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Bill White: Self-righteous and judgmental are not Christian values

Bill White suggests the Bible is a book that needs to be treated as alive and evolving, interpreted in context and applied to a modern world with compassion and nuance. (Terra Fondriest/The New York Times)
Bill White suggests the Bible is a book that needs to be treated as alive and evolving, interpreted in context and applied to a modern world with compassion and nuance. (Terra Fondriest/The New York Times)
Bill White
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My church has adopted the theme “How Does a Weary World Rejoice?” for this year’s Advent season, drawing from the hymn “O Holy Night” and its lyric “… the weary world rejoices.”

In worship and in small groups, we’re discussing the things that make us weary in our bodies, our minds, our souls. How do we create space for joy in a broken world and the broken parts of our own lives?

I don’t know about you, but I feel extra pressure to feel joyous at this time of year. I immerse myself in Christmas music. I gawk at the beautiful Christmas displays. I watch my favorite Christmas movies and TV programs. I sing the seasonal hymns and hear the familiar Bible stories in church. I put up the tree and fill the house with decorations.

Bill White
Bill White

Still, there are moments when I long for the Christmases when I was a child and life wasn’t so complicated, so … weary.

As a Christian in the midst of a holy season, I’m sorry to say that self-righteous, judgmental Christians are one source of my weariness.

I wrote last month about our society’s collective distaste for nuance and critical thinking. These qualities aren’t popular among some Christians, either.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson explained in a Fox “첥Ƶ” interview that someone in the media asked him what he thinks about any issue under the sun. “I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.’ ”

That wouldn’t be terrible, if he truly examined his decisions by considering: “What Would Jesus Do?,” pursuing his job with deep compassion for everyone. But that’s not what’s happening. In fact, way too many professed Christians are doing the opposite. And politicians who are taking this “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” approach have found it’s rather successful, at least with their base.

I came across a cartoon the other day on X, formerly known as Twitter. It showed Jesus facing a bunch of Bible-toting people, with the message: “The difference between you and me is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

The people who treat the Bible as an infallible history and rule book, cherry-picking translations of statements specific to a long-ago time and place as a way of excluding and judging people instead of embracing the broader, truly timeless messages repeated over and over — Love God. Love Your Neighbor — have done a great job of driving people away instead of welcoming them in.

The Bible is a book that needs to be treated as alive and evolving, interpreted in context and applied to a modern world with compassion and nuance. And while I have tried to use my faith to help guide my own life, I certainly don’t expect it to be forced on anyone else, particularly by our government. Our Founding Fathers didn’t want a theocracy, and neither should we.

I could throw quotes at you from Founding Fathers to demonstrate how strongly they felt about not just freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. But if you want to bring it home with someone more recent and whom Republicans once revered, at least pre-MAGA, how about Ronald Reagan?

“We establish no religion in this country,” he said. “We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.”

One of the many appalling things about the presidential and congressional Bible-thumping we hear is that so many of these people — including Donald Trump, whose clueless cultists in some cases have assigned him Messianic qualities — wouldn’t be caught dead in a church unless it’s for a photo op. They just know it’s good politics.

Good leadership is another matter. If you’ve studied history, you know how often religion has been used to justify bigotry, violence, even war. The Crusades. The Inquisition. Witch Trials. The Ku Klux Klan. Nazis.

And nothing has changed, as we’re seeing in a Middle East consumed again by war — and at home, where Jews and Muslims are facing a new wave of hate, even on college campuses.

At this time of year, I see it on social media, in professed Christians who obsess — thanks in part to Fox “첥Ƶ” hucksters who manufacture outrage to gain higher ratings — over people who say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

Many non-Christians enjoy the holiday season, too, for all kinds of reasons. Why not include them? Joy should unite us, not divide us. Let people express it however they like.

We all should be free to pursue our faith or our rejection of faith in whatever direction we choose. Anyone who tells you differently has no clue about what our nation really is about or is trying to remake it into something none of us should want.

Weary or not, we need to protect our country from that assault, truly embracing freedom in the way we act — and the way we vote.

Bill White can be reached at whitebil1974@gmail.com. His Twitter handle is whitebil.

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