The Politics of Religion

The other day I was listening to WBUR with Tom Ashbrook. Someone called in and I thought his comment deserved respect and some more thought. His comment was basically this: The Mormon church has allowed its two candidates for U.S. president to behave in a normal, thoughtful, civil way, while the rest of the candidates (speaking only of those receiving media attention), who happen to be protestant with two Catholics (Gingrich and Santorum), are allowed free reign to be, well, less so.

He is wrong in one way--I'll get to that later--but he is right in his general understanding of the state of the Christian church. It is true that the Christian churches haven't exactly held the candidates collective toes to the fire, in terms of honesty and directness.

And I'm not talking about Herman Cain's recent problems, with allegations of philandering. Those are allegations; nothing is legally proven, whether you view 60-80 texts a day to a woman as moral proof or not. I'm talking about what the candidates are saying and doing. I'm talking about comparing what a candidate states to what they previously stated. I'm talking about hypocrisy, something that Jesus had quite a bit to say, it seems to me.

Jesus was rather preoccupied with the hypocrisy of his day, calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees for not exactly living up to the terms of their agreement with God. Here's a little primer on what Christ had to say regarding the hypocrites of his day:

Matt 6:5, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

Matt 22:18, "But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?"

Matt 23:13, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

Obviously, hypocrisy isn't something terribly cherished by Christ. Neither is an over emphasis on wealth and the creation of wealth. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9,10; I particularly like the OT 2 Kings 23:35--Tax in proportion to wealth. Ouch!) How about Matt 19:24, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

But we know all this. We understand that God is concerned with the poor, not the rich. For every reference to the poor in the Bible there is, well, there are no references to the rights of the rich in the Bible.

So why doesn't the Church speak out against those who pursue personal gain--election, which includes all the perks of elected office including stock purchase rights for insider information--at the expense of the poor? Why doesn't the Church speak out for Occupy Wall St? Oh, I know some brave parson out there may have, but the Church is largely silent. When a candidate lies, on record, about his record, about his past, perhaps about some fellow candidate, what does the church say about this? Nothing. It is as silent as the media, which hems and haws about "he said," "she said," or "it appears that some believe it to be deceptive." What would Christ have said? "Liar! Hypocrite!" would have been heard around the globe.

The Church often will even defend those within a certain political party, viewing itself as a virtual arm of that organization's legions. The problem with that is obvious. Politics is a dirty game. When getting in bed with a prostitute, there are two sinners involved.

Now to Romney. Remember the caller who felt so disposed to allow the Mormon community a pass on this regard? No so fast. Romney out and out lied in a recent add when his people "quoted" Obama quoting McCain. And Romney's people admitted that they were being deceptive. Did the Mormon church come out against their favorite son? Not that I have seen. It seems the Mormons can play the game of dirty politics as well as Christians.

To paraphrase Robin Meyers, a minister now in Oklahoma and author of Why the Christian Right is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto, the church needs to get out of the politics of electing candidates. It needs to get back to the business of responding to the Gospel of Christ. It has been in the barn of politics for so long it now stinks of dung. Hypocrite, heal thyself.

Christianity has no political arm. Or it shouldn't. It is in the interest of the Church to fulfill the ideals of Christ, to love one one love's oneself. To be concerned for your neighbor: Does it concern you that your neighbor is going bankrupt just because he/she is sick? Or perhaps they are dying now because they no longer have health insurance? Or their mortgage hasn't been paid because of a recession? Or this, or that? Or do you believe that going into the election booth and pulling the lever for someone of a certain party makes you somehow religious, and devout?

Here, from the Times Union's "Voices of Faith" column, December 3rd, 2011, written by Barbara DiTommaso, director of the Commission on Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany:
Biblical justice is not the justice of laws, courts and the penal system. Rather, it is the living out of human solidarity, the reality that there is one human family, and we are responsible for each other's welfare.

Well said.


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