus’ crucifixion, blame the Jews to justify their oppression, and glorify and advance Christianity in the Roman world. Anti-Semitism legitimized by the belief that The Bible is the literally true Word of God.
Biblically legitimized imperialism is not just about victims in the past. A glaring current example is “Christ changed my heart”- professing President George W. Bush’s falsely based, criminal invasion of Iraq. His administration’s horribly destructive illegal war was aided and abetted by a reported “87% of all white evangelical Christians in the United States,” whose leaders “claim that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” By Charles Marsh, The New York Times, Jan. 20. 2006) It is about baptizing victims of American imperialism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and not really about “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9)
Biblically legitimized imperialism is a globalized authoritarian dynamic that extends beyond rejecting Muslims and Jews. Other Christians, evenin the same denomination, who don’t toe The Bible’s literalistic line are also to be punished and marginalized. A striking example is The United Methodist Church’s recently ended special General Conference, billed as dealing with “human sexuality,” but actually was about the denomination’s decades-long hang-ups about homosexuality.
Some 864 United Methodist delegates of the global 12 million-member denomination gathered at a special General Conference last month to consider removing the following decades-long anti-homosexual positions from their Book of Discipline: that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be . . . ordained . . . in the United Methodist Church,” and that ministers are prohibited from performing, and their churches hosting, same-sex marriages. Not only were these discriminatory positions against LGBTQIA persons not removed, a small majority of the delegates, 438 to 384, approved a “Traditional Plan” that calls for stricter enforcement of and stiffer penalties for violating The Discipline’s anti-homosexual declarations.
The Traditional Plan stresses “enhanced accountability.” A chief architect, Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, writes that the Traditional Plan broadens the “definition of ‘self-avowed homosexual’ to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or union or who publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing homosexuals.” Other examples of the Traditional Plan’s “enhanced accountability”: it “explicitly prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops, ]and] ordaining or commissioning clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” It contains a loyalty oath that “requires all persons nominated to serve on the annual conference board of ordained ministry to certify that they will uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline’s standards for ordained clergy.” And it “establishes a minimum penalty for clergy convicted of performing a same-sex wedding [which is] a one year suspension (first offense) and loss of credentials (second offense).” (“What General Conference Accomplished,” Good News Magazine, Feb. 26, 2019)
Speaking from personal experience, I assume that many United Methodist ministers and their families have debts and live from paycheck to paycheck, which reveals just how punitive the so-called “Traditionalists” are. In 1973, at age 46, when I was forcibly retired, officially for one year, after performing a gay marriage at Boston’s Old West Church, I was soon forced to file for bankruptcy. I walked! I then brought a lawsuit that created a new case law which protects all clergy’s right of privacy against any maliciously prying “superiors in office.” (See William E. Alberts vs. Donald T., Devine & Others, 395 Mass, 59)
Such cruel punishment of ministers who perform same-sex marriages and the blatant rejection of LGBTQIA persons are imperialistic. And United Methodists who support such hatefulness use The Bibleas their authority — just like the Christians in their persecution of the Jews and the white evangelicals’ in jumping on President Bush’s Iraq war wagon to convert Muslims to their Christ. Here the“Good Book” serves to justify the imperialistic need of many United Methodists to not only gain power, but to also punish and reject non-biblically-conforming LGBTQIA persons, along with those Methodists who unconditionally affirm and welcome them. The United Methodist Church’s motto is “Open Hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” But imperialistically-inclined Methodists find in The Bible justification for closing their hearts and minds and doors to those branded as “incompatible”– and to those who fully embrace and enable them.
At the General Conference, spokespersons for the Traditional Plan rooted their appeals in “scriptural authority,” “biblical truth,” “biblical Christianity,” “The Bible is the final word.” They were reported as saying that “loosening the faith’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy defied the word of God.” Rev. Keith Boyette, a key leader of the evangelistically-oriented Wesley Covenant Association, is quoted as saying that “LGBT members are welcome into the church – up to a point.” Not really, as Boyette added, “ ‘I believe that those who engage in the practice of homosexuality are not living a life that pleases God.’” (“Methodist Church votes to ban gay clergy and same sex marriage, evoking debate among members,” By Dean Reynolds, CBS News,Feb. 27, 2019) Boyette knows what “pleases God” because The Bible tells him so.
