“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.” – Lamentations 1:12
It was brought to my attention that yet another wave of systematic violence was enacted upon yet another group of innocent, non-combative, civilians. The town of Bucha, in the outer regions of Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, has become another name on a long list of city-towns that has fallen prey to men’s susceptibility to animalistic behaviors. We needn’t blame the devil for this. This is man’s doing. The one pulling the trigger was not a spiritual being. The force behind the man tying up women and children before shooting them in the head was not metaphysical. It was a physical force driven by a physical need, a chemical need, an interpersonal need on the part of a soldier and his compatriots to kill. But this was not the ordinary killing we witness on the battlefield. No. This was not a mortar bomb that mutilates the body and soul of a soldier mid-combat. This was not the sort of killing spree where men in uniform gun down other men in uniform, bullets ricocheting from bunker walls, tank impediment structures, and dirt. Not the kind of killing where man faces man, grit visible, rage present, teeth bare, and bayonet bloodied. No. This was not that kind of killing. There was no trench warfare here. No bunker, unless, that is, you consider a home a bunker. Its drywall and wooden frame protecting its resident from wind and rain showers. But what of bullets and bombs?
These killings were done by men, soldiers, the youth turned violent killing machine ready warriors aimed at bystanders, civilians, grocers, salesmen, chefs, custodians, dads, moms, daughters, and sons, who just so happened to exist on one side of a field at the wrong time. Their crime is their geography.
What do we say of this? What can we say of this? What words are wordy enough to explain away this horror? Are words only useful for us to explain horrors away? Are we to use them to then accept horrible deeds? Perhaps. But if we do not want to accept these egregious horrors are we to then understand them? But what is the point in attempting to understand the mutilated body of a child, mutilated not by teeth of wild beasts in a forest or a jungle but by bullets from the guns of domesticated beasts in uniform? Are we to produce bookcases worth of information to help us categorize, stylize, name, organize, timestamp, and geo-stamp these events, the belligerent party(ies), antagonists, victims, method(s) of death, method(s) of torture, method(s) of desecration, and method(s) of burial or cremation simply for us to understand what happened at site A to group B?
Where do we store this information? What library, what cloud provider service, what server room, or what entity is responsible enough, ethical enough, mature enough, selfless enough to manage this information?
What will we do with all of this horror?
My wife and I got into an argument over whether we should call Russian soldiers guilty of crimes against humanity Nazis. Are they Nazis?
My wife said yes, she believes they are. The killings were systematized enough. The tying up men, women, and children, then rounding them up on city streets or in dank basements, not far from torture chambers to shoot them behind the head was cruel enough to liken these killers and their acts to that of Nazi SS soldiers from World War II. The indiscriminate killing of civilians is likened to what the Germans did in Poland, Russia, France, and more.
But I disagreed. I do not think the Russians are like the Nazis. No, of course, I understand just the same way you do. My wife is German. She was born in that majestic country, she was raised in it, educated there, and formed by its Teutonic culture. She knows the history connected to her native land, she was informed of the societal guilt and shame that once lingered but has since dissipated from the German social conscience. Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung! They’ve worked off their past. My wife is aware of the responsibility she bears in knowing that history but not being guilted by it. There is no collective shame or guilt in her heart about it but there is a collective responsibility of making sure what the Germans of yesteryear did will not be forgotten nor excused, ever.
Yet, I disagree.
I do not believe Russian civilians want this war, this, what shall I call it, waste of resources, and the international debacle that Putin has enacted upon the Ukrainian people. Russian citizens disdain their military’s conduct in the Kyiv Oblast region whereas others have come out in protest of the entire series of events, many facing arrests, torture, perhaps, too. There is not a collective sentiment in Russia to eradicate Ukrainians. Ukrainians are not seen as sub-human, although many of them have been treated as such by Russian soldiers. Russian civilians do not attend university to learn about the facial structure of Ukrainians and how they might resemble rats. They’re not taught that the Ukrainians are responsible for Russia’s financial woes. They’re not taught that to woo, romance, date, court, wed, or sleep with a Ukrainian man or a woman is a crime punishable with imprisonment on top of hefty fines because to mix with them is a moral offense. One cannot visit St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, or Kazan and find concentration camps where Ukrainians are held as enemies of the state and forced into back-breaking manual labor. One cannot find death camps in the remotest regions of Russia’s snow-covered tundras where Ukrainian nationals are tossed into industrial ovens and burnt to a crisp, their ash littering the sky above. There are no mass graves consisting of Ukrainian bodies in Russia nor are there people in Russia digging up holes for Ukrainian corpses to fill them.
What happened in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s made what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s possible. What I mean is that Germans who survived World War I and dealt with the shame of their loss and financial ruination were ripe in body, mind, and soul for what Hitler offered them in the 1930s. The nation, collectively, voted in a demagogue and followed him into hell. Those who made it back alive were still stained with the soot of the devil’s work on their lives. Germans came together to make what happened in Europe possible. It would not have been possible if only the Gestapo set out to arrest Jews, political dissidents, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with mental health issues. It required a national and cultural effort on the part of German citizens of every stripe.
The Nazi regime existed because the German people as a collective made it possible. Germany’s politicized Christianity, its state religion, its sciences, its cultural make-up, its racial make-up, its ethnic composition, and its mythical understanding of itself made Nazism as we understand it today, as it was understood then, possible.
Russians, civilians at home and abroad, do not want to harm Ukrainians.
Their soldiers, the ones who are committing these crimes, are not acting like Nazis because before Nazis existed, soldiers killed civilians this way. We must be wary, cautious, even, of thinking the pinnacle of evil existed for a quick and short-lived period of thirteen years in Germany alone. The Schutzstaffel (SS), Gestapo, Luftwaffe, and the Wehrmacht are not the only exemplars of human cruelty and evil.
They’re just our easiest scapegoats.
The greatest indicator of human evil stands tall in the mirror, gazing back, hoping not to be seen in the limelight of opportunity and intent. Seldom are we placed in the same positions, under the same conditions, infused with the same intentions, driven by the same social-cultural motivations, and incensed by opportunity, impunity, and heroism no matter the act we’re asked, no, obligated to achieve for God, king, and country.
So we stand, looking at the mirror or rather, being studied by he or her who looks back, hoping, praying, begging, that we are never given the same graces to murder because God knows we would, with impunity.
I say these things not to excuse the horrors perpetrated by Russian murderers. No. Their acts are damnable. Their crimes will not go unpunished. Should they die on the battlefield, they will then face God. Should they die in a prison cell, they will then face God. Should they live a long, hearty, and fulfilling life after this war, moving on to attain wealth and prosperity, fathering many children, and becoming members of high repute in their communities, they will, at the end of their days, face God for their crimes against humanity.
God will not allow a person to pierce a child through with a spear or a bayonet and escape judgment. God will not allow a man to ravage a woman and not face consequences for such a vile act. God will not allow men who sit in rooms pointing to maps and nodding commands, as bombs drop on residential buildings mutilating some and displacing uncountable others. God will not sit idly by as thousands upon thousands of people are erased from the face of this earth for the sake of lucre and land.
That is without question, Bucha. That is without question.
Your men, women, and children are not forgotten dear city. Your corpse-ridden streets have not gone unseen. Your blood-soaked gardens are not invisible. The basements you harbor where bodies were tied up and shot dead are known to us. We know. We have seen. We are witnesses to your demise.
But you are not alone.
The same way Abel’s blood cried out to God from the earth so does the earth beneath Bucha cry out to God for justice! Justice! Justice!
Bucha, your daughters will not have died in vain. Their sufferings, their screams, their catatonic fixated faces are not in vain. Their ravaged bodies, assaulted and violated, their souls violated, also, are not forgotten.
Your children, burned alive, executed in cold blood, tossed and desecrated as if they were filthy rags, are not forgotten. Their last moments of life, moments of fear, uncertainty, shattered dreams, shattered hope, tears, and wet diapers, will not, will not, cannot be forgotten.
Your elderly, your brittle, your infirm, your wise ones, who were killed by bombs, others killed by exposure as they fled those same bombs, are not forgotten.
Those gaunt faces who stare into infinity seek and cry for justice, their bloodless appearances begging for a reason, a cause, a purpose, an explanation for all of this senseless violence that took from them that which was most precious, life. They beg for words, for a meaning to it all.
Bucha, we have looked upon your misery and we see you. One of many, many in one. Your horrors are here to stay and we will gaze upon them.
We will gaze and we will weep.
God will act on your behalf.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
If you grew up in an evangelical setting, you must have heard of white American globe-trotting evangelist Billy Graham. If you are unchurched but alive today, chances are, you’ve heard of Billy Graham. Graham was for the white American evangelical world what Elvis Presley was for white American Rock n Roll in the 50s. A myth, a legend, a star, and also, many forget, human.
Billy Graham traveled the world over speaking about the restorative and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and preaching a gospel of personal transformation. You too, he would say, can be born again. Your sins will be forgiven if you will accept Jesus into your heart.
“Come as you are.” Was quite the famous line in his crusade. Always a welcoming environment for people seeking change, seeking religious reformation.
A very personal gospel message that beckoned the individual to turn her life over to Christ for eternal security and reconciliation between the person and God.
Graham’s sermons were beautiful and if you listen to them today you’ll find they are just as convincing and powerful as they were then. If the man had anything he had conviction.
Thankfully, I am not here to discuss Graham’s gospel preaching or his evangelistic efforts. For that, the man deserves credit because his ministry has produced a plethora of testimonies, many of which, we shall only understand and rejoice over in Glory.
But I am here to discuss how white American culture, more so, how white American 1950s and 1960s culture and its understanding of gender norms and expectations formed a set of social rules then that impact us in the evangelical sphere to this day — negatively so. Around the same time, Billy Graham and his team, assisted by Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson, met in Modesto, California to develop a ministry morals standard for themselves and other evangelists and leaders in their vocation. This was put together to reduce the number of scandals in the evangelical world and produce an inner and outer appearance of moral rectitude, which had been missing or compromised by felled religious leaders of the day.
Now, considering the acceleration of Christian circle scandals that riddled the news, it seemed appropriate for a group of believers to come together with a better understanding of what is required of them in modern times throughout their ministerial undertakings and personal responsibilities. And in this meeting, the men came up with four ideas or metrics by which to judge the health of their ethics and ministry.
The Modesto Manifesto
The first was financial transparency in an age of Christian greed; the second, sexual purity in an age of sexual liberation; the third, ecumenical efforts in an age of fundamentalist tribalism; and the fourth, the accuracy of events, numbers, and credentials in an age of duplicity, lying, and dishonesty for popularity’s sake.
Again, these are honorable efforts put forth by the group to make sure that their ministries, and their personal lives, were above scrutiny, as the Bible demands of followers of Christ.
But sometimes, not always, sometimes, certain corrections, without nuance or clarification, when they generalize and offer little explanation as to how those corrections were formed over cultural and traditional, national and racial lines, can become over-corrections, thus, creating even more problems for those who adhere to them.
The second rule in Graham’s Modesto Manifesto deals with sexual morality, or rather, one that grapples with the temptation of sexual immorality. It is the rule that this entire segment became known for, a rule Billy Graham followed to the very end, if it was up to him, while he was in control of his mind. This rule would be followed by numerous evangelical leaders and ultimately make national headlines again when Donald Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, would celebrate it from the White House.
“We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).”
It’s interesting to note that from that day forward, Graham did not travel, meet, nor did he, according to him, eat alone with a woman other than his wife ever again. This is revealing, one, because of the level of commitment, it takes a man to avoid being alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex, whose sex estimates well over three billion people on the planet. There being three billion of anything is cause enough for awareness, but isolation and separation? Impossible.
Graham’s second rule, where a man is not to be alone with a woman other than his wife, is ripe with condemnation without even knowing it.
One, this rule generalizes women as sexual deviants who, left alone with a man in a room, no matter the room or the setting, work, campaign trail, lunch meeting, or as a nurse in a doctor’s office, will, without that man’s consent, ravage him. This notion is asinine because it portrays women as agents lacking self-control, moved by licentious desires, unashamedly promiscuous, according to those who adhere to Graham’s line of reasoning.
Women are not vessels of unrestrained lusts. Women are entirely in control of their thoughts, actions, compulsions, and desires. They’re not animalistic brutes who descend to sensual madness at the opportunity of being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex.
What a farce.
Two, this rule, again, places the blame on women. This is age-old escapist nonsense men have plagued women with for centuries, if not millennia. If something does occur between the two individuals who are left alone in a room, it must have been the woman’s fault. As the only one able to consent or resist — because men are unable to restrain their boyish desires — if they fail to scream out for help or fail to stop things from progressing, they are solely at fault.
Once the ministry leader’s sexual scandal makes the airwaves, he’ll peg the woman as a “seductress” whose “promiscuous” advances were too powerful for him to resist. Resembling the work of a “she-devil” she entrapped him, grabbing him by the “unmentionable,” and from there, it was all history. And that’s why we are taught to forgive the man because he’s the victim here, his assailant, a 110 lbs sex witch that caught him alone in the lunchroom and proceeded to violate him while he sipped his tea and read his Bible.
It’s nonsense. I’m using sarcasm and humor here because blaming women for men’s inability to control themselves is a sad and resilient virus that refuses to die in our culture. So to cope, I make light of a grave and grievous situation.
Three, a man ought to be in control of his moral compass. In control of his faculties. If a man, especially a man of the cloth, cannot control himself when alone with a member of the opposite sex, then, by God, he ought not to be in ministry. He should not be in a position of influence, power, or authority ever again. He’s a predator in the making.
I cannot imagine Jesus, meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and thinking to himself, “Maybe I should wait for my apostles to get back before conversing with this woman. I mean, she might trip on that bucket l and land in my arms, where we kiss, romance, wed, make dozens of babies, until, the next woman I meet at the well comes around and trips on something else.”
That’s so stupid. No, I’m not sorry.
Jesus met with that woman alone because He had integrity, even if, EVEN IF she did not, He would have remained integral. And I’m not suggesting she was a sexual deviant or a saint, she could have been one or the other, it would not have changed Jesus’ posture toward her while the two sat and conversed by the well about faith, God, life, water, worship, and relationships. Jesus upheld His part of the ethical bargain, independent of the same being reciprocated or not.
Therefore… therefore… there… fore…
As I conversed with a friend via Instagram about the Billy Graham Rule, specifically rule number two, we got into discussing that the rule would have been more helpful and wise if it required individual integrity over distanced suspicion and isolation.
You see, when someone is integral, they’re complete, whole, satisfied, undivided in their attentiveness to honoring people made in the Image of God. They’re honoring, just, and kind, in the face of someone else’s vulnerability.
“If you, being a pastor, are counseling a woman who is experiencing a great deal of trouble in life and in the middle of a counseling session she stands, begins to undress, is nude and vulnerable before you, and the two of you are alone, where does your mind go? Where does your heart go?”
The question, I admit, is answered in two different places.
One, we answer this question publicly and openly, “I would tell her to dress up and get out of my office! That temptress! Damn her!”
The other, we answer in our hearts, in the place no one but us and God can see, and God knows what our answers tend to be. Too often, we have read reports, cover-ups, and lawsuits concerning what happens in these situations. Men in power, men with influence, men with authority, instead of portraying the likeness of Christ in the presence of the vulnerable, become the devil, ravaging and devouring people looking for help.
“Come to me,” Says the morally complicit pastor counseling the vulnerable woman. “And I will give you rest. But keep this between the two of us or else…”
So we must admit that Billy Graham’s Rule is problematic. It’s an over-correction, not a solution. It’s an escape, not a confrontation. It displaces blame, shifts blame, and generalizes women as sexual deviants, who, as I said earlier, given the opportunity, according to Graham’s rule, will devour men whenever alone with them.
There is, of course, wisdom in not placing oneself in a situation where, without a doubt, it seems suspicious.
Houston, We Have A Liquor Problem
Hillsong’s main pastor, Brian Houston, has been caught in hot water because he attended a meeting of some sort and after this meeting, he went for drinks and after drinking himself nearly blind, he went up to his hotel room for the night. Once there, he either misplaced his room keycard or was unable to properly use the keycard he had in hand to access his room. Under this fog of inebriation, Houston proceeds to a church colleague’s room, a woman, knocks on her door and then enters. There they remain alone for more than forty minutes. Both denied anything happened. And we have no evidence of anything having happened, because, no evidence was ever produced. Nor has the woman admitted or come forward with the fact that the two engaged in anything even remotely sexual.
But this scene, of course, is the extreme any married AND single person has to avoid because it does create an aura of suspicion. I mean, considering our current hook-up culture and the history of evangelical sex scandals, Houston should have known better. It is without a doubt that it was possible, in those forty minutes, that one’s moral compass could have wavered, their ability to resist temptation, dissipated, and there, a sexual act or several, could have taken place. And the truth, no one knows.
Brian admitted to the idiocy of his choices that night, having drunk too much, and then mixing sleeping or anxiety pills with his liquor, before proceeding to his coworkers’ hotel room. The two of them alone. His wife was nowhere in sight.
The curiosity here, and I’m being frank, not critical, even if I do end up sounding critical, for that I apologize, because there are certain things I do not understand and that’s fine because my intelligence is limited and finite. But here’s the thing, why blame moral failings on alcohol, drugs, anxiety, mental illness, and the opportunity of that woman being there.
“Abusers and abusive organizations may concede the basic reality of the wrong—“Yes, this happened”—but quickly add statements that either soften their responsibility or promote their integrity: “We value all people and only want what is best for everyone involved.” If these concessions do their job, the accused will stay in power, stay in favor with the community, and stay far from the shame their actions deserve.”
And listen, I’m not here to say that people are beyond redemption and reconciliation, but we must better understand what those things mean when people fail, morally, I mean.
One, take responsibility for your failings, instead of, say, blaming some agent or narcotic. Or worse, blaming your victim.
Here’s a healthy, albeit imperfect example I’ve come up with in my mind:
“Listen, everyone, I was sexually repressed or sexually uncontrolled and I enticed my coworker (or classmate, students, etc), under the guise of trust, bypassing the reality of our power-dynamic relationship, and I engaged in what I now understand as a non-consensual act with her. I am now resigning from my position to seek counsel, professional counsel, and I do not look forward to returning to leadership, but to fellowship, in God’s time. I’m sorry to all, and most all, I apologize to the victim of my uncontrolled passions. You did nothing to deserve this. It was my fault.”
Now, that sounds dreamy, almost, to consider someone admitting to the reality of their intentions and the gravity of their actions with such brevity and transparency, and that would do wonders for us instead of covering our mistakes over with alcohol, Ambien, seductresses, etc.
Graham’s Rule would and could be revised to state:
“No matter what situation you are in and who you are with, for however long, you must reflect the character of Christ in that environment. If the person you are with fails to live up to Christ’s calling, more so, His admonishments on sexual ethics, that is not an excuse, nor a vote of confidence, for you to forego your integrity. In every situation, interaction, relationship, friendship, and meeting, whomever you are with, man, woman, or child, reflect Jesus.”
That seems more prudent. More wholesome. That way, whenever someone does step out of line, should they ever, it will not be a woman’s fault or society’s healthy understanding of social interactions’ fault.
Every woman we meet, no matter the situation, deserves to see Christ reflected in us. And this does not mean we proselytize or evangelize every woman we meet, say, a woman stopping by a vending machine for grape soda only to have Mr. Jenkins show up to ask her if she has sipped from the fountain of life yet or not.
No. That’s creepy.
It means we reflect Christ’s integrity in every interaction. We befriend, we respect, we listen, we learn, and we… well… we act like normal people. There’s no need to sexualize everything in the world, conversations with co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and strangers of the opposite sex.
If you’re afraid that any or most interactions with a member of the opposite sex will devolve into a sexual act, then, my friend, the issue here is within your heart, not with socially acceptable interactions and meetings between two people of the opposite sex.
You need professional counseling and spiritual advice to help you determine why you see women (or men) as sexual objects to be perverted and abused by you. From there, professionals will guide you further toward recovery.
And we must, at all costs, as Dr. Diane Langberg states, combat the notion that we must return flawed characters to power. We must strive and strain to hold wrongs and sins accountable in hopes of restoring that person to fellowship, not power.
We’re often plagued by this lust for power and results that once our most talented advocate succumbs to a scandal we want nothing more than to see them forgiven, celebrated, and restored to their position of mass production. It’s the temptation of the evangelical industrial complex.
But that is unbiblical and to be honest, it fails to bring that person to a state of true repentance and change. They’re just re-platformed and given a new license through which they will abuse and tarnish the sheep again.
In all, allow Christ to be in your heart and mind when with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Do not, under any circumstance, use that situation as an excuse to compromise your morals, ethics, and faith, for the sake of fleeting passions, only to then blame a substance or a woman for your very personal and spiritually compromised decisions.
“Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity.” 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“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.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT