Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

[One note before I begin. If I had not seen the post I’m about to analyze referenced at Palin Rumors (this is Number 21) with an intermediate stop at Andrew Sullivan, I would have figured it was just more fringe lunacy and ignored it. Palin Rumors, however, has been widely referenced in the last couple of weeks and Andrew Sullivan - for reasons which totally escape me - is still considered in some circles to provide a veneer of respectability. Hence my decision to take this post seriously.]

On September 5, 2008, Max Blumenthal put up a post called “Palin’s Pastor: God ‘Is Gonna Strike Out His Hand Against...America”. In this post Blumenthal gave a highly condensed version of a July 20, 2008, sermon preached by Larry Koon, pastor of the Wasilla Bible Church. Wasilla Bible Church is where Governor Sarah Palin worships when she is in Wasilla.

Blumenthal extracted a few phrases from the sermon and strung them together with his own paraphrases. If you begin reading his post at the words “the book of Zephanaiah [sic]” and end with “It’s all” and include Blumenthal’s paraphrases, his version of the sermon is 132 words long. If you begin and end at the same points in Blumenthal’s post but include only the words he actually quotes from the sermon itself, his version of the sermon is 86 words long.

Pastor Kroon’s sermon is 4,895 words long.

Blumenthal’s first quote from Pastor Kroon’s sermon is:

“that great day of the Lord when God will finally bring closure to human history… a day of wrath.”

There are 1374 words in the sermon before that quote. Pastor Kroon is explaining Zephaniah’s prophetic vision and credit him with credits him with popularizing the phrase “day of the Lord”:

to refer to the closure of all things, when God would finally bring everything that we know to an end; that timeframe when God would finally bring everything up, bind it together, and deal with it. And the world that we now know will cease to exist. That’s the day of the Lord.

Now, we’re not talking necessarily about a 24-hour time period. We’re talking about the whole timeframe of the end, when God begins to bring closure to the world as we know it. It’s not...it’s not a sunny picture. In fact, later in Zephaniah, when we get down to the very end of chapter 1 if you wanna glance there, chapter 1 verses 14-16, there’s a drumbeat almost of descriptive terms in which Zephaniah, looking at the future and seeing that great day of the Lord when God will finally bring closure to human history, he says this--it is a day of wrath.

Blumenthal’s second quote is:

“all things and all people” are going to bear the brunt of God’s “intense anger.”

In Pastor Kroon's sermon there are 1565 words between “all things and all people” and “intense anger”.

Blumenthal’s third quote is:

“There’s anger with God,” he proclaimed. “He takes sin personal.”

This actually comes near the end of the sermon: there are only 226 words left to go. The full paragraph in which this quote occurs is:

“Yes. There’s anger with God. He takes sin personal. But there is something that answers to that anger, and that’s His love. And it’s a love that, we’re told, not only does He love the world—“He loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son.” He put His Son there and said, ‘You take the anger for them.’ And with that promise is “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” No ‘perhaps’ there. It’s simply sayin’ “I’m gonna seek the Lord, starting with Jesus, responding with faith.’ That’s what you do, given the reality of the day of the Lord.

Blumenthal’s fourth quote is:

“And if Zephaniah were here today,” Kroon bellowed, “he’d be saying, ‘Listen, [God] is gonna deal with all the inhabitants of the earth. He is gonna strike out His hand against, yes, Wasilla; and Alaska; and the United States of America. There’s no exceptions here — there’s none. It’s all.’”

This quote appears in the sermon before Blumenthal's third quote and in the midst of Blumenthal's second quote. The full paragraph in which this quote occurs is:

He has to be emphatic at this point; he has to get specific at this point, because the people of Jerusalem had the prevailing attitude—and it’s stated in Zephaniah—that ‘God won’t do anything to us, good or bad.’ And what Zephaniah says—‘Listen, He is going to remove everyone from the earth. He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants; so, as a result, understand He is going to deal with you, Jerusalem and Judah. There’s no exceptions here.’ And if Zephaniah were here today he’d be saying, ‘Listen, He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants of the earth. He is gonna strike out His hand against, yes, Wasilla; and Alaska; and the United States of America. There’s no exceptions here—there’s none. It’s all.’

Pastor Koon is not saying that God is angry with Wasilla or Alaska or the United States in particular. This is an analogy: Zephaniah telling the people of Jerusalem, “Listen up because God means you, Jerusalem and Judah” is analogous to a modern-day prophet telling the congregation in Wasilla, “Listen up because God means you, Wasilla and Alaska and the United States.”

I’m hardly a regular - or even irregular - churchgoer but I can read a straighforward text. My summary of this sermon (only 95 words long yet within hailing distance of accurate) is:

- God has promised he will end (or destroy or purify) the entire world; this is standard Revelations fare although here it is coming from an Old Testament book.
- What the congregation (and people in general) must do to avoid that fate is turn to Jesus; this is standard Christian doctrine.
- Turning to Jesus doesn’t mean following rules by rote or keeping a balance sheet of vice and virtue. Rather it means establishing a personal relationship with God just as you establish a personal relationship with people you care for. Pastor Koon says:

I picked this verse [chapter 3, verse 2].because it gets to the very essence of the nature of sin. Sin is deeply and profoundly personal. It’s not simply ‘I didn’t keep this rule, and I didn’t keep that rule. I blew it on the seventh command. I’ll make it up on the eighth.’ Sin is saying, ‘I’m not going to listen to the voice of God.’ And there’s nothin’ more personal than sayin’ ‘I don’t want to hear You.’ Sin is saying ‘I want to do it my way;’ and there’s nothin’ more personal than saying ‘I don’t trust Your way.’ Sin is saying ‘I don’t have any confidence in You, God, to handle my situation, my circumstance, given what I’m dealing with. You are not competent enough and You do not know the situation well enough.’ And there is nothing more personal than saying that to God. And that’s what you say every time you sin. And there’s nothing more personal than saying ‘I really don’t have time for You.’

Blumenthal closes his post by noting that Palin’s presence on the day Pastor Kroon gave this sermon has not been confirmed. I assume he is implicitly likening this sermon of Pastor Kroon to the sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright that caused Barack Obama so much trouble. Certainly Sullivan makes that comparison explicitly.

I am not unsympathetic to the idea that the Reverend Wright’s meaning may have been distorted by the use of excerpts from his sermons. I wish someone had provided easy access to the full text of the sermons from which the more inflammatory statements were drawn. Although it’s been lost in the mists of time, one of my early ideas for a blog post was to take Mr. Wright’s remarks and see if I could find analogies to them in more mainstream and temperate sources. I also wanted to do this with Father Michael Pfleger’s swan song about reparations and Hillary Clinton’s tears - I thought that would be easy to match up and I may yet try to do so.

However, my sympathy is for the Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger. Obama’s decision to claim he had not heard Mr. Wright’s sermons, to dismiss Mr. Wright’s rhetoric as a relic of a painful but bygone era, and later to denounce his pastor were his to make as he saw fit.

I would be very surprised if Palin feels any need to distance herself from Pastor Kroon’s sermon and I sincerely doubt she will be throwing her Wasilla Bible Church pastor under a bus any time soon.

No comments: