Christlike or contradiction?

It's easy to forgive Romney for a complete about face in this week's debate with President Obama. After adopting an extreme tax reduction policy in the primaries, and waiting for Obama to criticize it first, he suddenly announced that he had never proposed such a thing at all.

Of course, he could have told viewers his new tax policy before Obama criticized the old one. But what's the fun of that? And if you can't win a debate without a little sandbagging and a sucker punch or two, then you're giving your opponent an unfair advantage.

When President Obama called Romney on his tectonic policy shift, Romney blithely told the President that “if you repeat something often enough, people will believe it,” but that didn't make it true.

This is, in turn, set the tone for the entire debate. Once he established that he could fluster Obama, all he had to do for the rest of the evening was say, “I never said that. You're misrepresenting me.” And because of the rules of the debate Jim Lehrer couldn't say, “but Governor Romney, didn't you propose exactly that in the primaries?”

Romney's strategy upset a lot of Democrats, especially when everyone who watched the debate decided Romney won. And, clearly, in the court of public opinion, he did. Even I have to admit, Obama looked like he was on the ropes, with his best punches denied him. The question is, did Romney really do anything wrong by completely reversing his opinion?

The strategy also emboldened right wing pastors across America to declare open war on Obama from their pulpits today, but that will have to wait until next week.

Some might argue Romney was merely following the example of Jesus. After all, at one point in his campaign Jesus said, “he who is not with me is against me.” (Matt 12:30) But elsewhere he said, “whoever is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50) So it sounds like Romney is only doing what Jesus would do.

Liberals might argue that conflicting aphorisms are not the same thing as lying about a previous policy proposal. But isn't that straining at gnats?

Let's look at Romney's record to see how much he wants to follow Jesus' example. He's reversed himself on abortion, health care, tax codes and just about every other policy. And he certainly certainly shares Jesus' views about the poor and needy.

Oh ye liberals, of little faith. What more could you possibly ask for? Granted there is not return policy on Presidents, and once you elect one you can't repent for four entire years. But if he's good enough to reverse position and win a debate, he's clearly good enough to be President.


In God We Trust, all others pay taxes

One of Romney's newest campaign promises is that he will not take “In God We Trust” off US coins or bills. Naturally, Republican voters now think Obama will remove the phrase. Otherwise, why would Romney pledge it?

Needless to say, neither Romney not Obama has the power to dictate coinage design to the US Mint. But the controversy began when the government moved the phrase from the face of certain coins to the edge and released one pressing with the phrase missing. The phrase moved back to the face in later pressings.

Why is this important? Because even though Jesus told believers not to make a public spectacle of their faith (Matthew 6), he clearly didn't mean American Christians. We're the best Christians in the whole wide world and it's our job to make sure people know it.

We don't actually have to trust God, we just have to remind people that we do. After all, if we really trusted God we wouldn't worry who got elected President. We would trust God to do his will no matter who sat in the White House or Congress.

If we really trusted God to express his will, we wouldn't pay taxes. We would just give government whatever they asked and trust God to spend it wisely.

So I think Romney hasn't gone far enough. If he really was commited to the public trust in God, he wouldn't stop with money. He would make sure it was printed on every American flag, right below the field of stars. He would amend the preamble of the Constitution to read “We the people of the United States who TRUST IN GOD” and Declaration of Independence to read “we hold these truths to be self-evident that we TRUST IN GOD.”

The pledge of allegiance would read, “one nation, under God IN WHOM WE TRUST.” We should include the phrase on checks issued by the government. We should include it on every ballot. We should print it on the casing of every bullet and bomb we unleash upon the unChristian infidels.

Every Presidential portrait should portray our Commander-in-Cheif shaking Jesus's hand, and a word balloon with the phrase “In God We Trust.” The phrase should be wrapped around the eagle on the Presidential Seal.

After all, how can God know what's truly in our hearts unless we spell it out for him.

Or, if we really trusted in God, we would trust him to know that we trust him and not need to tell everyone. Which was, as I recall, one of the points Jesus was making in Matthew 6.

It isn’t generosity when it’s required

Once again I was prepared to discuss the Higgs-Boson particle, which is essential to the mystery of Jesus (at least according to some blogs). But then Ann Romney spoke up. In the wake of the controversy about her husband's falsifying records about his stint at Bain Capital, she said Mitt was one of the most generous men she knows. Her example? Mitt gives ten percent of their income to the Mormon Church.

