False Consciouness in the Church:
My Dialogue with a Homophobic Pastor
By: Rev. Dr. Jerry Maneker
A part of Marxist theory contains the concept of "false consciousness!" It's "…a failure to recognize the instruments of one's oppression or exploitation as one's own creation, as when members of an oppressed class unwittingly adopt views of the oppressor class." (Answers.com) "Where members of a social class absorb and become committed to values and beliefs that serve and support the interests of other classes rather than their own. The concept assumes that there is an objective 'class interest' of which its members are unaware." (Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences)
Basically, Marxist theory posits that the material conditions of society determine one's thoughts, in that "existence determines consciousness." That is, the way one lives his/her life largely determines the content and the processes of his/her thought life! One's ideology, one's views of the world and his/her place in that world is largely defined and determined by the material conditions of society that largely inform his/her views of the world, and those views may well run counter to his/her best interests as seen from any rational, objective point of view. When one's ideology, one's views of the world, counter one's rational best interests, that person can be said to be suffering from "false consciousness."
In Marx' felicitous phrase: "The ruling class has the ruling ideas!" And those ruling ideas have the effect of creating an ideology held by many people that fly in the face of their own best interests, and of which they are ignorant, given media manipulation of messages that serve the best interests of the owners of that media: the ruling class! Although Marx conceived of material conditions engendering ideology in the class structure of societies, one can see that these same conditions have helped create "false consciousness" within much, if not most, of the organized Church as well.
This "false consciousness" has most recently manifested itself in the diversion of most of the organized Church's reason for being: caring for the poor, speaking out for equality, dignity, and justice, speaking out against war, poverty, and inadequate education and health care, into its being obsessively consumed with rhetoric showing how the Gospel of grace (God's unmerited favor) has morphed, in fact become perverted, into the false gospel of legalism, perfectionism, exclusion, and genital placement! Indeed, there has been a disturbing enmeshment of most of the organized Church's rhetoric and ideology with the most reactionary forces within political and secular society!
The following, for example, is part of an exchange of emails that I had with a pastor that highlights this false consciousness that reflects the values of most of the ruling class, usually comprised of most of those reactionary forces, both within political society and within the hierarchy of most of the organized Church. This pastor read one or more of my articles on my website, "Radical Christianity," and told me why he disagreed with some of what I had written. The following is a slightly edited part of our email exchange; the first email is my response to one of his emails, and the rest conclude the series of exchanges:
"Dear ----: Although I was tempted to seek to answer each of your points, I felt it would be more cathartic for me than it would do anything to resolve our disagreement on this issue. You state, 'Do you not believe that a person's heart can distort their perception of the Scriptures? After our first email exchange, it was you who put the focus on homosexuality. As I said, my biggest gripe in regard to apologists is with those that try to remove homosexual activity from the category of sin.'
"Of course, a person's heart can distort one's perception of the Scriptures, and even of God Himself! But this fact is no truer of me than it would be of anyone else, including yourself! God is far too multidimensional to be contained within the confines of any one book, even the Bible as it is interpreted by mere fallible human beings. The most important commandment that Jesus tells us to live is to love both God and other people! Prosperity teachings are, of course, patently heretical and offensive, as is the teaching that if one is 'right with God,' is 'in God's will,' he/she will have a peaceful, successful life. If that were the case, almost all of the heroes of faith in the Bible were out of God's will!
"I dealt with homosexuality because you first raised the fact that I was applying grace to excuse or forgive all manner of sin! That is not true and there is no such thing as cheap grace, as you allege, as there was nothing cheap about the means whereby God has conferred His grace upon those whom He chose before the worlds were formed who implacably trust Him. You automatically assume that homosexual activity is a sin and then see the verses you cite as evidence to support that assumption. I'm trying to show, not by protesting too much as you allege (And how can one protest too much when most of the organized Church has allowed the Gospel of grace to morph into the gospel of genital placement?), that there are other ways of reading the very same verses.
"A parallel example can be given: For example, I very much doubt that you are in favor of bringing back the institution of slavery, but the very same principles of biblical exegesis in which you engage were the very ones that had almost all of the organized Church favoring that institution, and also serving as a justification for the existence and continuation of that institution, as did those exegetical principles later on justify the institution of segregation in the U.S. Why don't all Bible believing Christians believe in those institutions now? What happened? The words in the Bible are the same now as they were then, the sin of Ham, etc., but our cultural lenses changed when assorted other Christians, and others, out of the mainstream of the organized Church, saw God's call to liberation of the captives that Jesus came to set free; black people took on the religion of their oppressors largely because many of them saw in the story of the Exodus their story too.
"My point is that just because one's particular prejudices and biblical exegeses emanate from the particular cultural and psychological filters that exist at one point in time, doesn't necessarily mean that one's interpretation of certain passages in Scripture won't change when there is a paradigm shift, as has very frequently occurred throughout world history both in science and in Christianity itself. I'm not expecting to change your or anyone else's mind about this or about any subject. What I am trying to do is to show that there is more than one way to see the Bible's role in our understanding of human behavior (Hence, my mentioning the editor and Bible scholar's notes regarding some of the passages relevant to homosexuality in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, containing the NRSV, considered by many Bible scholars as the most accurate translation of the Bible.) and even of God Himself! And we're not to let tradition that makes void the Word of God (Matthew 15:3), our own prejudices or preconceived notions of the way things ought to be, or any other feature of this world limit our understanding that God has done, continues to do, and will continue to do mighty works that far transcend our fallible interpretations of the Bible or about what God can and cannot do.
"The reason this subject of homosexuality is so crucial is because most of the organized Church seems to obsess over it, even to the exclusion of such crucial issues as war, poverty, illness, etc. So many people in the Church fail to realize that their preconceptions, prejudices, and fallible interpretations of the Bible in regard to same-sex love, and their commensurate rhetoric and actions, have caused untold suffering and even death to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people! You say, 'From my point of view, your seeking to justify homosexuality is an attack on the Word of God. I don't say you don't believe what you say, but I do say that you are not seeing what God clearly says. You can say the Bible says this, and I can say it says that, but the only opinion that truly matters is God's, for it is to Him that we must all give account.'
"What you think 'God clearly says,' clearly differs from what I think God clearly says; you're right: 'the only opinion that truly matters is God's.' I'm not as humble as I should be, but I'm humble enough to realize that I don't have a monopoly on what 'God clearly says!' And neither do you, nor does any other mere human being! So, if I should be wrong in my interpretation of what 'God clearly says,' God will deal with me when He calls me home. But, if you should be wrong, God will deal with you, too, and, in the meantime, you, presuming you have preached on this matter from the pulpit, will have been instrumental in causing untold suffering to countless numbers of people.
Regards, Jerry Maneker."
He then wrote the following to me:
"I just went to the Association of Congregational Catholic Churches Website and reviewed your statement of faith. I must say that the ACCC is truly a universal church of the world, but decidedly not the Church of Jesus Christ. Its gospel is another gospel, made palatable to the World; a golden calf, more pleasing to the eye than the bloody cross.
"Jesus is exclusive in His demands, He alone is the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Him. Christ is inclusive in that He broke down the dividing wall and embraces 'whosoever will,' yet 'whosoever' must come to Him on His terms and submit to Him. Jesus is the Grace of God, apart from Him there is no salvation.
"No doubt you are sincere in your faith, yet sincerity does not save. Your writings and the fact that you are an ordained priest of the ACCC forces me to conclude your god is not my God and your lord is not my Lord. We can have no fellowship because we do not share in the same Christ. Your brand of Christianity is merely a flavor of the old dying liberalism, which like a Christmas tree cannot sustain life because it has been cut off from its roots. Not 'Radical Christianity' at all!
"Radical Christianity requires a radical commitment to Christ and a radical departure from the world. I pray that the Spirit of Truth will convict you of the Truth and show you the real Jesus.
