I recently heard a short sermon on the idea that “God does not play favorites.” The sermon was based on the story of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10). In this story, Peter received a vision from God telling him that it was OK to eat food considered unclean under Jewish law. When Peter demurs, God says “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” The Holy Spirit then tells him that he will be asked to talked to someone and he should do so, since the visitor is being sent from God.
Shortly thereafter, a Roman soldier comes to Peter to discuss Christ. The story continues: “While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.” Peter continues a bit later: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
As those of us who are Christians know, and as those of you who are not Christians might suspect, these passages are often used to teach tolerance in the sense of recognizing that all people of all nations and races are equal in the sight of God, and thus deserving of our Christian love. This position is reinforced by St. Paul in his letter to the Galations, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.“ Similarly, during his travels, Paul met and helped bring to the faith an escaped slave named Onesimus. Paul sends Onesimus back to his owner, Philemon. Because Philemon was also a Christian, Paul notes that their relationship as brothers in Christ would now supersede their relationship as slave and master. Paul writes “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” Thus, it is inappropriate for a Christian to view race, nationality, etc. as important in judgment of the worth of another, at least with respect to their position before God.
This is all true. However, there’s a step here that I don’t think should be taken, and it is a step that is common to both liberal theologians and political liberals. Our pastor noted that we should love Blacks, Whites, Asians, Americans, Mexicans, etc. However, he then continued to say that we should not pass judgment on other religions, ideologies, or world views. We should, he said, “love Al-Quaeda.” As a person who spend many years investigating the atrocities of Islamic radicals, I find that a bit hard to swallow.
My criticism is that the speaker took exactly the step that was being decried by Peter and Paul. Christianity is a religion of individual transformation, not group transformation (or rather, of group transformation through the transformation of individuals). God, as viewed from a Christian perspective is not a God of Jews or Europeans or Africans. God sees through these things and looks at the individual. Thus God does not “love” Al-Queda. He does not “love” blacks as such. He does not “love” whites as such. He loves people as individuals. I prefer the King James version of the passage from Acts. While the NIV says “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right,” the KJV puts it “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” God is no respecter of persons. He does not “accept every nation” he accepts individuals “from every nation.” God does not love Al-Quaeda. God does not require that I love Al-Quada. God requires that I love a *person* who, even though having been an adherent of an evil and vicious religious and political sect, decides to open his mind and heart to God.
In spite of the poor theology of socialist Christians, Jesus is a Jesus of individual transformation, not of nations and groups. One of the basic tenets of liberal Christianity is the same as that of politicical liberalism — that Christ is a liberator of *groups* and looks at *groups* in terms of salvation. This, for instance, is a fundamental principle of Black Theology, the theology of our current President. In Black Theology, there is no such thing as individual evil or individual transcendence except when viewed in terms of a Marxist social transformation. As Anthony Bradly notes in “Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America:
…[K]nowledge of sinful humanity cannot even exist ‘except in the movement of an oppressed community claiming its freedom.’ By implication, whites are incapable of understanding sin and should refrain from speaking about it within the black community. Cone calls for a ‘destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.’ This view of sin, then, in Cone’s victimologist’s vision, results in different definitions of sin for blacks and whites. Cone laments the white preoccupation with personal sin and individual separation from God because that emphasis has produced nothing but slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination. In the final analysis, Cone understands sin to manifest itself as follows: an individual disconnects himself from the liberating activity of God, dehumanizes nonwhites, and then ultimately oppresses them. After reading Cone’s definition, one is left to wonder if it is possible for blacks to sin at all.
It should be noted in the above discussion, Cone’s defintion of “freedom” is not the common one. It is instead the “freedom” to be subject to the social policies of a “liberated” community. The concept of individual liberty is a white idea and to be discarded.
This kind of group concept of sin and identity is simply false, and is the source of evil in all identity religions whether it be Black Liberation Theology or it’s white equivalent such as Church of Jesus Christ–Christian or the liberation theology movement within the Catholic Church. It is also a cancer in virtually all liberal theological churches. It is a cancer that is made worse by the twin mistake of saying that we should not “judge” anything — an equally incorrect interpretation of the scripture.
Worse, I think the NIV version is a poor choice of words. God is not a respecter of persons in the sense that His justice is consistent and his standards absolute. However, he does of course have favorites — David, Elijah, Paul, John, etc. The Bible is replete with examples of people who had special relationships with God. And he *does* deal with nations; the Covenant with Israel is only the most obvious example, but the bible is replete with them. It’s not that God does not look at groups differently, it’s that his relationship with groups is *different* than his relationship with individuals. It’s not that he doesn’t have favorites, it’s that membership in a group does not necessarily make it impossible for you to *become* a favorite — though it may mean that you must leave that group, just as Moses left Egypt. God clearly passes judgment on groups, and He clearly wants us to, as well. We cannot be a “separate people” without being both “separate” and a distinct “people,” and that requires that we make judgments about what makes us separate and what makes us a people.
This dual mistake of believing that God “loves” all *groups* equally — that He loves democratic regimes as much as he loves Nazism, Communism, or Islamic hellholes, and that if God loves them all then we should not pass moral judgment upon them leads to a perverse and damaging kind of moral relativism that is killing Christianity. We should happily accept the genocide of Christians in the Islamic world as a gesture of “Christian love.” If there is no difference between Christianity and Islam, between Christianity and Nazi neopaganism, or between true Christianity and the racist religions of Black Theology and White Identity Christianity, then there is no reason to bother to be a Christian at all. If a Christian cannot recognize sin and the difference between right and wrong, then Christianity means nothing.
If the only difference between Christianity and secular humanism is the patter behind the good works, then why bother with the patter? This is why churches that take the liberal theologic stand that all thoughts are equally valid are losing adherents — there’s no “there” there. Instead, those who take a stand on issues of individual morality, individual sin, and individual redemption and who refuse to defer to murderers and psychopaths for fear of social inconvenience are growing. It is, in fact, why Islam is successful as it is. As perverted as its view of God is, it at least plants a flag and makes a stand, something liberal Christianity is afraid to do. And people need that. They need to know that there is a “there” there. People need to stand for something. And, unfortunately for liberal Christianity, standing for good necessarily means standing against evil. More unfortunately, “be nice” isn’t enough. That’s why both liberal and identity (so-called) Christian sects inevitably replace their discarded biblical morality for a social morality, and in doing so replace Christ with Marx.
Yes, indeed, we should be accepting of *all* who seek God. But it doesn’t mean that we should be apologists for those who don’t. Indeed, we should do good works. But that doesn’t relieve us from the obligations of spiritual discipline and discipline in our own lives. Indeed, we should love our brother as ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that we should accept any evil for fear of offending him. Churches that are afraid of condemning sin are ashamed of their God. Of course we should welcome people from all backgrounds. But that doesn’t mean that we have to suspend our moral judgment when groups or individuals do heinous and horrible things, or ignore that such evil is a necessary part of their ideology or religion.