the RAVEN FOUNDATION

So They Call You a Heretic. Here’s Why You Should Embrace It.

Ever since I started learning about mimetic theory, people have accused me of being a heretic.

If you delve deeper into mimetic theory, this may happen to you, too.

I want you to know that being a heretic okay. You still belong. And in fact, you belong in some pretty good company.

Are You a Heretic? Who’s Your Model?

I’m a pastor. My grandfather was a pastor. His two brothers were pastors. And two of my uncles were pastors.

A family member of mine recently accused me of teaching and preaching blasphemy at my church. Why? Because I proclaim a God of nonviolent love who embraces our LGBTQ siblings, wants us to act on climate change, care for immigrants, and end the racism that continues to infect our nation.

Apparently, I completely misunderstand the violent nature of God and I pander to minorities. This makes me a heretic, at least I have a family member who vehemently claims them to be blasphemous. He even asserted that everyone in our family, including our grandfather and uncles, would agree with him.

Ouch.

At first that accusation stung. It told me that I don’t belong. It told me that we ever had a family vote, it would come down to 27 against 1.

Because mimetic theory teaches us that, whether we realize it or not, we all have models. Our models are people who influence us. We are usually unaware of our models. We usually don’t think that others influence us in profound ways, yet they do.

My grandfather and uncles were great models for me. The showed me how to be a good pastor. Whenever we visited them during my childhood, they showed us hospitality and were a loving presence. Unfortunately, they have all passed away, so I can’t ask them if they think I am blasphemous. But to be honest, I don’t really care.

Because they are not my ultimate models of faith. As Christians, Jesus is our ultimate model. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. He says this because Jesus wants us to be more like God. And for him, God loves everyone. Everyone is included. Jesus took this teaching to the extreme when he said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and he sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

When I first heard this, I thought, “Oh right! God sends the rain to punish people.” But that entirely misses the point. It rarely rained in the middle east where Jesus lived. Rain would have been seen as not only refreshing, but a necessity for life. In sending the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, Jesus claimed that God’s life-giving love shows no partiality. It is for all people.

Call me a heretic, but Jesus should be our primary model of faith, not the Bible.

Why Do Some Think God’s Radical Love for All People Is Heretical?

The charge of heresy comes down to one’s interpretation of the Bible.

There are some Christians who don’t believe Jesus is the ultimate model. Rather, they believe the Bible is the ultimate model. You can see this reflected on countless church websites on their “What We Believe” page. They often have bullet points in an order that goes something like this:

  • We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and is entirely trustworthy and without error.
  • We believe in the one true God.
  • God created the heavens and the earth. God is sovereign, yet humans have responsibility.
  • Adam fell and corrupted all mankind (sorry ladies, it usually is “mankind” on these websites) so Jesus needed to come to receive God’s wrath.

Those are a paraphrase from the first four bullet points of a denomination called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church would call me a heretic because we have a pretty big disagreement. I don’t believe that the Bible is entirely trustworthy and without error when it comes to revealing God.

Rather, I think the radical love of God revealed through Jesus is entirely trustworthy and without error.

The problem is that some Christians elevate the Bible above Jesus. But we are not Bibl-ians. We are Christ-ians.

Here’s why this is a problem.  Jesus says, “Follow me.” He does not say, “Follow the Bible.” Nor does he teach us to follow Moses or Joshua or Jeremiah or Isaiah or the book of Revelation or even Paul. He says, “Follow me.”

But what do we do with those passages in the Bible that seem so un-Christlike?

Violence in the Bible

There are passages in the Bible where God seems to act with violence – even genocide. For example, Joshua, one of the “models” of faith, was entering a town called Jericho. He walked around the walls, they came tumbling down, and then Joshua said this to the people:

Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers we sent. 

I mean, congratulations to Rahab and her family, but everyone else in Jericho was killed. Men, women, children, cattle, the whole city was “devoted to the Lord for destruction.”

Christians who “believe in the Bible” will look at such a passage about God and say that this story is “entirely trustworthy and without error.”

Which, I don’t know about you, but kinda makes me wanna barf.

The Olive
Branch

Take A Breath with Us

Our weekly newsletter creates a space to take a breath. Once we slow down, we can see the way desire, imitation, and conflict operate in our lives and in the world, and begin to create peace.

Why Jesus Matters

Call me a heretic, but Jesus should be our primary model of faith, not the Bible.

Can you imagine Jesus saying, “Hey guys, God told me that we need to kill all the men, women and children of the land. We need to devote them to the Lord for destruction. So, take out your swords and kill them all!”?

Jesus never would have said that. In fact, he told his followers to “Put your sword back in its place, for all who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

All of Jesus’ teachings are pro-nonviolent love. Even when Jesus went to the temple and made a whip to drive everyone out, he never hit anyone with it.

In fact, this scene in Jesus’ life was anti-violence. In driving out the people and the animals, Jesus interrupted the sacrificial system of the Temple. The people thought God wanted them to kill animals in order to please God and make atonement. But Jesus knew that God doesn’t desire the bloody sacrifice of humans or animals. Rather, in halting the sacrificial system, Jesus affirmed the prophet Hosea’s declaration that God “desires mercy, not sacrifice.”

So You’re a Heretic. Embrace It.

As Christians, our primary model for faith is *not* the Bible.

Our primary model for faith is Jesus.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said, “God is Christlike and in him there is no unChristlikeness at all.”

If you take Jesus as your ultimate model in matters of faith, you may be accused of being a heretic and a blasphemer. And that’s okay. You don’t need to get defensive or get angry at your accusers. You can respond with love because you know that God loves all people. God loves you. You belong. And God loves those who label us heretics. And isn’t that great? Because deep down, we’re all a bunch of heretics who can never fully understand the radical love of God that includes all people revealed through Jesus.

So I encourage you to embrace your “heretic” status. People may accuse you of being a blasphemer, but that’s okay. Because when you embrace this status, you begin to realize that you belong in some very good company.

For even Jesus was accused of blasphemy.