Who’s side are you on?
Nobody expects the inquisition!Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?" He replied, "Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, "What do you command your servant, my lord?" The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.
Joshua 5:13-15 New Revised Standard Version
Somebody once said the two things you should never talk about in polite company are religion and politics. Well then, today I shall not be polite.
On the way home from work I was listening to NPR and feeling once again the deep and abiding sadness of war. A war of our choosing. A war, in my mind, wholly unnecessary. Even with the shift of parties in Congress and Rumsfeld leaving and reams of evidence of failure and errors there’s still little more happening in Washington than posturing and posing and hollow justifications and a resolute determination to ignore facts and plunge on full speed ahead armed with trite phrases, diversionary tactics and denials.
My opposition to this whole morass pre-dates the war. Before it began, my wife and I were at candlelight prayer vigils and demonstrations hoping against hope that people would turn down the volume on their podcasts of fear and listen to the quiet complicated whispers of truth. Now that polls are showing that the radical minority I was in three years ago has become the majority, that most Americans believe this war was a mistake, that it has made us less safe... Now, so many billions of dollars and thousands of lives later, I take little consolation from the fact that many more people agree with what I thought 3 and a half years ago.
I forget the exact date, but I believe it was in February of 2003, on a car trip one cold winter’s night, I listened to Mr. Bush’s speech that was supposed to lay the groundwork for why this war was necessary, why Hussein was such an intolerable threat to ourselves and our allies. This was the famous "yellow cake" speech later shown to be full of inaccuracies and half-truths. Alone there in the night, on the interstate with the glow of the radio and the monotonous passage of the asphalt river flowing beneath me I thought it was a pitifully weak and clearly transparent attempt at manipulating public sentiment. I listened and felt hope rise. The charges offered to justify the war and link Iraq to 9/11 seemed so far-fetched I thought surely everyone would see through this charade. I thought this country still believed war was an act of last resort. I thought public support would withdraw. I was wrong.
The ebb of the tides of vengeance was slow and though support has eroded over time, to this day, many well meaning people are still convinced we did the right thing. I can’t tell if that’s simply because they can’t face the alternative that we are tragically and criminally at fault or that they are that stubborn. Most astonishingly to me, some of the strongest supporters of this war and this president are people who find themselves in this position because they call themselves "Pro-Life." And they don’t see the irony.
When it comes to religion and politics, I’m all for separation of church and state. Unlike some proponents of that principle, it’s not primarily because I don’t want religion in government, but because I don’t want government in religion. Just prior to the most recent national election, I saw this guy interviewed a couple of times on different news stations who was a former Christian activist associated with the Bush administration who has now become disillusioned with the White House. Being ever-cynical, my guess is his little media tour was bankrolled by the Democrats who were trying to depress the turnout of the conservative evangelical Christian voting block. This guy was once a true believer who expected the Bush administration to be the most wonderful thing since pre-sliced communion wafers for the Christian church in America.
One word: naive.
I’ve worked with hard core politicians up close. They’ll use any commodity they can to generate votes and never lose a moment’s sleep over what they’ve done. They only worry about ethical issues if they think they’ll generate bad press. They wear their principles like a chameleon wears its scales. So when this guy came out saying "Oh my stars and garters! They’re more interested in their political agenda than in true Christian values!" I wanted to say "Wake up and smell the Starbucks, Ophelia. This is the real world." Okay, that would sound pretty silly, but you get the drift.
In certain circles of my family and evangelical Christianity it’s been a foregone conclusion since the Reagan era that all good Christians will of course vote Republican because they are the pro-life, anti-gay party. I’ve argued with these conservative members of my family for years that the Republicans will never truly deliver what they are hoping for on abortion and gay rights because once they do, a lot of those voters will have no reason to vote for them anymore. I’m not saying I want the Republicans to fulfill the wishes of conservative Christians, I’m merely trying to make the point that these people are trading their votes for some bead necklaces and cheap, but shiny trinkets. Republicans have delivered on little of substance regarding conservative Christian planks of the party’s agenda. For instance, Tennessee recently overwhelmingly (80% - 20%) passed a constitutional referendum to prohibit gay marriage. Okay. So gay marriage is.... still illegal in this state as it has been for over 200 years. What an accomplishment.
I wish these voters would consider a broader spectrum of issues, but my viewpoint is consistently disregarded. These folks have been brainwashed into thinking there are only 1 or 2 issues in American politics and that the sum total of the Christian life is comprised of a handful of regulations about sexual behavior. As long as they continue to think this way, they are easy targets for the professional manipulators.
In the interest of fairness, I should say that I’ve also seen liberals whip their constituents into a frenzy with exaggerated messages that make it sound like you better vote Democratic or women will be returned to the status of enslaved, disenfranchised barefoot pregnant cattle. But we’re talking religion and politics here, not gender and politics, and I have to say that recent American history and voting trends would present ample evidence that the GOP is the one currently guilty of using religion for political gain. Perhaps now the pendulum has swung. This election, a significant percentage of self-proclaimed evangelical Christians didn’t vote Republican. This is perhaps due to the inevitable scandals and hypocrisy from some of the Republican "family values" types. You also began to see the rise of overtly religious and occasionally pro-life Democratic candidates. Still, bi-partisan abuse of religion is not the ultimate goal.
