What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Recently a Minnesota teen was told he couldn't finish his confirmation class at Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minnesota. Not just that, his family has been denied communion as well.

Their priest insists they were not denied communion, but the Cihak family didn't get that message. They have since decided to move on to another church.

What was the sin that was so heinous, the church wouldn't let him be confirmed? Was he having sex with the bishop's niece? Selling weed from the confessional? Use condoms? Is he marrying his same sex boyfriend? No, even worse. He posted a photo on Facebook mocking Minnesota's ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage.

I suppose the church has added an eighth cardinal sin. We now have lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride and dissent. In today's world, dissent is the worst sin of all. I assume this, because I haven't heard of anyone being denied communion for any of the other seven lately.

At church camp we used to sing a song that went, “They'll know we are Christians by our love.” Of course we would then try to short sheet the kid we didn't like, put burrs between their sheets or throw water on them while they were sleeping. But we understood that love was the single most important sign of our faith.

Today, I think, it is fair to say they'll know we are Christians by our posturing, bickering, contentiousness, rigidity, obstinance and ability to yell louder than anyone else. In fact, if you were to ask someone who wasn't Christian to describe Christians, “love” is probably the last word they would use.

In fact, when I think of the Christian persona today, I can only think of Tina Turner. “What does love have to do with it?”


Politics as usual

When I wrote my one sentence blog last week, I wanted to wait to see what might develop in the wake of the recent election. The answer seems to be, absolutely nothing.

Republican leadership has been demanding that Obama step up and be a leader. By the end of this week they made it clear they intended to refuse to cooperate with the President on the key element of a plan on which he campaigned—raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In short, they expect Obama to lead but he can't expect them to follow.

Once again Republicans remind me how far we have strayed from the Christian ideal.

I am not claiming that Democrats are any more Christian than Republicans. In fact, we should never forget that faith and politics have little to do with each other. Jesus repeatedly stressed to the world and his followers that his kingdom was not earthly and was never intended to be,

The idea of a “Christian nation” is about as far from Christianity as the idea that a secular leader will save the world. Any secular leader.

Democrats, however, lay no claim to Christianity. I don't mean Democrats aren't Christians, I mean that Democrats refuse to wrap themselves in the pages of the Bible even though I find their policies more closely align with the teachings of Jesus (even expressed literally) than Republicans.

Republicans do claim to be Christ's authorities on earth. Not all of them, of course, but by embracing the Christian Right most are proclaiming themselves as the party of Jesus (de facto). Nor do they distance themselves from the most extreme Christian elements.

As a consequence, I find the Republican leadership's in-your-face politics even more ironic. Jesus was first and foremost about accepting responsibility. Republicans (the Christian Right Republicans, anyway) accept responsibility for nothing, as the most recent election has proved.

More moderate Republicans have admitted they misjudged voters and practiced an exclusionary brand of politics that is bound to fail. The Christian Right Republicans and their Tea Party adjuncts blame the failure of the election on everything from hurricanes to voter fraud to bribery.

(The hurricane excuse I find not just ironic, but funny. After all, if hurricanes struck Florida during the convention and New York during the election, they must have been sent by God. That would mean, of course, that either God wanted Obama to win, or the Republicans couldn't win in spite of God's disapproval of Obama—depending on how you spin the hurricanes.)

Now they are back to their same combative strategies, even though Jesus preached non-combat. If we are to listen to Jesus, Republicans should respond by turning the other cheek and submitting on tax breaks for the wealthy (Matt. 5: “If your neighbor asks for your coat…”).

Jesus believed in meekness and humility. The Republican resistance to the electoral will is bombastic and arrogant. The fact that they lost the election does not seem to them to be a sign of the people's will, but a sign that they should dig in until the people give in.

Listening to the last two weeks of Republican rhetoric, it is clear they want this country to return to the days before the Civil War, indeed the days before Jackson, when women and minorities had no say nor did white men who didn't hold property. In short, they long for the country before the original Republicans made it the inclusive nation is has become.

Vote conscience

In spite of the campaign rhetoric, this election is about everything but the economy. The economy has been little more than a smokescreen for a chance to press the same social agenda that Republicans have pressed for decades, an agenda that rewrites both Christianity and the Constitution.

A small sign of this, but telling nonetheless, was the uproar created when Kay Hill of Round Rock, Texas, was asked to cover up her shirt at her early voting polling station. The shirt said, “Vote the Bible.” While wearing such shirts isn't explicitly illegal in Texas, there are legal restrictions on campaigning in polling places.

She claimed her free speech rights were violated, as did the group Texas Values which now represents her. In her words, “Vote the Bible” doesn't endorse a political party or candidate, just her belief in the bible. Thirty years ago this might seem reasonable. In 2012, however, the position seems a little disingenuous.

The Republican Party has wrapped themselves not just in the flag, but between the pages of the Bible as well. For all her protestations to the contrary, no one doubts that “Vote the Bible” is an endorsement of Mitt Romney and his Party. In fact, the Christian Right has made it clear that the Democratic Party is not the party of the Bible.

In September, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki wrote in Catholic Times:

I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

This is the same disingenuous language, since Paprocki spells out why the Republicans espouse Christian values and Democrats don't.

What are these Christian values? They all involve compelling others to conform to our beliefs:

  • We want the right to make others join us in public prayer to the Judeo-Christian god.
  • We want pledges to support the nation to be tied to an invocation of our God, forcing those who don't accept his existence to validate our belief.
  • We want to force women to practice our life values. It is not enough to to preserve life in our own bodies, we compel other women to do so as well even when they were raped or their health is in jeopardy.
  • We don't even want women to have the option to prevent pregnancy.
  • We want children to be indoctrinated into the tenets of our faith under the guise of science.
  • We want to deny health care to the most needy.

In every case, Christians would scream bloody murder were the tables turned. If we were asked to join in public prayers to Allah, or to public chants to Buddha, we would consider ourselves martyrs (although I can't imagine many American Christians actually willing to die over it). If the pledge contained the phrase “a nation that needs no God for sanction,” we would call it persecution. If women were forced to practice birth control, we would call it injustice. If children were taught “evolution proves there is no God” in social studies textbooks we would scream political indoctrination. If circumcision were made mandatory, we would proclaim ourselves victims of a war on faith.

Jesus never asked us to be the moral arbiters of those who don't follow him. In fact, when I read the Bible, the only one who answers to God for my sins is me, and I do not answer for the sins of others. If we pursue the agenda of the Christian Right, we risk becoming part of the evil ourselves.

I see a darker possibility on the horizon. There may well be a culture war, but it is not a war on Christians so much as a declaration of war by a a few Christian sects on people outside the faith, and even Christians whose faith they feel diverges from theirs. There seems to be a desire to impose their orthodoxy on the rest of us, and, as recent events have proved, the Christian Right feels they are above the law in ways the rest of us aren't.

As to the economy, let's face it. The Republicans' true constituency will do well with a good or bad economy. But if we look at the record of the Republican Congress, it becomes clear they blocked every measure proposed by the administration to create more jobs and improve the economy because those measures wouldn't do it their way.

Jesus is about choice. Your choice. Your choice to follow him. We can only lead the way for others. Faith is not compulsory and to believe otherwise is to be both unChristian and unAmerican.

The supreme irony is that twenty years ago the Christian Right would not have accepted Mitt Romney as one of them. At least they have become more tolerant of someone.