Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Letter to the Editor of the St. Joseph News-Press

Recently a letter to the editor appeared in the St. Joseph News-Press which criticized the title of a sermon I preached almost two years ago.  Interestingly, the letter writer not only criticized me but also a letter written a week earlier by FCC member Keith Evans.  I have no idea if he knew the connection between Keith and me.  I will put links to the letter I’m responding to along with Keith’s letter on my blog.  Below you will see my response. 

Dear Editor,

I am responding to an April 18 letter by John Beggs of Maryville in which he referenced a sermon I preached at the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.  Although he neither heard the sermon nor knows me personally, Mr. Beggs labeled me a “Marxist” and a “hatemonger.”   Although this isn’t the first time someone has called me names, usually people who disagree with me wait until our first or second meeting before doing so.

I preached the sermon on September 13, 2009 and its title was “Jesus is not a Rich, White Republican.”  I stand by this declaration, especially as we near another presidential election year, because people in all times and places who have wealth and are in the majority have always sought to domesticate the divine to justify their hold on power.  Over the last few decades the Republican Party has been particularly adept at claiming Jesus is on their side in the culture wars.  Democrats are by no means above attempting to do the same; they just aren’t any good at it.  My sermon was a denunciation of all who seek to co-opt God to legitimize their own power.

Had Mr. Beggs heard the sermon, he would have heard me declare “Jesus is also not a poor, black or brown, Democrat.”  Although I did give the caveat that since Jesus clearly identified himself with “the least of these” in Matthew 25, he would be found among the minorities and the economically marginalized of every culture.  In our culture, the “least of these” are not exclusively black or brown in skin color but are likely to be so.  I believe it is neither liberal nor conservative but biblical to declare that while God may love everyone, God is especially concerned with those on society’s margins whatever their ethnicity or politics.

I can only assume that Mr. Beggs and others who prefer to demonize those who disagree with them would not care for sermons like mine nor for the church where I preach.  I’m proud to serve a church that fully welcomes and accepts people of all sexual orientations, skin colors, ethnicities, incomes and abilities.  I am also proud to serve a church that does more than charity but dares to ask why our society chooses to oppress so many of God’s children.  All are welcome at First Christian St. Joseph, but be warned, if you come, people like Mr. Beggs may call you names.

Rev. Chase Peeples
First Christian Church
St. Joseph, MO

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The story from Sunday's sermon

This past Sunday I preached a sermon entitled "Everything You Know About Forgiveness is Wrong" and in it I told the amazing story of Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel.  Johnson's son was killed in 1993 by Israel and because of her Christian faith, Johnson eventually sought out her son's killer in prison and forgave him.  Since that initial meeting in 2005, the two developed a relationship where Israel grew to consider Johnson a second mother and Johnson considers Israel to be like a son.  Upon release from prison, Israel moved in next door to Johnson and together they now work with victims of violent crime.

To hear and read the story in their own words, check out the following links:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whose God are You Voting For?

Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry declared April 22-24, 2011 “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.”  Unfortunately for Texas, God did not grant rain and since that time Texas has suffered one of the worst droughts in its history.  I’m just cynical enough to ask whether our country might be better served by someone who has a better track record when it comes to making God control the weather.  Think of the next time a hurricane comes towards the U.S. coastline, don’t we want a president who can pray it away?
This is not the only time Perry has brought God into his political sphere—and by the way we’re not talking here about a general, civil religion, non-sectarian God, but rather Jesus Christ of the evangelical Protestant variety.  Throughout his career, Jesus has been a part of his pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-life agenda.  At his August 6 Houston prayer rally, “The Response—a Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” Perry declared, “As a nation, we must call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”  I guess American citizens who are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists should call upon Jesus too.

Critics of Perry’s prayer rally took issue with the sectarian and exclusive nature of the event being led by a governor who is charged with serving all the state’s citizens as well as the event’s participants which included the American Family Association.  The AFA has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its denigration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Native Americans and other minority groups.  By the way, did you know that the First Amendment applies only to Christians and therefore Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build mosques?  I didn’t either, but according to AFA leaders it does and they can’t.

Of course, Perry is not the only presidential candidate who has Jesus in his or her pocket; Michelle Bachman also has Jesus guiding her politics.  She has spoken about her legal education at Oral Roberts University where she learned a particular understanding of the role of government called “Christian Reconstructionism,” now popular among the Religious Right and among religious members of the Tea Party.  Among this ideology’s tenets is a belief that God has set the proper role of government, a role which does not include things such as public education and any type of assistance to the poor.  Instead, God desires a “Christian” government which is Libertarian in most ways, except when it comes to the enforcement of an evangelical Christian worldview.  The government should stay out of your life except if you are a woman determining what happens in your own body, a gay or lesbian person who wants to marry someone of the same gender or a non-Christian who wants your government to represent you as well as evangelical Christians.

Lest anyone think I am partisan in my criticism of politicians using Jesus to promote their own ideologies and build their own power bases, I am equally as offended when Democrats drag Jesus in to their campaigns.  (Anybody remember Barack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention?  “We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States . . .”)  The Democrats, however, are usually so inept at invoking religion that they undermine themselves and spare people like me from having to criticize them.  (Remember when Howard Dean said his favorite New Testament book was Job?)  Be assured, however, that Bible verses can be quoted and Jesus’ name invoked to support any part of the Democratic agenda too.

As the presidential campaign season heats up, will you vote for the Republican God or the Democratic God?  Or. . . How about we take a step back and learn to view all religious claims made by politicians with a healthy dose of skepticism.  As people of faith who know the disastrous history of mixing religion and politics, we should regard any politician’s use of Jesus for the cheap political ploy it is.  Instead, we should look for leaders informed by their own particular faith but open to the beliefs of other faiths and even the beliefs of those who claim no faith.  We should expect leaders who claim to be Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus that condemned acts of public piety geared towards public approval.  As Americans, we should expect our leaders to guard the rights of all our nation’s citizens to practice their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) without interference from the government.  We should reject politicians who use religion as a tool to demonize political opponents and who refuse to honor respectful religious dialogue between people of different points of view.  

When God becomes a political talking point, all people of faith are worse off.

Grace and Peace,