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Frauds! Snakes! Cold-blooded sneaks!
Matthew 23:13-39, A scorching diatribe for corrupt religious leaders
When I checked my email yesterday afternoon, there was a message from my local newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, with a subject line that read, “Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist is example of protecting sex abusers in SBC report.” I clicked on the link to the article. That’s how I learned that the report from Guidepost Solutions’ investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s response to sexual abuse allegations had been published.
I began reading the 288-page report today. It has sparked rage and poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning within me over the state of the American church. Rather than talk about my own feelings, judgments, and reflections, however, I’m going to highlight the words of condemnation that Jesus himself directed at the religious leaders of his day, as recorded in Matthew 23:13-39. I’ve replaced certain words to reflect today’s players and specific circumstances. Wherever I have done this, I’ve done so with [brackets]. This is adapted from The Message translation.
I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you [denominational leaders]! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and [denominational leaders]! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, “If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.” What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: “If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious”? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and [denominational leaders]! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and [denominational leaders]! Frauds! You buff the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid [denominational leader]! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and [denominational leaders]! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and [denominational leaders]! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. [You name seminary chair positions to honor your favorite cronies.] And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.
Snakes! Cold-blooded sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars [year after year, decade after decade]—and [year after year, decade after decade] you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse [in person behind closed doors, through emails and committees, and on social media].
You can’t squirm out of this: Every [precious victim’s reputation and health that you destroyed], beginning with the [first victim who ever came forward to report abuse] whom you [accused of threatening the work of my kingdom—how dare you!], is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
[Church! Church!] [Maligner] of prophets! [Destroyer] of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: […] The next time you see me you’ll say, “Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!”