by Susan Trollinger
Susan Trollinger is Professor of English at the University of Dayton (UD), where she teaches courses in visual rhetoric, religious rhetoric, and writing. Her books include Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia and, most recently, Righting America at the Creation Museum (with William V. Trollinger, Jr.), which was selected as a 2016 Times Higher Education (UK) Book of the Week. In 2016, she received the Faculty Excellence Award for Research from the Southwestern Ohio Council of Higher Education; in 2017she received the Outstanding Scholarship Award from UD’s College of Arts and Sciences. Susan also writes reflections for Ite Missa Est, the online Faith Formation Ministry of Dayton’s Immaculate Conception Church. This post is adapted from her Thanksgiving reflection.
A lot of Christianity right now has a bad name. And a lot of folks are fleeing it as a result. That is why a a recent survey by the Pew Charitable Trust reveals that while the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians (of one sort or another), the fastest growing (and increasingly large) group in the US is the “nones”—that is the “non-religious,” or people who don’t identify with any particular faith or organized religion.
Why does Christianity have such a bad name? And why are especially young people fleeing from it? The answer is pretty simple. These days too much of Christianity (certainly among Protestants, but Catholics too) is just downright mean.
There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon within Christianity. I’ll talk about just one that is especially popular these days. As readers of this blog know, Bill and I write on the Creation Museum (Petersburg, KY) and Ark Encounter (Williamstown, KY). These two very popular sites (together they have attracted millions of visitors over the last twelve years) tell a certain story about God. It’s a simple story according to which God issues clear rules (like the Ten Commandments), human beings willfully violate those rules (as Adam and Eve did in the Garden), and then (because God—to be God—must be “just”) God slaughters them. Or almost all of them. By the count of the folks who created these two sites, God slaughtered as many as twenty billion human beings when he sent his global flood. And saved all of eight.
Just to be clear, we are talking twenty billion people including the elderly, the mentally ill, people with significant mental and other disabilities, those who never had the benefit of hearing the Gospel, teens, toddlers, infants, and newborns.
And the unborn. It is estimated that at any one time 2% of women in the general population are pregnant. So if, according to the folks at Answers in Genesis, there were perhaps ten billion women on the earth at the time of the global flood, that means that 200,000,000 women were pregnant. That is, 200,000,000 unborn killed in a matter of days.
That makes the alleged 60,000,000 abortions in the 46 years since Roe v. Wade – which Ken Ham talks so much about – pale in comparison.
All twenty billion people (plus 200,000,000 unborn) were drowned because God was so angry about their sin that he just had to kill them—all of them. This is the God that the creators of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter (and millions of other Christians who visit these sites and otherwise hold to similar views) worship. He is one mean, angry, and violent God.
Oh, and God will do it all again because God is getting madder by the minute at all the disobedience that God witnesses among human beings. It’s only a matter of time before the next genocide begins.
If this is the Christian God, no wonder so many people are fleeing the faith.
But what does Jesus say? After all, he is the word made flesh. If ever we are unsure of the word that someone is preaching about God, we need only look to Jesus as the true word.
In the Gospel reading before us today (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Along the way, he is approached by ten lepers who ask him to heal them. Now, we all know very well that in those days lepers were considered profoundly unclean. People, and especially religious leaders who could not afford to be made unclean, didn’t want to get anywhere near them. And they worked really hard to avoid them.
Not Jesus. He heals them right then and there. And prior to doing so, he doesn’t grill them on their theology or who they think God is or whether they’ve followed all God’s commandments or how badly they’ve sinned recently. He doesn’t do any of that because he knows they’re sinners. He knows they’ve come up short in all kinds of ways. And he heals them anyway. It’s called grace.
That said, Jesus does ask a question of the one who saw that he was healed, shouted glory to God, and fell at Jesus’s feet in gratitude. Jesus wants to know where the other nine are. Why aren’t they also proclaiming God’s excessive grace and kissing Jesus’s feet?
For Jesus, it’s not about whether we are sinners (he knows we are) or whether we are obedient to all God’s rules (he knows we aren’t). It’s about gratitude. We don’t deserve God’s grace, but God gives it to us anyway. We are healed. The challenge to us is whether we can live in gratitude. The challenge is for us to proclaim God’s ridiculous and excessive and undeserved grace for us sinners and thank God for it every day.
On this Thanksgiving, may we wholeheartedly thank God for his grace and may we commit ourselves to living as Jesus calls us to—not in fear and anticipation of God’s wrath but, instead, and in keeping with his word, in gratitude for his grace that heals.