I can remember my father, an ordained Baptist minister, using the term “sick theology” from time to time while I was growing up. It was usually in response to a viciously judgmental television evangelist or who was at that time, a newly appointed seminary president. I always assumed I understood the terminology; sick, meaning harmful or bad and of course, theology, which is the study of God and the attributes associated with God. You put them together and you have a sick understanding of who God is which manifests itself into how we interpret our lives and those of others. Lord, have I now fully grasped what my father was referring to.
If you recall Br’er Rabbit from the old stories many of us from the South grew up on, you’ll recollect that he once tricked Br’er Fox into throwing him over in the briar patch. What Br’er Fox thought would hurt Br’er Rabbit actually saved him, for old Br’er Rabbit was born and raised in the briar patch. It was home to him and the story ends with Br’er Fox fuming mad as he listens to Br’er Rabbit laughing deep down in the briars at how he’d tricked him and gotten away. I certainly identify with Br’er Rabbit on the account of we were both born and raised in briar patches but unlike him, mine was not a place in which I’d find salvation. To the contrary, the briars I used to call home were spiritually killing me.
My patch was called the Southern Baptist Church and it was in those thick entangled briars that I was taught who God was. Along with that, I was thoroughly taught how wicked and worthless we all are but especially those outside the briar patch. Like many of us who soak up everything we’re given at such a young age, I found comfort and acceptance in those teachings. Everything was black and white, right and wrong, there was no guessing and God forbid, no questioning. I dared not venture outside of the patch because I would be unprotected against wickedness and liberals, who I’d been told were the foot soldiers of the Devil. What I didn’t realize was that the very place I called my spiritual home was the place which would later openly butcher me in the same self-righteous and vindictive manner I’d become accustomed to believing was the proper way to “save” someone. Sound familiar?
What has resulted from my having left that briar patch of fundamentalist theology is that I no longer found comfort in thorn bushes. Your theology or concept of God shouldn’t rip you up nor should it keep others out for fear of being torn to pieces themselves. If so, it becomes a theology of “us and them” where those on the outside are the enemy. That’s sick theology my friends. Yet if we look in the mirror, our spiritual selves are torn and bleeding. Matter of fact, there’s blood all over the briar patch. Those wounds aren’t from our perceived enemies but from our own thorns of sick theology that continuously wound and scar our spiritual wholeness. So many of us never look in the mirror because we’re so busy defending our patch which has infected us with a theology that declares us right and the entire world wrong. There is most certainly a sickness there. When the message of Jesus is misconstrued to bring about exclusion instead of inclusion, you are witnessing sick theology. I truly believe we are summoned by the Lord to leave our theological briar patches behind and venture beyond the false security we found there. Christ’s message points us toward inclusive and loving concepts of God which bind up our wounds and remove our visual scales so that who we once saw as enemies, we now see as brothers and sisters. It’s only by leaving the briar patch that we can arrive at God’s community. That’s powerful; it’s only in leaving that we can arrive.
Years have passed since I left the Southern Baptist Church. They ran me out like a scalded hound and thank God they did. I had no business remaining in a theology that left me spiritually crippled and fearful. Yet like so many folk who are from similar briar patches and have since left, there are pieces I’ve carried with me. They’re elements of God that somehow trickled through the abusive rhetoric and fear-based theology and gave us comfort. For me, the old hymns and suppers on the grounds are parts of my briar patch that I’ll always carry in my heart. My point is that not everything about our patches are bad and that it’s ok to cling to the parts that weren’t as we forge ahead on our spiritual explorations. God’s provided those as salve to heal our thorn inflicted wounds. They are elements of God’s grace that beckon us beyond the thicket, toward a healthy theology.
So here I am in the midst of God’s community at Highland Baptist Church, scarred and weary but incredibly hopeful. I recognize more and more the scars of others who’ve left their briar patches and through my own wounds, I’m able to better care for them and witness to God’s redemptive love that delivered me out of the thorns and into the community. I won’t waste another day in the briar patch of sick theology and continue to adhere to the prescription Jesus wrote me to get better. Here it is, maybe it will help heal you. Every day, for the rest of your life, you must administer to yourself and others high dosages of altruistic love and compassion. There’s an endless supply of each provided by God and you don’t need insurance to cover it, you just have to let go of what’s sick and be willing receive what is healthy.