Burning Children for God
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.” – Dr. Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power
“Then the Lord said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
‘Those destined for death, to death;
those for the sword, to the sword;
those for starvation, to starvation;
those for captivity, to captivity.’
‘I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,’ declares the Lord, ‘the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy. I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.'” Jeremiah 15:1-4
Those of us familiar with Old Testament literature understand the tragic history surrounding Jewish monarchs who ascended to power only to squander their name, leadership, and faith in hopes of attaining favor with local sovereignties or in pursuit of fleeting pleasures.
King Manasseh began his rule over Judah at the age of twelve. A boy, an adolescent, with the keys to the kingdom. The son of a popular and well-liked king Hezekiah, whose honorable religious reforms had spread throughout Judah had died and left the young boy-king with large shoes to fill. Set on leaving behind his distinct legacy, Manasseh set off to accomplish the necessary tasks required of every Jewish king since David. Love God, learn God’s laws and commandments, observe those laws, protect God’s people, the Israelites, more so, those belonging to the southern kingdom of Judah (and Benjamin), and under no circumstance break any of the edicts listed under the Ten Commandments.
When Manasseh began to instill the opposite of everything required of a Jewish king, his legacy would be riddled with wickedness. He incensed the people’s desire for idols, gods, and spirits that other nations worshipped and sacrificed grain and animals to for the continuance of blessings over land, wealth, and fertility. The young king went on to rebuild the “high places” his father, Hezekiah, had torn down during his reign. These hills, mountain tops, and cliffs served as prominent places of worship, where people would visit them, build structures, and serve at their altars and the feet of obelisks erected for Semitic deities, Baal and Asheroth. They worshipped the “host of heaven,” more firmly, they worshipped spiritual entities, celestial beings, spirits, and wraiths, serving them however the spirits influenced them.
Understanding Jewish theology, you must remember that the only place in which the Jews were allowed to worship God or at least offer sacrifices to the Creator God was in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Anyone who dared worship anywhere else was considered an outcast, a heretic, a pagan. So the fires that littered the horizon of Judah; abhorrent symbols of worship and service to other gods in the land of monotheism, were an affront to everything the Abrahamic faith and Mosaic laws stood for.
Manasseh went on to further incense the pious clerics he was sworn to revere by erecting altars for the “host of heaven” in the two courts in the Solomon’s Temple, where sacrifices and worship were offered to the omnipotent Yahweh. A sacrilegious act, forced upon the people of Judea at the hands of their king. Unchallenged and relentless, the young king would not listen to his pious counselors, nor the priests in the temple they ministered in.
What came next was, at the time, previously unheard of, even for a morally compromised Judean king.
Manasseh, the young king, would grow, would wed, and father many children. A number of these, the Bible does not state how many, were offered as a sacrifice in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. Although historians question the explicit meaning of “offering one’s children to the fire” we can understand that whatever process that ensued was not for the benefit of Manasseh’s children. Other historians dictate that a particular sect in that region would start a fire in a pit, and at the mouth of the pit stood a bronze bull or a statue with its arms extended over the fire. Once its extended arms turned red hot from the heat emitted by the flames, a child was tossed on them, burned, and then rolled into the pit as a sacrifice to the deity in question. This process, the barbarity with which religious zealots killed their children seems a bit far-fetched if we didn’t have evidence of similar grotesque sacrifice rituals taking place in other, more recent cultures as well.
It seems inconceivable that the leader of Judah, the people after God’s heart, selected from the many, reduced to such a small, albeit very powerful and geographically strategic location in Palestine, could be known for worshipping the God of deliverance and protector of life whilst sacrificing children in the fires of paganism in the valley of death.
Manasseh went on to seek seers, fortune tellers, omens, sorcerers, and mystics as if there were no prophet of God in the land, nor words etched in stone by the fingers of God for guidance and encouragement.
The young king sought the spiritual advice of mediums and necromancers, people who delved into the dark arts, the mysterious aspect of conversing with the dead to gain influence over the living. A practice punishable by death in some cultures, the Jewish one included. But who could challenge the young king? Who would dare speak up against the monarch whose power and influence was unmatched and rarely questioned?
If he was willing to throw his children into the fire what then could he do with a serf? A peasant? A religious cleric?
The last knowable defilement Manasseh brought to his name and his people was instilling a carved image of an idol in the temple of God. Previously, he had left some altars, however large or small, in the outer courts of the temple, but here, he progressed, not just in depravity by killing his children, but also killing his spiritual well-being but outing Yahweh from the throne of his heart and substituting the Divine with something less, something mundane, handmade to suit his desires.
