Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Meager Christianity

Posted by boakley59 on October 28, 2008

The 2008 election is a tough one for Christianity. People who are claiming most strongly to be Christians seem most often to be demonstrably incorrect in their assumptions and conclusions, to such an extent that the positions they trumpet are in fact un-Christian.

These people turn the old song on its ear: They’ll know we are Christians by our hate. Now, I recognize that just because these people claim to be Christians does not necessarily mean most Christians would agree with the claim, and I recognize that even if such claims were accepted the worst extremists of any group should not be taken as its core representatives.

Still, these people hurt Christianity, in some cases by using exactly the methods or logic they criticize as ungodly or evil when used by their opponents. In the same way that suicidal hijackers flying airplanes into buildings obscure the more peaceful beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims, people telling lies and embracing prejudice as they loudly proclaim their Christianity contradict the true message of their own “Prince of Peace.”

In some cases, political operatives manipulate Christians by using catch phrases to falsely link opposition stances to un-Christian history. In these instances, Christians are not to blame for making the claims, but insofar as they uncritically accept the equation and empower the false witness, they are again rejecting the message of their own “Way, Truth and Light.”

What are some of these lies that are given a Christian stamp to win the support of certain groups?

One is the ridiculous notion that the Founding Fathers formed the United States as a Christian nation. This flies in the face of even a schoolchild’s understanding of our national history. This nation was formed in revolt against a Christian monarchy from which many of our ancestors fled because they wished to practice a different brand of Christianity than that encoded in the state. In other words, even the Christians among them opposed a Christian state. The Christian monarchy against which we revolted had itself taken shape because the monarch resisted the leadership of the dominant church. Christians have a long history of dissension that the founders clearly recognized and specifically arranged their new government to avoid.

The Founding Fathers devised a nation that was structurally neutral with regard to religion. Given the demographics of their day, they may have fully expected that the United States would be a nation of Christians, but they made sure it would not be a Christian nation. If the difference escapes you, the next time you and a friend stop for refreshments, one of you order a coffee cup and let the other ask for a cup of coffee. One of you will get an unsatisfying, empty shell that will leave you thirsty for something better.

A Christian arguing that this was meant to be a Christian nation rejects the history, not just of the nation, but of Christianity itself.

So, we have a nation that is expressly designed to be neutral toward and permissive of all religions, from Christian to Hindu to Muslim to Wiccan and even Satanic, so long as they do not engender public illegal acts.

When a pastor prays before a political rally to his Christian God to help save the election from Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, he is taking a clearly un-American position, but the more damning truth is this is also an un-Christian position. A multicultural, multireligious nation cannot be saved by excluding multiplicity. Furthermore, it is the scriptural accounts of Jesus Christ that establish this is not God’s work. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus defies religious authority, not secular government. He threw moneychangers out of the temple, scolded church leaders who made a public show of prayer and opposed their narrow views of who should be punished and for what. But from “Render to Caesar …” (Mark 12:17) to “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) to “Forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) the clear message is that the Christian God is not concerned with earthly governance. A pastor who finds God’s reputation at stake in an American election (as if reputation were a meaningful divine attribute in the first place) has lost sight of his God.

Similarly, when a woman claiming to be Christian says that she prays her husband (and the nation) will do the right thing and defeat a candidate because his name sounds like he comes from an un-Christian heritage, that is astonishing ignorance. But it is ignorance of Christianity, whose God is referred to as Yahweh, Adonai, El Shaddai, Jesus, and whose prominent figures include Abram, Ham, Sara, Rebecca, Solomon, Esau, Isaiah, Hosea, Ezekiel, Joshua, Jesse, Elijah, Elisha, Saul and on and on. If anything, the names that sound odd to American ears are closer to the true Christian heritage than the familiar Anglicized names of generally more Greek and Roman lineage. This woman’s prejudice is the un-Christian mindset of those who asked, “Lord, when saw we …” and were told, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:44-45)

When a candidate seeks Christian votes by tagging a tax proposal as “sharing/spreading/redistributing the wealth” as a way to dismiss it as inherently bad because it is somehow unfair, which is a key to a further leap that it is “socialist,” which is a basis for yet another leap to the atheistic Communism of failed socialist states, this is an un-Christian chain of false witness that is corrupt at every link.

First, it is preposterous for a Christian to assume that “sharing the wealth” or varying tax rates are by nature bad things. If sharing were inherently bad, what Christian would tithe? If different tax rates were inherently bad, could it be fair for churches to be exempted from taxes? At a fundamental level, there can be no wealth unless it is shared. Assets have no value if no one is willing to exchange them. You may argue what role government has to play in the redistribution and what assets may be involved, but redistribution is the essence of capitalism. Further, unequal demands on unequal resources is the lesson of the parables: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” (Luke 12:48) and “To everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.” (Luke 19:26, NIV) The Christian reward of more to those who have more and the punishment of loss for those who have nothing is tied not to assets, but to the effort made with them. Those with more assets or more responsibility have a Christian obligation to do more with what they have than those who have less. Again, you can argue about whether government should have a role in redistribution or reward, but the role in and of itself is not un-Christian.

The same reasoning applies to the dismissal of sharing proposals as inherently socialist and inherently evil or un-Christian. The very reason for tithing is sharing the wealth in support of a priestly class and the infrastructure for religious ritual. You may argue that government shouldn’t do what the church does, but you can’t argue that doing what the church does is unchurchlike without recognizing that the church then shouldn’t do it, either.

Tying all of this to failed Communist states that demanded atheism also is an unjust conflation of issues. It is a long road from communal action to small-c communism to big-C atheistic Communism, and an awful lot of sharing can happen on that road before it must be considered un-Christian. Surely, the early Christian itinerant preachers and leadership benefited immensely from communal support that went a long way down this very road. Is it reasonable to see as inherently un-Christian the means by which today’s tithe-supported pastors, who lead tax-free churches, receive funding?

It is indeed reasonable for Christians to be opposed to atheistic Communism, to be opposed to Hindus, Muslims and believers in whatever other gods some may embrace, but Christian opposition is regenerative, not destructive. Even to death on the Cross, the conquering response of Jesus was, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He sought no vengeance, no violent eradication of the enemy, not even a branding of killers as evil.

No, Jesus sees ignorance as the enemy.

So if anyone — pastor, pawn or potentate — makes a pitch that hinges on a presumption of simplistic Christian solidarity, walk a ways up the hill of Calvary and remember the story of steps that shook the world. True Christian principles leave behind the typical ways of the world, the opinion polls, the appeals to prejudice and ignorance, the tribalization of narrow self-interest.

If you would follow Christ, vote intelligently, with forgiveness and understanding in your heart, recognizing that those you oppose are welcome in the only kingdom that concerns Christ.


One Response to “Meager Christianity”

  1. well said…

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