This Isn't Christianity

What a January. From Insurrection to Inauguration Day, it feels like the longest month of my life, yet it isn't over. As I've been reflecting on the events this past month, so many emotions welled up – happiness, joy, frustration, confusion. Frustration seemed to get the best of me. This comes from the polarizing events in America that have waved the banner of Christianity when it has clearly been misrepresented. Long gone are the days when “Christian” leaders can hide in the shadows without denouncing such hate and rhetoric spewed by the outgoing administration. I'd like you to join me as I do a bit of self-discovery and try to understand why the far right chooses to use the guise of Christianity to unravel the ties of democracy in America.

I've been around my fair share of churches. Growing up Southern Baptist, hell, fire, and brimstone was a quintessential part of every effective sermon. Like every good conservative in 2008 (I was 16), Obama was the enemy – "who could blatantly support the killing of unborn babies, and, is he even an American?" These comments filled the halls of my high school, the walls of my church, and the dinner table late at night. I was an outspoken young republican, a true definition of "sixteen in the south." Looking back on my Twitter feed in 2008, I barely recognize the person composing those tweets over a decade ago. Fast forward to 2021, as a 28-year-old gay man who loves the Lord, my views have drastically shifted. Ironically, they've shifted because over the past 10 years, I've not only come to a deeper revelation of who Jesus is, but I've also experienced the transformative power of how His love can make an impact.

I'm still a very outspoken person when it comes to politics. I have aspirations to run one day. I also know the boundaries of spirituality and politics seem like a blurred line at times. We can often forget that while our moral compass and spiritual purviews guide us, Christ never aligned himself with a political party. 1 His politics were that of a Kingdom mindset. A mindset that is far beyond any earthly political battle. There is a lot to unpack here, but for far too long I've been asking myself why has Christianity been a bedrock guise of the Republican Party when the Democratic Party aligns closer to the values and lifestyle of Jesus? Fortunately for us, Christ didn’t concern himself with this. However, He did say to be 2 be imitators of God. From this, we can delineate how a Christian should act, engage with, and understand politics.

Everything starts with Jesus. Everything. To understand the why behind the mischaracterization of Jesus in politics, we first must understand the heart in which Christ approached people.

The Heart of Christ

As I began to think about who Christ is and the point I’m trying to get across, the book of Matthew paints the best picture. The message of Christ is simple, Grace and Truth. Those two points paired with His purpose, the Kingdom of God, is where the modern train of Christianity gets derailed. There’s not a better example than in Matthew 7 and The Sermon on The Mount.

'“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’‘

Matthew 7:13-23

Now, let’s not take this out of context, the real story here begins in Matthew 5 with the start of The Sermon on the Mount. Within the context of Matthew 5-7, Christ is essentially speaking to his disciples and a large crowd that had gathered about how to be Christian. This is the ultimate scorecard for what Christ began saying in 3 Matthew 7:15. This is an example to use when affirming our political leaders. While Christ doesn’t align Himself with a party, He does give us an example of how those in leadership should carry themselves. We are able to judge these leaders by the fruit of their life.

How Jesus became the Exploited Figure of the Republican Party

Before we go any further, we have to address just exactly how Jesus became associated with the Republican party – the elephant in the room. Although this may seem one-sided, Republicans were just the first to “claim” Jesus. They have somehow taken on the title of the “Christian” party. This fundamentally doesn’t make sense to me. Since much of the unchurched world associates the Republican Party with Christianity, I had to take a deep dive into how and why this is the case.

Abortion
Most think the modern rise of right-associated Christianity happened during Roe. v. Wade in 1973. This is only partially true. In fact, most of the evangelical community was indifferent about abortion before and a few years after Roe. In 1968, for instance, a 4 symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. They even endorsed birth control over abstinence in the same meeting.

Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell
Paul Weyrich was a power-hungry political activist in the 1970s who found a prop in conservative televangelist and friend, Jerry Falwell. The two had a thirst for the moral retention of "white America" and developing a "moral majority." “The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

Weyrich was hungry for a platform to build the "moral majority." But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.

Jimmy Carter
During his Presidency in 1977, Carter was known for his more liberal-leaning Baptist views. This was especially true when it came to views of race. In 1978 the IRS proposed new 5 guidelines that would uphold certain tax status for private schools that refused to integrate. This was mandated by the Nixon Administration but upheld through the Carter years.

