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Count the Cost

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As an atheist in modern America, I am on edge about cultural Christianity burrowing deeper and deeper into my civic institutions; I am frustrated by the persecution complex that leads to protests whenever Christian privilege is rolled back; but mostly I am saddened by the failures of so many evangelists and pastors across our country who are creating zealots without fundamental grounding in their faith. I don’t necessarily want fewer Christians in my country. I want Christians staking out leadership roles in our public square to model authentic Christianity. I want less of the hate radio bloviation that leads to fresh converts like Kim Davis believing that they are the comic book hero of their own Dan Brown penned end-of-days conspiracy blockbuster. I want real discipleship and real Christianity to be spotlighted.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis gestures as she refuses to issue marriage licenses to a same-sex couple in Morehead, Kentucky September 1, 2015, in a still image from video provided by WLEX. Davis, defying a new U.S. Supreme Court decision and citing "God's authority," rejected requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples on Tuesday in a deepening legal standoff now two months old. REUTERS/WLEX/LEX18.com FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

REUTERS/WLEX/LEX18.com

Please don’t misread this as some sort of approval for Davis’ stance or actions, she’s wrong and wrong on top of wrong. She’s misreading the Constitution and her political position relative to it and she is wallowing in pride (1 Cor 13) to show off her piety (Luke 11:5ff), but the larger failure is that of her pastor and her fellowship.

Kim Davis’ great mistake is that she hasn’t read the owner’s manual on her faith yet. She read the poster. She saw the trailer. From the cheap seats it appears that she has been fed a Warrior for Christ apocalyptic us-versus-them doom cult narrative. This is a side effect of ‘capitalist’ Christianity’s desire to grow congregations beholden to the Church for strength in numbers and proper functional talking points rather than true discipleship. The warrior imagery is an artifact of the early Falwell/Dobson/Swaggart era Culture War that needed a foundational narrative that superceded internecine dogma wrangling. They ended up forging a narrative that the canonical Christ rejected in Gethsemane before his death.

In John 18:10 Simon Peter strikes the first blow for the revolution, lopping off Malcus’ ear and Jesus, even with a few other things on his mind, rebukes him, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (KJV)”. In a time when every great indie desert Rabbi was supposed to be leading the revolution against Rome, Jesus made it clear that 1.) This wasn’t the sort of revolution he was talking about and 2) the Father had placed a fate before him and he was to follow the Father’s will. But despite the clarity of the Christ of the canonical gospels clearly modeling that he believed there was another way, the Culture Warriors of the late 1970s and early 1980s chose the language and narrative of apocalyptic war.

There is no coexistence or tolerance in apocalyptic war. There is only conquering the nation for Christ with the sword of the Word in lock step with your sisters and brothers. A purely oppositional evangelical ethos leaves no room for dialogue and no responsibility for the damage caused. If something or someone breaks, they were sinners and this is a diseased world anyway. The edge cases, the sociopathy of that belief system, are Dylan Roof and Timothy McVeigh, the dead eyed center is Kim Davis. It is a certainty that the end is near and you have to make your time here count.

Counting. Counting matters.

First, James’ exhorts believers to count all trials as joy, for testing of your faith produces patience, and let patience perfect its work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  [James 1:2ff]

Second, Paul says: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”. [Phillipians 3:7-11]

And finally, all of Luke 14:25-34, but most essentially: “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. [27-30]

Ms. Davis, there is a cost to the life you profess to the cameras that you have chosen. The cost of eternal life in the light of the savior you profess is that you pick up your cross and follow him. The way is not easy. If you feel the conviction of the Spirit that you cannot do the job you are in in the world and be in covenant then it is on you to take action. It is for you to modify your behavior to bring yourself back into the covenant you have sworn.

You have been misled into believing that your actions can change the world and that honoring your faith and your God require you to make a defiant stand when all that will happen is that immoral people will raise money for themselves in your name. Ms. Davis, your actions aren’t the face of Christ as it has been handed down, they are the face of political conservatism in contemporary America. If what you desire is stardom among modern political conservatives, you’re going to be successful for a time. But you are damaging your witness as a child of God and you are weakening the position of your fellow Christians by modeling lobbyists and pundits instead Jesus.

Modeling Christ’s behavior would have meant that when your political position became, in your estimation, immoral you would have tendered your resignation. Had you resigned, you would have had an unhypocritical platform to talk about the cost of serving Christ and the joy of salvation and of leaning on your faith to provide. You would have given your fellowship and your community, locally and nationally, the opportunity to support you as you found a new position in line with your new faith.

The scenario outlined lacks the adrenaline rush of being a Warrior for Christ. It wouldn’t get the blood pumping like tossing up the double middle finger to the US Supreme Court and the “godless liberals” who are ruining this country and telling “good, normal, God Fearing Americans” what to do… but it would have been Christian.

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  • jadinvt

    Well said and good scholarship. I only got as far as “you’re a fucking tax collector,” before dismissing her faith-based claims.

  • Michael thank you so much for sharing. I hope that as connections build the center realizes that we’re allowed to talk to each other and not merely to each other’s radical fringe. A regrowth in kindness, a diminished gag reflex for any criticism and a rebirth for the progressive right would shore up defenses against what most people have branded the death of civility.

  • Well said. Reminds me of what I recently wrote about “black and white” thinking. I like to say to my progressive believing friends that atheists aren’t the enemy, but fundamentalist all-or-nothing thinking is, which can be present on the right or left (alas, mostly the right and my evangelical past). I will check in on your journey from time to time. Have you heard of The Place? It’s a little online hangout where atheists and theists do talk to and appreciate each other. Cheers.