"With a heavy heart"
I then wrote this email to him:
"Sure, you know the 'real Jesus' and I don't! What arrogance and what pride you possess and show! God have mercy on your soul, and I pray that He save the many hurting people out there from the hateful rhetoric that comes from all too many clergy like you who heap guilt and condemnation on others, all the while sinfully presuming that you have a 'clean heart,' and those who don't see the Bible, God, and the world as you do are worshipping a 'false Jesus!' Words can't express the anger I feel regarding the damage you and others who feel as you do have done to countless hurting people, to the image of Christianity, to most of the organized Church, and to many intelligent, decent, sensitive people who have turned their backs on the Church and even on God Himself because they have come to view as 'Christianity' the false gospel of legalism, exclusion, and perfectionism that you espouse, and which Jesus explicitly condemned, and from which He came to set us free! Believe me, your heart can't be as heavy as mine!"
The following is my reply to an email he subsequently sent to me:
"'Dear ----: You write, 'A preeminent concern of any faithful teacher or preacher of the Gospel must be that he draws the line where God draws it. He is an ambassador for the Lord Jesus, not an entrepreneur. Can we agree in this? In one of our previous exchanges, I said that I had gone to the ACCC website and concluded that the gospel presented in their 'statement of faith' (quotes because of their disclaimer) does not represent the Gospel of the New Testament in my judgment. [No, you said that we worshipped different Christs!] Christianity must be exclusive or it would cease to be Christianity. If anything is totally inclusive, then it is nothing; it is indefinable and meaningless. Are we agreed? If so, the question is then not if Christianity is inclusive or exclusive, but where the line is drawn. So, Jerry, where do you draw the line of inclusion and exclusion? You too must draw it, for there is no other option for a priest or a sociologist.'
"As I wrote in my first email to you in regard to your website, there is very much we agree upon! We exclude different people, however, from orthodox Christianity as it's been historically defined! From Jesus through Paul, and then reaffirmed by Martin Luther, the Gospel is 'good news,' and that good news is God's grace to those who implacably trust Him! That's why Luther, in the last letter to his wife wrote, 'Pray, and let God worry!' That's the faith that God wants from all those who claim His name! However, Luther also showed how God's grace is paramount in any understanding of the Gospel, or of Christianity itself, for that matter, in his letter to Melanchton, when he wrote, 'When you sin, sin boldly!' That is, there is absolutely no sin (save blasphemy of the Holy Spirit--saying that the Holy Spirit is demon possessed) that isn't trumped by the grace of God! That is why the Gospel is good news! Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the whole Law! And 'grace,' means just that: 'grace,' or 'unmerited favor!'v
"Having said all that, it must be understood that the Law (613 Commandments) was (notice, the past tense) our tutor or schoolmaster to lead us to Christ! I know you agree with this statement in theory, but when it comes right down to it, you resort to the Law in disparaging Gay people, and view their orientation and behavior as 'sinful.' We cannot blindly apply every biblical practice to contemporary society, as seen, for example, in the fact that I doubt you would want to bring back the institution of slavery to the U.S. because the Bible affirms the practice.
"Although you do pay lip service to the grace of God, you still retreat to the Law. That's perhaps why you never answered my question: the Bible clearly affirms slavery! Neither the Old Testament, Jesus, Paul, nor any other writer in the Bible ever condemned slavery and, in fact, Paul actually affirms it, as do the biblical writings and practices as recorded in the Old Testament. Question: Do you think, since 'the Bible says so,' that we should have the institution of slavery?
"You write,'To illustrate this I just went to the Christian Coalition website and noticed two things:
- There is nothing there about Jesus and the Gospel.
- There is apparently no requirement that a member be a Christian, they talk about "people of faith."
"Don't you realize (or perhaps you do) that you are saying that I'm not a Christian? Because I don't believe as you do regarding same-sex love, I am listening to 'something or someone other than Christ!' And you put a smile to that assertion, when I don't consider it a joke when I'm labelled as something other than a Christian! I take Christianity very seriously, and I take God very seriously, and I don't fool with the things of God. When I fight for the civil and sacramental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, I am obeying God's call on my life and even if the whole world disagrees, the whole world would be wrong! To 'judge' me as having faith in anything other than God through Jesus is a profound insult to me, and whether or not you meant it as an insult is irrelevant. You should, as an adult, know better than that!
