At least a dozen readers from Tennessee churches phoned or emailed me last year to complain that their Christianity had been called into question from the pulpit because they'd opposed the invasion of Iraq or other policies. Some said they'd actually been asked to leave their churches if they couldn't vote “correctly” in the November election. Well-known pastors in the Knoxville area sent out scarcely disguised political commercials masked as voters' guides. Some of them found their way to my in-box.
All of which has me wondering. Now that a clear majority disapproves of the president's performance, and an even larger majority views the invasion of Iraq as a big mistake, how do such pastors and lay people feel about pressuring fellow Christians to support this administration in 2004? Isn't it time for some soul-searching?
As the season approaches for celebrating Christ's central message of peace on earth, isn't it time more of us acknowledge there's room for more than one view of Jesus? Of scripture? Sexuality? Science and evolution? War? Spirituality?
I'm reminded of a new favorite bumper sticker. It decorates the back of a pickup truck of a rugged outdoorsman, and it reads:
“When Jesus said love your enemy, I'm pretty sure he didn't mean shoot 'im.”
How in the world did so many people in this country manage to mentally transform the Prince of Peace—the author of the "Beatitudes"--into a war advocate? What part of “Blessed be the peacemaker” don't we get? He didn't say, “Blessed be the war maker.” He said, “Blessed be the peacemaker.” I'm not saying there's never a time for fighting—manifestly there is--but let's not pretend it's living up to the highest ideals of Jesus when we invade and occupy another country. Let's at least be that honest about our motives.
And while we're being honest, I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't approve building roads in what's left of our remaining old growth forests. I could be wrong, but he likely wouldn't approve blowing the tops off mountains and dumping poisonous slag into streams. I doubt if he'd support lying about the effects of global warming or advocate new generations of nuclear weapons. Given the diversity of the many people he laid hands on and allowed to sit with him and discourse on scripture, I doubt seriously he'd be a party to excluding homosexuals from his presence. I'm pretty sure he'd disapprove of cruelty generally and torture in particular.
Case in point. Scores of bills have crossed the desk of our president, and he's yet to veto a single one. Think about that. Bills have crossed his desk providing billions in aid to oil companies now realizing record profits. Bills that would build multi-million dollar bridges to no where, bills that serve up prescription drug benefits that will cost taxpayers several times more than advertised. Bills that would destroy fragile eco-systems, bills that would raise our debt ceiling to obscene heights, cut money from social programs like Head Start, on and on. And yet the bill he has singled out for vetoing is the one that prevents torture. I would submit that our top leaders—including our new Supreme Court justice, our vice-president, our secretary of state, Speaker of the House, senate majority leader, attorney general and secretary of defense--have been complicit in policies that promoted torture all along.
What kind of Christians are running our country?
Two of the most under-covered stories of recent weeks are contained in phrases the president uttered in speeches on Iraq and on immigration from Mexico, respectively. In Iraq, we'll rely more on “special forces” the President said. Already the reports of death squads and “disappearances” in Syria and Iraq have begun flowing in. And along the Mexican border, we'll have more armed guards. Shouldn't we turn off the money spigot rather than rely on intercepting desperate people reaching out for that money?
Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Now, I know lots of good Christians who exhibit generosity, compassion and a bias for peace, in keeping with Christ's central message. Yet, too many use their Christian identity and their religious platforms as tools for branding others. When that happens, persecution and violence can't be far behind. It's something to bear in mind in coming weeks, as we proclaim “Peace on Earth” a million times over.