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Illustration by Philip Martin
This has been a problem for some time, maybe for all time. But I’ve noticed in the last couple of months an abundance of bad theology being articulated in social media and on the airwaves. Also, I just finished teaching the Perkins Certification in Youth Ministry Class (this year was Theology and Youth) at www.PSYM.org so maybe I am just more “tuned in” to the God-talk going on lately.
I think back to a friend of mine whose mother died while he was young and the pastor told him that God just needed another angel in heaven. This caused him to ditch church for a decade or so and of course God got all the blame.
Or I could point to the cult leader in Texas who claimed he was Jesus and that led to a fiery end and death for many in the conflict with the ATF which crazy enough led to the bombing of a Federal building in Oklahoma City by yet a different group of “Christian Separatists” as retaliation for how the cult in Texas was treated.
I think also about what I’ve heard Rabbi Harold Kushner say about how easily people throw around the phrase “God’s will” whenever a tragedy happens. And how that can lead toward hating God.
On a mission trip one time, some of members of my new Youth Group told about how their former Youth Minister had explained that God had done something special for the families living in cardboard houses so that they could endure such poverty and grow spiritually from it (I am not sure what might have been taught about the ½ million $ houses these youth lived in back home or what spiritual gift God bestowed in that scenario).
More recently, the children who died from the gun violence in Newtown and the UMC pastor who shot his wife and daughter have received lots of theological statements.
Maybe all that just kind of ticked me off too much and I let it get to me. A posting in a Facebook group really bothered me enough to be come a jerk and respond. A UMC pastor in west Texas was advocating that Jesus commanded us to carry guns and protect our loved ones and ourselves. By using Luke 22:36 cut out of context to proof-text his claim he went on to say that we would be disobeying out Lord and not a true disciple if we didn’t take up guns (he claimed the modern equivalent of a sword). He also claimed that quoting Scripture to prove his point made him a Wesleyan Methodist. (Yeah I pointed out that the Devil quotes Scripture as well and that doesn’t make him Methodist either. Told you I became a jerk over it.)
Some folks responded as if we should just let everybody have their own opinion as if both sides have equal merit. Some just ignored the ridiculous theological claim. Some said points were made and that was enough of the talk. I just say whoa, crazy!
Doing theological and spiritual damage is the best-case scenario of bad theology. Worst-case is a bunch of children die as they did in Waco, Texas. We have to be better than that. I know sometimes we can’t make sense out of tragedy. But we can stop adding to the confusion by quoting things like “The Lord helps those who help themselves” as if they are actually in the Bible. It is really time for those of us who work with Youth to start paying more attention to our theological language. We should be working on this every week. This is important. Sin is important to talk about theologically. But so is grace. Do we have balance? Have we moved on from easy answers?
What if the MOST important things we actually get to do in Youthwork is to help Young People have a vocabulary for working out the mysteries of God and life?
Would that change how you spend your time each week?
What are the tough theological conversations you have had recently? Where did your own learning fail you or help you? Let’s talk.