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 coalition of Christians in Montgomery, Ala., who, in the name of Jesus, religiously oppose any sort of tax increase–for any purpose. They believe it is a cardinal virtue to pay just as little tax as possible. These believers fear taxes as if they were a satanic ritual. Now, obviously this coalition is free to pursue whatever tax free state they want, but in the name of Jesus?
No where 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.
Furthermore, this same coalition of Christians, along with some other faithful folk, is busy fighting to keep Alabama’s outdated state constitution from being re-written. They are afraid a new one will leave God out.
If ever there was anything Christ-haunted, it is this state constitution. It certainly invokes God’s name in the opening pages. And supposedly it was written by godly men seeking God’s will. The end product, however, is one of the most ungodly social and economic systems ever devised.
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 70. 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, Christ is not embodied in our lives. At least that’s what Jesus said.
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. Only to the extent that we are willing to do this will Christ be embodied in our world.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.