This picture appeared on my Facebook newsfeed on Friday June 19th, 2015 only two days after a 21 year old White male maliciously murdered nine Black Christians after sitting with them for an hour in a prayer service. The male has since been apprehended and his uncle has confessed that the gun used to kill the victims of this terrorist act was a gift from him to his nephew, the terrorist. While many Christians have called this act of terrorism another wake up call for the need for more gun regulation similar to the Newtown Massacre, or the Columbine School Shooting; other Christians have used this as an opportunity to place their trust in the sword Jesus told us not to live by.
First, your suspicions are correct, this image has spelled the name Abel incorrectly, second you must be curious about what the Bible verse Jeremiah 17:9 says. It says, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?”
Speaking of perverse, let’s briefly explore how this verse was perverted/used out of context in order to make a political point rather than to point to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. First, it is important to note that this chapter of Scripture God is telling the children of Israel why they are about to be made slaves in a foreign land, much like Black people in the US. The Children of Israel sinned, and started worshipping idols, they trusted in their treasures, they got greedy, so God gives them this message through the prophet Jeremiah.
The brings us back to today. And back to the heart of the matter. Blanket Theology.
Blanket Theology is not a widely known term, mostly because I made it up. It is theology that uses the proof-texting technique of picking one verse (out of its context) in the Bible to cover a wide and complex issue to comfort oneself like Linus of the Peanuts fame does with his own blanket. This type of theology is rather common, it crosses denominational lines and sects, even religions. It most commonly shows up when people are murdered in mass, a natural disaster occurs, someone loses a family member or close friend, etc. Blanket Theology, while being harmful starts from a place of genuine desire to do good and to represent the best of faith traditions; yet it fails to aptly deal with any form of complexity.
Abel was murdered by Cain with a rock, that was a problem of Cain’s heart; as was the murder of the Mother Emmanuel AME church members; as was the murder of Trayvon, Ayiana, Tamir, Eric, Mike, Akai, Rekia, etc. BUT why do these same types of crime happen so often in the United State of America – the melting pot, the land of the free, the “most powerful nation in the world”? No other developed nation in the world has mass murders occur at the same rate, no other developed nation has so many examples of unfettered police brutality. It cannot be that the USA has people with hearts filled with more sin than that of the people of the UK, or Netherlands.
Maybe, just maybe – the lack of desire to combat crimes like this is the root of the problem. Maybe the rush to find any excuse for why this crime in Charleston wasn’t racially motivated – despite the terrorist’s own confession that it was – is a problem. Maybe, the USA’s failure to repent from its culture of violence and racism is part of the problem. Maybe White Christians aversion to saying that “Black Lives Matter” is a factor. The discomfort with saying Black lives matter comes not because all lives matter, but because many operate as if Black lives don’t matter. Before many Christians mourned the death of Tamir Rice, they diligently sought out reasons why this 12 year old should be dead – in the same manner they diligently sought reasons Dylann Roof isn’t really a racist, he’s just “troubled” or “mentally unstable”. Maybe the heart problem isn’t just that people are sinners, but that many people, many Christians, have made idols of their firearms. Many have confused their politics with theology. Many would rather continue to witness thousands die each year than to give up their metal gods. Many are wrapped in their blanket theology so tightly, it effectively stops the gospel from reaching them.
So let us start to look to Jesus, rather than our weapons for deliverance from evil. Let us work on the sin within our own hearts so that the world made be made a better place. Let us look not for ways to avoid checking ourselves for racial biases, or ableist views, or heterosexist practices, or violent tendencies, by pointing to others; rather lets look at what idols we have set up in our hearts. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” Only Christ, who laid down his life, his desires, and his politics so that others might live. May we learn from Christ, and follow suite.
Edit: I suppose I should point to the gospel message with this post since that was my main critique of Blanket Theology. The gospel is this: God who made us, loved and loves us too much to leave us drowning in a flood of sin. This God became flesh and dwelt among us, this God died for us, and this God rose again. This God is still with us – despite our unfaithfulness. This God is working in and through us, despite us, to make this world the way it should be, rather than leaving it as it is.