The following is my personal opinion.
Have you noticed that one thing leads to another when you research a topic, and soon you are down a rabbit hole? That has just happened to me.
A few posts ago, I wrote about why I’m leaving my Evangelical church. The church had always taken a neutral stance on controversial issues, but it transitioned into a more conservative organization. Recently, the lead pastor publicly announced his disavowing of same-sex marriages. I can’t say why he felt the need to do this, but it felt wrong for me to attend a church that was dismissive of the legal rights of a minority group.
Some churches take a negative stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage because they believe that they are specifically banned in the Bible. These facts led me to do a deep dive into early Christianity, Judaism, and Scripture. I was raised in a Catholic family and eventually migrated to a large Evangelical church. I thought that I had a basic understanding of the ins and outs of Christianity and the Bible, but I was utterly wrong.
I wrote a long post on the interpretation of the Bible, which you can read here. I discovered a lot more, but my post was already too long. For instance, when I searched for verses disallowing same-sex marriages, I was given a lot of quotes, but none of them specifically rejected same-sex marriages. Instead, many passages were along the lines of this one:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Jesus supports marriage and is not supportive of divorce, but that doesn’t mean that he is rejecting same-sex marriage. That would require a jump in interpretation. Of interest, divorce is now common, and many churches have found a workaround for this passage. Divorce happens within the majority group, does that make it acceptable? Same-sex marriage happens in a minority group and remains unacceptable. This would imply a level of hypocrisy.
Although there is evidence of same-sex marriages in ancient cultures, that does not include the Jewish culture. However, same-sex relationships occur in all cultures. For example, some claim that King David had a romantic relationship with Jonathan, the son of King Saul.
1 Samuel 18:1-4
“Now, when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because they loved him as his soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.”
This sounds like Jonathan and King David were a couple. However, you could also interpret this passage as they were just really, really close. We know that 1 + 1 = 2, that is a fact. However, written stories are interpreted by their content and the reader’s culture, experiences, and beliefs. Knowledgeable people have interpreted the above Scripture in several ways. Who is right?
Interpretations get even more complicated when modern terminology is used when translating ancient passages. For example, here is the same passage using two different translations.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — King James Version (KJV 1900)
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — New Living Translation (NLT)
9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
The second translation specifically notes “practice homosexuality,” while the first translation says “nor effeminate.” The term homosexuality was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny almost 2 millennia after this passage was written. Concepts like sexual orientation did not exist in ancient times. Using the term “homosexual” would be like me translating the term “steam locomotive” to “Tesla.”
It is also important to understand that the meaning of a word can drastically change over time. The term “heterosexual” had a very negative connotation until the 1930s, as it implied someone who had a morbid obsession with the opposite sex. The sentence, Joe is a heterosexual, would mean that he had mental health issues if written in 1920, but that he was perfectly normal if scribed in 1935!
If we read the KJV translation, are we to assume that gay sex is OK if the person is masculine? That is possibly true as ancient cultures did not like submissive men as submissiveness was supposed to be the role of women. The NLT version condemns male prostitutes but never mentions female prostitutes (the larger group). Is it OK to be a female prostitute?
Dunkards are also condemned, likely because alcoholism was thought to be a moral failing. In 2022 we know that alcoholism is a diagnosable disease with known symptoms and progression. It is not considered a moral failing. We understand much of the biochemistry of this illness, including how the brain’s reward pathway is hijacked by alcohol. With our current knowledge, the above passage can be understood to say that people who have a disease will be denied the kingdom of God. Should we broaden this interpretation to other diseases? Diabetes? Cancer? Mental Illness?
Translations are imperfect; you can’t make an inerrant judgment based on a poor translation. Also, interpretations frequently fit the beliefs of the interpreter.
What does the Bible say about pet ID chips, blood transfusions, and social security cards? Of course, it says nothing about these things; they didn’t exist in ancient times. Yet, it is possible to find a passage that can be twisted to develop an opinion, however disconnected that it may be. I have heard some say that your social security number is the mark of the beast! Now that is just plain silly.
Interpretations of the Bible can lead to prejudice and dire consequences. When AIDS erupted in the 1970s, it was understood by the medical community that it would become a severe epidemic. Initially, most victims were gay males; funding for AIDS research was hampered because it was labeled as the gay plague-a punishment for those who didn’t follow God’s law. But, of course, AIDS impacted other populations, and when politicians took off their gay blinders, funding started to flow. Bias against a minority group affected society as a whole.
How can discriminatory statements be made based on weak, variable, and subjective Bible interpretations? We are taught interpretations of the Bible by authoritative individuals who we admire and trust. If those interpretations are consistent with our belief system, we accept them. Couple the above with societal biases, and you can see how some very sincere pastors justify violating the rights of others.
Hopefully, I have demonstrated how fluid the interpretation of the Bible can be. It would seem that a person can find a way to support any opinion. The Bible has been used to discriminate against many different groups. Women, blacks, Jews, other Christians, LGBTQ people, and more. In addition, Bible interpretations can also be used to promote an anti-social ideology, often for personal gain.
The power of hate, fear, Scripture, and a little psychology.
As I continued researching this topic, I realized that some use the Bible combined with psychology to create their custom narrative.
The prosperity gospel preachers.
These preachers promise their followers riches, but they have to “sow a seed” of money to the pastor’s organization. They use Bible verses like 2. James 4:2 — “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
Prosperity preachers live wealthy lifestyles funded by donations. They prey on those most vulnerable and those who have the least to give. Some preach a divisive political agenda during their sermons promoting the Christian nationalist view. Prominent leaders of this genre include Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Paula White.
Kenneth Copeland wanted a new private jet to replace his old private jet, as the old one needed to be refueled during transcontinental flights. Apparently, that was just too inconvenient. Mr. Copeland was originally Pat Robertson’s pilot before launching his dynasty. I guess he has a thing for airplanes. He said he needed private jets because he couldn’t ride in a commercial aircraft filled with a bunch of demons! (also called passengers.)
He eventually got enough donations for the multi-million dollar jet, but now he wants millions more to upgrade his private airfield. The believers are promised a great return to their investment or “seed.” There are many stories of poor souls “seeding” their rent money or their life savings with the hopes of having a better life. Who gets rich? The people on the top. Sort of like an MLM.
Jim Bakker is another interesting case study. He lived a lavish lifestyle preaching the prosperity gospel on his PTL (Praise The Lord) TV network. That is until he went to prison for fraud. Now, out of prison, he is back on television preaching a fear-based apocalyptic gospel while making money selling dehydrated food for the end of times. If the last days are coming, why would you need dehydrated food? In reality, the apocalyptic gospel is just the flip side of the prosperity gospel. The end game is the same.
There are religious groups that reject modern medical care due to their interpretation of the Bible. Sadly, there are reports of children with treatable illnesses who have died because their parents or their religious community refused to allow them to have appropriate medical care. I can’t imagine someone letting their child die because they didn’t want to hurt God’s feelings. In some cases, this fear is transferred to a fear that medical treatment is not in God’s plans. This can mutate into a hate of science. Discounting science is necessary if you are a literal Bible reader. Fear and hate fostered by a group’s beliefs can lead to dire consequences.
A permutation of this is the faith healer who uses a similar ideology but for profit. Benny Hinn comes to mind, but there have been many others over the years. For instance, Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Kenneth Copeland. Naturally, they cite passages from the Bible to support their claims. Several documentaries expose the trickery of healing ministries. Very sick individuals are not allowed to go up to the healing stage. Tricks are used from faking leg growth to having people collapse with the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are tragic stories of people losing their life savings with the hope of ridding themselves of cancer or other terrible maladies. I watched one sad video where desperate parents put their faith and money in Benny Hinn to cure their son of brain cancer. When the child died, they were told (apparently by Mr. Hinn) that it was because a curse was upon the family. There are other stories of people being shamed that it was their fault that they were not cured because of a lack of faith. Fear of illness drives the unsuspecting to seek help which faith healers then exploit. If these healers have the power to heal, why are they not demonstrating this power in hospitals rather than in paid venues?
The Mega Church
In America, the number of churchgoers continues to decline, and the number of individuals who belong to traditional denominations is at an all-time low. However, one area of growth in Christianity is the Mega Church. These usually are Evangelical, non-denominational churches that follow a prescribed formula that simulates other familiar venues like sporting events and rock concerts. Mega Churches frequently incorporate other social activities that go beyond theology. For instance, a Mega Church may have a gym or even a sports complex for its followers.
