Thursday, January 1, 2009

False Prophets in a Modern Day World

Part of my fundamentalist upbringing conditioning was that not only were we the ONLY correct Christians, but that there were people disguised as Christians out there that we needed to avoid. These pseudo-Christians might look like us and act like us and even proclaim that Jesus was their Lord and Savior, but they weren't us. In fact, the devil himself might cloak himself in the form of a highly appealing, Bible-quotin', Gospel singing, big-hair wearing preacher of the Word.

We were coached from an early age to be suspicious and to look at others with skepticism, no matter what they said or how nice to us they were. As a matter of fact, the nicer they were, the more distance we should probably keep.

Apparently, the Bible talks quite a bit about being wary of so called "false prophets"- or proclaimers of faith who don't practice what they preach. Or even more sinisterly, use the mantel of Christianity to advance their own selfish motives- for money, for power, for sex or ego.

We certainly had our fill of powerful religious leaders who have fallen to their own greed and power in big, media-frenzying ways. I can name a few off hand like Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, Robert Tilton- all victims of their own rigid standards, perhaps examples of Karma in action.

Another irony they all have in common in their rise to power was their dogmatic approaches to Christianity as they knew. Preaching from the same texts, they often rail against liars and cheaters while at the same time ignoring these values in their own practice. Many seem content to portray themselves as flawless, examples and beyond reproach. They may preach a sermon on the Biblical directive to avoid judging others on Sunday, and the next providing Biblical justification for being self-righteous and for condemning others that don't follow the same path.

For some, I'm sure, they are aware that they are playing a game. Some I think are deeply narcissistic and just like any other entertainer, aren't the character they portray on stage. Being held in esteem by others, fawned over and praised regularly feeds some deeper need that they may not even understand or see in themselves.

Others, I think do try to lead ethical, consistent lives. There are Christians, albeit rare, that do reserve judgment towards others, do practice loving their neighbor, and are quick to show compassion and understanding regardless of passages in the Bible that seem contradictory to the words and actions of Jesus himself. These Christians understand that living a good life is an ongoing process and not one act of declaring yourself "saved" and then resting on your laurels as you use your membership in a larger religious organization to justify immoral, hateful or discriminatory behaviors.

Unfortunately, although we were warned regularly of "false Christians" when I was growing up, very little information was actually provided on how to know when you might be following one.

As a matter of fact, the message was "trust the preacher you have" no matter what, as a sign of faith, it's OTHER people's pastors that were suspect. Very convenient. And, questioning of your church leader was not acceptable, even if you had some.

I guess you could say I was sensitized to hipocrasy at a young age by the often double messages from the pulpit in the churches I grew up in. Preacher Smith taught us about love and kindness on Sunday mornings, but was a son of a bitch most of the time in real life. Petty favoritism was a regular experience in Sunday School. And I can't tell you how often I heard stinging and unkind gossip from the preachers' wives, Bible School teachers and the circle meetings.

So now, when I hear a religious leader, of any faith, proclaiming as truth their own matter of opinion and with little to no ration or fact to back it up, I make a mental note.

Every time the Pope resists science, personal experiences and the obvious lack of true Biblical justification to bash gays, I know that he is fallible. Listening to Rick Warren stumble around his answers to Ann Curry's questions about homosexuality reassures me that he does not speak for God. And clever, smiling "religious" entertainers like Mike Huckabee who can't figure out a way to reconcile his "faith" with his homophobia when pressed, convinces me that the false prophets of the world are many and the true sons and daughers of Christ are hidden by their own humilty .

Wisdom is something I expect from a religious leader. Being perfect is not.

So what is a false prophet to me these days?  

Someone who believes that because they think something is true, it is, no matter the evidence to the contrary.

A person who feels free to defy some tenants of their faith, such as loving their neighbor or withholding judgment of others, because they believe in their own superior perspective.

A religious leader, at a local, national or international level, who uses his or her religion to justify immoral behavior, regardless of intent.

The Rick Warrens of the world aren't worth our time or energy and his 15 minutes of fame will end soon.

No amount of religious zealousness makes George W. Bush's actions as President defensible.

People who truly live their faith understand this. False prophets do not.

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