The far-right, predominately private Christian schools did not like this. At last, an issue for Weyrich and Falwell to stand on.

Bob Jones University
Bob Jones University — a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate and did not like Nixon's new 6 Tax Policy. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.

Bob Jones University did, in fact, try to placate the IRS—in its own way. Following initial inquiries into the school’s racial policies, Bob Jones admitted one African-American, a worker in its radio station, as a part-time student; he dropped out a month later. In 1975, again in an attempt to forestall IRS action, the school admitted blacks to the student body, but, out of fears of miscegenation, refused to admit unmarried African-Americans. The school also stipulated that any students who engaged in interracial dating, or who were even associated with organizations that advocated interracial dating, would be expelled.

The IRS was not placated. On January 19, 1976, after years of warnings—integrate or pay taxes—the agency rescinded the school’s tax exemption.

On May 25, 1983, the Supreme Court 7 ruled 8-1 that the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had the authority to deny tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, Goldsboro Christian School, and other private and religious schools with racially discriminatory educational policies.

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As we enter the mid-1980s the Republican Party shifted and adopted the position of restoration of school prayer and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which the Christian Right believed would guarantee universal abortion rights and the right for homosexuals to marry.

The domino effect of the modern era has perpetuated a reality in which non-biblical truths are used for political gain. Not only do these falsehoods have no merit, but it also has undeniably hurt generations of Christians and those who have been affected by these non-biblical beliefs.

Current "Biblical" Rhetoric in Politics

Now, to the final point and purpose of this article. The rhetoric we are seeing in the United States today isn’t that of a loving God, it’s anti-Christ. The hatred, repulsive conspiracy theories, the senseless desire to go against the constitution, why has it come to this? I’ll go back to an earlier quote by Jesus himself, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” We have enabled men and women hiding behind the guise of Christianity to rise up and contort our faith to something that is not sound in theology, not based in scripture, and is definitely not reflective of imitating Christ.

With a new Administration comes a fresh start – an ability to ingest new ideas, new policies, and work for the American people. While the Biden-Harris Administration has shown their heart for America and for Truth, we still live in a divided country. Our politicians hide behind Christianity not because they believe it, but because that's exactly what voters want. We live in a society where it's ok to simply talk-the-talk without walking-the-walk. Should politics and Christianity agree? I don't believe that's the right question, because it will never happen. Should they intersect? They often do. It's our job to understand that morality cannot and should not be legislated, that's not how this country was designed. What we can do is vote for those who unite us and best represent the values we hold dear.

We are called to be imitators of Christ, to love, to find empathy and compassion within one another. The most radical thing we can do in our country right now is to have one-on-one, life-giving conversations that birth understanding and overwhelming grace.


Footnotes


Tennessee Beats

This past weekend I spent some time with friends in Nashville, TN. I'm always up for any excuse to get out of town with friends and go exploring. If you follow my instagram you might have seen a recent post about creativity. Personally, I've been struggling the past few months with this idea of creativity and what exactly that means. I decided this next year I would relentlessly pursue this idea and make it personal to me. In this post I want you to meet some of my friends. Yes, I'm going to unashamedly brag on them because they are incredible. These guys help me push my own creative limits, and I hope their stories inspire you as well.

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Harrison Kindy is not only a close friend, but probably one of the most creative people I know. He's a music producer from Arkansas, but now lives in Nashville. This dude is working with some of the top names in the game while he consistently pushes boundaries of music. He moved to Nashville a few months ago and invited me and some friends to join him for a weekend.

On the heels of my thirst for creativity I invited Zak Heald, Michael Kelley, and Douglas Spicer to join me.

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Zak is the owner of Intercut Productions. Let me just start by saying he's 20. His company has worked with some of the biggest names in Arkansas and throughout the country. I'm inspired every time I get around him because he's constantly reminding me of why I love what I do. Creating things, and telling stories.

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Michael is the better half of Zak, at least in the business sense. Michael is an incredibly talented editor and creative. He makes something out of nothing and I deeply admire that. Not everyone can take someone's vision and turn it into a thing of substance, but Michael can.

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Douglas has been a friend of mine for a while, in fact, my best friend. He won't ever let you hear it, at least not yet, but he can sing. Keep an eye on this one, big things to come from him.

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Lastly I got to meet Dustin this week. He's a friend of Harrison's and this dude can kill on some drums. I'm looking forward to the next time I can hang with him.