First of all, let me explain to Republicans and members of the Christian right why Romney's record at Bain is so important in an election that will be primarily about the economy. First, he lied to the government about when he ran Bain. When you lie to the government, you are officially, on the record, lying to the American people who are the government.

What did he lie about? His economic record as CEO. This should send a warning flag when he says that he will do as President what he did as CEO.

It should also send a warning flag since he oversaw massive layoffs and outsourcing to maintain profitability. This is the clearest indicator of his economic policy's effects since his policy is pretty much to cut corporate taxes and let them create jobs elsewhere.

It's hard to be upset about the lying part since we already know the Christian right has pretty much struck that off the ten commandments to make room for their abortion plank.

But I'm interested in Ann Romney's claim that giving ten percent to your church is generous. Jesus pretty much said the opposite. Tithing is not an act of generosity, it's an article of faith. You aren't being generous until you give more than asked.

Romney may be generous (even though his employees might not feel that generosity). But it isn't for paying his bills to God.

My family had a hard time getting a handle on this, but I was raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) so it may have come with the territory. My family loved to ask us to be generous with each other, so much so that we twisted each other's arm until the spirit of generosity overwhelmed us.

It would begin simply and innocently. With a suggestion like, “Wouldn't it be nice if you…?” Innocent to people who don't speak Baptist (or Stephens). To those of us who speak the language, it meant “You will.”

Nor was a gift really a gift so much as an obligation in its own right. The master of obligatory gift giving was my grandmother, who wan't Baptist but a conservative Presbyterian raised in the heart of John Birch country in Ohio. My sisters and I learned to keep our gifts still wrapped in our closets so we could return them whenever she said, “How can you be this way when I gave you such a wonderful present.”

Perhaps the best example of this was the fifty dollar gift an uncle gave to a family in need who were also in his employ. He had just hired the dad, so he floated him fifty dollars to get by until the first pay day. We learned about this gift at the next family dinner when he complained that he spotted the family at Kentucky Fried Chicken that very evening. Even worse, when he saw his employee in the grocery store later in the week, he was buying beer.

That ungrateful lout. It seems my uncle expected his employee to spend the money on baloney sandwiches and milk because that's what poor people should eat to stay on budget.

I thought it might be useful to touch bases on a few tips that you might not be a generous as you think. From what I read in the Bible, you aren't being generous if:

  1. You have an obligation to give.
  2. You give but you don't want to.
  3. You give less than you tell people you do. (This actually got some people killed by the Holy Spirit.)
  4. You do it because someone twists your arm.
  5. You complain about it.
  6. You have to tell everyone how much you gave.
  7. You have to remind them constantly that you gave.
  8. You have a plaque with your name mounted on the gift.
  9. They have to wear it or put it on display whenever you're around or you make them feel guilty.
  10. You expect something back.
  11. You expect it to be used differently than the recipient wants it to be used.
  12. You claim it on your tax returns

By my calculation, Romney's tithes aren't really generous by counts 1, 6 and (most likely) 12. Oh, and, by the way, it isn't generous if you feel you're being generous. That's pride. (So maybe we should add 13 to 1, 6 and 12).

And my hyperactive dog Pearl tells me it isn't being generous to give your dog a ride on the roof so she can share your vacation.

I don't claim to be a generous person myself, by the way. Generosity is difficult by any measure. Grace allows us to slide when we fail to be generous, and we shouldn't jeopardize grace by proclaiming our generosity.

He is risen but how

It was Friday before Mitt Romney’s staff finally informed him that “He is risen” did not refer to his lead in the race.

I wanted to avoid a political discussion on Easter but then the Republicans had to do something like passing the Women as Livestock act in Georgia. Think of it as Georgia’s gift to Jesus on the anniversary of the resurrection to remind us that in him there is neither man nor woman, slave nor master, nor even pig nor cow nor woman.

But today is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This was the day Mary Magdeline came to his tomb and the Republicans told them that, following the tradition of the Augusta Club, women were no longer allowed. In fact, they would have to pay for their own contraception even if it was a medical necessity. The women left in great sorrow and when Jesus came from the tomb and saw them walking away, he asked, “What did they want? Why did you send them away?”

