Jesus had it coming to him: An Epistle to Pharisees in Training
by Kevin Annett, M.A., M.Div.
“We know all about it, Kevin. The only problem is you wrote a letter about it.” – United Church official Brian Thorpe to the author after his firing without cause for exposing child killings in the church’s Alberni Indian Residential School, March 1995
“Every day people are straying from the church and going back to God.” – Lenny Bruce, from his performance “Six million Jews are found alive in Argentina.”
If I were you, I wouldn’t read this any further. After all, you’ve all been warned about me. Even I’ve been warned about me. Because awkward truths are like any mustard seed: they can take root anywhere - even in the hollowed (hallowed?) halls of Christian seminaries.
Fortunately, I’m not you; not anymore, at least. I tried like hell to be you, of course, like any nice Canadian Christian. But weeds of subversion lingered with intent even on my first day as a fresh fish waiting to be fried at the Vancouver School of Theology. And that was even before I saw Professor “Lard Ass” Jim McCullum shove his considerable bulk to the front of the smorgasbord line at the hog fest in the chapel.
For one thing, I wondered why everyone at VST smiled all the time. I felt like I was an orderly again on Ward Two West of the UBC Psychiatric Hospital. After my first day as an official pious bunny, my jaw ached, for woe betide any of us who didn’t compulsively grin back at complete strangers. When in Rome, after all.
The official greeting to us bright-eyed Tartuffes was delivered by a guy who had Sleaze Merchant written all over him: VST Principal Bud Phillips, a former public relations whiz kid who’d found his true calling teaching proto-clergy how to serve both God and Mammon. Buddy Boy let rip with a homily that, while not exactly scriptural, hit all the right points required by career conscious clerics, beginning with something Bud called “paying the rent”.
“You can’t do anything in ministry without paying the rent first, like in any family,” the guy smiled.
A few years later, when I was older and slightly wiser, I would have shot back a wry quip about the futility of paying rent on a condemned building. But I was still stupid back then. I even put money in the collection plate on Sundays.
Nobody ever explained to me or any of my fellow seminarians who we’d be expected to pay the rent to. I had to find that out for myself the hard way, starting from dear old Bud himself. For that same year, he sacked two VST staff members, both single moms, to free up the funds to pay for the refurbishment of his private residence. Being Canadians, nobody at VST objected.
The other term El Presidente spouted incessantly at us like it meant something was “the church family”, or just “the Family.” His constant repetition of it like a monastic mantra evoked in me images from The Godfather of Don Vito Corleone and his clan, and of their goombahs making late-night drives to the nearest body dumping ground. I didn’t realize at the time how accurate the analogy was.
But be that as it may, and it usually is, I knew after only a week in Lotus Land that I was being not only conned but deliberately groomed into automated compliance with something grim and unseen. As Lard Ass McCullum instructed us in our Church Ministry class when he wasn’t stuffing his face with pastry,
“Everyone has their own personal notions of God and ministry. But those must take a back seat and become secondary once you become a paid accountable minister.”
It wasn’t just our own sense of God that we were to trash. Also to be extinguished were our personal notions of ethics, justice, humanity, and legality: especially when it came to covering up all those church felonies that nobody ever wants to talk about. And it all made sense, from a Pharisaic point of view, for the same reason that it’s official policy in the Roman Catholic Church and virtually every other Christian denomination for child rapists and killers to be protected and victims silenced when the filth surfaces. For clearly, God, like Don Vito Corleone, cannot tolerate a snitch.
Sixty thousand dead Indian residential school children can’t be wrong.
But what does all that have to do with innocent little old me? I hear you thinking.
Give it time. You’ll find out.
In the meanwhile, in the way of a pause and speaking of Jesus, let me bow out for a moment to this theological insight from my good friend and novelist Kurt Vonnegut, whose experiencing the incineration by Allied bombers of 40,000 fellow human beings at Dresden, Germany in February 1945 made him a hell of a lot of money:
The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected.
The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought,
“Oh, boy! They sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!”
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.
The visitor from outer space made a gift to the Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.
So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this:
“From this moment on, I will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections."
Ah, if only it were true, eh? But then you’d all be out of a job and future gainful employment as Pulpit Pounders.
Fortunately for all of you, God remains on the side of the biggest battalions, to quote Napoleon. And that's one of the reasons you never hear about me anymore or all those missing aboriginal children. And why Jesus, that itinerant nobody, clearly had it coming to him for causing such a painful disturbance in the Temple that one time.
Say hi to Caiaphas from us.