Jesus’ recorded admonition about pretentious public displays of piety provides a timely warning for voters about today’s presidential candidates: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1) Beware of presidential candidates who mouth Jesus’ name and claim their candidacy is a “calling” from “God.” Candidates who want to save the country from big government, terrorists, and economic and moral decline. Candidates who wear religion on their sleeve to hide what is up their sleeve. They are emotionally and spiritually unqualified to be president of a country whose citizens especially represent wide diversity of beliefs, cultures, and nationalities. Governor Rick Perry of Texas is representative of this opportunistic pious presidential pack.
Governor Perry is evidently taking a page from fellow Texan George W. Bush’s “bible” on how to corral the “Highest” endorsement for president. Bush, who wore his religion on his sleeve to hide up it the imperialistic war-mongering policies of his administration, practiced his “piety before others” early on in a 2000 presidential campaign debate. When the moderator asked the candidates to name the political philosopher or thinker with whom they most identified, Bush immediately laid claim to the white evangelical Christian vote in answering, “Christ, because he changed my heart.”
Weighing a presidential run, Governor Perry is preparing to outdo George W. Bush, Texas-style. He is planning a national rally called “The Response: a call to prayer for a nation in crisis,” to be held August 6 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, with all of the nation’s governors and the American people invited. Claiming that “people are ‘adrift in a sea of moral relativism,’” (“Op-Ed: Momentum, heat and hate headed for TX gov’s day of prayer,” by Lynn Herrmann, Digital Journal, July 1, 2011) Perry’s invitation states,
Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy. Some problems are beyond our power to solve . . . Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose. . . . praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.
(“Texas Gov. Rick Perry Plans ‘The Response’ Event August 6 in Houston to Call America to Seek God’s Guidance,” Freedom’s Lighthouse, freedomslighthouse.net)
Governor Perry’s “call to prayer for a nation in crisis” is being hosted and funded by the American Family Association (AFA), about which a Houston Chronicle editorial states, “There could hardly be a more divisive, unforgiving group than the American Family Association,” which “the Southern Poverty Law Center” has named ‘a hate group.’” The editorial continues, “It’s intolerant of gays and of other religions and its leaders make outrageous claims, including that ‘homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities’ and that homosexuality will usher in a ‘grotesque culture’ that will include ‘quick encounters in the middle school boys’ restroom.’” (“Gov. Perry’s proposed Day of Prayer not so uplifting for many,” June 11, 2011)
Digital Journal op-ed writer Lynn Herrmann warns about the organization supporting Governor Perry’s August 6 national “call to prayer.” She reports that “in February of 2011 . . . Bryan Fischer, AFA’s Director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy . . . wrote in a blog . . . [that] Native Americans are culturally and morally inferior because they’ve not accepted Christianity in their lives.” (“Op-Ed: Momentum, heat and hate headed for TX gov’s day of prayer, Ibid)
Beware of those who practice their “piety before others . . .” The August 6 date set by Governor Perry, for people to look to heaven for their hope, is the anniversary of United States’ atomic bomb reigning down from heaven on Hiroshima, instantly killing around 70,000 of the some 250,000 Japanese citizens, with an estimated 70,000 more dying of injuries and radiation within four years. (See, “Hiroshima 64 years ago,” boston.com, The Boston Globe, Aug. 5, 2009)
The birth of America was at the expense of the genocide of Native Americans– a crime committed by those who believed that “Native Americans are culturally and morally inferior.” Governor Perry is inviting Americans to “thank [Jesus] for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” when our nation was founded on the graves of Native Americans and built on the backs of enslaved black people.
The hope for America “lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees, [when] thousands . . . pray for . . . a renewed sense of moral purpose?” The “God” to whom Governor Perry and the AFA would have everyone pray inspires hatred not love, divisiveness not diversity, and should be confined to heaven, or imprisoned between the pages of the Christian Bible?until “His” worshippers are able to envision The Golden Rule-like awareness that all people, everywhere, love and hate, laugh and cry, and hope and grieve. America’s hope lies in standing up for everyone’s worth and rights, not in kneeling before a white, homophobic, American Christian god.
Rep. Michele Bachmann is a presidential candidate who practices her piety before others on both knees. When asked by Iowa Public Television if she had a divinely inspired calling to run for president, Bachmann said, “Yes, I’ve had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do and because it’s such a momentous decision.” (“U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Tea Party Caucus Founder and Presidential Hopeful,” June 3, 2011) Her presidential candidacy is about a “calling.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” she said, “I gave my heart to Jesus Christ. And since that time, I’ve been a person of prayer. And,” she continued, “so when I pray, I pray believing that, that God will speak to me and give me an answer to that prayer. And so, that’s what a calling is.” (June 26, 2011)
Michele Bachmann evidently prays to a dumbed down, anti-poor, straight, white-favored, ethnocentric, opportunistic deity. While visiting New Hampshire, to make an impression on the voters of the nation’s first primary state, she is quoted as saying, “What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. . . . you’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.” (“Michele Bachmann Gets The American Revolution Wrong,” by Doug Mataconis, Outside the Beltway, March 12, 2011) This revolutionary Tea Party favorite states that America’s Founding Fathers worked “tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” when, in fact, a number of them, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners. (“What Michele Bachmann and Her Teapot ‘Patriots’ Do Not Know About America,” by John Nichols, The Nation, July 2, 2011) Slavery and its discriminatory aftermath: out of historical sight and thus out of Bachman’s prayerful mind– and that of her god’s.
