We Need to Talk About Charisma

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Not long ago I watched the film We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), a bleak tragedy starring Tilda Swindon as a mom who suspects that her adolescent son has some serious behavioral and mental issues. Her husband shrugs it off, thinking it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of. She watches with an increasingly helpless feeling as he becomes more and more dangerous, ultimately shooting up his high school, and killing most of his family, with a bow-and-arrow set.

That’s how I’ve been feeling for much of the summer as I read CharismaNews.com every morning and scanned the comments. I understand that the magazine was once the flagship publication of the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement, and that there are still many sincere, good-hearted people who work there. This is not a judgment on them.

That being said, we need to address what Charisma is turning into. Something has gone dangerously awry inside the once-venerated institution. It is not healthy. It is not good. And, more and more, it is not safe.

First, as I read, I saw that many of the articles were beginning to sport sensational headlines that prominently targeted a hated group or individual and offered them up as rage-bait for Christian viewers:

“President Obama, You Have Crossed a Dangerous, Unprecedented Line.”

“Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians.’”

“Vicki Beeching and the Reason So Many ‘Christians’ are Coming Out as Gay.”

“A Shameful Day in Christian Publishing” (accompanied by a picture of young Evangelical author Matt Vines).

Second, based on the comments section it became clear that the site was attracting a toxic demographic: people who were willing to believe any slander, embrace any accusation, as long as it was directed at someone they were predisposed to hate. I watched them arguing with non-believers and less extreme Christians (who were invariably labeled “trolls” and “atheists” and told they were going to hell because the Bible says so). They were immune to reason, immune to all appeals for compassion, immune to any scriptures that contradicted their preferred narrative of fear and demonization.

Terrifyingly, their endless diatribes against—you name it: gays, blacks, refugee children, pop stars, Christian entertainers, Democrats, evolutionists, filmmakers, conservative pastors—were routinely interspersed with the insistence that their venomous hate speech was “loving” and “holy.” Love tells the truth. Love judges. Love hates what is evil. Etc., etc.

The following comment is typical:
PlantationAs is this one:
 Scary Posts 1
And, with a few exceptions, it felt like the broader Christian community was unaware of the evils being promoted and perpetuated at Charisma. But two things happened last week to change that.

First, the magazine ran an article with a shamelessly slanderous headline questioning the faith (and, by implication, the salvation) of Christian musician Michael Gungor. Gungor re-tweeted the headline, along with a plea for help:


Gungor

Following a public backlash, Charisma changed the headline (but kept the URL). Weirdly, the article itself barely mentions the divinity of Jesus.

And then on Friday—I don’t know how else to put this—it ran an article by Gary Cass, founder of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, calling for the sterilization, deportation, and killing of all Muslims.

If you haven’t actually read the article, that’s going to sound like the same sort of gratuitous hyperbole that Charisma traffics in. It is not hyperbole. Cass begins by laying out the arguments for enforced sterilization and deportation. But these measures will not work, because according to the Bible “Arab Muslims are God’s sworn enemies and are ordained by God to be against everyone.” Muslims, he goes on to say, can never be saved in large numbers. They are doomed in their billions to perdition.

And what’s worse, they’re creating a hell on earth for Christian believers right now. “ISIS is doing . . . what every true follower of Muhammad wants to do to you and yours—subjugate or murder you. They believe they have been given a mandate by Allah (Satan) to dominate the world.”

Which is why, in the end, only his last solution will be effective:

3. Violence. The only thing that is biblical and that 1,400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense . . . This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down . . .

“Militant Muslims cannot live in a society based on Christian ideals of equality and liberty. They will always seek to harm us. Now the only question is how many more dead bodies will have to pile up at home and abroad before we crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus’ Name?”

 Where to begin?

 I’ve been holding my own emotions in check for much of this post because I wanted to be careful. Anger in the pursuit of justice can so easily turn us into the monsters we fight against. But this is not the kind of article that calls for a cautious response. A mainstream Christian publication, a magazine that hundreds of thousands of Christians read and respect, published a call for the killing of over a billion people. It was not subtle. It’s not like you had to read between the lines to realize the full horror of what he was advocating—he came right out and said it. You’d have to be in massive denial (as so many were in the comments) to not see that he was saying what he frankly and explicitly said.

And that scares me. Not just because my father was Muslim. But because, as an Irish-Pakistani-American with a bronze complexion, I don’t have any faith in the ability of Cass or his followers to distinguish between different groups of brown people.

Because, given his ignorance of the fact that only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims are Arab, I wouldn’t expect Cass to know the difference between a radical Islamist, a Sikh, a Hindu, and a Palestinian Christian.

Because it would not stop at Muslims. Because the commenters who lapped up that article, who overwhelmingly applauded Cass’s call to violent action against their Muslim neighbors, like the crowd that demanded the death of Jesus, have already made clear that they have no tolerance for anyone who rejects their white fundamentalist culture and their extreme interpretation of Scripture. And a call for the death of all Muslims, printed on the front page of a widely-read Christian website, is a shot fired across the bow warning that none of the rest of us—Arabs and blacks, the university-educated, liberals, gays and lesbians, artists and entertainers, women, Catholics—are safe.

But in a way, I’m grateful. Because even though the post was taken down following a massive public outcry on Sunday afternoon, the murderous spirit that was already operating at Charisma, even before last Friday, has been openly manifest.

I’ve written before on this blog about the pyramid of violence. The thing we have to realize is that the mindsets that make genocide and other acts of violence possible are already in place before the call to violence is given. It begins on the lowest levels with name-calling, false accusations, slander, rumors, and verbal aggression. If you’re in a community where people are constantly shaming you, refusing to acknowledge your preferred identity (“You may think you’re gay, but we know better”), subjecting you to de-humanizing jokes and vicious insults, and refusing to listen when you tell them to stop, you are already in danger. You are being subjected to violence, even if no punches have yet been thrown.

