Cross Examination: The Wolf at the Meeting House Door
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Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 02:10:11 PM EST
The Wolf at the Meeting House Door According to the Communications Director of the Chalcedon Foundation, a leading theocratic think tank, Talk to Action contributor Dr. Bruce Prescott is "satanic" because he advocates sustainable growth and wise stewardship of the earth's natural resources. Given that resources are limited, Dr. Prescott called for responsible planning about when to bear children, and how many to bear, in order to "preserve the resources necessary to sustain life" for everyone on the planet. For that, the Chalcedon's Chris Ortiz labels Dr. Prescott and other Christians who disagree with Ortiz's own stance on birth control "wolves," saying, "These wolves must be condemned in the severest terms." Ortiz imagines a day when there will be no such Christians to disagree with his own political views.

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Frederick Clarkson calls out Ortiz for engaging in "eliminationist rhetoric". I would add that Ortiz has also engaged in rhetoric that contradicts the teaching and example of Jesus. Wolves you say, Brother Ortiz? Let's examine what Jesus had to say about wolves. As we've noted earlier in this Cross Examination series, Jesus warned that the real wolf to watch out for is the false prophet who puts on religious robes, or "sheep's clothing," but displays ferocity. (Gospel According to Matthew, 7:15) The wolf that Jesus warned against is the one who "attacks the flock and scatters it." So if there's a wolf at the door of your community meeting house, maybe he's not the one trying to get in.  Maybe the wolf's at the door because he's made the community meeting house his den, and he's the one trying to drive people away.
Jesus said you would know a false prophet by the fruits that he bears. And what fruits did Jesus expect a good tree to bear? Since it's the Advent Season, let's start with joy and community -- a loving welcome for all people, not just people who look like us, believe like us, and behave like us. When Jesus was born, Luke writes, an angel appeared and said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Gospel According to Luke, 7:10) If that passage sounds familiar, but you haven't read the New Testament lately, you may recall that Linus quotes this passage straight from the King James Bible in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Funny how some people claim to want Christ back in Christmas, but forget that Jesus was about putting the unity back in community. Jesus's birth was announced as "good news of great joy" not for just some of the people, but all the people. In his walk on earth, Jesus reached out to those on the margins of Jewish society -- the poor, the hungry, the lepers, the prostitutes, the adulterers, the people rejected by the religious leaders of his day, even the Romans and tax collectors. He loved them all, but saved his strongest rebukes for religious leaders who lacked compassion and empathy, who drove people away from seeking God's love. And at the close of his ministry, what was foremost on Jesus' mind? On the night before his crucifixion, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, for what did Jesus pray? He prayed for the unity of all believers. (Gospel According to John, 17:20-22).

In preparing for his sacrifice, Jesus compared himself to a "good shepherd" -- one who keeps the flock together because he cares for them all, despite the wolf's attempts to drive the flock apart, to pick them off one by one. The good shepherd sacrifices himself -- "lays down his life for his sheep" -- out of compassion. But the wolf shows no compassion, no empathy for the flock, only a desire to dominate, to drive apart, and an appetite to eat up.

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (Gospel According to John, 10:11-14)

How do you recognize the good shepherd? He's the one beckoning the sheep to stay together, leading them to green pasture and cool water, nurturing and nursing the whole flock. And what, according to Jesus, does a wolf do? The wolf is the one who dons "sheep's clothing," but acts ferocious. The wolf is the one who sews discord and exclusivity, who drives people away from the meeting house door, who "attacks the flock and scatters it."

According to Ortiz, who speaks for the Chalcedon Foundation, a leading voice in the march toward American theocracy, one cannot be both a liberal and a Christian. Ortiz denounces liberals who follow the example of Jesus as "oxymoronic liberal Christians." Praise God that Jesus exemplifies the "good shepherd," who welcomes and cares for "all the people." To me, that is indeed "good news of great joy."

Ortiz may assert that I cannot be both a Christian and a liberal. But he does not get to decide such spiritual matters. I am a Christian. I worship with people from all kinds of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. We are not Democratic Christians or Republican Christians or Green Party Christians or Libertarian Christians. We are Christians only, and we believe that we are not the only Christians. I'm not in the business of judging who is or is not a Christian -- but I do inspect fruit before I eat it, and I do know that not everyone sporting a sheepskin jacket is a sheep. And whenever someone claims to be a good shepherd like the example of Jesus, I look to see whether the flock is fearful and scattering, or calm and coming together.

Would you be like Jesus, who welcomes all, or would you be the opposite -- not a loving shepherd, but a shoving leopard, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a predator cloaked in piety who stands at the meeting house door to turn people away?

I am a Christian among other Christians who aspire to be like the good shepherd whom Jesus described and exemplified. We would not be like the "hired hand" who "runs away" because he "cares nothing for the sheep." If we see a wolf at the meeting house door, even if he's wearing religious robes, we will recognize him and take action. What kind of action? We will stand up for the unity of all believers, we will calm the flock, we will keep the flock together, we will seek out those who have been scattered by fear and oppression, we will nurture, we will nurse, we will hope, we will heal, we will lead, we will feed, we will love.

