Monday, March 24, 2008

Hating Lex Luthor

I'm proud to consider Todd Farley a friend. For those who don't know Todd, he's one of the co-founders (along with his wife Marilyn) of Mimeistry, an internationally renowned Christian performing group. Todd is also currently an Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at Calvin College (which, coincidentally, is also where my former Drama director Brian Fuller is at. I haven't yet verified if they've had occasion to meet properly, although it seems that they would have a lot in common). I got to know Todd around the time of my brief tenure as Arts Concerns Chair at Fuller, where Todd served as Artist-in-Residence for several years while he pursued his PhD.

Todd has recently posted a note on his Facebook account (sorry, I don't think that the direct link would work from outside of Facebook) that discusses common Christian attitudes regarding "sin" and "sinners" through the perspective of how many people view American comic-book icons Superman and Lex Luthor.
Superman represents what we believe in, the Good; Truth, Justice, and the American Way. The goodness of Superman is seen best in contrast to the vileness of Lex Luther (sic)—and so we develop a theology of Hate. God loves Superman and hates Lex: and we are happy with that. Well, perhaps some of us try to be more grace driven than that, and amend that sentiment with the statement: God loves the sinner but hates the sin—we love the sinner and hate the sin.
From here, Todd shows how many of us follow, in actuality if not in intent, this theology of "love the sinner, hate the sin":
We still want Lex to go to hell so we keep hells (sic) gates open—as if we hold their keys: keys we call “righteousness” (law and justice) and our own correct biblical interpretation (truth).
There really is a disturbing trend within much of Christianity (and I consider myself guilty of this, as well) to want to set boundaries on who is "out" and who is "in" when it comes to God's love and salvation. While there is indeed some biblical warrant for this--some passages really do seem to indicate that some people are "out"--even those passages make clear that the decision of who is "in" and who is "out" is God's business, and not ours. But even some people who (on the surface, at least) fully acknowledge this turn that kind of statement into something spiteful when they say things like "your problem isn't with me. It's with God." Anyone who says this isn't truly "loving the sinner" while "hating the sin." What they're really saying, although they probably don't realize it, is "I know perfectly the mind of God on this," which no matter how we cut it, is a rather arrogant thing to say. What's more, we often seem to actively be cheering when/if a "sinner" is condemned to Hell. That's not love!

Todd considers the fact that he (like all of us!) is as much a "sinner" as anyone he (we!) would choose to give that label to--even Lex Luthor:
Even if I were fallen, I thought Jesus went to hell to set the captives free of such demonization and hate; to free us of such fears and prejudice. When I look around at how many in the Church typically respond to those they believe in sin I have to admit— it is easier to embrace a theology of Hate and Fear than one of absolute Love, and if love we must, we much prefer conditional love. We still like to be God, or at least play Him… thus we try to be very wise, play Superman and save our world from Lex Luther (sic)!

I thought to myself, “Boy, if I exposed all of my sins would I be treated like Lex Luther (sic)?” Would you if you revealed your secret sins? We in the church are good about talking about “love covering a multitude of sins” and being “truthful”…yet shun and fear those who tell and live in the truth of their brokenness (as we are all broken). I don’t believe we are called to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” I believe we are simply called to “love”… for indeed, we are all “the sinner”
This, of course, is the hard part. What does it mean to "love"? I certainly wouldn't argue (and I don't think Todd does) that we are to simply ignore the evil that the "Lex Luthors" of the world commit. We still value, for example, the work that real life police do to keep people safe from the actions of criminals. But even though we think (rightly) that criminals are to be prevented from committing their crimes, and even put into prison when necessary, Christians still have an obligation to love:

Matthew 25:34 (TNIV)"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35-36For ... I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, ...39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

To Superman's credit, despite all the evil Lex Luthor commits against him, Superman is generally not depicted as actually hating Lex Luthor. Indeed, Superman is generally shown to wish that Luthor could be reformed (it's often suggested that Luthor could cure cancer if only his genius was applied to the purpose of good rather than evil). Would that the same could be said of all of us. May God reform us, as we pray for the reformation of those who do not yet know God!

(Incidentally, I apologize to Todd for calling attention to the typographical issues within his quotes. I can speak from experience that this is more of a Facebook issue than one with the writer. Facebook doesn't allow for the editing of notes, once posted. This is why I regularly encourage my own blog readers to come to the actual blog page, http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com, rather than read only the version of my posts which shows up on Facebook, since I've often been able to revise and correct my blog posts, but the Facebook version still has the original, complete with all of my as-yet-unnoticed mistakes!)

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