The above sounds like a great way to bring people back to God. Unfortunately, an explosion in size can disconnect the organization from the congregation. Historically, some large traditional denominations have demonstrated this, such as the Roman Catholic Church. The same problems occur when any church becomes so large that the leader’s behavior and actions can go unchecked. Of course, there have been many megachurch scandals, mainly of the sexual or financial variety, but that is not what I’m talking about today. I’m more interested in how an individual’s motivation shifts from religious teaching to expansion, power, and influence.
The case of Greg Locke
Mr. Locke is the pastor of Global Vision, a non-denominational church in Nashville. His church had several hundred members before he started to preach a gospel of fear and hate. Political sermons on election fraud, conspiracy sermons saying that mask mandates are being used to see who the government can manipulate, stating, from the pulpit, that he would kick out anyone wearing a mask during his services. Publicity stunts, like a book burning of Harry Potter books (which is a fictionalized retelling of the story of Jesus, not a Satanic conversion book), are some of his strategies.
This gospel of negativity has benefited Mr. Locke’s church, which has grown so much that its services are now held in a circus tent. In addition, he has a massive online following. He has gone from a nobody to an influential somebody by preaching hate and fear. For example, he recently claimed (with no evidence) that there were six witches in his congregation. An odd statement, but a useful one if anyone ever tries to dispute his authority.
I watched several videos of Mr. Locke and his congregation. It would appear that the attendees seem transfixed by his fiery performance. When interviewed, it is clear that Mr. Locke is a savvy guy who sidesteps questions that could make him look foolish to a broader audience.
Us vs. them
There is a common link that some of these preachers and other organizations use. I’m talking about us vs. them theology. Conservative politics vs. liberal politics. Individual rights vs. government rules. Church culture vs. popular culture. White vs. black. Straight vs. gay, and so on. You are demonized and hated if you are on the “them” side.
When these organizations preach these negative messages, they grow, become more influential, and more powerful. That is sad.
We enjoy stories about UFOs, the Illuminati, Bigfoot, and conspiracies. It feels powerful to be on the inside track of unique information, look at the Q-Anon movement. A conservative church may tell you who to vote for; a more radically conservative church will tell you why the presidential election was a fraud. Churches that teach division know that it is an effective way to grow their loyalty and congregations. Naturally, this is entirely the opposite of Jesus’ message, one of tolerance and love. It is not possible to reconcile the two.
As an aside, denominations and unaffiliated churches were given a tax-exempt status based on the concept of freedom of religion; taxation could be interpreted as a restriction of that freedom. For a church to retain its tax-exempt status, it needs to remain politically neutral for the same reason; church and state must not mix. Churches and denominations that tell you how to vote or promote political lies violate their tax-exempt status and, by law, should be taxed. Despite churches becoming political, the IRS has declined to pursue most cases. Some churches would love a public battle on this topic, and some preachers have sent the IRS DVDs of their political preaching. Why? Because such a battle would gain them national attention as well as achieve an increase in both their contributions and congregation size.
The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones), The Branch Davidians, and The Ant Hill Gang are just a few examples illustrating the level of control cult leaders have on their flocks. Cult leaders use basic psychological techniques combined with hate, fear, and Scripture to move their prey into their controlling jaws. Some (but not all) of their methods include:
- Love bombing and acceptance of the disenfranchised.
- The Bible or other sacred document is used to bolster the leader’s claims.
- The proclamation of some apocalyptic belief. This may mean the end of the world, but it could also mean the collapse of the government or some other tribulation.
- Isolation from others who have conflicting ideas. This is often isolated from outside news, books, and people.
- Outside information is labeled heretical, false, and not to be trusted. It is fake news.
- Non-members or those that hold different beliefs are not to be trusted.
- Fear is used to control the individual. Fearful people stay close to where they feel safe.
- Hate is used against those outside the cult.
- Complete devotion to the group leader is demanded, no matter what they do. Any questioning is reframed as being disloyal or siding with the enemy.
- Membership rules and regulations can be strict or worse.
- The leader’s beliefs are claimed to be inerrant.
- The leader may say that they have special powers, including a direct connection to God and healing powers.
