July 20, 2015

When Self-Love Becomes Problematic

On June 29th, 2015 during the 4th plenary, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Synod hosted Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the Executive Editor of Global Spirituality and Religion for The Huffington Post.

The object of his sermon was what he called the “ongoing struggle for the soul of the body of Christ.” In developing his point, he lamented the Mother Emanuel AME Church massacre and criticized those who tried to frame it as an attack on Christianity.

“Many white pastors and commentators on the right attempted to describe the attack not as racism but as an attack on Christianity….in what appeared to me as an effort to subsume the event under their broader agenda of religious freedom.”

Raushenbush further railed against white supremacy,

“Emanuel…wasn’t attacked because it was a church…[but]…because it was a specific kind of church. And since the shooting in Charleston there have been at least five other black churches around the south that have been attacked by arson. The shooter knew the history enough to know that not all churches have been his enemy. White southern churches legitimized slavery from their pulpits although they repent of it today…White churches…responded to the mandate to integrate public schools by founding independent Christian schools so that they could keep segregation alive…and so we struggle for the soul of the church.”

He then drew parallels between racism and gay rights,

“Likewise, when we celebrate marriage equality…the record is equally mixed. Self-described Christian leaders have legitimized discrimination and destroyed LGBT lives under the guise of protecting morality….[But] gay activism includes decades of courageous religious leadership….Gay rights organizations such as PFLAG were started in the church.”

According to Raushenbush, this “ongoing struggle for the soul of the body of Christ” extends to other battlegrounds such as gender equality, militarization, climate change, immigration, and approaches to science.

As his sermon continued, the openly-homosexual Raushenbush expressed gratitude to the Church for affirming his “humanity as a beloved child of God” and teaching him that he was “beautifully and wonderfully made and that to love and care for [him]self was a form of gratitude to the creator.”

Invoking a quote from Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Raushenbush claimed that being the church is about “freedom to worship, and freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends us to be, and freedom to have equality in the sight of God.”

Raushenbush concluded his message by encouraging the UCC to invest more in campus ministries and online engagement through the medium of social media, lest the conservatives overtake them in these areas.

For the most part, Raushenbush is par for the Religious Leftist course: he rails against white supremacy, militarization, climate change deniers, gender inequality, and advocates gay rights.

While his criticism of racism is commendable, he manages to bungle some facts in the process.
Raushenbush’s claim that “five other black churches around the south…have been attacked by arson” since the terrible massacre is inaccurate. On July 3rd, Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), pointed out that of the eight churches that burned in the two weeks following the Charleston massacre, seven were in the south, only three were declared to be arson, and two of them were predominately white.

While Dylann Roof is an evil man who deserves nothing less than the death penalty (Gen 9:6), it is inaccurate to tie all the “white churches” to his despicable crime, as if they are the theological and philosophical descendants of the churches that promoted white supremacy in times past. Such a narrative is obstructed by the fact that it was a white Southern Baptist church woman who tipped off Roof’s location to the police.

However, Raushenbush’s biggest theological misunderstandings are found in his commentary on God and sexuality.

Raushenbush seems to think that his homosexuality is okay in the eyes of God because he was “beautifully and wonderfully made” that way.

While it is true that the Bible says that we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), contextually it was referring to the creation of the body in the womb. It was not saying that every impulse in the body is wonderful. Furthermore, the wisdom of this scripture must be informed by the fact that the body and soul of man is tainted by sin (Gen 8:21). Finally, additional scripture makes it clear that homosexuality is evil in the eyes of God (John 10:30, Lev. 18:22, Romans 1:26-28). It is therefore illegitimate for someone to use Psalm 139:14 to bless homosexuality.

Raushenbush’s claim that man is obligated to show gratitude to God by loving and caring for himself is problematic on its own and incorrect in the context of his reflection. While God does expect man to honor Him with his body (I Cor. 6:19-20), and the Bible assumes that people have an element of self-love (Eph. 5:29), God never gives a direct command to love ourselves as an act of gratitude to him. It is important to remember that God loved us despite the fact that there was nothing worth loving about us, not because we had any redeeming qualities (Rom. 5:6-8). Furthermore, scripture speaks much about denying and crucifying ourselves, while promoting others at the expense of our own strife vain glory (Lk. 9:23, Gal 2:20, Phil. 2:3). Self-love can very easily lead to pride and is rendered virtually unnecessary by the fact that God will love and sustain us (Ps. 55:22). Raushenbush uses this problematic concept of self-love to affirm his homosexuality, which is in open defiance of God’s sexual regulations.

Finally, Raushenbush did not appear to understand that one’s status as a child of God does not bless said child’s behavior; David was beloved of God but that did not save him from God’s judgment for his adultery (II Samuel 12:13-14).

In the end. Raushenbush, like the UCC Synod that hosted him, is a tragic example of someone who wants to have God’s affirmation, but not His loving discipline (Heb. 12:6). As a he is unable to realize Pastor Clementa Pinckney’s charge that the identity of the church should be grounded in, “freedom to worship, and freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends us to be, and freedom to have equality in the sight of God.”


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