The Christian Right
The Christian Right
The Christian right is neither.
Not very Christian and not very right (as in right and wrong, not right and left). To be a Christian means at its most basic to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to match his mind and heart. He is neither belligerent nor arrogant. Tell that to the former Speaker of the House. Tell that to Pat Robertson.
Jesus is the soul of compassion. He's the one who has a very soft place in his heart for the poor. In fact that soft spot is enshrined in Luke's version of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor." It is Jesus who summons the rich man to give away all he possesses. It is Jesus who insists that our treasures should be invested in heaven not in oil wells, and those heavenly treasures accumulate with deeds of kindness and generosity. It is Jesus who reaches out to the lepers, to foreigners, to little children, to the ordinary guy.
To make him somehow into an advocate for property rights and national supremacy is a mental gymnastic worthy of a casuist from... the other place.
Oh, I think I know how we have come to this divide in this moment. In the last half of the 20th Century the religious left nearly capsized the ship of faith. They framed the Gospel in mainline Protestant churches, including the United Methodist denomination, mostly in terms of its political and social consequences, often with a skepticism about basic doctrine. And they confounded many of their parishioners. As in the words of a lay person I heard complain, "Oh, I know he [the pastor] believes in racial integration and world peace; I just wish he had the same certainty about the divinity of Christ and the resurrection." The holy left went to the spiritual barricades for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the rioters in the ghetto; and often failed to tend the fires at home with the necessary fuel of faith in a transcendent God and the grace of Savior Jesus. In the process, with their insistence that religion must be relevant to politics, they unwittingly persuaded the religious right that they should go and do the same in the body politic. They did.
The pendulum swings.
Turnabout is fair play. I don't quarrel with their right to be right. Or their right to be wrong. I just dispute their cloaking any political agenda in the trappings of religion, done with such certitude as to read out of the fellowship of Christ anyone who disagrees. Let Rush Limbaugh assail the "feminazis" and the purveyors of PCness. What troubles me are those who in the name of Jesus Christ bless a national agenda which is clearly of human devising, as it must inevitably be, leaving the distinct impression, devoid of any trace of humility, that they are on God's side... and I'm not.
So let me suggest some of the concerns my reading of the Gospel tells me would be Jesus' agenda in this moment:
Restoring compassion to religion, especially those theologies so keen on loving God to the exclusion of loving neighbors.
Insisting on the right to life for children dying of AIDS in Africa, or bereft of parents taken by the same dread disease.
Upholding the dignity of every person, but especially those in this world who don't get it.
Summoning the nations to peace by peaceable means.
Reversing the increasingly disparate distribution of wealth in our nation and in the world, according to which the rich get richer and the poor die earlier.
Yes, this perceived agenda of the Lord is absent the usual religious (think of the exhortations you can hear any day with TV evangelists) mantras about praying without ceasing, personal salvation, and Bible study. But, then, the Lord himself didn't in his earthly ministry emphasize these holy practices. He was and is concerned more than anything else with the ways our love for God has compassionate consequences for our love of neighbor.
As I have insisted ad nauseam, great commandment one without great commandment two is heresy... and vice versa.