- Members are expected to contribute financially to support the group.
- Some leaders may preach violence or retribution towards members or outsiders.
The reality is that these techniques also seem to be used by more mainstream groups, likely for similar reasons. See if you can notice some of these methods in your real world.
Cable news networks fall into two distinct groups, liberal and conservative. Most of these stations’ airtime is devoted to opinion shows that look like news shows. They are biased and present an agenda rather than information. If you watch CNN, you will hear that the Republicans are evil, and if you watch Fox, you will hear that the Democrats are evil.
These are for-profit commercial outlets whose purpose is to make money for their shareholders. The longer you watch, the more money they make. To keep you watching, the stories have to sell you on an agenda, and that agenda often includes fear and hate of the opposing side.
The case of Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson is a writer and opinion host on Fox News who is controversial and wildly successful. He can take a small piece of information and massage it to make a much grander suggestion. For instance, he stated that COVID infections could feminize men and then connected that theory to the political leader of another country. Naturally, he had a political expert present to support his hypothesis. It is unclear why he would think that being feminine is negative. A small Israeli study did demonstrate that some men post-COVID had lower testosterone levels. However, other experts were not supportive of this finding. He used a small, flawed study to discredit someone. However, to the masses, it was presented as the absolute truth.
Controversy means ratings, and Mr. Carlson is an expert at stirring up controversy. After the Walmart shooting of Hispanics in El Paso, he stated that white supremacy was not a real problem. He noted that Adam Schiff was mentally ill (citing no evidence). When Lauren Duca wrote a commentary on Donald Trump, he said that she should stick to thigh-high boots and that she was mindless and vapid. He stated that immigrants make a country poorer and dirtier.
Despite his hateful and inflammatory comments, Tucker Carson is the most-watched opinion commentator on Fox. His words have been so egregious that many sponsors have pulled their adverts off his show. However, they just placed them into other slots on the network. Fox gets the best of both worlds; they have a media star with massive viewership while retaining profits. Hate sells.
Others who use hate and fear
Various other individuals and institutions use hate and fear techniques. A political example from the past is the case of Joe McCarthy, who was a US senator in the 1950s. He gained national notoriety and power by investigating prominent individuals. By using hate, fear, bullying, and allegations, he ruined the lives of countless public servants, actors, directors, university professors, and others. He would label these unfortunate individuals as Godless Communists, effectively ending their careers. Although his actions were extreme, such behaviors can still be seen in present-day politics.
What happens when church leaders are more interested in power and contributions than saving souls? What happens when news organizations are more interested in advertising revenues than presenting an unbiased picture of what is happening in the world? What about politicians who will go to any lengths to advance their power and influence?
The sad reality is that hate, fear, and anger sells. Combine them with Scripture to seal the deal. Who can argue with God?
It is easy for me to tell you to not support organizations of hate and fear. However, I realize that such a comment will have little impact. Instead, I would ask you to take simple steps to move your life and our country forward.
Think about your pastor’s sermons or the tone of your church. Remember that Jesus’ greatest commandment was to Love one another. If you see a pattern contrary to this, or a pattern of splitting rather than joining together take note. Your church is not espousing true Christian beliefs and is sowing discontent.
Get your news from regular network channels or other less biased outlets. If you must watch cable news, limit your viewing to no more than 30 minutes a day of newscasts (not opinion shows). If you must watch opinion shows, balance one hour on one network with a second hour on another. If you watch CNN, give the same amount of time to Fox and vice versa. You will be amazed at the differences in opinion and coverage.
Politicians are supposed to unite people, not divide them. Unfortunately, hate and fear are very effective in mobilizing voters. There are egregious examples of this tactic, but most modern politicians use these techniques at some level. If you don’t believe me, just watch political commercials around election time. Not only do they spew hate and fear, they often present information that is so out of context that it is misleading and false. Vote for them if you believe in their platform, which you can find on their website. Avoid BS political commercials.
In kindergarten, one of the first things that most of us learned was how to cooperate and get along with others. If someone was different from us, we were told to accept them. We were instructed to be kind to others and be responsible for our behavior. We were told to respect our environment and clean up after ourselves.
We were not told to hate, judge others against some imaginary yardstick, or demonize people who were not like us.
It is time to return to what we learned.