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"Do not" and "do" Christianity.

I live in the northeast corner of Tennessee.  This area is firmly in the "Bible Belt."  I do not care for that term because it is derogatory.   The term ridicules deeply-held beliefs.  If you disagree with someone, argue, debate, and discuss with them.  Don't ridicule them; you just show the emptiness of your own position when you get that low.  Still, the "old time religion" has a deep, abiding hold here.

Currently, there are two matters grabbing headlines around here:   release time and the Ten Commandments.

Release Time.  At a middle school in Sullivan County, Tennessee, parents petitioned the school board and were approved for a program whereby students could be dismissed from class for one hour to go to a nearby church for Bible study.  The Board approved a pilot program for last year then, before the beginning of the 1998 - 99 school year, the Board voted the program down.

A local atheist had threatened to sue for equal release time for atheists as did a local Deist.  You can imagine the abuse these folks are taking in the local newspapers.

The County Commission voted unanimously to urge the School Board to reinstate release time.  The School Board wisely chose to ignore the Commission.   Still, the parents who proposed it to begin with are after the Board to reinstate release time.

The Ten Commandments.  The County Commission has just passed a resolution requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in several county office buildings, most importantly, the Court House.  The same atheist lady who opposed release time is now studying whether or not to file suit to have the Commandments removed.  The local God-fearing folks are having a field day with her in the Letters columns of our newspapers.

So, all this set me to thinking.  What are we trying to do by all this release time and posting of the Ten Commandments?  Clearly, this is an attempt to enforce, or set up a model of, some sort of morality.  Because this area is firmly in the fundamentalist Christian camp, the morality is that of the Ten Commandments.

I went back and read a few passages in my Bible, specifically, the Ten Commandments, Jesus' first sermon, and the Sermon on the Mount.  Interesting.

The Ten Commandments establish the morality of "DO NOT."   There, we are told DO NOT do this, that, or the other thing.  The "Christian Right"  (which, in my view, is neither) loves this approach.   It is simplistic, does not require anyone to think, and sets up those who claim to be the experts as the judges.  And, this is exactly what's happening here in upper East Tennessee -- fundamentalist folks are attempting to apply simple DO NOT morality to a world that is changing beyond their control

As I continued my Bible reading, I discovered that Jesus' interpretation of the Commandments would give today's "religious right" fits.  Check it out.  Go to Matthew 22:34 - 40.  Jesus was being questioned by one of the Pharisees -- the religious right of His day -- who asked Him which was the greatest commandment.  Did Jesus answer that the greatest commandment was do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, or what?  Not exactly.  Jesus responded that the greatest commandment is: 

(verses 37-39) . . ."Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself."

Whoa!! Now I'm confused.  What's this love folks stuff?  I thought the commandments told us what we DO NOT do.

Then, I studied Jesus' first sermon, Luke 4:18.  He has been in the desert where He was tempted by evil; He returned home and, in the synagogue one morning, He was asked  to read the scripture.  He stood up and read Isaiah 61:1 -- 2:

"The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim a year of the Lord's jubilee."

Nothing about judging.  Nothing about condemning.  Nothing about DO NOT.  All about love, mercy, justice, freedom.  Sort of reminds me of Micah 6:8:

". . . and what does the Lord require of you, Oh, man?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Justice, mercy, humility, walk with God.  Nothing about DO NOT.

In fact, the only place in His teaching when Jesus addresses the "Ten Commandments" is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3 - 7:28.  Read it.   I'll bet that if anyone stood up today and preached this sermon, with its reinterpretation of the "Thou shalt nots," the "religious right" would foam at the mouth denouncing this heresy.

You see, the difference is, the morality enforced by Pat Robertson, by folks who post the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls, is a morality of DO NOT.  It is a morality of rules, regulations, narrow-minded pronouncements. The morality of Jesus is a morality of DO -- unto others as you want them to do to you; love your neighbor as yourself; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  It is a morality of love, of selfless service and commitment to "the least of these."

So, what do you think?  Do Not, or, Do?

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