Sunday, November 16, 2008

Charismaniacs: Requiem for an American-jesus Empire

I became a follower of Jesus through the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of Christianity. I admit that in the earliest days of my faith, I fell prey to glamour and panache of teachings about Jesus that prima facie appeared to be unconventional. Having been crushed by the weight of a heroin and cocaine addiction, in concert with a severe alcoholic bent, I sought a relationship with God that would enable me to succeed in life. I was drawn to a Jesus, quite disparate (in hindsight) from the historical Jesus, or frankly from the Jesus of “orthodoxy” ((While in a formal paper, I would be reticent to use this term, I speak hear only the general contours of faith from the fourth century on espoused on both Eastern and Western sides, by Roman Catholics and Protests [so the net is pretty wide!)) for most of Christian history. The Jesus I found was the quintessential American Jesus—a Jesus whose robe was composed of the American flag, who was a stalwart for Western superiority, who desired for his people to learn the “ways of the world” and manipulate the world system in order to gain wealth and influence “for the kingdom,” of course. This Jesus wanted his preachers to be Imperial warlords “of the Spirit,” to vanquish “the wicked,” take their wealth and be affluent beyond imagination. This jesus ((You will note that henceforth for this “jesus” I will use the uncapitalized substantive morpheme, in the same way an orthodox (of whatever stripe) person would choose to discuss alternative deities to their faith with a lowercase “g-od.” )) furthermore has become the servant maiden passed around from demagogue to demagogue used for her worth to manipulate the populace by playing on their thought or felt spiritual needs. In a provocative new series of posts, I will seek to identify and deconstruct several Charismaniacs. As a thinking Pentecostal, someone has to identify the fallacies of fundamentalist mind control employed under the guise of the name of jesus, regardless of how disparate this jesus may be from the historical Jesus who identified himself with the marginal, hopeless, oppressed, and poor.

Case 1: Dutch Sheets (a self-proclaimed “prophet”)

Recently, Dutch Sheets, a sparsely known Charismatic “prayer warrior/prophet” has posted on his website an open letter concerning his “response” to the recent Presidential Election. At the outset he states that Obama’s election “he is confident” is not God’s will. His rationale is that Obama is not against abortion, and will not perpetuate a Supreme Court to his liking. These to factors would have pushed America towards being more “god honoring” and “life and morality.” He is concerned America has put on “blinders” to Obama’s beliefs and practices.

He believes that “judgment will increase” as a result. By this, he means “divine” judgment. He likens his sadness to “Jesus” weeping for Jerusalem! Moreover, he identifies several key groups who will experience direct judgment: (1) those who “aligned themselves with pro-abortion forces” (which being interpreted means “anyone who voted for Obama”!), (2) leaders who refuse to take a stand (we are left to assume he means against the evil forces of Obama and those who voted for him, (3) for those who voted for money over morality, then pause. He steps back to rationalize his appeal, trying to say that social justice is important, but not as important as anti-abortion. Then he identifies what he thinks this judgment will look like.

Firstly, I would like to say that I offer the benefit of the doubt, at least in so far as I’m sure Mr. Sheets thinks that his heart is “led by the Spirit” or “right” if you will. With that caveat, it should be pointed out that what Sheets has offered is little more than his own diary entry. Sheets is unable to recognize that God may well not be in his movement or his perception of “the church.” Could it be that God has removed his presence—in judgment….from the entrenched arm of the Republican party that calls itself the body of Christ? Might Sheets mourning be stemming from a deeper level of pain than for the nation, rather could he be perceiving in his unconscious the fall of the fundamentalist Empire? Might the power brokering days those who represent a jesus washed in the red, white, and blue, who justifies war and the perpetuation of empire, who commands capitalistic enterprise and spiritual manipulation among those who would seek him in faithfulness be drawing to a close?

I have sympathy for Sheets, a true American product of his environment. He doesn’t realize he embodies more of the world in his nationalism and quasi-pietism than the “evil world” of those outside his spirit-clan of yes-men. In the earliest days of my faith, I was at an event where Sheets “prophesied” for nearly 45 minutes in a morning chapel. I fell asleep that day, literally. Sometimes blessings come in disguise, I suppose. By way of concluding commentary, I believe Sheets’ rhetoric are prophetic, I believe, however, that the “Spirit” is needed to understand this unknown tongue. The days of the late great American fundamentalist Empire are waning, the foundations have crumbled, and the structure is trembling and will soon buckle under the weight. If the American jesus proponents’ measuring rod of success is correct—namely, if that which “brings in the biggest crowds” and “blesses the most people” is the standard of God’s Spirit involvement with humanity, then I suppose that Jesus has arisen, but those who called him ‘lord, lord’ and perpetuated their tunnel-visioned, hate-mongering, discriminatory, elitist faith are not being recognized by Him. And Sheets’ letter operates functionally as a requiem for the American-jesus Empire. May she rest in peace.

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