My most well-deserved yet unreceived criticism

Putting one’s opinions into the public sphere for decades requires not being too defensive by the feedback — which can vary greatly. One learns what to take as constructive criticism and what to laugh off.

Responses to my writings have ranged from exaggerated praise to the doubtless assurance of a burning afterlife.

Some comments address the topic at hand or a related one very well. More passionate ones are often expressed atop a handy soapbox — while reading one’s own agenda into what I did or didn’t say.

Then there are those classic, indecipherable rants that are kept as souvenirs of one’s opinion writing career.

As I approached vacating the editor’s chair late last year, someone commended my work with the qualifier, “I’ve not always agreed with what you wrote.”

“Good,” I said. “I don’t agree with everything I’ve written either.”

What sounded right at the time may not sound right now. There is wisdom in gaining clarity and insights.

At the root of the societal challenges we face today is often an unwillingness to admit we’ve been wrong about anything — even when new evidence emerges.

However, what amazes me most — and this just came to mind recently — is the lack of criticism for the one thing that is most applicable to me.

That I am a lousy follower of Jesus.

Now I have been told repeatedly that I don’t believe the Bible. Often followed by various forms of name-calling.

But why that criticism and not the more obviously applicable one? Here’s why.

Because much of Americanized Christianity today has been thoroughly redefined in terms of “believing the Bible” (in very narrow, selective ways) rather than following Jesus. 

To “believe the Bible” in this way really means affirming particular interpretations of isolated verses that prop up a desired ideology.

And, in many cases, the proffered ideology has nothing to do with what Jesus called his followers to be and do. In fact, it is often a designed diversion from what Jesus said and did.

Often, such counter-Jesus allegiances make use of the ideologically manufactured terms “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview.” It is a way of turning from rather than to the red-letter words in the Gospels.

Charging someone with not “believing the Bible” — rather than with not following Jesus faithfully — keeps the focus off Jesus and on whatever human-rendered, selectively Bible-justified ideology is being embraced and advanced.

This isn’t a new charge, just an emboldened one in the current, fearful subculture of white American evangelicalism. But it has a long, sad history.

That same charge of not believing the Bible (rather than criticism for not following Jesus) was leveled against those who, on the basis of their Christian conviction, opposed the enslavement of African people.

“Either believe the Bible and support slavery or oppose slavery and throw out the Bible as God’s authoritative word,” the mid-19th-century theologians and preachers asserted (Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women, 1983, Herald Press).

This was not some minority, off-the-wall statement. It was the consensus within a large segment of American society — where Christianity was considered most valued.

That statement represented the “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview” being articulated and argued as divine truth. Any counter argument was then dismissed as “not believing the Bible.”

And in the pews, those who enjoyed their race-based privileges and shared in the economic benefits of slavery found this perverted version of being “Christian” to be more favorable than following Jesus.

So that’s the kicker: the primacy of “believing the Bible” is a very real, big and ongoing problem.

It becomes the chosen method for justifying the unjustifiable discrimination against and abuse of others. It’s how basic human and Christian values get dismissed.

Those making the biblical case for human bondage, for example, were absolutely right. The Bible does undeniably — even literally — support slavery.

It is there in black and white: “Slaves be subject to your masters with all good reverence…” (1 Peter 2:18 KJV).

It is a clear, indisputable biblical message. Unless…

…unless, unless, unless…

…unless, unless, unless…

….unless, unless, unless

unless one interprets this and all other isolated scripture through the rightful lens of Jesus Christ.

For it is Jesus — God’s fullest revelation to humanity — who continues to call his followers to our highest allegiance.

And when it comes to that commitment — of living consistently in the risk-taking, grace-giving, self-sacrificing ways of Jesus — I come up woefully short.

Therefore, I deserve criticism for claiming his name while failing to be more like him. And I may not be alone.