Again, Dr. Langberg’s quote rings true in history and haunts us in the present.
“The Nazis were not the first to burn children. God’s people did so long before.”
Those of us who are students of history, however amateur our endeavors may be in the science, understand that what Nazi Germany accomplished via the Holocaust will stick with humanity for eons, until, that is, something more nefarious and systemic replaces it in our history books.
Is it too difficult to believe that what happened under the Nazi regime will never happen again under a different regime? Are we so blind to our humanity to believe that we are beyond that level of hatred for a neighbor today?
We want to believe that what the Nazis did was unique to Germany in the 1930s-1940s. No other civilized group has ever devolved to such a horrendous sequence of murders to that scale. But to understand human beings we must understand the perpetual human potential for violence and that it is never beneath us to devolve or perhaps evolve to that level of violence again.
Dr. Langberg makes an accurate observation that we want to avoid at all costs.
“God’s people did so long before.”
The people of God would never!
We always say.
They would never harm children! But they offered them as a sacrifice in the fire to Baal.
They would never harm the poor! But they exploited them for the sake of wealth.
They would never harm women! But they raped them, in the village, in front of a house, in the king’s palace.
They would never harm someone of another faith! But the European crusades.
They would never harm someone who believed differently! And the Catholic inquisitions.
They would never harm a mystic! But they burned them at the stake, drowned them, threw them from buildings, and stabbed them where they fell.
They would never discriminate based on race or ethnicity! Sir, have you not studied the doctrine of discovery, manifest destiny, chattel slavery, Reconstruction, or Jim Crow? Better yet, have you not studied the last four to five hundred years of European imperialism and Western colonialism?
They would never harm women! What of the hundreds, if not thousands of years of sexist traditionalism that has become canon in the church? The numerous cases of protecting wife beaters by not believing women when they come forward with the stories of their abuse?
They would never harm children! Have you not studied the abuses of the Catholic church? The Houston Chronicle’s investigative report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s willingness to hide, protect, and platform predators? Have there not been volumes upon volumes of lawsuits against religious institutions for hiding the criminal conduct of sexual predators against children?
The Legacy of Burning Children at the Altar
Yes, Manasseh’s series of depravities indeed forced God’s hand into destroying Jerusalem. He used the Assyrian kingdom to lay waste to the ten kingdoms of the north, known as Israel. And then he used Nebuchadnezzar and his nearly indomitable Babylonian army to decimate the two kingdoms to the south, Judah and Benjamin, and take their remaining survivors into captivity for seventy years. One king’s efforts, his collective influence, Judah’s gullibility, and their religious clerics’ lack of integrity, and the overall national embarrassment of being known as God’s chosen people only to behave as the opposite would be the legacy Manasseh left behind.
God’s people were people who burned children alive.
But we burn people on the altar too.
Fair, we aren’t bowing before beasts made of bronze, silver, or gold. Those are the idols of the ancient world. No. Today our fires burn in the pits of systems, institutions, and celebrities. We sacrifice our women at the altar of male leadership, our children at the altar of predatory youth ministers, our corporate integrity at the altar of political syncretism, and our evangelistic outreach at the altar of doctrines formed by culture and geo-political events.
Like the young Jewish king, we seek the advice of mediums and necromancers, but we don’t use those names, we call them secular humanist life coaches spewing pantheistic teachings for gain and astrologists keeping the masses idiotized by looking up instead of forward, whose varied advices usher us toward a search for meaning and purpose in a finite universe with nihilistic philosophies.
In her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, Dr. Diane Langberg mentions the sad events of the Rwandan genocide. She visited Rwanda to help, assist, and be part of the recovery process which followed the nightmare situation that unfolded in Rwanda as nearly a million people were slaughtered in less than one hundred days.
The world stood by and did nothing as thousands were hounded, rounded up, and massacred, at times, in front of cameras.
She mentions how churches opened their doors to victims only for those refugees to be slaughtered inside. The church, the safest place in a community, second only to a police station or a healthy home environment, became a tomb for people seeking refuge from bloodthirsty machete-wielding mobs. Church leaders considered the victims subhuman (cockroaches) and an unworthy, filthy ethnic group that deserved annihilation. Clergy and laity sanctioned the killings while others participated, some in their churches, lifting axes and machetes or whatever sharp utensils turned to weapons they could get their hands on to destroy the lives of innocent neighbors whose only crime was being born a Tutsi.
