It is an unfortunate truth that organizations ranging from the mildly amusing to the extremely dangerous have all co-opted the term ‘Christian.’ Christian Right, Christian Coalition, etc., all use the term without, apparently, knowing what it means. It has reached a point where even Christians cringe when they hear the word in political commentary.
A few examples will suffice.
There is currently a case working its way to the Supreme Court involving the Christian Legal Society chapter at Hastings, a branch of the University of California. Hastings stopped funding this organization in 2004, when the society required its members to sign a statement of faith, and excluded all those who would not do so. Also excluded automatically are homosexuals.
The Christian Coalition, on its website, has ‘Action Alerts,’ opportunities for its adherents to further the causes it espouses. As of April 19, 2010, two of the top three ‘Action Alerts’ pertain to opposing health care (‘Last Chance to Say ‘NO’ to Healthcare Takeover;’ ‘Critical House Vote Coming up on Obamacare’), and the third to discrimination against gays and lesbians (‘Help us Defend ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’).
Sarah Palin, the current darling of the Christian right, preaches abstinence as the most effective sex education, says that U.S. military “is a source for good throughout the world,” and, during her embarrassing campaign for vice-president, talked about how God blessed the U.S. with oil.
Glenn Beck, also wildly popular with the so-called Christian right, has said that people should leave their churches if those churches preach social justice.
It might now be worthwhile to appeal to the Bible, to see, as closely as possible, how Jesus Christ, whom these worthies purport to follow, either did, or might have, responded in the areas mentioned above.
The Pharisees and Sadducees, learned religious and political leaders at the time of Christ, were shocked that he associated with ‘sinners’ and society’s outcasts. One such ‘sinner’ was the woman caught in adultery. Rather than accuse her, he accused her accusers. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8; v. 7). When her accusers slunk away in humiliation, he spoke tenderly to her, and offered his divine forgiveness. “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8; vs. 10 -11).
Also outcast from society were lepers. They begged from afar, but were not permitted contact with family or friends; their entire community consisted only of other lepers. Jesus did not shun them, but healed them.” And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8; vs. 2 – 3).
Other beggars, some blind from birth, some lame, deaf or mute, approached him, and were not rejected. He did not, like some right wing ‘Christians’ did during the health care debate, shout them down, or spit on them. Rather, he brought them to him, and healed them.
The christian right (the lower-case ‘c’ is not a typographical error; this writer is seeking some way of distinguishing those who demonstrate true Christian values from those who use the name but lack the values) is often angry; Mrs. Palin has recommended that they all reload, perhaps hoping for another ‘unifying’ event like the Kennedy assassination almost 50 years ago. During the 2008 presidential campaign, even the Republican presidential candidate, the elderly, doddering Senator John McCain, could not stop people at his rallies from venting their rage and racism, calling then candidate Senator Barack Obama a terrorist and a child-killer, and calling for his death.
When did Jesus get angry? There are few, but notable, recorded evidences of his anger in the Bible. One situation was when calling out the learned scribes and Pharisees, for their hypocrisy. “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matthew 23; vs. 13 – 14).
Might he not have something to say about today’s hypocrites, among whom are right-wing politicians who are forever quoting the Bible, attending prayer breakfasts and disdaining all ‘sinners,’ at the same time that they are having extra-marital affairs? Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, telling the world that he was hiking down the Appalachian trail, when in actuality he was flying to his mistress’s bed in Argentina, and Senator John Ensign of Nevada, sleeping with his top aid’s wife, come to mind. And can one possibly forget Newt Gingrich? Mr. Gingrich was calling for the impeachment of Democrat Bill Clinton, wringing his righteous, family-values hands over the horror and sin of Mr. Clinton’s extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky, at the same time that Mr. Gingrich was sleeping in both his wife’s and his mistress’s beds.
Jesus Christ also became angry when finding merchants in the Temple; they had, he said, made his house a den of thieves. He forcefully and physically ejected those who had done so. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21; vs. 12 – 13).
Based on this, one might logically consider that Jesus Christ was not as enamored with the almighty dollar as his alleged followers today appear to be. One of their more modern heroes, former President George Bush, provided huge tax breaks to the nation’s wealthiest citizens. Without exception, today’s christian right opposes President Obama’s efforts to let those tax benefits expire.
And what of Mr. Beck, urging Christians to leave their churches if they encourage social justice? Mr. Beck is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (possibly the only thing he has in common with this writer). Two LDS scholars, quoted in the New York Times on March 11, weighed in on Mr. Beck’s bizarre remark:
Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University, said this: “My own experience as a believing Latter-day Saint over the course of 60 years is that I have seen social justice in practice in every L.D.S. congregation I’ve been in. People endeavor with all of our frailties and shortcomings to love one another and to lift up other people. So if that’s Beck’s definition of social justice, he and I are definitely not on the same team.”
Philip Barlow, the Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, further stressed the point: “One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it’s a vast tract on social justice. It’s ubiquitous in the Book of Mormon to have the prophetic figures, much like in the Hebrew Bible, calling out those who are insensitive to injustices. A lot of Latter-day Saints would think that Beck was asking them to leave their own church.
Mr. Barlow also pointed out that just this year, the Church issued a new ‘Handbook of Instructions’ to Church leaders. A major revision was adding a fourth layer to the three-fold mission of the Church. That added mission is simply this: care for the poor.
One might say that minor, anecdotal evidence has been presented here. In response, this writer invites these christian zealots to show him where Jesus Christ ever opposed helping anyone in need. At what point did he disdain the lonely? Where in the Bible is it recorded that he held himself aloof from any common sinner? Where did he court the favor of the rich, and turn his back upon the poor? Yes, he harshly criticized the hypocrisy of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, but while he condemned any sin, he was unfailingly warm and loving to the sinner.
And that, of course, brings up yet another problem with the christian right. In Luke 6: v. 37, Jesus is quoted thusly: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” That statement seems to imply strongly that judgment is left for someone other than the Sarah Palins of the world. For Christians, mankind’s role, it seems, is to follow the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, and leave the determination of sin to him alone.
This writer understands, but also occasionally finds reason to resent, criticism of Christianity and Christians, when it is directed against all who proclaim to be Christians. There is nothing in the Bible to support Christianity as intolerant, judgmental, violent, fearful and paranoid. Rather, the example of the master teacher, revered by Christians as the Savior and Redeemer, shows only love, tolerance, gentleness and acceptance. There seems to be little support for the angry, hysterical ravings of the christian right to be found anywhere in the scriptures.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.