Scandal-plagued Bishop Eddie Long was recently crowned “a king in God’s government” in a staged ceremony with zero basis in Hebrew or Christian tradition. The message behind it all: “You can’t attack him” because Long is not just a man of God, but Holy Royalty — containing a “king chromosome,” to quote Rabbi Ralph Messer, who conducted the ceremony.
Yes, you read that correctly. A Jewish rabbi anointed a Christian bishop as king.
But while The Associated Press reports Long has already issued an apology, a different religious group has been making waves closer to home.
KING 5 News reported last week that the Westboro Baptist Church would return to the state of Washington to protest our state approving of gay marriage by camping outside the funeral of two children who died in a fire apparently set by their father.
A public showdown was narrowly avoided when a Tacoma-based radio DJ offered Westboro members a chance to speak on his show in exchange for not protesting at the funeral. The Washington Post reports this has been a recent trend Westboro has practiced in order to gain public airtime for its message.
Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and the Phelps family’s Westboro Baptist Church are merely examples of a problem commonly found in religion across the world.
Religion has always been a part of human history. We are a social species, a communal species. We use these communities to communicate with each other, accomplish goals, provide protection, create an identity for ourselves and rely upon for support through the variety of trials that life hands us.
Religion has been a natural community-builder for centuries. The problem is when religious communities start taking themselves too seriously. That is where we see the inclusive, hostile communities that believe anything outside of their perfect world order is evil.
I take an alternative approach.
I consider myself to be a Christian, but I am also a religious pluralist. I recognize the value of all religions and respect what each offers the individuals who practice them. I have found the right set of beliefs for me and me alone. I realize perfectly well that I may be wrong and that other religions might be on the right track, too.
I have found the set of beliefs and the community that are comfortable for me. That is what we all seek from religion: comfort. To discredit what other people find comfortable does me no good. To each their own.
The Phelps family and Bishop Long are different. They do not merely believe they are right, they know they are right. That is not faith, that is certainty. They do not realize religion is not meant to be about facts, but faith and trust.
Faith cannot exist without doubt — the two go hand-in-hand. The phrase “a leap of faith” alludes to the fact that you have to take a chance, you have to put trust in something not apparent, to do something. You never hear about someone taking a “leap of certainty” or “a leap of fact.”
For example, the Bible was written thousands of years ago, in a foreign language, well after the events described actually occurred. The possibility of errors or inaccuracies are high. Faith is accepting that and continuing on regardless.
If you look through the stories of Jewish and Christian tradition, you find dozens of characters, many of them esteemed and respected prophets, who suffered from doubt. Doubt in their own abilities and in God. Honestly, prophets might be among the most insecure figures I have ever studied.
Even Jesus experienced doubt within the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion.
This makes me think Long and his ilk are not reading their Bibles very closely.
I do not need a “king” dictating to me the right beliefs to follow. I like my religion the way I like my government — democratic — where I am allowed to make up my own mind.
You can enjoy your “factual” religion all you want, I have no problem with that. But if you keep casting stones at people, eventually the stones are going to be cast right back — and no amount of self-aggrandizing will save you.
In the meantime, I will continue to keep the faith, the doubt, the comfort and the loving community that stems from my personal choice of beliefs.