Under siege or seeking attention?

In 2006, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council swore to Chris Matthews that eighty percent of evangelicals agree that religion in this country, in particular, Christianity, is under attack. He was citing a 2005 Defamation League poll, and, to be honest, these results are about the most skewed in that direction I recall seeing. But it's a sentiment I hear over and over again.

It goes hand in hand with the rabid anti-American rhetoric that accompanied the Tea Party coup that shut the government down for more than two weeks. And it was an anti-American coup. So let's be honest about the pictire being painted here: Christians in America, not all Christians, but a select handful, are a remnant of the faithful standing guard against a corrupt society hurling every possible abuse and temptation and they alone will be found worthy at the end of time.

This is, to be honest, a sentiment right out of the book of Revelations, a view that the righteous were a select few who earned their way to salvation by remaining pure through trials and tribulations that others are too weak to withstand. A view rejected by many Christians as running counter to the message of grace that dominates the Gospels and Paul's letters. A view that was one of the main reasons the Eastern Orthodox churches wanted Revelation to be kept out of the New Testament Canon.

It is also a view that persists in spite of the fact that Christians in America, even Evangelicals, have it better than Christians any where in the world. Considering the physical attacks on Christians in Egypt and Syria, I would think American Christians, especially evangelicals, would be publicly praising God for the liberty to worship, pray and preach in public.

Yet we still read outrageous claims such as: Christianity in America is coming under attack like never before. While Islam and other religions get a free pass, it’s open season on the Judeo-Christian faith, or Christianity is under attack by this administration. Not religion, but just a particular brand of religion. If you're Muslim you get special consideration. But not if you are Christian.

In the post Christians under siege Dr. James White made the more reasonable statement that, “The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith.” Unfortunately, in almost every example I've ever explored, that choice has been a misunderstanding of what the government is asking, or, more often, a misunderstanding of what Jesus demands of believers.

Most often evangelicals assume religious liberty means their right to practice lazy faith. They believe they should never be asked to be required to deal with people who disagree with them, inconvenience their own beliefs, cater to the beliefs of others, or even practice the rigors of their own faith. Their concept of religious freedom is their right to practice Christianity in a vacuum in which their communities, schools, businesses and airwaves support their beliefs and never give them reason to be aware that others believe differently.

In other words, they want America to be like the one they think existed in a past that never was, when there were no Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or free thinkers.

White offered four examples where Christians were asked by government to violate the principles of their faith (all having to do with same sex couples). He doesn’t explore them in detail, but I think we should:

  • Catholic Charities in Illinois shut down its adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples (as the state required).
  • A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples.
  • A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite religious reservations.
  • A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding.

Let’s start with a principle outlined in Matthew 20:1-6. I'm not going to cite it, you should know it (or you can look it up). Basically, A vineyard hires workers to work the fields for the afternoon for ten dollars (let’s say they're migrants). An hour later he hires more for ten dollars, an hour later still more for the same rate and with an hour to go still more for the same rate. The workers who work longer think they'll get a bump, but Jesus says they should be willing to accept the work they agreed to.

This isn't just a principle of Christianity, it's contract law. Speaking of contract law, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, if any man will sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well. So it sounds like Jesus expects you to fulfill your contracts as a given. So with this in mind let's look at White's examples.

If Catholic Charities contracted with the state to handle their adoption services, they knew in advance they would be expected to meet all requirements, including new requirements. Since the law changes all the time they had to know they would sooner or later be expected to adopt to same-sex couples. If they could no longer fulfill this requirement, this is not the government's fault. It can hardly be an attack on religion.

But I have to ask why they drew the line at same sex couples. Doesn’t the church disapprove equally of divorce and abortion? Does Catholic Charities adopt to couples who were previously divorced or mothers who had abortions?

Similarly, if a Christian is interviewing for a job as a counselor, he is responsible for finding out if his employer expects him to counsel gay couples not the other way around. The employer does not work for him. If the employer makes it a condition of employment, then he should turn down the job. And before you argue Christian persecution, homosexuality is just as abhorrent to Islam and Judaism, so counselors from those faiths face the same concerns. The same goes for court clerks.

If a wedding photographer is sued for not photographing a same-sex wedding, the Christian thing to do, according to Matthew is to pay. On the other hand, I don't see this as a religious freedom issue. I don't see the court siding with the plaintiff in this case. Unless the photographer took their money and then refused to take the photos. And then the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom. It's theft, pure and simple.

Let’s think this through. Can't have a Christmas tree in your town square? That's sad. In Austin, we can. But you know what, we can all have one in our homes. And we can carry our bibles any where we want, and read them in the open. And we can talk about them anywhere. I have never been thrown out of anyplace but a library for talking publicly about the bible with others (not preaching, but having a conversation). And no one has ever arrested me for praying silently in public, or saying, “Praise The Lord.”

Come to think about it, even non believers say, “Jesus Christ,” out loud in public and they have never been arrested.

You can drive around with bumpers stickers about Jesus on your car. Even really obnoxious ones. And I've seen plenty. You can tell people you're a Christian without going to jail. You can argue with your college professor about Jesus without consequence (even if you're convinced she'll fail you). You can petition your city council about public prayer without being sent to prison. You can march on Washington, you can challenge politicians, you can even call the President a tool of Satan without retaliation.

So if you are a Christian in America, and you get that feeling that you're being persecuted, try something with me. Say, “Thank you, Jesus, that I get to be in America, where we have more religious freedom than anywhere else.”

And quit your whining.

 

Release the hostages

So here's the bottom line. Paul, in the book of Romans, makes it clear that God appoints government to protect those who do good and punish those who do bad (Romans 13). If we are faithful, we have nothing to fear from government.

According to the Christian Right and their political wing, the Tea Party, government punishes good people and rewards the bad, which is why they have shut it down. And who are the bad? Those in need of health care, those in need of retirement benefits, and the poor.

This is the supreme irony, that the Tea Party would shut down health care and care to widows and poor in spite of scripture's injunctions to heal the sick, feed the poor and care for widows and orphans. But the Christian Right has shown no need to heed the injunctions of scripture, to show compassion, or even to show humility—all of the benchmarks of faith.

If they would take care of the poor and sick in the private sector they praise it might not matter, but, of course, they don't.

They are fortunate that God will forgive them, although I doubt they will ever feel the need.

The rest of us can only pray enough Republicans will come to their senses that the Tea Party block will cease to matter.

 

Health and government for none. Apocalypse for all.

The Tea Party success in shutting down the government is about as far from a victory for Christ as I can imagine.

They have been very good about not dragging Jesus into this debate the way they drag him into everything else, which is ironic. After all Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to heal (read Mark 6) and the Tea Party wants to take a bill away which was designed to provide the health care Jesus wanted people to have.

Do we see these Christians trying to get that health care to the people who would lose it? No more than Rick Perry and his ilk tried to find health care for all those who will be losing it when he closes down every clinic in Texas.

But they want more than that. They want to shut government down completely and this got them what they wanted. Michelle Bachmann even came out an admitted as much the day after the shut down.

The Tea Party is closely tied to the Christian Right who loves apocalypse. The Late Great Planet Earth is usually treated as the Third Testament. The shut down plays into their wildest fantasies. This could even trigger the Rapture. Their rapture over the shut down is undeniable.

Masada, a symbol of the devastation from an intransigent political party

Of course there is a distinct danger to playing out these end game scenarios, especially with so much brinksmanship at stake. The Jews learned this lesson when they took on Nero and his general Titus. The Radical Jews decided they had too much taxation too and decided to shut down the Imperial presence in Jerusalem.

And they brought the government crashing down too. Their own. The Romans ended any semblance of Israel’s home rule, destroyed the temple and the last illusion of Jewish autonomy. But they had their moral victory, and the Tea Party will have theirs.

Unfortunately, Jesus' kingdom is not about victories, moral or otherwise. It's about service. And healing. And the Tea Party is offering neither.