And yeah, the Republican guard answered, “Don’t worry. Ann Romney’s going to tell them all the reasons why they should feel good about us.”

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I believed that you couldn’t be Christian if you didn’t believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead. Then my first wife Robin decided we should become Presbyterian and my best wife, Carol, decided we should be Episcopalian. Between marriages I took Catholic lessons because after our divorce Robin became Catholic and wanted me to follow suit. It seems my becoming Catholic had something to do with whether or not she was really married her first time and would our son Bryan be a bastard in the eyes of the church.

(Reading this again I know it sounds like I may be whipped when it comes to faith, but I can assure you I wasn’t. I just figured that wherever you worshipped, Jesus would hang out. I know this doesn’t sound very BPK, but two wives and a kid can knock the Baptist shellac off fairly quickly. Two wives, a kid and just about every deacon, preacher and evangelist I ever met.)

Unfortunately for Jesus, or me, I discovered that some Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Unitarian/Universalists among others don’t really believe Jesus showed up on the first Easter Sunday. And not just because the sabbath was really Saturday. They think that Jesus stayed dead and the resurrection is a metaphor, or myth. Or, in a compromise, that his resurrection was spiritual.

I’d heard such people existed when I was a budding young Baptist, but meeting them and reading their books was an eye opener. They believe the spirit of Christ was raised from the dead, but not his body. Bishop John Spong, for instance, had no problem admitting he’s uncomfortable with the resurrection thing. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been accused of rejecting the resurrection, although I’m not sure he ever admitted it. The problem was that, except for the resurrection thing, guys like Spong and Bonhoeffer seemed pretty Christian to me.

Oh, sure, a lot of those guys think its okay for women to be bishops and that gays should not only be married, they can worship and take the Eucharist. The problem is, I agree with them. And those guys don’t seem quite so determined to deny others access to heaven, or charity or a semblance of respect the way people who insist on a physical resurrection do.

Jesus said you will know his followers by their fruit, not their words. In the famous John 3:16 he said that those who believe in him will have everlasting life. He never broke down what it meant to follow him into a specific creed and that includes the belief that he was physically raised from the dead.

Peter denied him three times on the evening before his death, but he was still allowed into the kingdom. Thomas had to touch Jesus before he would believe (a luxury none of us would have). Nor is it clear to me that every one who was a follower of the Way believed in the resurrection.

Paul says to the Corinthians: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12) I could discuss the entire defense of the resurrection but I don’t intend to persuade anyone as to whether Jesus’ resurrection was physical or spiritual.

What I find most interesting is that Paul isn’t writing to unbelievers, he’s writing to the church. These are people who profess to believe in Christ and who take communion. And yet some of them do not accept the resurrection of the dead. Nor is Paul suggesting they be thrown out of the church or that they aren’t really Christian. He merely reminds them that the resurrection is a central tenet of the faith.

When I was a BPK, Baptists would tolerate drunks, addicts and smokers, the three worst kinds of sinners. Baptists gave them time to work through their problems. But you couldn’t be Baptist if you didn’t buy into Easter. You couldn’t even be Christian. We would put up with sin but we wouldn’t tolerate doctrinal impurity. Baptists seemed to think your beliefs must follow the checklist but sin could take its time.

Many Christians assume you have to accept the whole package before you’re bona fide but I don’t see it. There are simply too many whole packages. Paul and Peter argued frequently over the requirements for faith. If we give believers time to bring their actions in line with expectations, why not give them time to work out the elements of faith as well?

When we talk of a personal relationship with Jesus we can’t forget the key word “personal.” The relationship is about you and no one else. Your responsibility is for your growth and to make sure you don’t interfere with anyone else’s.

When someone professes the faith then, we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than demanding they pass a JQ test.1 It isn’t for us to decide who truly has faith, regardless of whether they were baptized or believe in a spiritual resurrection, vote Republican or welcome Obama as a member of the faith. That is a question that can only be answered by the believer and Jesus.

Whether your JQ is 1 or 18o, if you seriously want to follow Jesus, I believe he will give you time to find your way.

1Do I really need to explain something as simple as a believer’s Jesus Quotient?back