Let others march under the banners of fear and hate. Let others draw their circles of exclusion smaller and smaller until there's no room for anyone else to stand. There's a new humorous book out now, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, by George Saunders, about a tiny country called Inner Horner, which is so small that it can accomodate only one citizen at a time. They have to take turns stepping inside. Maybe that's what theocracy would look like, if it were up to people to decide who God loves, and who loves God. Maybe that's what a theocratic witch hunt looks like. But that's not what democracy looks like, and that's not what Jesus's ministry looked like either.

So here's a different vision, a broader vision, a more powerful vision. We will get out our chalk and draw even bigger circles that include all the people, even those who disagree with our freedom to speak, to assemble, and to worship as we choose. And we will respect their ability to speak, gather, and believe as they choose. We will parade under the banners of faith, hope, and love. We will reach out to all the people, even people who disagree, even people who insult us, even people who assault us. And we will process toward a truly compelling vision, toward a field of peace where, in the words of Isaiah, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them."

In this Season of Advent, let those of us who follow Jesus remember and be thankful for the coming of a little child whose innocent example leads us in love to share news of great joy for all the people. May it be so.




Display:
If Chris Ortiz of the Chalecedon Foundation got what he asked for -- a theocratic government ruled by his own narrow notion of biblical law -- then he might be in peril just now. In the Chalcedon blog, Ortiz dismissed Dr. Prescott, saying, "Behold the fool." Jesus warned in the Gospel According to Matthew, 5:22, that calling one's brother a fool is not merely impolite, but altogether out of bounds. Shall an apology be issued before Ortiz next makes an offering to God, as Jesus instructs in the next two verses?

If not, then may Dr. Prescott be comforted by these words of Jesus, also from Matthew, Chapter Five: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Gospel According to Matthew, 5:11-12).

by jhutson on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 02:12:53 PM EST
As I've noted in my comment to Frederick Clarkson's essay today, Chris Ortiz has already backed down somewhat, and graciously edited out several of his pejorative terms, such as "idiot," "fool," "satanic," and "wolves." So the transformation from a theocratic vision to a democratic vision begins. It starts with wolves scattering the flock, and ends with the wolf and the lamb together at peace. It's a powerful vision, a transformative vision, that excludes no one, welcomes everyone, and bears out the power of God's love. Our aim is not to eliminate the wolf -- though we recognize the wolf for who and what he is -- but to find ways to live out God's love, a love that extends to "all the people," even when we disagree. Wolves are welcome, leopards are loved, and lions are -- what? lionized? -- in Isaiah's vision.

by jhutson on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 06:06:50 PM EST
Parent


sticks about as well to Dr. Bruce Prescott, I'd venture, as the word "apocalyptic" sticks to a rutabega. That is to say - not at all.

I'm curious about Chris Ortiz' background reasoning - why would he consider mere mention of the carrying capacity of the  Earth to be "satanic" ?  The only way the Earth's capacity to support life could be limitless would be if our planet were not spherical but, instead, a flat unbroken plane - similar in a way to Edwin Abbot's "Flatland" - and extending infinitely in all directions. But I rather doubt that is Mr. Ortiz' position.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 03:12:37 PM EST

The rutabaga! Now there's a godly vegetable. But those tomatoes -- fruits tarted up pretending to be vegetables -- cannot be trusted. Oh, delicious as sin, yes! But it is imperative not to let them fall into the wrong hands, as novelist Neil Gaiman cautions in his blog entry of September 2, 2005:
The Satanic Tomato

I'm forever running across accounts of people who notice the faces of saints, gods, mothers of god, and the like, that turn up, as a Message from Above, on their grilled cheese sandwiches or their burritos or something, and until now, I have to admit, I have scoffed.

That, of course, was before I went out into the garden and found myself face to face with The Satanic Tomato. I picked it and brought it inside.

I do know that the appropriate religious response to these divine food manifestations is to put it on eBay and to rake in the cash; and yet I fear that if this tomato fell into the wrong hands, it'd be Armageddon, before you could say Demonic Salad Vegetable...
The Satanic Tomato




by jhutson on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 03:45:07 PM EST
Parent


how right-wing Christianity can be anti-environmentalist. After all, if Christ is truly returning, I would think the last thing He would want to see is how badly we've trashed His Father's creation.

They talk about "subduing" creation, but what about being good stewards of what we've been given?


by Cali Scribe on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 01:47:59 AM EST

Well, there are actually several reasons:

a) in dominionist churches it is often taught explicitly that any kind of care or respect for the planet is "Goddess worship" and thus Satanic (this is actually quite common in pentecostal circles and increasingly common in the SBC where environmentalists are accused of "worshipping the planet")

b) the Dominion Mandate as read in many dominionist churches claims that essentially the earth must not only be subdued but used up

c) premillenarian dispensationalist dominionism (as practiced in many pentecostal dominionist groups and as fictionalised in the "Left Behind" books) actually teaches that, at most, there is only a short time before Jesus returns and the planet only has seven years after that (after which it will be totally destroyed and it is explicitly taught that God will just make another one).

by dogemperor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 08:34:52 AM EST
Parent

Probably because it has less to do with reason and more to do with simple political positioning : having defined the left as satanic, any positions held by groups on the left must necessarily also be satanic.

This is a nice example of the ramifications of totalistic thinking.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:29:03 PM EST
Parent





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