One of the news items concerns Franklin Graham (left), son of Billy Graham and heir to his monumental evangelism franchise. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Times on Tuesday, he objected to an invocation being given by a Native American practitioner of his native religion, one Carlos Gonzales, a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, at the memorial service for the shooting victims in Tuscon, AZ. Apparently Rev. Graham objects to spiritual expressions outside his own rather narrow viewpoint. He wrote:
Mr. Gonzales blessed the "eastern door, from where we get visions and guidance," the "southern door, where we get the energies of the family," the "western door, where we honor the sacred ways and sacred ancestors," and the "northern door, where we receive challenges and the strength to meet those challenges." Rather than calling on the God of heaven who made us and created this universe, which He holds in the palm of His hand, the university professor called out to "Father Sky, where we get our masculine energy" and "Mother Earth, where we get our feminine energy."
Gee! Well guess what, Mr. Graham? There are a lot of people in this world who aren't members of your church; some belong to religions quite a bit older than your own, and more than a few of them live out there in the Great American West among the tribes of Native Americans. Are you trying to say that they aren't allowed to express their own grief at these events and call on the healing powers of their own Deities, and only your version of God is allowed to be invoked? Oh but wait, it gets worse:
How sad. Father Sky and Mother Earth can do nothing to comfort Capt. Mark Kelly, who had been at the bedside of his wife, Rep. Giffords, wondering if she'd ever leave her bed. Or Mavy Stoddard, who was only alive because her husband sacrificed his life by shielding her with his body. Or the family, classmates, teammates and friends of little Christina, whose life was snuffed out before she could play another season of Little League.
How do you know, Mr. Graham? Have you ever been to a Diné (Navajo) Beautyway ceremony? I have, and I've seen people, myself included, come away comforted and healed. You don't live in Tuscon; you weren't even out there for the memorial service. How dare you criticize Tusconians for choosing to seek comfort and healing in their own way rather than in your way? It isn't any of your business!Another bit of bigotry to make the news involves the newly-elected governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley (right). He used a celebration of Martin Luther King Day at King's own church, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, to spew bigotry. In effect, he sullied the celebration by uttering ideas contradictory to everything Dr. King ever taught. From the pulpit of the church Gov. Bentley said:
There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit, But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.
Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.
In other words, if you want Gov. Bentley to consider you his brother or sister, you have to convert to his particularly narrow and bigoted brand of Christianity. No thanks, Bob! As far as I can see, my family is much better off without you in it.
As I said at the beginning, there are more items like this out there. It's a sad fact that the loudest voices in Christianity today seem to be the voices of bigotry and negativity, of hatred and condemnation. This is in strong contrast to the stories in the Gospels of the man who turned the tables on the self-righteous ones who brought the woman caught in adultery to him, when he challenged them and ended up embarrassing them and sending her gently on her way. The man who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and drunks. The man who taught love. Somehow his teachings don't seem to have very much in common with the words of Franklin Graham and Robert Bentley, who profess to being his followers.
Postscriptus - As I was writing this essay I learned of the passing of author Reynolds Price and listened to an interview with him on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Price wrote haunting novels about the New South, but he was also a Biblical scholar of great skill and sensitivity. I highly recommend his Three Gospels, which include his own translation from the Greek of the Gospels of Mark and John. As someone who reads Greek and has done Biblical translation and exegesis, I thoroughly enjoyed his approach to both Gospels; they were both written by non-native speakers of Greek (and in the case of the author of Mark, a not very good grasp of the language) and Price matched their writing style in English. It's a fascinating and insightful read on a traditional and potentially stodgy subject; luckily, there was nothing stodgy about Reynolds Price! He'll be missed.
© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger