Friday, August 28, 2009

Pastor Steven Anderson: The Impossible Road from Jesus to Hate

Jim Burroway at Box Turtle is asking readers of his blog what we would ask Pastor Steven Anderson if we had a chance to talk to him.

Steven Anderson is pastor of Faithful Word Baptist church in Phoenix. He has made statements that gays should be killed, and accuses all gays of being sexual predators and rapists. For someone who claims to take the bible literally (in its King James version, at that), he has an astonishing facility for twisting scriptural texts to turn them into anti-gay texts, when not even his most ardent right-wing allies have divined the homophobic significance of said texts.

For instance, he reads Noah’s condemnation of his son Shem when Shem uncovered his father’s nakedness (Genesis 9:18-10:32) as a passage about Shem raping his father. It is interesting that Anderson fixates on that particular passage to prove that gays are rapists, given that it has a sordid history in Christianity in quite another direction. It has long been used to suggest that all people of color (who are said, in this fantasy-spinning reading of the text, to descend from Shem) are doomed by Shem’s sin to eternal servitude to lighter-skinned people.

Anderson’s hatred doesn’t focus exclusively on gays. He’s one of those “Christians” now caught up in reviving the tradition of imprecatory prayer in the psalms—despite Jesus’s injunction to his followers to forgive our enemies, and his refusal to condemn the criminals crucified with him—in the hope that President Obama will die and go to hell. And the man who showed up recently at a Phoenix town hall meeting carrying an automatic assault weapon is a member of Pastor Anderson’s church.

I’ve been asking myself precisely the question Jim Burroway encourages his readers to ask: given the chance, what would I ask Steven Anderson? Pastor Anderson has already been on my radar screen, actually. I blogged about him back in February 2008 when he preached on a text—I am not making this up—which, in his view, mandates that real men should urinate standing up.

Pastor Anderson has a bee in his bonnet, and the bee buzzes around questions of male supremacy and male inadequacy, which seem to elicit a great deal of confusion and rage in his psyche. That in itself fascinates me, as a psychological-religious process that happens among so many Christians intent on using the bible to bolster male power and privilege—even (or perhaps especially) when that power and privilege is used to demean, trample on, and even kill the despised other.

And so I’m going to take a stab at asking Pastor Anderson what I’d like to ask him, following Jim Burroway’s lead (and I will post a link at Box Turtle, since it’s Jim’s invitation that leads me to post about this on Bilgrimage).

Pastor Anderson: hatred? It fascinates me that people are energized by hatred. But it fascinates me even more when those who are so obviously energized by hatred also happen to be men of the cloth.

I’m especially fascinated when those intent on hating profess a religion founded by someone who preached that God is love, that we die by the sword when we brandish it, that we need to turn the other cheek and let our enemies smite us on it, to go the extra mile, to forgive seventy times seventy. Jesus taught that we should pray constantly to be forgiven as we ourselves forgive and that we must forgive our enemies—always, everywhere, in every circumstance. No matter what.

How does someone who follows Jesus get onto the road of hatred?

I will admit that I can understand very well how people hate. Being human involves us in dealing with hate—not just the hate of others, but our own hate. Hate is always there inside all of us, like a rank weed ready to spring up at a moment’s notice under the right circumstances.

It’s, frankly, easy to hate. It’s easier to hate than to love. One comes naturally; the other requires, in many circumstances, energy. It’s always easier to tear down in one day a house that was built months on end by many hands and much work.

So I understand hate. I am susceptible to it. Like any human being, I have to learn to deal with it—not only when it confronts me from outside, but when I see the rank weed threatening to sprout yet again inside the dark recesses of my own soul.

But I will admit, what I find a little harder to understand—and please help me here; I am sincerely trying to understand—is hate that we justify. I find it hard to understand hate in which we revel, hate we proudly display rather than admit, shamefacedly, we are struggling to overcome.

How does one come to hate and take pride in hating? Even worse, how does one come to hate and believe that God blesses one’s hatred, that God smiles on one’s hatred and urges it on?

I do not know or understand such a God. If I thought such a God existed, I would turn my back on that God as a force to be resisted and despised, not to be worshiped and loved.

Because in my experience the wonderful things that happen in the world happen when people have the courage to resist hate and to love instead. They happen when a parent nurtures a child. They happen when someone is lying beside the road and a bystander picks him up and takes him to have his wounds treated.

The wonderful things that happen in the world happen when a callow young person takes time to stop and listen to a querulous, wise old person who would otherwise be altogether too easy to overlook and to ignore. And they happen when an elderly person embittered at growing old and being ignored takes a youngster under her wing, and sees that his needs are met.

They happen when we meet our enemy and see that, like us, our enemy has grown older, tireder, slower—that like us, our enemy is simply another human being, and deserves the same compassion we would like for ourselves. The wonderful things that happen in life happen when someone dares to love, by reaching across social barriers that seem impossible to bridge, and discovers that those despised, hated others across the line are human just as we are human.

How have you learned to hate, Pastor Anderson? And to hate with such facility? And to be so absolutely certain that God blesses and energizes your hatred? And to be so sure that who you are—a white, heterosexual American male—is the pinnacle of creation, and everyone else is a lesser being?

And that God has designed things in such a way that you just happen to be the pinnacle of creation?

I really would like to know, if you care to respond.