Monday, November 1, 2010

Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing

This shouldn't need to be said. But apparently, some pastors don't understand that lying is a sin.

For example, a pentecostal pastor in South Africa recently told his congregation that "Jesus was HIV-positive."

And here in Arlington, Texas, a contemporary church erected a sign this October which declared "Jesus doesn't care."

In both cases, orthodox evangelicals protesting these claims have been met with blithe self-absolutions from pastors obviously more interested in trying to establish a name for themselves than proclaiming the Gospel.

Now, I am not a Bible scholar, but since when is it OK to lie about the Son of God? Especially when you're supposed to be doing His work?

"It's OK; I'm a preacher. I can lie and get away with it."

Really, people?

Free Publicity

In the South African case, Xola Skosana, pastor of the non-denominational Hope for Life Ministry, claimed that since Christ metaphorically took on the frailties and sins of mankind, it's OK to infer that Christ also had AIDS. And granted, although AIDS is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, it can also be contracted through such benign events as blood transfusions. Which, of course, didn't exist when Christ walked the Earth, which leaves us back at the provocative - and heretical - insinuation that Christ was sexually active.

The very idea should make us want to vomit. Shouldn't it?

"Of course, there's no scientific evidence that Jesus had the HI virus in his bloodstream," Skosana admits, phrasing his defense in words which still don't absolve the guilt of his lie. "The best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to help de-stigmatize AIDS and create an environment where they know God is not against them, he's not ashamed of them."

That's the best gift we can give people, huh? Lying about the Savior of the World?

If you think that's preposterous, how about Brian Swiggart's attention-grabbing lie here in Texas? Swiggart, pastor of the Community of Lake Ridge, thinks that saying "Jesus doesn't care" is a cool way to drum up attention for his new church, which, BTW, is on the other side of the lake from the real subdivision called Lake Ridge.

"We created something quite compelling, didn't we?" boasts Swiggart, gloating about the recent Internet traffic their website has been getting. You see, www.jesusdoesnotcare.com is one of their URLs.

Swiggert goes on to clarify that what he means by the attention-getting phrase is Jesus doesn't care about a person's past sins. Yet that is also false, isn't it? If Jesus didn't care, then why did He have to die?

Madison Avenue Meets Church Street

Trying to attract attention to one's church has been a mainstay of pastoral one-upmanship for years. Robert Schuller commissioned internationally-acclaimed architect Philip Johnson to design an all-glass church. Jerry Falwell trumpeted the Moral Majority. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren twisted old evangelical models to market Christianity to wealthy boomers. Innumerable shucksters have gone on TV to advertise their "ministries."

But few of these people have actually used the name of Christ in such vulgar and sinful ways as Skosana and Swiggart, each of whom protest that they're not really lying.

So then, what is a lie?

According to Merriam-Webster, when a person tells a lie, they "make an untrue statement with intent to deceive," and/or "create a false or misleading impression."

What is so hard about understanding what those definitions mean? Skosana and Swiggert wanted to attract attention by positing a phrase which, taken in a generic cultural context, would naturally be provocative because the full expression of the phrase was not obvious. Both of these pastors revealed part of what they thought was true, but did so banking on their audience's reception of the phrases at face value. They wanted their audiences to misinterpret what they were saying. Doesn't that meet the threshold of "intent to deceive" and "create a misleading impression?"

Why This Matters

If you say "Jesus was HIV-positive," and you're trying to convey the metaphor that Christ can empathize with sinners, or people who are ostracized by society because of some physical condition, you need to immediately clarify and qualify what you mean to be implying. And I'm not sure you can accomplish all of that and still overcome the instant negative connotation you are delivering with such a provocative statement. Basically, in cultures familiar with AIDS and being HIV-positive, the immediate implication - for better or worse - is sexual promiscuity. And as the holy Son of God, such an implication represents unadulterated heresy. That in and of itself should automatically preclude a self-professed ambassador of the Gospel from uttering such a phrase.

Not to mention the fact that AIDS did not exist during the time of Christ's earthly ministry. Nor did blood transfusions, the only way a virgin would be able to contract the disease. So even on the basic level of historical fact, Soskana maligned the essential character of God's Son by ascribing to Him something that was impossible. Which, again, is heresy.

If Soskana was innocently attempting to utilize poetic license, and his attempt failed - which it did - and he immediately took responsibility for his mistake and inept conveyance of imagery, apologized to anyone in his audience who misunderstood him, and retracted his statement, then the matter would have ended. But he hasn't, it didn't, and indeed, Soskana continues pouring fuel onto the fire by insisting on defending his egregious claim. I think I can smell soot already.

Swiggart has proven to be no better. After reporters contacted him about his URL, he seemed pleased with all of the attention. It's all about getting the word out for his church, apparently. It's all about getting people talking and creating a buzz, shaking up what he consideres to be a stodgy Christian establishment and appealing to unchurched folks who like shocking the stodgy Christian establishment.

Well, shock-jock-pastor Swiggart, I've got news for you: your old-hat Christian establishment may have some stodgy views, but there's absolutely nothing stodgy about the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You think He doesn't care about sin? Then what are you doing in the ministry? What gospel are you shucking? Whose heaven are you promoting? Because it's not God's.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Sound familiar? God did not spare anything, and even gave up His own Son for us. Why? Because we are filthy, sinful rags without Christ's salvation. We're prostitutes to the world. We're sheep without a Shepherd. We are lost in our trespasses and sins without Christ. Without Christ as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King, you, Swiggart, and I are bound for an eternal destiny in Hell. And you think Jesus doesn't care?

How dare you pastors trot out cheap tricks in the name of evangelism? How dare you vainly try to compromise the very message of salvation that supposedly has spared both of your scruffy necks?

If we don't plead for God's mercy and Christ's atoning sacrifice, acknowledging His holiness, purity, and righteousness, then what business do any of us have claiming to represent the Gospel?

"Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked."
Galatians 6:7
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