"Now, regarding 'where I draw the line!' You see, neither you nor I are to 'draw the line!' Only God 'draws the line!' Only He has chosen His own from the foundation of the world; He draws the line, using criteria that we know virtually nothing of. The only way we can have some glimmer of those who are His is the faith they show Him that we can discern. But, since we can discern very little of another's faith, as that is to a great degree a matter of one's heart, we are not to judge another. Jesus makes that fact abundantly clear, as you must acknowledge.
"Yet you presume to judge me as not obeying the Holy Spirit's call on my life; you presume to judge Gay people because they don't conform to your interpretation of the Bible and what you think God can and cannot do! That is not only idolatry, but hubris of monumental proportions.
"Clearly, I agree that we'd be sharing the same space in the concentration camps that the religious fascists would set up, precisely for people who see a world (literally) of difference between Christianity and 'materialistic Americanism!' However, although you dissociate yourself from these people, you do the very same thing as they do! You exclude Gay Christians from the family of God, members of that family just as is any other person who calls on God!
"We are not to draw any lines; only God can and does do that! We are to love and accept all people, and leave all judgments to God! When people contravene the law of love, as so many professing Christian leaders do, and live in the lap of luxury when Jesus never even had a place to lay His head, we are absolutely right in calling the public's attention to such hypocrisy. " However, when we condemn what God Himself has made, we are committing an even more egregious sin than do those hypocrites. And that's going some!
"Regards, Jerry Maneker."
He then wrote a rather hateful letter to me that prompted me to finally end my email exchange with the following: "I have nothing more to say to you! Your view of God, the Gospel, and Christianity are far different from mine and from all those who seek to live out the Gospel of love. You see sin where there is none, so as to justify your preconceived prejudices; your selective interpretation of assorted Scripture passages, frequently out of context, so as to reaffirm your view of God, the Bible, and the world, completely miss the message of Jesus! And the tragedy is that you don't see it! These views that you have are largely projections of your inner world that, unfortunately, are shared by the very clergy you presume to reject. I genuinely have prayed and do pray for you, and I especially pray for the many people you and your ilk have hurt and turned away from God by your views and rhetoric from the pulpit."
The rhetoric and rantings of many clergy and other presumed Christian leaders, plus the palpable silence regarding these irrational and hateful remarks from almost all professing Christians and leaders in most all denominations of the organized Church, have increasingly rendered the Church both irrelevant and offensive! One can only wonder how many intelligent, sensitive, decent people have been turned away from the organized Church, and even from Christianity itself, by these wolves in sheep's clothing. "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)
Countless children have been disowned by their parents and are living on the streets, countless people have committed suicide, countless people have lived lives of shame and self-loathing, countless people are financially and in many other ways struggling to raise their families in same-sex households, countless people are being denied fundamental civil and sacramental rights and dignity, due to the rhetoric and actions of these wolves, these sanctimonious, God-talking haters and hate-mongers who are given credibility that they certainly don't deserve by the media and by gullible people who think that these bureaucratic wolves are speaking for God. Since when does the Gospel contain the requirement that only heterosexuals can be Christians, God's own children?
Who, but twisted, sexually and/or emotionally maladjusted clergy and others would have it that the Gospel of grace has been allowed to morph, to be perverted, into the false gospel of legalism, perfectionism, exclusion, and genital placement that posits that one must be heterosexual for God's grace to be bestowed on that person? Same-sex love is never condemned in Scripture! Jesus says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) Jesus certainly didn't say that one had to be heterosexual to be accepted by the Father! Indeed, Jesus never condemned homosexuality at all!
