In today’s “Theology Corner” we’re taking questions from our readers. The first question comes from A Paul in Seabrook, TX. A assures me that his entire first name is simply A, and that his initial and name are in fact identical. I imagine this causes all sorts of excitement when traveling internationally in places where the American alphabet is not in use. Please do not send me emails, Facebook postings, text messages via cell phone, or actual paper letters correcting me on whether our alphabet is Roman or Hindu or anything else. We live in America (well, I don’t) and we use that alphabet. I think we allow the Canadians to use it as well.
A asks, “Reverend J, why is it that we Baptists and other Christians are part of one of the few major international religions that makes no use of machetes in teaching and proselytizing?” This is a highly perceptive question, and isn’t disturbing in any way. I own a rather large machete that I found in another missionary’s house, and I have often wondered how I might make better use of it in my work. In what could only be an act of spiritual coincidence, I also own 3 grinding wheels from Sears and at least 7 whetstones.
Let’s first agree not to approach this from the perspective of “Christianity is a love-based religion that does not use violence to blah blah blah.” We’re all intellectuals here and common sense has no place in our discussions.
When I posed A’s question to my fellow theologians, the loudest and therefore most theologically profound response hinged on the inappropriateness of borrowing from other faiths. “We cannot,” retorted Stanley St. Stanleyson, “go around mimicking and copying the uncounted, unwashed, un-American godless pagan masses! A change from our current methods to something “newer” and “better” can only result in a change in theology as well! Amen!”
Let’s analyze this response, shall we? For starters, I think we should appoint a non-denominational ecumenical council that will discuss the appropriateness of the phrase “godless pagans.” Do we use this phrase to differentiate between god-possessing pagans and those pagans who profess no god(s)? Are there both theistic and atheistic pagan groups? I also move that we place this notion at the top of the agenda at the next church business meeting.
Second, I think we should stay away from inflammatory name-calling. I see no need to insult other well-intentioned though theologically inept people by slapping pejorative labels on them. Seriously, there’s no need to use words like “un-American.”
As for borrowing from other groups, though, I think this is where Mr. Stanelyson and I will have to part ways. We borrowed the dating of Christmas from the orgiastic festival honoring Saturn. Church architecture is a rip-off of Roman imperial design. We got our Old Testament from the Jews and choir robes from the Greeks. Heck, we even stole our name from some dude named John, middle name “the.”
And besides, matching our theology to the things we hold precious is a time-honored American tradition. Find something in society that you already don’t like first. THEN go look for a verse to back you up; doing it the other way around is just bizarre. Find a tradition that is precious to you before you run off half-cocked to see if the Bible treasures it as well. Need a new method for managing your church? See what the Harvard School of Business says, copy that, and you can worry about how to manage the theology of it later.
So to A my response is, “A, the only reason we don’t use machetes is because they are not an intrinsic part of our culture and society. If our verbal interplay in the public forum is any indication, we Christian obviously have no trouble with various forms of violence. Just be sure you use your machete in love.”