Southern literary icon Flannery O’Connor once said, “By and large, people in the South still conceive of humanity in theological terms. While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
That’s a startling image to associate with Christ. A haunting is a disembodied appearance of a formerly embodied existence. Did O’Connor believe that Christ was disembodied in our culture?
It’s strange to even pose the question. The heart of the Christian faith is the incarnation—the belief that God became fully human in Jesus of Nazareth. Being fully human, he lived and died, after which he was raised bodily from the grave. Christians believe that with the risen Christ in their midst, they constitute the body of Christ in the world.
But embodiment is more than just theological name dropping. We can paste a “Christian” label on almost anything. But just because the outside of the box says Christian does not mean Jesus is on the inside.
For instance, there’s a group of folks in Montgomery, Ala., who, in the name of Jesus, oppose tax reform. This in a state that has the most regressive tax structure in America. These believers fear tax reform will result in new taxes and tax increases. Obviously, they are free to pursue this if that’s what they want to do. But in the name of Jesus?
Nowhere in the Holy Bible will we find anything about the particular sacredness of not paying taxes. In fact, Jesus made it abundantly clear that if taxes are due, we should pay them.
There’s another group of so-called Christians who are fighting to keep Alabama’s outdated state constitution. They are afraid a new one will leave out all references to God. If ever there were anything Christ-haunted, it is this state constitution. It certainly invokes God’s blessing. And supposedly it was written by godly men seeking God’s will. The end result, however, was the creation of a most ungodly social and economic system.
The effect of a disembodied Christ shows up in other ways even more troubling than mere economics and politics. There is always just under the surface of our genteel hospitality a simmering anger. This anger shows itself frequently in a style of Christian preaching that seems to offer God’s love with one hand, while swinging the clenched fist of God’s wrath with the other.
In our Christ-haunted culture we forget that God said vengeance is not ours.
Truth is, we forget a good many things in a Christ-haunted world. We forget about loving our enemy, or even just our neighbor. We forget about forgiveness seven times seventy. We forget about the second mile, the other cheek, and peace on earth. We forget about judge not and do unto others.
We also forget about the least of these. We forget about them a lot. This is the most telling clue of all that ours is a Christ-haunted culture. When we forget about the least of these, our brothers and sisters, we can be sure Christ is not embodied in our lives.
The only way to end this haunting is through a proper incarnation–a fleshing out of our theology, both private and public. It requires not only bearing Jesus’ name, but also his words and his way.
To the extent we are able to do this will Christ be embodied in our world.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.