The Bible also tells Pastor emeritus Rev. Randy Mickler so. He is reported to have “wanted a traditional plan ‘with teeth.’” After the Traditional Plan was approved, he said, “‘I’m not surprised that the majority of United Methodists believe in the authority of Scripture, and that’s what this victory is about.’“ (“United Methodist in Georgia try to figure out what’s next,” By Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Feb. 26,2019)
The hypocritical rationalizations of biblically-bound United Methodists are exemplified by Texan Conference Bishop Scott Jones. He issued a statement declaring that the victorious vote for the Traditional Plan “resolves a long-standing debate about how the church ‘can best accomplish our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’ ” He said, “This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972.” He then said, with a “straight” face, “We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons into our churches and affirm their sacred worth.” (“2019 General Conference passes Traditional Plan,” By Kathy L. Gilbert, Heather Hahn and Joey Butler, United Methodist News Service, Feb. 26, 2018)
Bishop Jones unconsciously reveals the imperialism inherent in United Methodism’s mission statement of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Such a globalized mission statement, with its appeal to the absolute authority of The Bible — and thus to the authority of its Christian missionaries — helped to guide the colonization of Africa. At the General Conference, the imperialism in such a mission statement came back to bite The United Methodist Church. Almost 43% of the delegates are from overseas, the vast majority from Africa. (See “Good News from United Methodist General Conference,” By Mark Tooley, luicyecumenism,com, Feb. 24, 2019) Most of these delegates joined the conservative United States delegates, and together they formed a small majority, and defeated the efforts of progressive American delegates, a reported “nearly two-thirds of” whom “say homosexuality should be accepted.” (“ ‘We Are Not Going Anywhere’: Progressive Methodists Vow to Fight Ban on Gay Clergy,” By Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times, Mar. 1, 2019)
The traditional United Methodists repeatedly quote The Bible to justify their rejection of same-sex marriage and homosexuals and those progressive Methodist ministers who perform such weddings. A favorite passage of the traditionalists is Jesus’ recorded statement in Mark’s Gospel: “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (10: 6-8)
These conservative Christians are quite selective in the verses of Scripture they cite to litigate so-called “human sexuality,” which is actually a cover for rejecting LGBTQIA Methodists. They rarely cite the next words of Jesus, which would get too close to home for a significant number of those who are divorced. Jesus went on: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 11-12)
Selective indeed! The General Conference delegates also steered far clear of Jesus’s teaching about heterosexual adultery, namely, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body,” he continued, “than to have your whole body thrown into hell.”(Matthew 5: 27-29) And how many United Methodists titillate themselves with pornographic films and magazines – and with sexually tinged jokes? If the delegates had taken to heart Jesus’ saying about “look[ing] at a woman lustfully,” there obviously would have been far fewer male delegates at that General Conference – and fewer females delegates as well.
One could go on citing words attributed to Jesus that would be dismissed as out of touch with reality if uttered by another human being. Like his statement, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21: 22) As a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, I witnessed a sister of a just deceased woman go to her bedside and pray, “Almighty God make her well. That will be a great testimony to you for all patients and doctors and nurses to see.” (Alberts, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “Hug her,” pages 18-20) The sister’s unanswered prayer made her pain greater, possibility intensified by blaming herself for not having enough faith. How often have the prayers of sincere Christian believers gone unanswered, leaving them even more depressed, with feelings of guilt that their faith has not measured up?
It is not just Jesus. Paul the Apostle, Christianity’s first great missionary, taught, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” (Ephesians 5: 22, 23) And Paul applied his patriarchal conditioning to women, who “are to remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (1 Corinthians 24: 34)
A “grieving” Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, head of Methodism’s division of Church and Society, exposes the traditionalists’ selective avoidance of Bible verses that embrace inclusivity. In an email, she writes, “The General Conference chose to further deepen the divide in The United Methodist Church . . . in clear violation of the mandate given to us in 1 Corinthians 12. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you!’” And yet, that’s exactly what happened.’” (“Church and Society Committed to Inclusion and Justice,” The United Methodist Church, Feb. 26, 2019)
Dr. Crowe then made this prophetic statement:
We will seek justice for LGBTQIA migrants. We will seek to end conversion therapy, the dangerous and discredited idea that you can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We will work to ensure that no one is fired from their job or prevented from access to housing because they are LGBTQ. We will work to end hate crimes against LGBTQIA people, especially LGBTQIA people of color. We will seek a climate in which LGBTQIA children are protected and enabled to live full and flourishing lives. (Ibid)
This reality check is not to minimize the power of prayer and the inspiration countless people find in The Bible– and in Jesus’ teachings and example – and in Paul’s insightful and inspiring expression of love in 1 Corinthians 13. The intent is to ground them in reality and in the humanness and worth everyone shares. Such a reality check was needed at Methodism’s recent General Conference.
Another reality is that most anti-homosexual moralizing Christian traditionalists had no say in their own heterosexual development and orientation. While the American Psychological Association states that “there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation . . . most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” (“Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality: What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?” American Psychological Association) Sadly, biblically-bound Christian traditionalists are required to dumb down their god, which demands that they be anti-introspective.
Christian missionary-inspired imperialism came home to roost at the General Conference. A delegate from Mozambique, Horatio Vilanculo was quoted as saying “that the Traditional Plan ‘keeps the church in the way of God’ and ‘is what God wants in the church in this world.’” (“United Methodists Vote to Keep Traditional Marriage Stance,” By Jeremy Steele, Christianity Today, Feb. 26, 2019) In fact, as reported, “Several members from African nations had stood on Tuesday to support the ‘Traditional’ plan, saying it accords with scripture teaching on sexuality.” Rev. Jerry Kulah, from Liberia, is quoted: “Today,’ he said, “the church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds because we are committed to biblical Christianity.” He then added, “You cannot be performing Christianity differently in America and Africa and suggest that we are one church.” (“Methodists strengthen stance against gay marriage and openly LGBT clergy,” By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor, CNN, Feb. 26, 2019) Here, sadly, biblical authority transcends the varieties of human authenticity.
Never mind “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” United Methodists needs to transform themselves by fully embracing the diversity in their own midst. They will then be better prepared to live in peace with Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, and other Christians, and those their government leaders brand as “incompatible” — rather than try to violate their authenticity by seeking to “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not make your neighbor like yourself. For people of faith, it should be about the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity – and the commonality of humanity.