Divine Complex

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Divine Complex

27 July 2022

Have you come here for forgiveness?

Have you come to raise the dead?

Have you come her to play Jesus

To the lepers in your head?

One, Paul David Hewson

The first church I regularly attended was––interesting. No, wait. That’s my polite Southern upbringing. It was theological / psychological trainwreck. At the center of this two-track pileup was a bible/pastor centric model and worldview. The worldview went something like this: the bible–the English language, 1611 King James Version––was the very literal words of God spoken and written down faithfully and perfectly for mankind. And only the English language, 1611 King James Version––no other version––was correct: not the original Greek, not the original Hebrew, nothing except the King James Version. This belief in the idea of the literal words of God being written in this version of the bible led them to the conclusion that the bible was to be taken literally, every word. There is no such thing as a contradiction for them, only misunderstanding and immaturity on our part. 

This mindset led to the idea that the pastor was God’s man to speak God’s word (women pastors? Liberal, please). Because God entrusted this word to the pastor, the interpretation of the pastor was always the right interpretation. No challenges accepted. If you were not God’s man, you simply couldn’t be trusted with God’s word. Teachers were okay, so long as they believed what the pastor preached. If you agreed with the pastor, you were in––in good standing with God, in the true church, and in heaven when you died. God forbid you be someone who belonged to another denomination that used something other than the King James and God forbid you believed a different interpretation than their interpretation. Either would send you to hell. While there were some good people there, people who found community and decided it was enough stayed. The culture was damaged but it was theirs and they knew it.

That may sound like a harsh critique, but I make it from first-hand experience. I was one. I stood on the side of the road as a teenager and yelled bible verses at cars passing. I pronounced sentence on other lesser ‘Christians’ who used the NIV or read other liberal materials. I jumped pews and shouted because other people were doing it and I thought I was supposed to. I parroted sermons from the pulpit having no real knowledge or understanding of the damage I might be doing to myself or others. I alienated myself from my peers at two different high schools for being a pious jackass who was more interested in being right so I could stay in good standing with a community that shunned me when I started to ask honest questions about the faith. It was damaged and so was I, a damage it took years to get over.

The damage lies in the gatekeeper mentality. The stature of the pastor in this system makes him the ultimate gatekeeper to God. We might be tempted to look at this and scoff at this as an extreme expression of fundamentalist Christianity (and it is) but it may not be so far removed an expression as we think. The gatekeeper is very real and living in most institutions you can think of. Political parties, local non-profits, the most conservative and the most liberal of churches all have their gatekeepers. They have decided, as the lyrics above state, ‘to play Jesus with the lepers’ in their heads. They declare the clean from the unclean. They add to the gospel to make themselves comfortable while causing great pain to others. They denounce others for their journey to wholeness (salvation) never once considering the varying needs we each have on the journey. 

They are playing God and missing God in the process. They are playing God because they are putting divine weight on things which they decide should have greater weight. Issues like bible translations, women in ministry, BIPOC voices in theology and denominations, silencing and shaming the LGBTQIA+ community, and the trivialization of mental health issues are just a few ways gatekeepers play God, deciding saints and sinners, passing sentence on both the temporal and eternal existence of those who make gatekeepers uncomfortable. 

And they miss God because those who are gatekeepers—of any kind—do not seem to hear, do not seem to be listening for God. The voice of God for them does not seem to be the Holy Spirit. It seems to be the spirit of those who taught them the egregious ideas and imprinted them on the hearts of the gatekeepers. It is the broken cultures and traditions that have nurtured, fear, exclusion, and authoritarian religion. It is the very definition of the satan—those adversarial to the heart, will, and way of God as exemplified by Jesus and passed down to us through the Holy Spirit.

How do we deal with gatekeepers?

Tear down the walls.

Gatekeepers can have the gates, but if there’s no wall the gate is useless. If we no longer restrict people from the community, if we embrace those who wished to embrace us, then the gatekeepers have no function. We need to remove the barriers, the walls, that keep people from engaging in community as disciples of Jesus. We need to be intentional about the highways and byways and calling in everyone, no matter who they are, to join us as part of the community. We need to be willing to build community with the intention of seeing people move from brokenness to healing to wholeness knowing that this is the true path of salvation and knowing that their need is greater than our fears and prejudices. We need to live into the actual words of Jesus as opposed to the misinterpreted words of Jesus. 

Call in the wounded, the hurting, the broken.

Let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit, guiding and directing people back to wholeness.

No more walls. No more gates.

Just brokenness be healed and people made whole.