By Their Fruits

Toxic Theology

There is much talk these days of toxic masculinity, toxic relationships, and toxic workplaces, all of which exist, and all of which create problems and pain. As is the case with any organization, churches can be toxic workplaces where people are manipulated, abused, or disrespected.

Behind and under much of the toxicity are toxic ideas, beliefs, or dogma. White supremacy is a toxic philosophy. Jingoism is a toxic ideology that leads to xenophobia. 

I was not raised with a church background. 

When I was 17, or thereabouts, I cried out in desperation into the unknown, only hoping that there was an Intelligence in the universe that would hear me. God flooded me with light and love. Jesus became my Lord and King. 

For a couple of years, it was kind of just Jesus and me. I happily read books (including the Bible), took every religiously oriented class I could find in college, joyfully engaged in mentoring inner-city kids, and went through my days in running conversation with God.

I got married at a very young age and by the time I was 20, had a son. That’s when I started going to church, and from there, I was introduced to home Bible studies, prayer meetings, and a gamut of large charismatic meetings. (Those were the days of the Jesus Movement.) Much of that was glorious – enthusiasm, heart-pumping songs of joy and praise, prayers for healing, inspiring messages, a huge ecumenical community of faith. I loved it.

But danger crouched at the door. Imperceptibly, toxic theology crept in. It was toxic because it produced poison Kool-Aid. I drank heartedly.

My Kool-Aid was a mixed drink, consisting of:

  • Wooden literalism.I was taught a flat Bible, by which I mean every verse was seen as dictated directly by God, without mistakes or errors of any kind, and carrying equal weight with every other verse. One could then overlook the Sermon on the Mount by quoting something out of 1 Kings.  (It turns out, there is nothing at all wrong with the Bible – only with the way we were interpreting it.) 
  • Young Earth Creationism. Wooden literalism led us to throw science out the window and promote nonsense. We became like those who insisted, based on scripture, that the earth was flat. Educated people laughed. 
  • Patriarchy.The Bible was interpreted to keep men, especially white men, squarely in control, bosses of their families, churches, businesses, and countries. 
  • Racism. Not the blatant overt racism of the KKK, but a subtler ignoring of voices of color. 
  • Nationalism. One of my primary Bible teachers made of point of telling us that Native Americans were savage pagans. Their genocide and stolen land was God’s judgment. They were like the Amalekites of old. America was the new Israel. God took the land from the pagans and gave it to “his people” – white, “Christian,” Europeans. 
  • Christendom.Church and state wed; the church serves as chaplain to empires that do what empires always do – brutalize and dominate. The cross and basin were replaced by the flag and a gun. 
  • Militarism. Somewhere along the line, everything Jesus taught about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies was tossed out the proverbial window and replaced with the glories of war and the virtues of killing. Christian military generals were given standing ovations as worship bands played war anthems. 
  • Zionism. Based on faulty eschatology, I came to support ultra-right-wing militaristic Israeli governments that most Israelis did not support, and reject and condemn Palestinians, many of whom are Christian. 
  • Pretribulation rapture. We true believers would soon be snatched away. The earth was destined to burn. Unbelievers were destined to torture and death and hell. No need to save the planet. Environmentalism was a waste of time and energy. The only thing that mattered was “getting people saved.” We were escapist. 
  • Eschatology. The apocalyptic portions of scripture (much of Daniel, some of Ezekiel, some of Isaiah, Zechariah, the Olivet Discourse, and Revelation) were interpreted to reinforce militarism, divine judgment, eternal torture, national exceptionalism, anti-environmentalism, and escapism. Apocalyptic portions of the Bible were used to feed conspiracy theories. The world was going to end in 1980, 1988, and 2000. Donald Trump incarnates Cyrus the Great. 
  • Infernalism. An overly literalistic interpretation of the Bible led me to believe that the God who is Perfect Love planned to eternally torture the majority of humankind in everlasting fire. I was mostly fine with that.
  • Prosperity. Other portions of scripture were twisted to promote opulence, income disparity, and hedonism. 
  • Homophobia. The Bible was regularly used to bludgeon and condemn the LGBTQ community.
  • A Truncated Pro-lifeview became associated only with anti-abortion. One could be “pro-life,” yet support capital punishment, war, anti-immigration policies, and police brutality. 
  • Theocracy. The task at hand for American Christians became political power that could then be used to impose a particular understanding of ethics and morality on the general public. “Christian” became identified with ultra-conservative Republican. Christians could wholeheartedly support the most immoral and dishonest president in the history of the United States.  

Having drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid, I woke up one day and found myself a racist, homophobic, nationalist, flag-waving, violence-promoting, misogynist ordained pastor-teacher.

Then, I took along, hard look at Jesus. With God’s help, I came back to my first love, to the Prince of peace who embodies perfect, self-sacrificial, cruciform, loving service to the marginalized. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on October 2, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality, The Cross, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Amen! This is so good. As someone who has definitely wrestled with how to interpret the Bible, as I have a calling to go into full-time church ministry, I can really relate to your experience of finding the balance within staying faithful to God’s often uncomfortable and challenging Word, and seeing Jesus behind the Words (still not sacrificing the Words, but understand that the Word is a Person = Jesus). We’re following a live and breathing Person, aka Jesus, who loves us and also challenges us because wants us to be better. Thank you for tackling this, I believe everyone has wrestled with the interpretation of the Bible, so I appreciate you writing about this.


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