The church became a slaughterhouse and not just one church in an isolated event. Throughout the one hundred-day massacre, multiple church sites were used as entrapment areas to lure people seeking safety to their doors only to kill them when they arrived. If machetes did kill them from within, up close and personal, a barrage of bullets would pepper them from without, at a distance.
The sanctuary was a place where men, women, and children were offered up to the fire.
What I want us to be aware of is the ease with which we can offer our neighbors to the fire today.
Manasseh sacrificed his children to Molech, Baal, Asherah, or the host of heaven. He stood and watched as his offspring, the babies made of bone, flesh, blood, and life, filled with potential and a future, body covered with nerves and skin, perfect in their development and their progress, thrown in a pit of flames, its yelps and screams swallowed by scorching flames.
A man responsible for overseeing the nation God, this man, this leader, in the most influential position of the land descended to the darkest stretch of Jewish history for the sake of religious blessings. False religion to be exact.
So what makes us believe that we are not just as capable of committing such atrocities within our circles? We have created our fiefdoms with our varied denominations. We have gatekeepers watching for who is in and who is out depending on how one interprets a select passage of scripture. Others use ex-communication as if it were the only tool in the box of church disciplinary action.
The church is ripe with abuse of power and new idols.
Systems that invoke power, influence, dominance, and control. Systems that were produced initially to benefit some have been used to exploit others. Church bodies become oppressors instead of siding with the oppressed, just to get a piece of the power pie. To challenge political systems, policies, and concepts is to challenge the very church because the line between the two systems is non-existent now. Those who speak up are called anti-this or contra-that. Iconoclasts and disgruntled apostates. Not realizing that the very existence of the system-hungry church is apostate in theory and practice.
Institutions, colleges, seminars, faculties, and colleges that do no wrong. Teachings and teachers who hold on to their traditions and doctrines formed in one region of Europe are held as the only sound method of interpreting and understanding theology, killing anyone on the altar who dares challenge those precepts. The killing, here, isn’t done with sword or gun, it is done with derogatory statements, degrading comments, dismissive tones, and mockery.
Celebrities, in form and habit, take center stage, their victims not far behind. Bodies pile up beneath the altar, as worship bands play louder, smoke machines work in overdrive, and song bridges are repeated ad nauseam to dampen the lucidity of the sheep. Churches are plagued with the idolization of talented men and gifted women. Favoring the results-driven ministries over those focused on discipleship and integrity. Number build churches into megachurches, and megachurches become empires in their cities and states. Buildings and churches are made in the image of their teachers, following their every word as if it were the words of God. And when the truth of their misconduct, their wrongdoing, their coverup comes to light we cover for them because their giftedness supersedes their flaws.
In the same breath, we are more willing to restore broken men and women to power than we are to restore them to fellowship.
Damned, be power. It corrupts. Those who are corrupt already and take on the mantle of leadership further corrupt everyone around them.
The churches they lead become mass graves, spiritual mass graves as abuse runs rampant behind celebrity leaders.
From apologists to hipster Manhattanites to Quiverfull proselytes and televangelists hucksters, the cult of personality, celebrity status pastors and teachers, the Jesus 2.0 apostles, are surrounded by corpses.
They stand knee-deep in the blood, suffering, and spiritual disillusionment of the people they were called to serve but who they have delivered to the fires for the sake of power, influence, network time, conference seats, book deals, and front-page newspaper exposure.
What is a celebrity leader without a scandal? Who is the celebrity leader without a very public failure by which to round up the most ardent and loyal disciples around him? If failure will not unite the corrupt, success will. And a redemption story rakes in cash and new friends does it not?
Rwandan churches had compromised their integrity for political and cultural gain, but what is to be said of the German church that existed comfortably throughout the Nazi regime’s reign of terror?
What is to be said of the church in Germany where Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, wanderers, and those struggling with mental illnesses sought refuge in the church only to be loaded into train carts instead by clergy and laity?
The connection between the German church and the Nazi party was so well established that many avoided the church for fear of being apprehended by clergymen with ties to the Nazi regime.
Can you imagine men and women fleeing the church because it represented capture, imprisonment, torture, deportation, and extermination?
Before Hitler asked that children be burned in the fire, God’s people were burning people in the fire.
Things have yet to change, except, how we kill one another has advanced to the point of perfection. Our hands are often absent of ash and blood but still, the trail of bodies stretches behind us.
The young girl who was subjected to volleys of sexual assault by the talented youth leader is told to keep quiet because she probably deserved and enjoyed the “interaction” between them. The youth leader will be protected from law enforcement, vindicated by the church board, and later re-platformed as a champion of Christian ethics because look at the spiritual assault here endured! Consider how the youth program has swelled with new and fresh faces over the years! Should we now hamper this progress?
Consider the young woman who is the victim of constant battering and physical abuse at the hands of her husband, a choir director at their church, who will come forward with her abuse and be thoroughly silenced by the church board. How dare she go against her husband so publicly. Plus, the bruises she incurred were probably self-inflicted. Who are we to believe? The successful and charismatic choir director or the reclusive and embittered wife who seldom attends church anymore? The church will side with the husband when the wife contacts law enforcement, the church will even pay for his lawyer fees and bail. The church is here to care for those behind bars is it not? So it will financially support the wife-beater, pray for his soul, pray against his disgruntled wife, shame her from the pulpit before the congregation, and finally excommunicate her for not forgiving her husband as a godly wife is expected to.
Consider the young black minority member in the church, who, after enduring years of overt and covert racial animosity from fellow church members, is asked to leave the church or shut up about racial inequities in the world. The church does not condone such divisive talk. Anything that references racism is most likely a Marxist ploy to undermine the church anyway. Therefore, that member will be ostracized and blamed for the racial uproar in the church, although their only sin was believing a church-run by racists was capable of repenting of its hatred. Racist church members will grow fat with hubris as they pat one another on the back, explaining to everyone how there isn’t a racist bone in their body, nor one of racial animosity toward any member of a minority group. They say these and other things, of course, from the comfort and safety of their racially monochromatic church body. White pastors, white teachers, white choir directors, white board members, white worship band members who sing worship songs written, produced, and recorded by white people who live in white people’s havens. They will claim ignorance because they are ignorant and damned be the colored person who dares accuse them of racial awareness. To them, being color-blind, blind even to their race, is their safest bet in the world. Should anyone point it out, they will have to deal with the reality of their surroundings and the many people they have kept away from their church.
The bodies pile up. Their scent festers. Their rot is laid bare for the world to see.
Is this what the church does to people? Is this what God’s people are capable of, in the name of Jesus?
What To Do With The Bodies
The church sites in Germany where many were carted away from, led, usually, under the threat of corporal punishment if not death, were either destroyed by allied forces firebombs or demolished after the war. Those that survived the war were rebuilt and remodeled. Some that were razed to the ground were rebuilt. There is seldom a memory of the horrors that occurred within them because those sites are either home to new churches that have different goals or they have become visitor centers where services to God are seldom held but tourism and picture taking are welcome. A sitting priest or cleric welcomes all in, to gaze at the marvels of ancient cathedrals, walking to and fro, from stainless glass window to spire, in awe of a structure that once represented lofty piety and later horror and now ambivalence and distant memories.
German churches have moved on from their horrid complicity of yesteryear.
Church sites in Rwanda, however, have remained mostly untouched. Some of them house pyramids of skulls within. Bones of the deceased litter the inside of the church, piled up, some, five bodies high.
Their gaunt, skinless, lifeless structures gaze back at us as we look at them. We, of course, walk into the church, watch them watching us, and we leave, minding our next destination, not caring much for the gravity of the mass grave found within the church.
It’s easy, is it not, for us to move on from such a sight. How we look on, our minds barely touching the surface of the screams, the blood, the severed limbs, ruptured skulls, and crushed bones. Did boots stomp on those tiny skulls to deform them? Were those tiny skulls deformed before they died? How about the bones that are split in half. Did that violent act take place before that poor soul expired or after? What about the bullet holes found in the back of skulls? Were those mercy killings, to save the person from the horrors of rape that often took place before the altar? Did that bullet, hurling faster than the speed of sound, fired from no more than several feet away from the victim’s head, travel across that bridge of space and time in an act of love? Bullets travel with love too, you know. Love of country, family, race, and political party. They travel to stop the evil-doer next door. Evil with a name and a face, a family, and a future. Evil, of course, is a minor ethnic difference, in this case. One that doesn’t elevate nor diminish, it is something, well, determined merely by local leaders and national politicians. A whim. They determined who was evil and who deserved a hug from the projectiles launched from their guns over several days.
What do we say in the presence of such horror? More so, what does such horror say in the presence of God?
If one looks to the walls in these churches they will see pictures of saints, crosses hanging from nails, and the occasional scripture etched into them but in the center of the room you find bodies, dead, long dead, but still speaking.
Who will speak for us? If not God’s people then who?
