The Co-Optation of Christianity

It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. (Psalm 118:8)

This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)

One of the definitions of the term, “co-opt” is the following: “to assimilate or win over into a larger group.” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1997) It is quite easy to be co-opted by all sorts of rewards for conformity to the status quo, to the ways and means of virtually all institutions in secular society. Indeed, to its detriment, the Church may be seen to have gladly allowed itself to be co-opted resulting in the great loss of members in mainline churches, and the loss of many intelligent, sensitive people both from the Church and from even the likelihood of them taking Christianity seriously enough to even consider it as a viable way to have a relationship with God. Indeed, the cooptation of Christianity, frequently resulting in no Christianity at all, may well have had the effect of having many people not even want to consider God at all in their daily lives!

Rhetoric that is called “Christian” is frequently a downright embarrassment in its hateful stupidity and studied ignorance where godliness is considered to be synonymous with rank prejudice, xenophobia (fear and/or hatred of foreigners, and anyone or anything viewed as different from the person him/herself and his/her ways of doing things) and, increasingly, blatant advocacy of discrimination.

For example, as you know, I have a burning passion for full and equal civil and sacramental rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. That passion mirrors that which I had in the 1950s and ’60s in regard to the rights of Afro-Americans. When I read and hear hateful rhetoric, which contributes to suicides, bashings, and murders of our gay brothers and sisters, I can’t help but recall the naked hate on the faces of professing Christians who carried placards and screamed at little black children going to a hitherto white elementary school, all the while citing select and distorted biblical passages to justify their prejudice and hate.

What makes the current climate of hate, as with the climate of hate that existed during the civil rights era, so tragic and shameful is the brutal fact that the major impetus for that hate, the rhetoric that fuels that hate, is largely coming from the leadership and their blind followers in most of Christianity’s denominations. Clearly, some denominations are much more moderate than others in their hateful rhetoric and animus. However, apart from the United Church of Christ (ads for which the major networks won’t air because they are deemed to be “too controversial”), I am not aware of any mainline denomination that seeks full civil and sacramental rights for gay people.

Jesus seems to make it very clear that divorce is only to be had in cases of fornication, and that when one divorces and remarries, he or she is committing adultery. (Matthew 5:32) Yet, if “the sanctity of marriage” and “the well-being of the family” are the real concerns of clergy and others who rail against same-sex marriage, why don’t they deal with the actual threat to those institutions: our very high heterosexual divorce rate, and not deal with same-sex relationships that have absolutely nothing to do with these institutions? The reason they don’t spew their rhetoric (nor should they) concerning this rational reason for the threats to marriage and the family is that many in their congregations are divorced and have re-married and the clergy don’t want to bite the hands that feed them when it comes time for the offertory.

Diverting our attention from the real threats to marriage and the family by scape-goating a minority group that, by any stretch of a rational imagination, has absolutely nothing to do with those threats, are tactics that most clergy use to please most of their constituents, just as many politicians scapegoat gay people to hustle votes and for purposes of diverting attention from a failed foreign policy and innumerable domestic fiscal and other policies that have considerably eroded quality of life and civil liberties in this country.

The Church is called upon to be the voice of the poor, the displaced, the marginalized, the hurting, and be a vehicle of compassion and ministry to see to it that our light so shines that God is given the glory for our ministries of love. However, the “Church” has allowed itself to be co-opted by opportunistic politicians and clergy where the name of God is used to hurt, demean, condemn, discriminate, ostracize, and even kill others.

That co-optation has ignored the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit Who puts love in the hearts of all those who have Jesus in their hearts, and that is one reason why I strongly feel that we are entering a post-denominational age where God’s love will trump the Church’s co-optation by the most reactionary forces in our society, and where Christians worthy of the name will, once again, not be embarrassed by the selling out of Christianity by those who have eagerly sought to align themselves with opportunistic and reactionary secular and “religious” forces in society.