In late November there was a news report that the president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America declined the position and stepped down, saying the organization wouldn't let him expand its agenda. I applaud his decision. The Rev. Joel Hunter, who was scheduled to become president this January, made the mistake of expressing an interest in more than opposing abortion and gay marriage. Of all things, he wanted to focus on poverty (Oh! The horror!) and the environment (the tree hugging liberal wacko.) He was quoted in a November 28th Yahoo! News article saying "These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about." (Jesus? What do His views have to do with anything?). A release from the Christian Coalition quoted in the same article stated that Hunter left because of "differences in philosophy and vision." Yeah, let’s see. He made the silly mistake of thinking the Christian Coalition would be interested in following the direction of Christ over Karl Rove.
This post may sound a bit mean-spirited, but it really galls me to watch sincere (if perhaps misguided) spiritual beliefs warped and manipulated for political and economic gain. I’m not the first to feel this way. Anyone recall a little episode with some money-changers? So I have a hard time conjuring up a lot of mercy for the manipulators of the masses. As for those masses of Christian voters, many of them are frustrated and frightened with the changes they see occurring in this country. Their town doesn’t look like Mayberry anymore. Norman Rockwell and body piercings just don’t mesh. Life is complicated. Government is complicated. It’s easier to pick out one or two hot topics that become the simple litmus tests for how to vote. Is the candidate pro-life and anti-gay rights? If the answers are yes and yes, we’re done. Turn the brain off. Resume watching American Idol. Those voters don’t have to wrestle with complex issues of international diplomacy, economic policy, equity in taxation, education administration, the national debt, social security reform, health care, the environment, corporate welfare, human welfare, blah, blah, blah. And they can sleep well, warm and comfortable in their belief that they have done what they could to protect their children and grandchildren from secular humanists and the vast gay conspiracy. Oh, and those Islamic terrorists too. Darn straight!
I understand why they do what they do. It’s easier, and it appears to have the Good Churchkeeping stamp of approval. So, despite the Protestant work ethic, you don’t even have to feel guilty for taking the easy way out on this one. This might be fine and dandy if it weren’t for the messy little matter of scripture. If you bother to actually read the Good Book - the whole thing, not just the popular parts or the verses used to justify your personal social and political preferences – you’ll find it is NOT
chock full of verse after verse about abortion, gay rights and fighting terrorism, although you get that impression based on the messages put out by certain segments of the church in America. Yes, there are passages that speak of respecting God’s creation. And there are passages that direct believers to sexual purity and condemn a laundry list of unacceptable sexual practices. But these include things like not having sex with a women on her period. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on that one. And other "abominations" listed in various portions of the Bible include the consumption of shellfish and gossiping. Read the sermon on the mount and you realize pretty quickly that life and religion and holiness can’t be summarized in ten commandments or 100 or 1000 for that matter.
Contrary to the priorities of the Christian Coalition and in conflict with many Republican economic policies, caring for the impoverished and avoiding materialism are discussed far more often in scripture than sexual morality. Jesus comforted the woman caught in adultery and advised her to sin no more. When he found guys trying to make a buck off of religious practitioners, he kicked their asses (and I don’t mean their donkeys). He ate dinner with prostitutes and outcasts. He saved his most vehement diatribes for religious hypocrites. His message and his lifestyle were consistently scandalous to the political and religious establishment of his day.
But lest I make the same mistake as Joshua up there in the verses at the start of this post, I don’t want to claim God is on my side in this argument. The point of that story of the sword-bearing stranger is that God is not Republican or Democrat or Hebrew or Gentile or pro-life or pro-choice. As I interpret the moral of that story, we puny humans should be concerned about lining up behind God rather than recruiting God to back up our causes. Too bad the Commander of the Army of the Lord doesn’t make guest appearances on Crossfire, although I'm not sure even he could quiet the tongues of Tucker Carlson or Bill O-Reilly.
Skipping ahead a few centuries and flipping over a few pages from Joshua to Isaiah, you find passages where the prophet condemns Israel for seeking protection in political alliances with Egypt instead of relying on God for its protection and salvation. Hmmm... So if the church in America wants to see God’s will done on earth, it should rely on God, not the Republican party. Or the Democratic party for that matter. Radical concept.
I hope the influence of conservative Christianity on American politics is waning. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hoping that the influence of Christ is diminished in America. There is a difference. Simultaneously, I hope the Republican party is losing its strangle hold on hearts and minds of evangelical Christians in this country. If that’s not the case, history would teach us we have frightening days ahead. But then again..., "NOBODY expects the inquisition."