In his 2002 book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, war correspondent Chris Hedges argued that there’s something alluring about battle. Defying an enemy gives us a romantic sense of participating in an historical moment grander and more heroic than our day-to-day routines. It makes us feel as if our lives count for something. He writes:
The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. … [W]ar is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble.
There’s also the adrenaline rush that comes from battle. As Hedges discovered during his years of frontline reporting, it can be pretty addictive.
I mention this because of the emergence in this country of certain Christians who, fancying themselves heirs to the Hebrew prophets, engage in spiritual warfare against what they see as a fallen and wicked culture. These men and women are in 24/7 battle mode. They and they alone hold the enemy at the gates. They and they alone defy the forces of evil. They and they alone have God’s back.
What a rush it must be for these latter-day prophets! Not for them the mundane task of striving to be decent, ordinary Christians. That’s too humdrum, too boring, and most of all, too anonymous. It’s much headier to strap on the breastplate of righteousness, call in the press, and thunder jeremiads.
To riff on Hedges’ title, waging holy war against whatever they label as sin is a force that gives them meaning.
Not to mention an awesome head rush.
And what do these American-bred prophets find more sinful than anything else? Is their nemesis the growing disparity between the affluent and the poor? Environmental devastation? The arms race? Political corruption? Racism?
No. These and similar evils are distant seconds to the real enemy: same-gender love and marriage. That’s the fundamental sin shredding the moral fabric of society, dooming boatloads of people to hell, and causing the Almighty to look upon the nation with grave enough disfavor to punish it with natural disasters. To hear them, one would think that the Apocalypse was ushered in by the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage.
Focus on the Family’s head prophet James Dobson, for example, warned shortly before Obergefell v. Hodges that legalizing gay marriage would presage the end of western civilization by utterly destroying the family—the plan all along, he claimed, of the gay agenda.
Other evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic prophets wage battle against same-gender relationships on a different front, claiming that the legalization of gay marriage demolishes religious liberty. This was the approach taken earlier this year in a statement signed by nearly 90 representatives of several of the nation’s seminaries and religiously-affiliated colleges.
More cerebral prophets like Princeton professor Robert George fight on yet another front. Their weapon of choice is the contention that same-sex marriage is “unnatural,” and therefore morally unacceptable, because unable to fulfill the God-ordained raison d’être of legitimate or “conjugal” marriage: procreation. This position is an echo of the official Roman Catholic position that homosexuality, being an “intrinsically disordered condition,” is “contrary to the natural law.” (Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church, #2357)
The focus on sex by these crusaders is so obsessive that there’s something suspiciously lurid about it—which, I suppose, only intensifies the battle-rush they already get from assailing the LGBT community.
Convinced though they may be that they’re 21st-century successors to the Hebrew prophets, our homegrown sex-obsessed God-warriors are anything but.
The Hebrew prophets focused not on sex but on two fundamental categories of sin: social injustice and religious hypocrisy. They urged the rich and powerful, including royalty and priests, to cease hording goods and privileges at the expense of everyone else. Moreover, they preached that what God desires from us is humility, love, and gratitude, and that no amount of formulistic ritual can make up for their absence.
True, the prophets often warned against “adultery.” But they nearly never meant what their self-appointed American successors read into the word. For the Hebrew prophets, human infidelity to God, a violation of the sacred covenant or marriage between Yahweh and humanity, was an act of betrayal or adultery.
The real prophets of Judah and Israel, unlike the self-proclaimed ones of America, derived no romantic rush or self-glorifying smugness from their tasks. Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all tried their best to squirm out of the summons. Amos pled he was unqualified for the job. Jonah fled God’s call, winding up in the whale’s belly for his pains. They all felt inadequate to what God asked of them.
Such self-doubt, much less humility, is foreign to today’s Christian prophets.
There’s yet another crucial difference between then and now.
The Hebrew prophets were motivated by love of God, grief over oppression and religious hypocrisy, and a genuine desire to improve the lot of their people. True, they could get angry and speak harshly. But their anger wasn’t fueled by hatred or contempt.
By contrast, the sex-obsessed denunciations of American prophets reek with disgusted scorn, even when they try to conceal their animosity behind cherry-picked bible verses or theological arguments.
Hatred dressed up as piety is also a force that gives them meaning.
None of this is meant to deny that sexual morality is important. Of course it is. But it oughtn’t to be our sole moral or religious concern. In fact, from a biblical perspective, it’s not nearly as urgent a worry as economic inequality or oppressive social and political practices. God, it seems, simply isn’t as obsessed with sex as our American pseudo-prophets are. Nor, according to a recent Pew survey, are a growing number of rank-and-file evangelicals and Catholics—much to the displeasure, I’m sure, of the celebrity prophets who find the war they wage, to use Hedges words, an “enticing elixir.”
God once said to Ezekiel, a real prophet, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.” Our homegrown sex-obsessed prophets might want to meditate on that warning.
Fr. Kerry Walters’ video essays may be found on his YouTube channel, Holy Spirit Moments.