Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lies or Truths?

There is a form of literature called “hagiography.” Somewhat like a biography, it is the telling of the story of a person’s life that deliberately accentuates his or her sainthood, or special gift of goodness and closeness to God. That kind of writing idealizes a person. No one can tell the full story of someone in a biography, but the hagiography intentionally picks and usually exaggerates the supernatural connection and decisions and accomplishments that seem beyond those that most normal humans can do.

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Denton Record Chronicle musing on the song, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” Today, I believe that in addition to our love, people will also know we are Christians by our willingness to tell the truth about ourselves. In other words, we as Christians must stop being our own hagiographers.

I write this because of my disgust over a recent YouTube segment. I will not reveal the details except to say that someone I knew was being introduced by a well-known TV evangelist. The evangelist said things about this individual which cast the person in a glowing, holy light of special insight into and heroic obedience to the will of God. Implication: “you, too, can be blessed this way if you will make the same decisions.” But it was, at best, a highly sanitized stretch of the reality. At worst, it was a pack of lies. I don’t know if the speaker didn’t know the truth, or if the individual had presented this version of life in this new setting. I do know that this was hagiography at its best—or at its worst, as the case may be.

It’s hard work to live as a Christian. It takes discipline and practice and repetition and intentionality to consistently live in the holy light of God and to speak truth. We all battle the human tendency to hide and blame others and be irresponsible and to stretch the truth so we look better. The entrance into the Christian world of grace and intimacy with God brings with it the understanding that since we have been reconciled to God, then we must also reconcile with the world around us. That kind of reconciliation demands that we forgive as we have been forgiven, that we love our enemies, serve others with generosity and lay down our lives for those who don’t deserve it. Not one easy thing to do among that list, and every single person fails repeatedly in the process of learning to be a mature and integrated Christian. It is grace, not our performance, that keeps us going. It is grace that gives us the courage to pick ourselves up yet once more, dust ourselves off, know that God still loves us, and head out again to offer bold righteousness and transforming love to the world around us.

When we write our own hagiographies and set ourselves up as models of Christian living and say, “See, it’s so easy. Do what I do and you will get all these blessings,” then we have done a terrible disservice to the community around us. By our lies, we set people up to be disappointed with God.

I admit that this tirade is clearly aimed at those who preach the “prosperity gospel,” particularly the TV preachers. They parade behind unimaginable riches, gleaned from the nearly empty checkbooks of the vulnerable people they prey upon. With perfect hair and teeth glaringly white, clothed in expensively tailored clothes, having traveled in comfort in private jets, they say, “Send me more money and you, too, can live like this. Because if you are not, God is not blessing you.” And it is all a lie.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Well, let us get free from those who would prey upon the vulnerable. Let us get free from those who write their own hagiographies and then preach riches as blessings. Let us get free to love.


Anonymous said...

A tirade you say. Well OK if you must call speaking the truth a tirade. Thanks for being free enough to speak your mind and the truth.
One note, it is not just the TV preachers that prey upon the vulnerable. There are plenty of preachers that don't make the TV that preach the prosperity gospel and take from those whose checkbooks are empty. Some even go so far as to tell the people that God will not bless them unless they give what they do not have for the cause. They go on to say that if they give what they can't afford then God will send someone to give them what they gave up. So, I say again What tirade? When all you said was the truth. One that I'm sad to say I experienced first hand in a church where the preacher was not on TV, but never the less was living the high life of a large house, fancy car and all of the clothes. While my friends who could barely get by each month went home to write out a check to give their money to his church because they thought it would make them rich. Of course when my friend was pregnant and had complications, did anyone come to visit her in the hospital or at home? No. Did the church offer to help? No. And yet, my friends continued to attend this church because they believed that they had just not been living the right way and that things would change if they just continued to give. Sad to say nothing ever changed for them and our friendship grew farther and farther apart after they started attending this church. So Christy, thanks for the tirade and a lesson in truths and blessings.

Christy Thomas said...

Well said, Angie. Those preachers offer a guilt based theology--if things aren't going out way, it is because we have not been faithful enough in our giving. Such a load of lies. And they most definitely don't show up when things go bad. Obviously, I am finding this more and more distasteful.