And, as I’ve said before, if they’re already not listening when you tell them to stop verbally abusing you, if the Bible is already powerless to stop them, they will not listen when you’re insisting that you have a right not to be physically assaulted and murdered.

And that’s why Charisma is out of control, and that’s why it needs to be held to account.

Because “Why I am Absolutely Islamaphobic” was not an isolated column, but only the latest and most glaring manifestation of a much larger problem. “Malice eats it like a cancer,” in the words of Faramir, “and the cancer is growing.”

Because if you go back and read the snippets from the comments that I posted earlier, and the hundreds of comments in response to Cass’s article, it’s clear that the site has become a beacon for bullies and extremists, for those who don’t listen, those who despise anything “different” or “weird” and would not be averse to using violence to be rid of it.

I realize that Internet comboxes are often cesspools of hatred and villainy. But until this weekend I’d never seen a commenter advocate the mass extermination of millions of people. The fact that this idea was first given voice by one of the site’s writers, in an article apparently read, reviewed, and printed with the editor’s stamp of approval, says everything you need to know about how dangerous Charisma has become.

Of all the tweets I read on Sunday, this is the one that probably best expresses what I’ve been feeling these last couple of days:Natalie

Reading the Gospels would be a good start.

 

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9 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Charisma

  1. I think your title says it all: we HAVE to talk about bigotry, extremism, empire and us vs. them mentality. We have to talk about what leads us into these mentalities and we have to talk about abuse, dehumanization, and systematic sin. We have to talk about holding those in leadership positions accountable.
    (Apparently, we still even have to say “genocide is not acceptable”).
    It’s really not enough that they took the article down. The filthy comments are still up and not one of the editors has cared to retract their article, or deal with the fact that many of their readers are engaged in verbal abuse with those they disagree with (the depths of which shocked me for a “Christian” website).
    *End rant.* Sorry. 😛

  2. Cass is not only full of nonsense, but he advocates a position completely contrary to both the Old and New Testament. What a horrible position for someone who went to seminary to take. Your points here show that he is blinded by the world’s ways. I hope he takes the instruction from Hebrews 12:1-2 to heart and soon fixes his eyes on Jesus instead.

  3. I was horrified by the content of the Charisma article. It would seem that the extreme evil which led to IS also exists within our own faith. This has to be challenged at every point, before it leads to the same end result.

    I am trying not to fear for the future, but it is increasingly difficult.

    Thank you for your words; you are right that the place to start is at the level of verbal abuse; this is a poison that does not belong anywhere in the church.

  4. It’s one thing to have doubts about what the Bible says about morally ambiguous topics, like masturbation and tattoos, but I love that last tweet you shared from Natalie: how the hell can you claim to know Jesus and think he’d be cool with genocide, seriously?!!

  5. Thank you for calling attention to this situation. I was horrified to read about how far things have gotten there–seems like it’s a big echo chamber where zealots vie to outdo each other in how extremist they can be. Thank you as well for speaking out against this group. (And I don’t trust their ability to distinguish between different types of brown people either. Heck, I’m not sure I trust their ability to distinguish between much of anybody. When I was in the Society for Creative Anachronism, not long after 9/11 and its ensuing violence against POC in America, I attended an event in a tiny little Alabama town where attendees had to be warned not to go offsite wearing anything that the locals might construe as Muslim clothing. Apparently there’d been, uh, warnings voiced. Almost everybody at the event was white and most even had Southern accents, but even so, the organizers were probably very relieved that the weekend ended without anybody getting shot. I’d never been afraid like that before–that whole situation opened my eyes in a lot of ways.)

  6. What a refreshing, well written piece on the sheer insanity llurking within the Christian community. Such stances, if not challenged, make us guilty of being the very thing we see their extremists as: jihadists, but if the Christian sort.

    If Jesus hadn’t raised from the dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave right now.

  7. Great post. As a Christian I find it sad and rather scary that I’m so much at odds with many Christians these days. Can you imagine if all Christians actually loved their enemies and perceived enemies like Jesus would? It would be awesome.

  8. This was great! It really says what I’ve been feeling without spewing the same sort of hate speech that the magazine seems to be using. I had stopped following them on Facebook but somehow earlier this week, a story came up on my feed about “The New Christian Left” with a picture of a couple who has tattoos and piercings. Since when did salvation have anything to do with politics? This article hit the nail on the head. I’m reposting this as readers need to remember that it’s their decision what is being allowed in their heads and that even a prominent Christian Magazine can fail. In my church, we are told to always compare what we are taught with what the Bible says and then you will know if it is correct theology.

  9. Thank you for saying this. Recently I chose to “unfollow” my Christian friends on my Facebook page. I realized that they were sharing many similar articles on their feeds and I had been reading them as “credible” because the source was my rock-solid Christian friends. And while they became self-appointed news media outlets, my non-Christian friends feeds were filled with news about their kids and grandkids, beautiful photographs and wholesome, human interest stories. Over a short time I realized I had been emotionally affected by what was essentially a propaganda of fear my Christian friends were promoting. Once aware, I could turn away from it, but not before finding myself afraid of where I live and isolating myself. What’s worse, for all of the negative news my friends were promoting and sharing, they were not promoting and sharing the gospel and love of Jesus Christ. Sadly I don’t think they have any idea the damage they are causing to the body of Christ and the world around them. When I tried to speak up about it, it fell on deaf ears. They just didn’t get it or recognize what they are doing. But hate is hate and nothing good ever comes from it, because it’s never rooted in the true Spirit.

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