“Lord, give me understanding.”
I really try to understand people with whom I have serious ideological differences, but the recent news has left me in a funk and a state of confusion.
Conservative parents flooded administrative offices of school systems demanding that their children not be subjected to Tuesday’s speech by the president of the United States. By the way, the stated purpose of the speech was to encourage American students to stay in school.
If ever there was a need for students to hear a positive word about education from our president, now is the time. We trail most of the civilized world in math and science knowledge. For this shameful performance, we can thank a nation full of folks suffering from math phobia and science paranoia.
President Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School and, yes, a natural-born citizen of the United States, needed to be heard by every student in this country on the value of education. No matter what some Christians may think, we cannot run this country on the Bible and praise songs.
Why have parents acted like this? I have some ideas. For 40 years, America’s pulpits have been filled with a kind of religious/political message. The line between Christian teaching and political philosophy has been erased.
As one example, let’s consider Pastor Steven Anderson of Phoenix. This young pastor felt justified in preaching a sermon called, “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” because we have created that kind of environment. The pastor said that folks might think that he meant that he disagreed with President Obama’s policies. Then he said, “No, I hate the man. I want him to melt like a snail. I pray every night for him to die of brain cancer.”
Now, if you would like to defend a pastor’s authority or freedom of speech to spout hatred from his pulpit, I will join you. I’m not questioning his “rights” so all the folks who are overheated about “rights” can relax. I am questioning his interpretation of Scripture, his understanding of Christian teaching and, most of all, I am questioning his heart.
I have three responses to the Arizona pastor. One, I am sorry that he is a Baptist. When I first heard the story, I prayed that the preacher was a non-denominational pastor of some sort. But he is a Baptist.
That being acknowledged, my second response is to pray for this young man. While his sermon (and I use that term loosely) is unbiblical and packed with distortions, he will probably always be remembered for this one sermon. I don’t mean in the sense of Jonathan Edwards and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” or Harry Emerson Fosdick and “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” I mean in denigrating and infamous ways, this Baptist preacher is imprinted into the web pages of the world as the hate-filled preacher.
He needs our prayers. In fact, I have a prayer for him. I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that Pastor Steven Anderson may be strengthened in his inner being with power through the Holy Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in his heart through faith. I pray that he may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that he may be filled with all the fullness of God.
My third response is that we simply can’t sit around and chalk this up as one more crazy outburst that can safely be ignored. While good, nice and thoughtful pastors work hard to stay in the safe middle ground and never offend anyone, the message of hate keeps growing.
Therefore, with all my being and with every possible rhetorical tool at my disposal, I oppose the message of Pastor Anderson. I separate my ministry and my preaching from this man. I am not this kind of Baptist.
I call him to account for his bastardizing of the message of the Bible, particularly the Psalms. I challenge him to repent of his sinfulness. I encourage him to read 1 John 2:9-11. “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness and does not know the way to go because the darkness has brought on blindness.”
And I implore this pastor to sit before the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and hear once again, as if for the first time, that we are to love our enemies and pray for them.
Don’t brush off this pastor’s message as a fringe outburst. There is no longer a fringe in America. Television has invited every point of view, every ideology into our living rooms. And day after day, we are told that we should be afraid. One of the underlying messages of fundamentalism is fear. “Be afraid, be very afraid.” And thus we now have parents afraid of the president of the United States.
And there is always the foreboding and disgraceful volcano of racism. Racism in America is a huge volcano, always simmering beneath the surface and from time to time spewing forth its hatred and mistrust. Well, the volcano has erupted once again. And the clearest sign of the presence of racism? The vehemence with which people deny they are racists. “The bit dog yelps loudest.”
I am not suggesting that Pastor Anderson’s message is the cause of the parental protest concerning President Obama’s speech, but I am saying that this pastor’s speech is one example of what is fueling this sort of response around the country.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC have a virtual phalanx of vitriolic rhetoric on the air day and night. Perhaps parents should protest these ideological warriors rather than an address by the president of the United States of America.
Rodney Wallace Kennedy is pastor of First Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.