The Grace Letter
1998: Christmas Remembered
For a series of essays which has moved progressively away from a literalist approach to the Bible, this subject may seem a throwback to earlier times. After all, the book of Second Thessalonians isn't exactly light reading or happy talk. Its title indicates that Second Thessalonians was written as a followup to "First Thessalonians," a letter apparently from Paul to the persecuted Christians in the Greek city of Thessalonika. First Thessalonians is full of references to the imminent return of Christ, which Paul believed would occur in the lifetime of his readers. Such verses as 1 Thessalonians 4: 17 hint at the event that Christians came to call the Rapture:
But years and decades passed. Persecutions intensified, and the Lord did not return. Someone needed to encourage the believers. Many mainstream scholars believe Second Thessalonians was written by an anonymous follower of Paul, and attributed to Paul to give authority to its words. The central theme of the book is this: those who are faithful to God will be rewarded, and their enemies will be defeated and "punished with everlasting destruction" (1: 9).
This yearning for vengeance - for payback time - is characteristic of the last books of the New Testament, including Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation as well as 2 Thessalonians. It probably developed as a response to the intense persecution of the Christians under the emperors Nero (54 - 68) and Domitian (81 - 96). It's certainly in contrast to the accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus himself. Jesus was all about love, about turning the other cheek, going the second mile.
So now, we have this strange and provocative passage in Second Thessalonians. God is "sending" someone "a powerful delusion." As a result of this powerful delusion, the persons in question will "believe the lie." Several questions are obvious.
Who are these people being sent the delusion?
What is the delusion?
What is the lie?
Why is God doing this?
And especially: Why am I writing about this in a series on transgender spirituality?
Last things first. I'm writing about this because it is an accusation that has been turned inside out and applied to gay, lesbian, and transgender people. We, they say, are delusional and God has allowed us to believe lies and to become completely estranged from his love in the language of the movement, to be "lost."
That's what they say. But what if...
The people who are sent the delusion are those who are "perishing" because they "refused to love the truth."
Living in love and demonstrating that love in our deeds marks us as people of truth. Does being born a trans person prevent our living in love? Of course not. Do people whose words indicate hate, fear, rejection and judgment live in love?
Perhaps the delusion is that these people speak with the authority of God, and that their words even their opinions, not confined to their interpretations of God's word should be taken as authoritative. Could we say they are creating God in their own image?
It's called "the lie." Not just any lie, but THE lie could it be "the lie" with which the Eden legend says Satan deceived Eve and Adam? The lie that a human can have the knowledge that is God's alone? Do any outcast minorities, GLBT or others, claim such knowledge? Or do the "scribes and Pharisees" of our century?
Why is God sending this delusion, allowing persons to believe the lie? Is it because they want to believe the lie they want to believe that they speak with the authority of God, even when they pronounce judgment on people and subjects that aren't even mentioned in the words of Jesus?
These are serious considerations. But if they are accurate, then many millions of people are receiving this powerful delusion. These are the followers, the ones who submit unquestioningly to authority.
John Dean, in his book "Conservatives Without Conscience," refers to the work of Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer, who has made a study of the personality of "right wing authoritarians." These persons are:
Altemeyer estimates that between 20 and 25 percent of Americans might be categorized as right-wing authoritarians. Their numbers have grown with the influence their leaders have enjoyed in our political climate. Their leaders the "dominating authority figures" are rigid and never yield an inch. They will remain firm in their intolerance, even if the mood of our majority becomes more tolerant.
Scott Peck's "People of the Lie" is the contrast to his first best seller, "The Road Less Traveled." The first book deals with goodness and hope, seeking the truth. The second is a look into the dark side of human nature. Peck offers these insights:
"Evil is the exercise of power, the imposing of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion."
"The core of evil is ego-centricity, whereby others are sacrificed rather than the ego of the individual."
The People of the Lie would rather sacrifice you and me than admit we may be recipients of God's love and grace. Their power would be damaged if they admitted they might have been in error about us, so they will never make such an admission.
Perhaps the most controversial recent book on this subject or at least the most controversial book title is "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," by Chris Hedges. Hedges is the son of a Presbyterian minister and a former divinity student. He learned from his father a "belief that as Christians we were called to fight for justice." This belief led to causes that were not always popular, including the civil rights movement, opposition to the war in Vietnam, and in later years the struggle for gay rights.
Hedges sees the vast difference between working for justice for all, and proclaiming an ideology of moral absolutes. The Robertsons, Falwells, and Dobsons "ask us to hand over moral choice and responsibility to them. They will tell us they know what is right and wrong in the eyes of God. They tell us how to act, how to live, and in this process they elevate themselves above us."
This segment of Christianity in America would make itself the state religion. They would post copies of the Ten Commandments in every classroom, or as a statue such as Judge Moore of Alabama carried around to spread his fame: a "graven image" for today. This government would wage war under the banner of the cross, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" and the other warrior anthems of a hundred years ago.
The radical right, or the Dominionist movement as it has been called, enjoys an influence beyond its numbers. This is due to the influence of dominionists in the media and in politics. The far right controls several national cable television networks and literally thousands of radio stations. They have worked over twenty years to install their people in local and state politics, leading to the election of many fundamentalist members of Congress, and a President who has followed their radical social agenda.
Alternative educational programs now aim to ensure control of the minds of today's school children. In home school textbooks and private Christian schools, students learn creationism and miracles rather than science. They read that the world really was created in six days about six thousand years ago, despite the geological evidence of many millions of years. God created light on the first day (Genesis 1: 3) but didn't create the sun until the fourth day. How did that work? Adam and Eve played in the Garden with all the animals including the dinosaurs, who only became meat eaters after the Fall!
If a person tries to point out the scientific impossibilities of this literal reading of the Bible, the dominionist can play the ultimate argument killer: God is all powerful, therefore there's no miracle God can't perform. Therefore since it says the world was created in six days, that's the way it happened, and geologists are simply wrong.
It's plain to see that such absolutism, when swallowed whole, brings about a controlled people who will submit to authority without question. Dissent is ultimately a crime, and those who speak out are enemies of the state and hence enemies of God. You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.
"Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless," Hedges notes. "We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue... This movement is bent on our destruction. The attempts by many liberals to make peace would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. These dominionists hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution, a world they blame for the debacle of their lives. They have one goal its destruction."
It takes courage to stand against the people of the lie. But if we do not, we have already lost our right to exist as progressive Christians. We stand to proclaim that the truth will endure. By our lives, by speaking and working for justice, we continue to influence the hearts of those who have not become unreachable. We must continue to live in love, but we must also realize that there are limits on our own tolerance, and it is not a virtue to tolerate the intolerant.
The quote from pastor Niemoller on my home page remains a beacon for our action, urging us to "stand up" against bigotry and intolerance.