Michele Bachmann’s god also appears to be unable to inspire her to identify with, and thus represent, poor persons. In an interview with ABC NEWS moderator George Stephanopoulos, she stated her belief that the elimination of the minimum wage would help to create more jobs, higher wages and better benefits. (“John Quincy Adams a Founding Father? Michele Bachmann Says Yes,” George’s Bottom Line, June 28, 2011) Her god, who is also anti-gay, led her to introduce a marriage amendment in the Minnesota State Senate opposing same-sex marriage. (“God tells Michele Bachmann that he doesn’t like gays,” (whyevolutionistrue.woodpress.com, Apr. 17, 2011)
Like the other presidential candidates who wear their religion on their sleeve, Michele Bachmann’s god is ethnocentric. In announcing her candidacy, Bachman stated, “I am bringing a voice to the halls of congress that has been missing for a long time. It is the voice of . . . reasonable, fair-minded people who love this country, who are patriotic and who see the United States as the indispensible nation of the world.” Again, “I believe the United State of America is THE indispensible nation. It is that spirit,” she explains, “that separates us from those who would give their own life for others from those who sacrifice others, like terrorists who use little children as human shields.”(“Transcript of Michele Bachmann.s presidential speech,” WCFCourier.com, June 27, 2011) Bachmann and her god are evidently oblivious to the tens of thousands of “little children” in Iraq and Afghanistan whose lives have been needlessly and criminally sacrificed by “THE indispensible nation’s” government in our name.
This partisan god is certainly working the Republican side of the pews. Successful corporate businessman and Baptist minister Herman Cain is another, who says about his presidential candidacy, “God didn’t keep me here to go play golf, and relax, and take life easy.” He elaborates, “I believe that my life was spared (he is a cancer survivor) because God had something really big that he wanted me to do. And that’s unfolding.” (“Q&A: Herman Cain on Faith, Calling, and Presidential Aspirations,” Interview by Trevor Persaud, Christianity Today, 3/21/2011) Cain also believes that “Jesus Christ [is] the ‘Perfect Conservative,’ because he helped the poor without one government program . . . healed the sick without a government health-care system . . . [and] fed the hungry without food stamps.’” (Ibid)
Like other ethnocentric evangelical Christians, Herman Cain also projects his unconscious power-over-others wishes on to Muslims. He asserts that Muslims in America are “trying to convert the rest of us,” and that “based upon the little knowledge I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.” (Ibid) If Cain were elected president, what might “unfold” would be more American-launched wars and the continuing undermining of our safety and common well-being.
Beware also of the presidential “callings” of Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, and Barack Obama. All of these pious presidential candidates have been influenced by the “god-father-in chief” of presidential piety: George W. Bush?from whom Americans should have learned their lesson about being wary of presidential candidates wearing religious clothing. Voters do well to remember the extent to which Bush wore his religion on his sleeve to cover his administration’s corporate-profiteering war-mongering and political power-maintaining crimes against humanity.
Along with telling voters he had accepted Christ as his savior, about-to-be-presidential-candidate George W. Bush reportedly told Texas evangelist James Robinson, “I feel like God wants me to run for president.” (Bush says God chose him to lead his nation,” By Paul Harris in New York, The Observer, guardian.co.uk, Nov. 2, 2003) Two weeks before the Bush administration launched its unnecessary, illegal, pre-emptive war against non-threatening, harmless Iraq, Bush practiced his piety before others at a press conference. An accommodating reporter threw him a softball question: “As the nation is at odds over war . . . how is your faith guiding you?” Bush replied, “I appreciate that question a lot.” He then said, “My faith sustains me. Because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace.” (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003)
When no alleged weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, an evidently divinely-inspired Bush shifted his justification for needlessly invading Iraq to, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (“Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates,” The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) Bush reportedly even said, “God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.” (“Bush: God told me to invade Iraq,” By Rupert Cornwell in Washington, The Independent, Oct. 7, 2005)
“God’s gift” to Iraq is over one million civilians killed, some four million uprooted, a fractured life-sustaining infrastructure, continuing severe sectarian violence, and a very unstable, divisive, American-dependent government. “God’s gift” to America are the deaths of some 4500 US soldiers, the wounding and emotional maiming of tens of thousands more, the wasting our nation’s resources, and the creation of more enemies and less national security.
Ironically, most United Methodist bishops were evidently blinded by pride in one of their own becoming president. Their apparent desire for President Bush’s power to rub off on them and their denomination is assumed to have muffled their anti-war protest, leading them to compromise their own Book of Discipline’s Social Principle that states, “War is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.” (pages 123, 124, 2004; See Alberts, “Times for People of Faith to Censure Bush,” Counterpunch, April 29/30, 2006)
Beware of piety-practicing presidents like George W. Bush, who said, “We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history. May he guide us now.” (“The State of the Union Address,” The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2003)
It is not about “the ways of Providence” but about the ways and rights of people?all people, everywhere. America needs presidential candidates who can represent the poor as well as the privileged. Candidates whose steeple is the aspirations of all people.
Whose altar is the common ground on which everyone walks, Whose cross is the oppression from which any individual or group is seeking to liberate himself or herself or itself. Candidates whose bible or other sacred text proclaims every human being’s right to be and to become and to belong. Whose guiding principle is The Golden Rule not the gold of corporate donors. Presidential candidates capable of valuing the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity– and the commonality of humanity.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomat in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.