The Body of Christ Self-Crucifixion

In 1736, six months after he landed in Savannah, Georgia at the invitation of General Oglethorpe, the Reverend John Wesley, the English theologian, wrote in his journal, I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?” Shortly after that, he and his brother Charles sailed back to their meeting room on Aldersgate Street in London where Wesley “felt his heart strangely warmed,” and together, the two brothers formed Methodism, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the world.

Long before the American Revolution, religious authority cinched the Bible Belt tight around the Southern Colonies. Tent revivals filled with sweaty fan-flapping believers, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and potluck congealed salads on the nice Dixie-brand paper plates are ingrained as being “Southern things,” but the action of today’s Christian leaders create legitimate doubt about the church’s moral integrity. The bracelet question of “What Would Jesus Do” is supposed to be answered by a follower’s fleshly behavior. Apostle Paul first described the early Christians as “the body of Christ” in his letters to the Greek and Roman followers. In St. Paul’s metaphor, the members of the church are viewed as the hands and feet of Christ. They’re the embodiment of Jesus on earth. If this is the inerrant truth, then someone needs to whack the Pope in the pee-pee.

A grand jury report recently released by the Pennsylvania attorney general documents 1,000 cases of sexual abuse committed by 300 Roman Catholic priests. The account, two years in the making, addresses crimes committed in eight of the state’s ten dioceses. The grand jury reports on widespread serial abuse in the other two dioceses have been previously released. The level of the clergy’s complicity in this horrific scandal is disturbing. For decades, the Roman Catholic Church allowed young men and women in their flocks to be molested without consequences for the criminals or compassion for the victims. The world is full of faithful Catholics who earnestly love God, and they deserve, along with the innocent victims, a specific accounting. According to the church’s apologetics, the priesthood belongs to Jesus as if a contrite round of Hail Mary’s will wash away this abominable sin. The arrogance of this baffling rationalization is unfathomable, but twisted justification is the church’s specialty, and the Roman Catholics aren’t alone in their inventive explanations.   

The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative magazine, published an essay from Charlie Sykes, a right-wing radio show host, criticizing the president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of Moral Majority founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell. In his piece “Falwell the Lesser,” Sykes blasts Falwell’s “incredible mix of historical ignorance mixed with moral vacuity” for the Evangelical leader’s unabashed support of a porn-star-bopping president who shamelessly displays his narcissistic bullying of women, minorities, and outsiders on social media. The church’s current disgraces go far beyond other modern day transgressions. Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s kinky trysts in a seedy New Orleans’ hotel and James Bakker’s hush-money payoffs to a church secretary that drown viewers in Tammy Faye’s tears qualify as perverted nostalgia. Like the Sadducees in the Passion of Christ, the religious right has made a deal with the pagan ruler to exert their authority. Manipulating Holy Scriptures and the U.S. Constitution appear to be acceptable practices to pack the Supreme Court, and like the Sadducees, they’re turning the body of Christ over for intentional death. Except now, the crucifixion is suicide.

Rather than practice compassion and peaceful tolerance, conservative Christian authorities in America, both Catholic and Protestant, would rather contort their doctrine to establish the theocracy of their bedtime prayers. Despite the declining trend of weekly church attendance, proselytizing “by any means necessary” has long been a part of the religious machination. They provide free funeral parlor hand fans and heaping servings of frozen pineapple and pistachio whip cream salad because along with your soul they get your wallet and your vote. Fundamental Christian leaders seem intent on imposing their version of morality on the country and taking power to govern with their myopic divine commission. For Southerners, this distorted mission has long been apparent.

Mickey Dubrow, an Atlanta-based writer and producer, is a lifelong Southerner. He’s also Jewish, which meant that growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was constantly exposed to improper religious messages at public secular events. He tells of a high school assembly where the speaker diverted from his script to deliver an altar call.

“My school knew it was illegal to promote Christianity, but they did it anyway,” Dubrow said. “They were in charge and the First Amendment be damned.”  

Dubrow walked out of the assembly. In his upcoming novel American Judas, an SFK Press release, Mickey portends of the United States where the wall of separation between Church and State has been abolished and fundamentalism is the law of the land. This is an unnerving thought to an overwhelming majority of Americans, but Dubrow’s novel isn’t anti-religion—it is pro-freedom of religion. In his novel, Seth Ginsberg, a young political aide, must practice Judaism in hiding. What makes the lead character heroic is not only his stance against tyranny but the motives for his bravery—an innate desire to freely exercise the religion of his ancestors as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. As Chief Justice Wait wrote for the majority opinion in Reynolds v. United States, “Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order.” The questions arises not only in Dubrow’s novel, but also in the institutional depravity of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal and Falwell Jr.’s Judas kiss of Trump’s ass.

John Wesley is credited with being an early abolitionist, and today the United Methodist Church tirelessly provides worldwide relief following a global disaster and works to support social justice, as do many other denominations. Perhaps like fish, the church rots from the head down. Christians also have company in their hypocritical shame. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists are guilty of all types of self-righteous atrocities, from #MeToo to ethnic massacres. If God’s kingdom is to come to earth, it will come about through conviction in the sovereignty of individual choices, not tyrannical strong-arming. We each need to dance in the field of infinite possibilities and revel in the strong force that connects us all. Unity for the common good certainly seems like a more judicious path to redemption and saves us all from hanging on the cross.

 

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