Now on to the good stuff! Seeing how everything right now is centering around creativity, I've come up with a few points that might give you something to think about.

1. Creativity doesn't need to make sense

Just like in music, sometimes in the very beginning you start with a few chords, a beat, or some verbiage. You might not have any idea what to make of it. As time passes and you add more pieces, it begins to make sense. That is all part of the creative process. Sometimes I'll sit down and begin to work on a project and what I'm doing makes no sense to anyone around me. I think we all face this. Keep pushing and pursuing that idea until it begins to make sense. Your creative vision was given to you, not someone else to execute.

2. Creativity isn't a respecter of demographic

You've seen the conflict of nature vs. nurture and read statements like you are a product of your environment but the encouraging thing is that creativity isn't a respecter of where you come from. If anything, your background feeds into the type of creative you become. For me, I was fortunate enough as a kid to travel and experience the world through a unique light. To this day those experiences play into how I create.

3. Creativity thrives on inspiration

This is probably my favorite observation I've made recently. Have you ever felt so dumb for not knowing something? This is how I feel about point #3. Sometimes I get stuck – I mean, really stuck. Maybe it's on a project, writing, or something personal. Often times I look up and realize I'm sitting in a room with no windows and fluorescent lighting. This isn't the most inspiring of places. When I decide to get up, go outside, flip through a magazine, or just get some vitamin D, inspiration suddenly hits. It's different for everyone and not every creative process is the same. Analyze what inspires you and try to participate in that daily.


Here's our weekend in images through the eyes of Michael and Zak. They documented the weekend and all images you've seen in this post have been shot by them.

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BONUS PHOTOS

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So in case you didn't know - I joined a boy band. I think we named ourselves Slightly innocent, or something like that. And if you're wondering, we're a Christian rock band... 😜

I'M GOING TO GET KILLED FOR THIS ONE!

Morning Us...

Morning

Thanks for reading, more to come...

M


Intercut Productions

Harrison - InstagramTwitter
Zak - InstagramTwitter
Michael - InstagramTwitter
Douglas - InstagramTwitter
Dustin - Instagram

 


The Spark

This past weekend (July 31 - August 2) Fort Smith, AR hosted the inaugural Peacemaker Music & Arts Fest. Fort Smith has had several different music festivals in its time but this one was different.  No, it wasn't filled with mainstream headliners or record setting crowds but it was put together for a purpose. This was one of those "you needed to be there" type of things. The energy, the atmosphere, the feeling – it was completely different than anything we've had in Fort Smith. It was fresh, and it was forward. I'm paralleling this with the movement with within our community right now. It seems like everywhere I look there is development. To my readers who aren't from Fort Smith, I'm sorry – bare with me for a second. I've recently been reading Bill Backer's book The Care and Feeding of Ideas. Bill was the creative director for the famous 1971 'Hilltop' Ad. He mentions something very unique in the opening of his book about ideas:

“There are millions of people who try each day to keep things moving in a positive direction. That means they have to harness the power of ideas. These people need simple, workday, easy-to-use definitions. In modern parlance, you might say they need to have “basic idea” and “executional idea,” or “substance” and “style,” made use-friendly.
So I respectfully submit the following pair of definitions:
- A basic idea is an abstract answer to a perceived desire or need.
- An executional idea is a rendering in words, symbols, sounds, color, shapes, forms, or any combination thereof, of an abstract answer to a perceived desire or need. ”

In my opinion, Peacemaker was an executional idea that a group of talented people came together to produce and execute. It was an incredible experience and I cannot wait until next year.

With all that said, Fort Smith is formulating so many amazing executional idea – we need more people to start executing them.

Now that's out of the way, how about some recap photos?

Jason Isbell headlined on Friday night and KILLED the stage. It was amazing!

Saturday evening started off with these guys, Red Wanting Blue. It was a great performance and I've been listening to their album since I saw them on stage. They are my new favorite.

Corey Smith band took the stage that evening, I'm really not a country guy, but he was fun to see.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood headlined on Saturday night, let me tell ya, I've never heard of these guys before and I couldn't stop dancing. Excuse my terminology but groovy is the appropriate word.