If fact, I ask the same. If God’s people, the ones who have been ushered into the world with a message of hope, love, restitution, conciliation, redemption, and more, fail to live up to those admirable virtues only to turn on them, taking up instead, the mantles of hate, violence, power, oppression, armaments, machetes, and rape, what then?
If the children of the light are more depraved than the children of darkness, what hope has the world?
If the church, a symbol of hope, of love, of Christlikeness is hellbent on murder, rape, assault, abuse, and coverup, where are we headed?
Where Will God Go?
I’m reminded of the sequence of events in the Old Testament where Israel’s perpetual backsliding leads God’s Spirit to exit the sanctuary because God would not tolerate the worship of a wayward and corrupt people. He would not sit idly by, sanctioning intrepid idolatry, male prostitutes offering their services from the temple grounds, the poor growing poorer, the wealthy growing fatter at the poor’s expense, the Laws of Guidance and Fruition serving no other purpose than enslaving the masses and empowering religious autocrats.
It is to our benefit that God distances himself from the corruption of the soul.
He will either annihilate us all or distance Himself from us for a time, for our benefit.
Hope In The Face of Desolation
A strange thing happens in the life of the young king. Toward the end of his misery, the life of wickedness no longer suits him. The sin that festered in him began to chip gnaw at his soul.
After living with such depravity for so long, a person learns that there is no glory, no fame, no existential fulfillment at the end of it. The seeking after the wind, pursuance of sounds in the shadows, and the hope that the dead speak back to us are all, in the end, futile ventures.
Manasseh had sold his soul and his children to Mesopotamian spirits, searching after something only Yahweh could provide: rest for a weary soul.
He prays a prayer we have no record of, recorded only in the “records of the seers” and some presume the recorded prayers that have withstood the test of time are apocryphal, thereby not authentic and extra-biblical.
We have no resolute and accurate idea of the prayer but attempting to reach his mind in that state of repentance, we can come up with an idea of what his prayer might have sounded like.
What Have I Done? – A Prayer by Manasseh
“O, God, my God,
Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Creator and Deliverer,
Life-Giver, Rescuer of my soul.
How I have sinned against you,
My misery fills the air around me,
Wickedness chokes the joy from me.
Where will I go to find relief?
Who will hear the complaint of a murderer?
I have sought the death of my children for gain,
And have lost more than I ever dared and wanted.
I sought the council of witches, seers, and the dead.
I have yet to hear the truth.
I have yet to see light.
O, God, my God,
What have I done?
Is there forgiveness left for me?
Am I destined for the end I surely deserve?
No matter how harsh, how grim, how destructive,
I have merited it, and more!
Destroy in me the me who sought after idols,
Those of stone, wood, silver, gold;
Of jade, ruby, and pleasure.
Burn up from within me the lust for power,
The greed for control, the haste for disobedience.
My children, my children;
How I wish I could join you in that fire,
That the flames would consume me and deliver you,
How I long to be by your side and you by mine.
Will there be an end to my suffering, Lord?
I hope not, for I surely deserve more.
Forgiveness, I need it, but I am undeserving of it.
Hear the rending of my heart, the failing of my soul,
And relieve me, O, Lord, of the burden of life itself.
From you, from all, I deserve woe.
I deserve woe.”
We know not what it was Manasseh said but prayers, however intelligible or not, lucid or mumbling about, baby-like, are heard by God. He seeks and searches the depths of a man’s heart; He understands the wallows, fright, and desperation found in a woman’s heart; He comprehends the unspoken-ness of brokenness derived from sin and He bends down toward us and heals.
Where God finds it in His being to forgive such ills, I do not know. I cannot know for I am not God but I know that I seek this love, this selflessness, this giving of liberation, daily in my life.
God restored Manasseh to glory, respect, and honor. Not without temporal consequences, of course.
And God can restore the church too, you know.
The residence of bones and dried blood can be a residence of restoration and hope, again.
The structure where babies were massacred can be revitalized as a place where babies are saved and protected.
They can, yes, they can, if we dare, if we will, if we decide to return to God.
And this isn’t a televangelists’ call to open air-tent preaching with hell-fire and brimstone invective.
This is an opportunity to see the church be that which we all expect of it. To behave as the world demands it. As Christ commanded it.
Outside of this, outside of this hope, namely, Christ’s love reflected on His people, we will see nothing more, nothing less, than bones and death in the church of “god.”
Not Yahweh the Deliverer, the I AM, but the god of death.
If we change not, we will be servants in the slaughterhouse of god.
Featured Image by grasswire.com.