Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’
I just read a Fox News poll that found 4/10 Americans believe the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster is God’s judgment on selfish Japanese culture. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/24/poll-nearly-4-10-americans-say-natural-disasters-sign-god/?test=latestnews
We heard such things after 9/11, Katrina, Indonesia and Haiti. I got asked about God and natural disasters by News Radio 740 KTRH in an interview that will air tonight or tomorrow morning. Is God punishing Japan?
Speaking from my tradition, Lutherans don’t go there. It’s blaming the victim. Luther, who I think lost two brothers in the Plague, could just as easily see disasters as a “work of Satan.”
Jesus didn’t go there either. In the gospel reading for next week April 3 (John 9), Jesus’ disciples ask, “Who sinned that this man was born blind?” Jesus dismisses the idea. The same with the Galileans Herod massacred and people killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. “Do you think these people were any worse than other Galileans? No, I tell you…” Jesus taught his disciples to respond to suffering with healing and compassion, not judgment. He saved his harshest judgment for the religious establishment.
This theology is also frustratingly unsystematic. What are we saying if we buy into it? If a tornado hits a small town in Nebraska, is God wiping them out like a celestial mobster? When the midwest floods each Spring, is that God’s judgment too? Is every disaster God killing people he doesn’t like? Is that God’s work in the world? Why not more consistency? If God acts that way, why not target centers of drug trafficking or human trafficking?
Its a dangerous theology. It reveals a self-centeredness: When disaster strikes others, we say it’s God’s judgment. When disaster strikes us we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
I worry this theology might also be an unconscious way of abdicating responsibility. Hey, if God wants these people to suffer, who am I to get in the way? It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to worry about getting into the mud of all this. I can sit and watch from my comfortable self-righteous perch.
A theology of the cross recognizes that the innocent all too often suffer. Te beatitudes show that God cares about those who suffer. Blessed are the poor, hungry, mourning, suffering people who have been denied justice. God loves you.
Thank goodness Jesus did not respond to:
Lepers with “this is God’s judgment on them.”
The man born blind with “this is God’s judgment on his parents.” Peter’s mother-in-law with “this is God’s judgment on her.”
The paraplegic with with “this is God’s judgment on him.”
The woman caught in adultery about to be stoned with “this is God’s judgment on her.” Lazarus with, “He had this coming.”
The cross with, “It must be something I did.”
Luther highly esteemed the place of preaching in the Reformation. At the same time, Luther very much opposed preachers ascending to the pulpit without proper authorization. He was most certainly an advocate of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, but Luther made a distinction in connection with the office of preaching. To him all Christians were priests, but only those men were to preach who had been called by God, through the mediation of the congregation, to fill the pastoral office.
Luther was critical of those who publicly addressed the people without a regular call and yet claimed authorization for doing so on the basis of being led to speak by the Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther on Preaching
Mark DeMoss is a conservative evangelical Christian Republican from Atlanta who founded the Civility Project: www.civilityproject.org.
We also got a copy of his book “The Little Book of Wisdom” with chapters such as:
• A Matter of Life and Death
• Work Less. Think More
• Honesty Can Be Costly
• There are No Degrees of Integrity
He spoke to a group of clergy of various faiths this morning at Temple Beth Yeshurun in Houston. His message was alternately hopeful and chilling.
Lanny was shocked by the level of incivility during the debates over Proposition 8 In California. Mormons vilifying homosexuals. Homosexuals vandalizing Mormon buildings.
“I decided to start a website. I went online and reserved CivilityProject.org. “I was surprised to find it was available.”
He developed a three-point pledge for speaking an acting with civility.
“In contrast, a Christian conception of civility is grounded not in skepticism, but in conviction of the dignity and worth of each person, endowed by their Creator, which runs deeper than – without denying – our differences.”
I decided on what this would not be: This is no a surrender of personal beliefs. This is not a tolerance campaign. This is not an effort to define hate speech. This is not a call to unity. “I’m not promoting unity. I’m promoting civility. They’re not the same thing.”
I cannot attract people to my faith without civility. As a follower of Christ everything you do must be done in love.” Galatians lists nine fruits of the Spirit. Incivility violates at least eight of those nine.
Oz Guiness writes in “The Case for Civility:”
“How do we live with out deepest differences, especially when those differences are religious and ideological?”
“My strongest criticism has come from my fellow conservatives. My highest praise has come from liberals.”
We mailed the Civility Pledge to every Senator and Representative and Governor. We got three back. In January he dissolved the project. Officially, he wrote an Op Ed. He thanked the three. A week later was the shooting in Arizona, reigniting the debate on civility.
Five reasons DeMoss thinks civility isn’t winning.
1. It’s wrongly perceived by people as unilateral disarmament. Politicians feel it’s as disadvantage to be civil. “What if my opponent attacks me and I can’t attack back?”
2. People are afraid of being seen as compromising or selling out.
3. Our society doesn’t elevate or value civility anymore. A mean-spirited good fight on TV attracts a bigger crowd.
4. The louder the act, the more outrageous, the louder the Amen-crowd gets. The more “red meat” you throw out, the more enthusiastic the crowd gets.
5. The lines are more sharply drawn than ever: liberal/conservative, evangelical/mainline, etc.
Truly the problem is worse than it should be.
I know we’re all busy, and shooting off a nasty email while sitting at a red light might seem easy, but civility really takes no more time than incivility. In fact, incivility may take more time. There’s often a lot of clean up to do afterwards.
Some things you can do.
1. You can write a letter. Create a new friendship. Build a bridge. DeMoss devoted a chapter to the lair art of letter writing.
2. Speak, Preach and teach civility.
3. Call out those who step over the line. Politicians are the only commodities we market by trashing the opposition. Car companies and hotels don’t do this. Write: “I can’t support this kind of tactic…” Speak to those in your own ideological camp. “I don’t chastise people on the left.”
4. Build a relationship with an ideological opponent. Eat together. It’s hard to be unkind to someone you’ve had dinner with in your home.