Since when is it viewed as being consistent with Jesus' teachings that a minister is allowed to seek to discriminate against others with impunity? Why is it that there are church trials for committed gay couples who are in the pastoral ministry, but hatred and the demonization of others by pastoral clergy is largely winked at by most of the organized Church? Where are the Christian leaders who are in a position to decry this obsessive hatred to be found? Why is it that there is virtually a single minded obsession with others' sexual and relational orientations by so many clergy, and virtually no negative reaction to naked hatred by these people who are charged with teaching and living Jesus' values here on earth? Since when has the exclusion of others been any part of the Gospel message of love? Why is it that so many professing Christians are silent when many clergy seek to deny others basic life chance protections? What does the silence of so many professing Christians and Christian leaders say about the current state of the Church, Christ's Church, in the U.S. and elsewhere? And finally, and most importantly, is the organized Church representative of Christ's Church in the first place, or is it some bureaucratized collectivity that has lost (if it ever had) the message of the Gospel, and that the Church, Christ's Church, transcends these churches and denominations that allow wars, poverty, and disease to go unaddressed in favor of expressing contempt for others based on their sexual orientations?
Representatives of Christ's Church do not seek to harm others or in any way seek to deny them civil and sacramental rights! If they do, they are none of His!
Having said all that, we can see that most of the organized Church has become falsely conscious! It has tied its fortunes to the material world as it is enmeshed with Americanism, which has, to a great degree, become fused in its mind, and in the minds of many people. Hence, there is barely a whisper by Christian leaders against the unjust invasion of Iraq, the saber rattling against Iran, the grinding poverty lived by all too many people in the U.S. and elsewhere, homelessness, the lack of adequate medical care for millions of people without any or adequate health insurance, the devolution of "higher education" that enables many students to graduate from colleges and universities who are functionally illiterate and lack critical thinking skills.
If one sees the organized Church as suffering from "false consciousness," these betrayals of Jesus' call for all of His followers to follow the path of love, to seek to help others, to minister to the hurting and the suffering, is seen in stark contrast to the consciousness of most of the organized Church and its leaders and their followers. The Apostle Paul tells us, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (1Timothy 1:7)
Using this criterion, having a "sound mind," is certainly antithetical to most of the organized Church's abdication of its responsibility to follow Jesus' commandment for His followers to love others, to approach the things of God with faith and humility, and to care for the vulnerable in society. And this abdication is due to many factors, such as the quest for materialism, the desire to be accepted, the need for in-group cohesion, and the need to externalize frustrations in what is considered a religiously accepted manner by appealing to the name of God to justify the exclusion of others.
Who says that "Christian beliefs" are in any way contradictory to "equality laws?" Since when do followers of Jesus seek to in any way prevent equality for all of God's children? Why is it that leaders of most of the organized Church are allowed to blatantly redefine Christianity into being 180 degrees from what Jesus told us to do? What does it say about those "leaders" and their followers who similarly advocate discrimination and exclusion, contravening the plain meaning of Scripture as it records Jesus' commandment to us to love our neighbor as we do our very selves???
And the most heartbreaking questions of all: Why are most all churches and parishoners remaining silent in the face of discrimination against other people and still considering themselves "Christians," the followers of Jesus? What kind of twisted mind-set has overtaken most of the organized Church when discrimination against others is viewed as being consistent with "Christian beliefs?" Why hasn't the organized Church learned from its disturbing and shameful role in its advocacy of, or silence regarding, segregation in the U.S. and elsewhere prior to the acquisition of civil rights for Afro-Americans, and come to understand that if it doesn't have a prophetic ministry it is largely irrelevant and worthless??
We must transcend, and not get caught up in, the false consciousness that characterizes most of the organized Church, with its myriad denominations, and with its many factions within those denominations! We are to realize that if we are Christians worthy of the name, we must both love (that is, show our trust in) God, and love all of God's children (that is, never tire of doing good to and for others-e.g. Galatians 6:9) and all of God's creation!
Transcending false consciousness takes the work of obeying the Holy Spirit Who indwells each and every one of God's children, chosen from the foundation of the world (e.g. Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4), as opposed to listening to mere human beings whose rhetoric contravene the mandate of God for us to love other people, all other people!
Each Christian has to make a cold-turkey choice: are we seeking to please mere human beings or are we seeking to please God? If we do the former, we are suffering from "false consciousness," even though we'll be liked and accepted my many; if we do the latter, we'll frequently be disliked and distrusted by many people, even, and perhaps most especially, by many professing Christians. However, we'll be pleasing God!
And that latter choice is the ultimate desire of those who are truly in the Church of Jesus Christ, and worthy of the name, "Christian!"
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