It. Is. Heresy.

Amen! It Is So!

Last week on Crackers and Grape Juice Norman Wirzba was our guest. He is an eco-theologian (although argues he’s “just a dude”). You can listen to our conversation here.

Two-thirds of the way through that episode we talked about the practice of saying grace at a meal. In our house it goes one of two ways: Camden either sings a grace he learned in school or we go through the day, noting what we are thankful for as a family. At the end, Camden ends the prayer with an echoing ‘Amen!’

Amen!

It is so!

In our conversation with Norman, we focused on what it means when we say ‘Amen!’ at to begin a meal. Thanking God for factory-farming, a migrant worker system that resembles pre-civil war plantation practices, and a food system that is not only harming the earth but at the same time harming those who eat many of the processed foods being sold doesn’t seem like something most of us would do. Proclaiming ‘it is so’, to food systems where animals are abused, humans are treated worse than the animals they are caring for, and the environmental catastrophe we are creating is an assumed bi-product is not something I want to pray to God over, let alone each my son is an acceptable way to live. Why then are we so quick to proclaim ‘it is so’ over things we know are harmful and dangerous?

On July 10, a group of evangelical pastors (shouldn’t all pastors be evangelical, but that’s a post for another day) prayed for President Trump. They laid hands on the President, praying for ‘supernatural wisdom, guidance and protection.’  I think what they meant by ‘supernatural wisdom’ was asking for the Holy Spirit, God’s acting agent, to move in the life of the President. Or perhaps they really were seeking ‘supernatural wisdom’.

At the end of most prayers there is a half muttered or resounding (I’ve noticed it’s one of the two) ‘Amen!’ or ‘It is so!’

And this is where we get into a sticky wicket.

There should be no surprise that religious leaders who have been downright frightened by President Trump’s election would oppose this act by their clergy colleagues, even calling it a heresy.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II called the photo “theological malpractice bordering on heresy” and said,

“When you can p-r-a-y for a president and others while they are p-r-e-y, preying on the most vulnerable, you’re violating the most sacred principles of religion,”

And he continued,

“When we have this extremist Trump Republican agenda that takes health care, transfers wealth to the greedy, that’s hypocrisy and sin. Seven hundred billion dollars, Joy? You haven’t seen that kind of transfer of wealth on the backs of bodies of people since slavery. Claiming to care about life, but then passing a bill when you know thousands will die — 22 million people, poor, working people will be hurt — that is hypocrisy and sin. When you know it will hurt children, the disabled and veterans, that is sin. That is hypocrisy.” Barber in the Washington Post

According to Merriam-Webster, heresy can be defined as, “an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards”

This is where the sticky wicket gets even stickier. As I pointed out last week, the church in America is deeply divided. This goes further than whether you can take communion by intinction (dip & go) or if the priest should place the elements in your mouth for you.  The divisions are greater than the debate over human sexuality. The divide is over power and right now, with the election of President Trump, conservative-evangelicals feel empowered while those outside the world of Pat Robertson, Duck Dynasty, and Jerry Falwell see danger, hypocrisy, greed, and heresy in the eyes of their collared colleagues.

Using the definition of heresy and amen here’s where I think the danger lies.

First, most of the conservative-evangelicals I know do not think Trump has gone far enough in his actions so far. They want the health-care guarantees stripped away, a wall constructed, and an America where the Bible is our guiding document. While the Bible is a great guide for life in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom we need to be aware that for some the Bible is not a guide post. The heresy here comes when the actions of Trump smack the teachings of Christ in the face and blatantly ignore the whole love God and love your neighbor bit. Even my son, almost 4 years old, knows that to love your neighbor means we care for them when necessary and that when Jesus said neighbor he meant everyone, and by everyone he meant anyone, and by anyone he meant everyone.

The heresy Barber is talking about comes when conservative-evangelicals are encouraging Trump to blatantly ignore our calling to love, and thus care for, everyone. 

Second, imagine for a second, Christians (who were experiencing great persecution at the hand of the state) laying hands on the one who’s persecuting them. I’ve written before that I believe President Trump is our Nero but what’s worse is when those charged with being leaders in their faith communities side with the one who is actively working against the work of Christ’s church to ensure self-preservation and promotion.

I cannot for a minute imagine facing persecution that would result in my death and I thank God for that (Amen!). What is happening today is not leaders protecting themselves from physical persecution but instead propping oneself up, aligning with Rome, rather than the Gospel. It’s leaders in the church trading in the care of those who they are called to serve for the power and protection that comes from Rome. When Rome begins to burn, who will Nero blame?

 

If heresy is defined by something contrary to “generally accepted beliefs or standards”, the standard given to us by Christ is being ignored when leaders pray that President Trump continue to do things, enact policies and erect walls, that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.

There is a struggle for power in the church right now. There is no denying it. By laying hands on Nero, Howard-Browne & Moore, are siding with the empire over the Gospel. Their heresy is cause for alarm. This is something that should call us to question their ‘Amen!’ and cause us to question the things we proclaim as ‘so’.

Perhaps in the face of leaders praying for Nero, the Church in America as a whole is guilty of heresy. Our division and bitterness towards one another is contrary to the way Jesus instructed his disciples to live.

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