I recently discovered what may be the coolest-sounding group of pastors in existence: Outlaw Preachers. Seriously, that name just sounds incredibly cool. Not since the Knights Templar has the body of Christ produced a more awesome image of people loving God no matter fucking what. I want to be one of these guys when I grow up. The Bible teaches that we are all, collectively, the body of Christ – and the Outlaw Preachers show us that the body of Christ apparently has a robotic gun-hand.
Led by living-tattoo-monster Jay Bakker (son of famous talking Christian guy Jim Bakker), the Outlaw Preachers seem to be all about the idea of a radically inclusive gospel. You can spell this lots of ways, but it seems that all everyone can focus on is the idea that Jay Bakker says it’s alright for two dudes (or two chicks) to bump uglies, as long as they get married. Since there aren’t many places where two dudes (or two chicks) can get married, and since a vocal majority of Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin, you can imagine that there is a certain. . . shall we say. . . controversy regarding Jay Bakker, the Outlaw Preachers, and their teachings.
Now, this post isn’t about homosexuality, my views on homosexuality, or how I feel about the church’s views on homosexuality (although that post will be coming some day). No, this post is more about a larger theme that I’m mulling over . . . does the church need to be challenged, internally, on a regular basis? This is kind of a trick question, because in my mind, I don’t think that anyone would argue against that idea. I think, in theory, every single theologian alive feels that a church should be challenged on grounds both social and theological. I imagine I’d be hard-pressed to find a preacher of any Protestant church who would argue that Martin Luther should not have written the Ninety-five Theses.
That is, of course, until someone nails a thesis to their church’s door.
It seems like, on a basic level, the Outlaw Preachers see themselves fulfilling the role of Badass Outlaw Jesus, the guy who hung out with whores and tax collectors and gave the Pharisees the finger. They see the conservative preachers of the world as the Pharisees – sometimes because they think they are ignorant, sometimes because they think they are corrupt. Either way, it’s not a tremendously flattering image to be on the receiving end of, but it’s why they do what they do. The O.P.’s prefer the image of Rebel Jesus, breaker of rules, revealer of hidden meanings, and damner of the Man.
On the other hand, the conservative preachers who rail against Jay Bakker and his “ilk” (a frequently used word in this case, and one that almost sounds like it should be used to refer to a family of snakes) believe that they are fulfilling the role of Jesus, the authoritative figure who firmly rebuked false teachers and those who do not follow the law. Conservative preachers prefer the image of Bossman Jesus, the guy who told those lazy Pharisees to get off of their golden thrones and really engage God, help the poor, and see to the spiritual and physical well-being of all living people.
I like both ideas of Jesus, personally. I dig Rebel Jesus, because he constantly forces us to re-evaluate ourselves and our society. Rebel Jesus says, “Oh, your way is right? Prove it.” On the other hand, Bossman Jesus gives us structure and safety. Bossman Jesus says, “Listen, buddy – life is hard, and we all have to do our best to make it together. Say something constructive or shut up.”
Now, if I can tentatively speak for the Outlaw Preachers, I think I can safely say that these guys aren’t trying to subvert the law that is put forth in the Bible. Rather, I think they are trying to force us mere mortals to question whether or not we actually understand that law as set forth in the Bible. It might be easier if our understanding of God’s law has always been perfect, but a flip through any Western Civilization 101 textbook will show that this is abundantly untrue. The Bible has always been used to justify agendas of those in power, and that justification has always been based on the idea that it’s God’s law (not ours) that we are adhering to. When preachers in the American South defended the institution of slavery, they used Paul’s words to do so. European Christians have used the Bible to justify literally centuries of anti-Semitism. Imperialist doctrines, oppressive monarchies, and “manifest destiny” have all been supported by the Bible.
Does that mean that the Bible is wrong? Hell, no. Does it mean that we have, at times, interpreted the Bible incorrect? Absolutely. Now, saying that we have, in the past, been wrong about what we thought God wanted us to do is the easiest thing in the world. It’s much, much harder to contemplate that we might be the people who are currently doing so. But if we aren’t challenged on our understanding of God’s law, how will we ever know?
No wonder the Outlaw Preachers are so hated. They’re calling people Pharisees.
Really, nobody wants to think of themselves as a Pharisee confronted by Jesus. Everyone believes that, as the story of God unfolds in their lives, they are the disciples, while others are the Pharisees. And they don’t believe they are the disciples of the Gospels – those well-meaning but goofily ignorant fellows who were constantly running behind the Lord of Hosts, scratching their heads and saying, “Well gosh, Jesus, whadja do that for?” “What did you mean by that, Jesus? That sure was confusin’.” “Don’t worry Jesus, I brought a sword to the party!” “What do you mean, deny you? I’d never deny – oh, that Jesus? Never heard of him! Never heard of him, nope, never heard of him!” No, nobody sees themselves as that lovably dumb person that was a pre-Acts disciple.
Instead, everyone wants to be a disciple from the point of Pentecost on. We want to see ourselves as the bad-ass, Word-delivering apostles, who travel the world like the guy from “Kung Fu”, delivering the gospel and miracles to the oppressed. When someone says we’re doing something wrong – when someone challenges our understanding of God’s word – we don’t react like a pre-Pentecost disciple during Jesus’ life, with a smack on the forehead and a request for explanation. We react like we are being attacked – we are fucking apostles, dammit, we have super powers! Anyone who questions how we do things is, by definition, an enemy, or a dupe, or an idiot who doesn’t have the brainpower to see how right we are.
I feel kind of bad for us, when that time comes. I know it’s happened to me quite recently – I thought I knew something beyond a doubt, and then was schooled. It happens. It’s easy for me to deal with, because Christian faith is new to me. It’s also a pretty unthreatening (if still unpleasant) experience, because I’m not responsible for anybody. If what I say is wrong, who is harmed? For people who are established preachers/pastors/ministers/collar-wearing guys, being told that you’re wrong must be a bigger deal. Everyone knows that it sucks when people are persecuted wrongfully, or hurt – and who wants to feel that they are responsible for that? Especially when they thought they were doing what was right. That sucks.
Now, I’m not saying that the Outlaw Preachers are always right. I am wayyyyyy too ignorant of their message to know that, and I am wayyyyyyy more ignorant of the message God gives in the Bible – I don’t have the right to assume accuracy on either side of the argument. What I am saying is that Christians have, for centuries, made horrible mistakes in the name of God, and these mistakes have caused pain for innocent people. If we don’t have people like the Outlaw Preachers questioning the validity if our interpretations now, then we’ll just have to suck it up when historians from the future do the same, long after it’s become too late to fix it.