Sunday, June 14, 2015

Imprecatory Psalms, Caitlyn Jenner, and the Woman Caught in Adultery

Came across this video via Daily Kos (the full hour long sermon/teaching is here.)  I don't recommend following either links.   But you may need to follow the links to understand my meaning in this post.  But if you can make sense of what I say you will avoid some unpleasantness.

The video is of a pastor preaching on prayer. He is some type of Baptist in Arizona (It's good to remember that Baptists are a diverse lot, so please don't see this pastor as representative, check out Anglobaptist and Justin Thornburgh for a very different sort).  The Daily Kos post focuses on the end of the hour long teaching, where the Pastor is finishing up talking about imprecatory prayer  of which a number of Psalms are an example, in which the psalmist prays against enemies or the wicked, praying for God to be victorious, even praying for the death of "wicked" and "enemies".  Eugene Peterson in his book on the Psalms see these prayers as Biblical examples of expressions of human emotions in the midst of conflict and or of the oppressed for oppressors.  Desire for deliverance in the face of evil and those who perpetuate it.  Peterson finds in these imprecatory prayers examples that we can be angry even to the point of desiring another's death in the face of God. However, Peterson sees these prayers as moving towards other goals, We can pray these (and there may be circumstances where the removal of the wicked an oppressor, or those who work grave injustice in the name of law and order) yet there isn't' the expectation that we should pray these sorts of prayers.  Pastor  Anderson in the last nine minutes of this sermon has a very different take. there is a should,  and not can.  The Psalms doesn't lead us to express our anger against oppression and injustice but to pray against people we see as irredeemably evil. Daily Kos picks this up not because the pastor says that we should pray for the death of serial killers and abusers of Children (which he also says) but because he targets Caitlyn Jenner as deserving his hate and prayer for her to die following  his understanding of the example of the Psalmist.

Eugene Peterson doesn't interpret wicked or enemies in a moralistic way and sees imprectotory prayer to be more revealing of our human propensity to hate than revelation of the heart of God. Steve Anderson in this sermon is the exact reverse of Peterson's interpretation, he interprets wicked and enemies both moralistically and as revealing the heart of God.  This is why he turns his words against Caitlyn Jenner she is morally repugnant and in part due to her public persona a danger to morality.  For Anderson there are just some people who are beyond the pale.  What Peterson takes as contextual (though we don't always know the context) Anderson takes as law.  In some sense it is his duty to pray against those who corrupt the youth (yes I used that deliberately). Anderson's god is the maintainer of the order as he sees it, specifically the order of sex, gender and sexuality, as well as I'd guess the political status quo, police and any authority. This god is one who supports values of love of family, country and "brotherhood", above all else.

Here we have two very different readings of imprecatory psalms and what they teach us about ourselves and God. For Peterson in these Psalms we find that we can be human before God and express our deep anger against unfairness, oppression and those who oppress and commit injustice and commit injustices against us. Even that we can pray before God for deliverance from these wicked who oppress and commit injustice, and oppress us. Yet, expression of our anger and our desire that those who are wicked should cease in there injustice and oppression if necessary through their demise, doesn't mean that is what God desires for them.  In fact, a psalm even says that God doesn't desire the death of the wicked.    Anderson, by reading examples of expressions of frustration anger even hatred before God, is turned into that we should express these things and should desire that certain wicked people should perish and go to hell (something not in view for the Psalms). For Peterson the Bible is about our relationship with God, thus the Psalms show us how to be in relationship to God even with our more negative feelings, for Anderson the Bible is all about telling us what to do and how to do it, thus prayers of deep intimate relationship with God such that we can truly bear our soul before God becomes a rule for how to ask God for things so that we can be sure we are doing it correctly.

Lastly,  Anderson rhetorically enacts the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Including his assumption that Jesus would agree with him on his desire for Caitlyn Jenner to die and to be stoned to death.  So convinced he is of his own righteous judgment of Jenner that he can't hear Jesus (whom he supposedly follows), not of Anderson's imagination, say he who is without sin cast the first stone" and "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more."  Even if Anderson were correct about Jenner's sin (which I don't think is the case), Jesus Christ stands and says  "If you can claim to be without sin pray for her death."  There's probably a great deal the Jenner has done wrong and things from which she needs to repent, even so Jesus Christ stands inviting us into repentance refusing death as the solution to sin.  And Jesus stands and tells the self -righteous like Anderson to remember their own sins before calling another person "reprobate".  Sure there are wicked people who it seems deserve to die, those who have enslaved and profited form enslavement of others, those who benefit from the economic exploitation of the poor (I in small ways am in that category).  But if Anderson would stop a minute and remember that James (which he quotes a number of times in this hour long sermon) says that true religion is the care for the outcast the vulnerable and the poor (widow and orphan), he may be less certain of his righteousness and righteous judgement.  Were Anderson to stop and actually here and know Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity, he'd realize that he too is the wicked and reprobate participating in a system that benefits from exploitation and has yet to deal truly with its enslavement of Africans and continual oppression of African-Americans.  And that is to say that Pastor Steve Anderson whether he realizes it or not is preaching a White Gospel that was used to justify slavery and segregation and thus has little to do with the God he claims to follow.