When The Church Uses God’s Name to Oppress | Sojourners

When The Church Uses God’s Name to Oppress

“ … the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuse his name.” –Exodus 20:7

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, I only read one possible meaning out of this Bible verse: Never, ever say “Oh my God” or “Jesus” without saying it in prayer.

Blasphemy of all blasphemies was to stay God’s name in vain, to say it without meaning it, to say it in a way that was disrespectful.

But now, I see it differently. Now, I see a fuller picture of what this verse means for us today.

When Europeans “founded” America, they took any land that wasn’t “Christian” and claimed it “for God” — which meant that they were given full reign by the church to decide who looked saved and who didn’t. The Doctrine of Discovery gave them full permission to oppress, and because of it, my own Potawatomi ancestors walked the Trail of Death from the Great Lakes region of the United States into Kansas and Oklahoma.

We were forced off our own land, as numerous others were, because Christian empire won over a vision of a beautifully diverse church. It led us into slavery, and it leads us to where we are today, an American Christianity that is splitting at the seams because it’s having a crisis of identity and origin, all under the name of God.

Misusing God’s name is not about a child that utters an unexpected Oh, God in a social situation.

It’s about taking the name of God, the Lordship of Jesus, and using it as an oppressive tool over land and over people.

It’s about putting profit over care and compassion. It’s about using God for the sake of white supremacy and not for the sake of justice.

One day, Jesus walked through the temple marketplace overturning tables, yelling at the sellers. He was telling them that their disgusting use of money changing had become an oppressive system.

If you’ve ever been to a money exchange center in another country, you know to be aware of anything that might seem off, because it is a place of commerce. You know to look for the rate of money exchange that often appears on the hour. You know to stand up for yourself and for how much your money is worth.

But in the market, Jesus found the people of the temple, God’s people, taking advantage of the alien, the poor, selling them animals for a more expensive rate so they could put the profit in their pockets.

They became prophets of deceit instead of prophets of the love of God, and because of that, Jesus made a whip and drove them out.

Because of it, Jesus said, this temple you are looking at and standing in is going to fall.

In the church, we’ve got to have conversations about our institutional sins and what that means for us today.

We’ve got to have conversations about where we started as the church of the New Testament and where we are today as a largely colonized institution.

It’s not just in the U.S. It’s in Canada as they ask the church to partner to bring justice to indigenous people. It’s in Bosnia where it’s acknowledged that Christians carried crosses and massacred young boys and men because they were Muslims in the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995.

It’s in areas of the world that have been heavily influenced by colonizing missionary work, white Christians sent into dark places to save the heathens.

So, if we are asking who is and isn’t acquitted by God, maybe we need to be asking within the church. Maybe we need to be asking within an institution that has led the way in genocide, forced assimilation, and colonization what the future looks like.

If we are to be a church built off of the life and death of the brown Jesus of the gospels, we have to be willing to die under the same selflessness and justice-seeking that he died under. We have to decide to be on the side of the oppressed, and not on the side of the oppressor.

We have to be willing to live humbly, to live as Christians who don’t believe we have all rights to the gospel. 

Throughout the history of Christianity, Jesus has been a source for good, for shalom, for peacemaking, for justice keeping. But the institution of the church has made mistakes. We criticize the church because we want to see it made more whole, because we want to heal the world of its wounds and to admit that it starts with us.

So if you go to church, if you call yourself part of the church community at large and locally, be a part of it for the Jesus of the gospel, who makes a way for us to do this difficult work.

Be a part of the decolonizing church, the oppression-breaking church, the totally humble church.

As Christians, we have a president that calls for things like Bears Ears to be shrunk down, a man who jokingly refers to native women as Pocahontas, a man who thinks it is appropriate to dump mining refuse into waterways. This is done all in the name of making America into a greater nation, a nation under God (and most certainly under guns).

We live in an era in which Flint, Mich., historically Ojibwe land , has endured years of water pollution and poisoning, a product of social and economic oppression. When we, as a nation, choose not to help the people in places like Flint, we are telling them that their oppression is acceptable, and that “thoughts and prayers” are enough, just as they are enough to ignore the hard work of gun legislation.

It is Women’s History Month, and we live in a church era that calls women into submission, to be voiceless and powerless under a male-dominated worship culture in which toxic patriarchy has the first and the last word, a distorted version of God and the gospel. This is the church’s chance to make a change, to honor what started with the cross, with the carpenter who walked through a wilderness to get to his life’s work of inclusive healing and the fullness of shalom.

So, maybe it’s time we realize that our words are not the things that God talks about watching and judging. It’s our actions and deeds.

Every time we hold a truly inclusive church service, or we honor the land on which our churches are built, or we meet at the table to have honest conversations about earth care, white supremacy, and oppressive systems, we are making a way forward. We are joining Jesus in the work of empowering women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and indigenous peoples. And we are reminding the world that U.S. Christianity does not reign supreme.

If we cannot be honest about the past of the church, about the deeds done to oppress, about a tendency to take advantage of the poor for our own profit, we cannot be honest about what the church will look like tomorrow.

May we use God’s name for love, which we are all called to daily live and express.

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