Friday, June 21, 2013

Can a Political Conservative Survive in a Non-Fundamentalist Church?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Moral Majority was wrong when it declared that you had to vote certain ways if you were a Christian.  I have no patience today for conservatives who declare that the Bible requires a vote for a certain governmental policy, as if the government is what Jesus had in mind as the implementer of His commandments and ideals.

I believe that there is a 21st Century version of the Moral Majority, and it is made up of Progressive Liberal Christians. They publish blogs like this and this that proclaim that there is only one way to be a Christian in your politics. I'm not making this up - some of these blogs say in their very title that you cannot disagree with them and still follow Jesus.

Typically, these bloggers and commentators and preachers declare that we Christians must be in favor of universal health care and a significantly increased federal minimum wage, and we must be against the death penalty, gun rights, and war. Many of them declare that Christianity demands a certain position on governmental recognition of gay marriage, tax policy, "help for the poor" (although they are typically very short on definition or detail), and immigration rights.

Hear me: I have no objection to their taking strong political positions, nor do I have any problem with their basing their position on their (and my) religious convictions. What I object to is their telling me that I "cannot" vote the way I do and still "follow Jesus."

Here is an interesting quote: "They proceed with the certitude that they are right, that their reading of Scripture is the only reading of Scripture, and their application of that reading of Scripture is the only application of Scripture that makes for Christian, and then when they don’t use that word, they use the word 'Godly Christians,' with the implication that other people who don’t agree are ungodly." Any idea of the source? It is Norman Lear, the producer of "All in the Family," "Maude," and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," speaking in 1982 about the Jerry Falwell-led Moral Majority.

How the worm has turned. As Hollywood and the press and much of contemporary Christianity has shouted down (often correctly, I might add) the insufferable self-proclaimed superiority of right-wing Christian absolutists, the vacuum has been filled by left-wing Christian absolutists. I have written about this before, in response to a rant from Stephen Colbert on how followers of Jesus should see the political spectrum.

I think the the Bible is very clear about loving people, taking care of the poor, welcoming the stranger, and turning the other cheek. I do not think, however, the Bible is very clear that loving people requires forcing everyone to pay more involuntary taxes so that some people can receive more unearned aid, that everyone (including the poor) should pay more for goods and services and that many should give up having jobs at all so that wages can be increased for those who are still working, that totalitarianism and brutality should go unchecked on the world stage, or that everyone deserves insurance to pay for contraception and plastic surgery.

Jesus spoke of peace.  Jesus healed.  Jesus fed the hungry.  Jesus did all this under the eyes of the Emporer, his armies, and his governors.  Not once did Jesus take on the government; He was too busy taking on the religious leaders who were telling the local folks the things they had to do based on the only approved view of scripture.  Not once did He set about preaching that Rome should alter its politics to match His gospel.

That did not mean that Jesus did not believe what He said.  I think it means that He was not about having governments using the force of law to force His ideas involuntarily on citizens.

I treat my employees exceptionally well, and I work for a company that doesn't pay anything close to as low as the minimum wage. I do not own a gun. I give way more than I am required by the tax code to multiple causes that help the poor. I am doing my best to follow Jesus. And I vote conservatively. I have an economic view that dictates, for me, what I believe is ultimately the best way to make sure that poverty is dealt with. I have a political view that leads, I believe, to the widest scale good for the most people. I am tired of being called mean and nasty because of my vote, but I am used to it.  What I am not used to is being called names like that by other Christians, and I am certainly not used to having my Christianity questioned - or outright denied - by other Christians because my politics and economics do not align with the politically correct crowd.

Several months ago, I wrote the following. It was meant to be ironic: I admit it; I hate poor people. I have decided it is time to quit pretending. I hate poor people; especially poor sick people. We have been figured out, so we might as well quit pretending. To be a true conservative requires undiluted, unthinking hatred. I hate poor people.And uninsured sick people. And don't forget homeless children - they really get my dander up. Those kids are obviously out to game the system. In fact, the only people I hate more than the poor are Arabs. And of course homosexuals. And Communists - but there just aren't many of them around to hate anymore.And of course, I hate all members of the media, especially Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. Well, all of them except for Rush and Hannity and Sarah Palin. I love them. I don't really know why, but I do. What I really want is a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Because I really love rich people. If I had it my way, rich people would not have to pay any taxes at all, just as a reward for being rich. Life is all about money, right? If you are rich, that means you have won, so the government should get off your back. I also hate people who talk about climate. Who cares about the weather? Those are the same people who close businesses down just to protect some minnow somewhere. What a bunch of losers. I guess my point is this: Why should we keep pretending we care about issues? Why should we try to say that we have ideas that are better ways to help people? Why should we keep insisting that there is actual thought behind conservative economic policy? Why can't we just admit the truth? We hate poor people. There. I've said it. I feel so much better.