All images Copyright Shane Gray Photography, Shot for Mason Kesner Blog


We Survived Wakarusa 2015

Well we made it. It's never been so hard to wake up on a Monday morning. The team and I had a great experience this weekend at Wakarusa. If this is your first time reading this, checkout the Friday Highlights and what it felt like for the first time entering Wakarusa. By the second day we had our schedule down and our game plan together. Before I go any further I'd like to again thank the amazing team that put this together, Leigh McGruder, Tyler Mazaheri, and Shane Gray – you guys are my heroes. Incredible Job! Also, Huge thanks to Bridget Hargrave of Planet Sun Tanning Salon for making this all possible! Here are some highlights from Saturday at Wakarusa.

YOUNG THE GIANT

o basically my life was made after seeing Young The Giant. I love these guys. I've followed them since the beginning and seeing them live for the first time was such a nostalgic experience.

Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog

THE ROOTS

Yes. The Roots. Need I say more? Classic and Iconic these guys rocked the stage. What I would do to be able to play like Questlove.

Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog

BEN HARPER

So funny story, Ben Harper was one of the only performers to get an encore that I know about.

Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog

MAJOR LAZER

Ok, I'm going to admit – By the time MAJOR LAZER came on all I wanted to do was dance. And I did. I have witnesses and I'm sure they were embarrassed to be standing next to me.

Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog Photo by © Shane Gray for Mason Kesner Blog


The Real Wakarusa - Friday Highlights

Let me just be honest for a second, going into this I had no clue what to expect. This is my first Waka and honestly, I was nervous. Festivals carry so many stigmas whether that is Bonnaroo, Coachella, whatever festival - they all have a similar stigma. The festival scene really isn't my world. I love the music but 4 days with no shower and camping in all that heat – I'm secretly a 500lb man on the inside – I need my AC. So pulling up, I had no idea what to expect.

I'm here to put the questions to rest (with photo proof). No, it's not a land full of crazies that will scare your children. Easily said, everyone was nice and friendly. The staff and volunteer teams were very helpful. We had stopped and talked to several people about camera gear – because we're nerds, and much to my surprise everyone we met was so enjoyable to be around. No, it's not a land full of people doing drugs and other unspeakable things. This cracks me up. Everyone always told me that Waka is nothing but druggies and people The Duggars would shame on national television. To the parents who were reluctant to let their kids go – just like anything in life, If they seek it, they will find it. Ok is that real enough?!?

Since that's out of the way and hopefully I've put your mind to rest, on to the fun stuff! We legitimatly had a lot of fun. There was lots to do, food to eat, and people to meet. They had some really cool installations ranging from graffiti art, aerial silks, free drawing and painting. There was even the opportunity to fly in a helicopter over the festival, I think we will try and do that today. The food options were very surprising. I wasn't sure what to think initially, but walking in we saw tons of organic options and fresh fruits with everything being made to order. The grounds themselves were not actually muddy. We've had a ton of rain here in Arkansas and I was expecting the entire grounds to be nasty and muddy. Some parts were still muddy, but overall it had all dried up.

Before we get to the music, here are some shots from our perspective of Walking into Wakarusa for the first time...

Photo by © Shane Gray Photo by © Shane Gray Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Mason Kesner Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Leigh Photography Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri Photo by © Tyler Mazaheri

We were a bit strategic when choosing what bands to cover. Most of us had some priorities, but for the most part we picked our favorites and went! Our three for last night were Chance the Rapper, HONEYHONEY, and STS9.

CHANCE THE RAPPER was up first on MainStage. He was the opening act for the evening. Chance Bennet is a 22 year old American Hip Hop Artist. His new album Surf is now available for download on iTunes.

Once Chance was wrapping up we headed over to the Revival Tent to see HONEYHONEY.

HONEYHONEY is an American Folk band from LA. I usually don't care for folk music, but when we saw they were playing we decided to check them out. I couldn't stop listening. There is a pop thread within their music. I didn't know I could like Folk as much as I did coming from them.

Photo by © Shane Gray Photo by © Shane Gray

After HONEYHONEY we headed back to the mainstage for one of my favorite live bands - STS9.

SOUND TRIBE SECTOR 9 or STS9 is an instrumental band that blends rock and electronic to produce some killer tones. It's one of those bands that their tracks don't do them justice. You have to see them live.

We decided to end the night early so we have plenty of energy for Saturday. If there is something you'd like to see, snap me or tweet me and we'll be sure to get a shot of it! SNAPCHAT, masonkesner.