Saturday, November 20


God bless him. The retired senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Los Angeles, is worried about the corruption of the Christian faith in America:

So it should come as no surprise that Townsend wasn't too happy with the role "Christianity" played in the recent presidential election. From where he sits, Christianity was used to divide and conquer.

"This is a scary time," he said. He wonders if the spreading stain of hypocrisy will drive some people away from faith, because under the guise of morality, bigotry was used to get the vote out for President Bush.
Townsend said he was having a conversation with colleagues before the election when someone asked what they should say about the gay issue.

"The answer was that we should say what Jesus said about it. Nothing."

One corruption of the faith, Townsend says, is the selective use of biblical passages by the religious right. Interpreting literally, he pointed out, you can use the Bible to perpetrate all manner of horrors.

"In Psalms, there's a passage about when the enemy comes, you should bash the heads of children against the stones," he said, going on to cite several more examples.

"The Bible must be read contextually, and the real test for us today is: What would Jesus say or do? If he's our touchstone, and Jesus says love your neighbor, that seems more Christian to me than judge your neighbor."
"This business of Bush's about reporting to a higher authority, well, I don't say he shouldn't feel that way. But why does he have to tell us? That's what I mean by triumphalism. How can I answer his claim if he's getting this from direct revelation? It pulls the plug on reasonable discourse.

"Isaiah said, 'Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.'"

So how exactly does one reverse the tide of an evangelical revolution and the cheapening of Christianity?
"By lifting up other voices," Townsend says. Last Sunday, he gave the sermon at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa and called for "a new hearing of the gospel."

"As has often been said," he told the congregation, "the ground is level at the foot of Jesus' cross. No one is superior there; no one is inferior."

Townsend ended his sermon with the same simple idea he shared with me at the end of our conversation — an idea that has guided him since he began his L.A. ministry more than 40 years ago. "Jesus laid it out when he said, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' "


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