I did not publish that at the time, because I was afraid of being misunderstood.   I was afraid my irony would be lost on some. 

In fact,  I really believe that many of my Progressive Christian brothers and sisters believe that the above paragraph actually describes most political and economic conservatives, even Christian conservatives. I do not want to have to join a fundamentalist congregation just to avoid being ostracized and demonized by the Christians around me. I should not have to.

I would ask all Christians, whatever your political beliefs, to look in the mirror when you hear these words:    "They proceed with the certitude that they are right, that their reading of Scripture is the only reading of Scripture, and their application of that reading of Scripture is the only application of Scripture that makes for Christian, and then when they don’t use that word, they use the word 'Godly Christians,' with the implication that other people who don’t agree are ungodly."

For years, it was the liberal Christians who trumpeted the truths of separation of church and state and of independent judgment unfettered by religious fervor in political discourse. Now we have a liberal president who justifies his economic policies with out of context language from the Gospel of Matthew.

Conviction should not be voiced only when it suits you. If you don't want me shoving my view of scripture down your throat at the voting booth, quit shoving your view down mine.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who Is Your God?

My 16-year-old daughter Carolyn recently told me about a conversation that had arisen in her youth group Sunday School class a couple of years ago about different perceptions of God.  Carolyn had raised the issue that every person in the class might actually view God differently and have a different idea of God, yet they all worship the same God.  The teachers in the class were not really interested in pursuing this discussion.

You can go here to see a slide show entitled "Images of God."  It will show you rainbows and storm clounds, children's faces, simply drawn depictions of the face of Jesus, mountains and waves and planets, church pews and cathedrals and priests saying mass, starlight and firelight and sunlight, Bibles, abstract art, medieval art, modern art, old men, crosses, bread and wine, a potter's wheel, and many faces of God's people.  We are, after all, made in God's image.

Who is God to you? How do you see God?

Creator - The vision of many is dominated by the first verse of the Bible - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  They worship the creative force to whom they owe their very existence.

The Almighty - I do not believe I have ever heard my father pray in a church setting in which he did not address "Almighty God." It is the view of the creature acknowledging the omnipotent one.  It is the view that hears the voice of God in the book of Job asking the question "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  Tell me if you understand."  This view of God is often perfectly happy to say "I don't understand, and that does not matter.  God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."

Father - I do not mean this, necessarily, in a masculine way.  Those whose view of God centers on Him as "Father" do not mean it in a gender role nearly as much as they mean it in  the best sense of fathers - encouraging, nurturing, providing, welcoming.  The view of God as Father emphasizes God's strong arms when we hurt, God's giving heart when we need, God's understanding when we fail.  He is the waiting Father from the parable of the prodigal son, straining His eyes down the road for the first sign that we are returnting to Him.

The Sustaining Life Force - This will sound far too mystical to some and too New Age to others.  It smacks of "Star Wars" and Eastern religion to still others.  But to many a Christian, the view of God is primarily an understanding of a spiritual energy that is too hard to contain in any body or word or picture.  No old man with a white beard will suffice to encompass God.  Jesus taught that God is spirit, and to those who worship God this way, the understanding of God is best explained as a sensing of God's power in God's people and creation.

Love - Jesus said it plainly: God is love.  There are those who find God, at least in glimpses, by experiencing love in all its facets.

Beauty - Many find God by seeing creation, the work God does through us, or a moment of sublime music.

And I think all of this is OK. I understand why youth Sunday School teachers might want to shy away from the idea that God presents differently to different ones of us, but I also understand - I think - that God is so much bigger and more complex than we can grasp.  Eye has not seen nor has ear heard.  How unfathomable are the ways of God.  If none of us can get our minds around God, then we may all see God differently.  To all of these different views of God, I say yes, and yes, and yes, and yes.  There are some days when I see God in each of these ways.

Jesus, of course, gives us the avenue to see God the same, for Jesus is the exact representation of God.  Because of Jesus, as I wrote here, we are not just like the blind men trying to descibe an elephant when we try to talk about God.

Still, I do not fault anyone whose view of God takes a different turn from another's view.  I am not suggesting that picturing Morgan Freeman or Charlton Heston or Buddha is a reasonable view of God, but I understand why one would see the almighty God reaching from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and another would see a rose or a nebula or a child's face.

Carolyn was onto something.  God is too big and too complex for us to fathom, and that may mean that you see Him a little differently that I do.  I am thankful that we have Jesus as the place where we can come together and find all of God in a package.