“When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” I am struck again by the simple, yet expansive, inclusiveness of this statement. Jesus is saying that by the mechanism of his crucifixion, all people will be drawn in.
In light of the events of this past week, with the Atlanta shooter’s church going on record with some truly terrible theology in an attempt to distance itself from the horrific actions of one of its members, it strikes me again just how essential embodied practice and praxis is in our lives and in our churches.
Despite their blustering attempts to say that their theology doesn’t make women responsible for men’s sexuality, the opposite is true. It may never be said in so many words, but the toxic purity culture where discussing sex is taboo, questions young people have never get answered, abstinence is preached but nothing more, and the idea that how girls and women dress is policed and preached on far more all tells men that women are responsible for both their sexual fulfillment and temptation. These notions have dialogued with our stymied view of sex in culture giving rise to the incel (involuntary celibate) movement whose main premise seems to be that they get to be violent because women won’t give them sex.
Add in layers of white supremacy into these evangelical churches and the language around missions to those “other” people: you know, the non-white, benighted heathens in other countries, and you start to see the toxic theological stew that the shooter grew up in. Now this doesn’t excuse his actions. Most people raised in this environment don't perpetuate mass shootings. But his actions are not unconnected from a system either, no matter how much his youth pastor describes confusion as to how this dedicated youth group kid who had a “heart for missions” somehow went so wrong.
And then in a frantic attempt to distance themselves from this, his church is now excommunicating him because he has shown he is not “truly regenerate.” Because evidently, only people who can keep up the perfect facade are allowed in their church. Again, not excusing his actions. Gay and trans kids get kicked out of their homes and churches on a regular basis and don’t go off and shoot people. But this church’s actions have been so completely opposite what they need to be at almost every turn, that we get a vivid picture of what’s wrong on so many levels with American Christianity.
I’ve spent the better part of the last twenty years unpacking toxic theology, and I keep coming back to the fact that as Kevin Garcia says, “Bad theology kills.” And as we saw this week, that is quite literal.
All of this so-called theology is diametrically opposed to the person of Jesus and the actions he took in his earthly ministry, which brings us back to this passage from John in the lectionary today. In response to a broken world, Jesus gave himself in order to draw all people in. Whenever we look anywhere in the Bible, if we take the time to understand the context, we see that God is always moving towards including more and more people until the more becomes all.
Through scripture--if we take it as a whole--we see the arcs of justice and liberation expanding out through this history of God and people, and those arcs can be extended in our time to continue moving towards the “all.” Jesus spent time hanging out with the outcast of society in case we had any doubt who the “all” should include. He was seen in the company of sex workers, Saducees, tax collectors, and an unmarried Samaritan woman who he talked with alone at a well, something that would be scandalous. He set himself up to lose an honor contest with an immigrant woman in the middle of a crowded street. He touched lepers when he could have healed with a word and moved on.
As those who claim to follow Jesus, all of Scripture must be interpreted by looking through the lens of Jesus. He is the most perfect revelation of God. The incarnation is the nexus for the majority of our primary doctrines. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity and an understanding such as it is of the nature of God was derived from the reality of Jesus come to earth. It is the lynch-pin on which all our theology hangs and as such, must always be in mind when we approach the other texts.
A few weeks ago we saw a text in the Old Testament that bears this out when we looked into the story of Hagar meeting and naming God. Seeing God make a covenant with an enslaved, immigrant, rape victim before even finalizing the covenant with Abraham, makes complete sense when you look at the actions of Jesus and realize they are one and the same.
So if our theology divides, classifies, stratifies, and otherwise makes hierarchies instead of embracing “all,” it isn’t a theology of Christ. In fact, it could be said to be anti-Christ, for the God I see in Scripture is always nudging humans to expand their definitions of who is “in” until no one is left out. Not even the terrorist.
I am so angry this week. I am angry that so many of my friends have been made to feel unsafe and targeted this week. I’m angry that women often feel this way, that BIPOC people often feel this way, that folks who live at the intersections of those identities feel doubly targeted. I’m angry that rhetoric from a white-supremacist administration caused over 3,800 incidents of assault and murder of people of Asian descent—mostly women of Asian descent—in this country in the past year alone. And I’m angry that instead of taking responsibility for their teachings and reaching out to a member gone so terribly astray, the congregation the shooter was a member of doubled down on their innocence and cast out this young man at the moment he most needs redemption and community. The judgment seat of God so terribly depicted just the Sunday before by the pastor in apocalyptic terms where the people “outside” would be swept away, is in fact good news for the perpetrator as well as his victims. Because when God says all, God means all.
And maybe, just maybe, if instead of “othering” the white, Christian terrorist who perpetrated these acts, we white folks who call ourselves Chrisitans would instead choose see the toxic systems that helped produce him, we could dismantle them so that all of us could live and thrive together. All of us, regardless of identity. Because all for us is also supposed to mean all.
3,800 hate crimes statistic
Crabapple First Baptist Church’s official statment on the shooter
Moltmann, Jurgan. In the End the Beginning, the Life of Hope (For a discussion on how the judgement seat is good news for the victim and the perpetrator)
Sonderegger, Katherine. Systematic Theology 2: The Doctrine of the Trinity. (For a discussion on how the incarnation is the foundational event for other major doctrines)
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Camino for Good
I’m walking the Camino de Santiago virtually starting March 1st, but you can start whenever you want. The signup fees go to help the hostel owners who have been impacted so badly by the pandemic that some may lose their businesses without some help. I hope to one day walk it in person, but this is a fun challenge for a good cause, and the app is rather robust with pictures of the towns you pass and so forth. Join me! Sign up here.