Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where religion and politics collide -- intro

I've been posting a lot lately about religion and politics, but not together. Yet of course they're very linked. Look at how many things they have in common:

1) People get very emotional about both
2) Both are polarizing issues, creating an "us vs. them" dynamic
3) Both are subjective, creating a system where endless debate can take place with no one ever definitively "winning"

Here in Texas we have a very specialized style of religously political worldviews, where people blend their faith with politics in an amazing way. I think that if Jesus came back tomorrow, many Texans would assume that he:

1) Would be a staunch Republican and would denounce liberals
2) Would get heavily involved in the political system
3) Would be American-centric, naturally, because we are the Christian nation
4) Would bring along George Washington, team up with Chuck Norris, and blast the Muslims into the fires of hell, ushering in a golden age of American rule through the power of God

Okay, so I went a little far with that last one. But it's not far from the kinds of things I hear down here. What I want to address, though, is points 1 through 3.

Jesus lived in a time of political oppression. The Romans weren't the worst rulers in the history of the world but they weren't perfect either. The murder of Jesus, the stoning of Stephen, the jailings of Paul... all of these happened under forms of Roman law. Slavery was legal, as was prostitution -- two things we have outlawed in our country.

Yet Jesus made a fuss of none of that. Rather than appearing staunchly conservative in his political views, he appeared to be utterly apathetic about politics. He focused on the small, the local, the personal, and said the government serves its purposes but it can't fix problems of the heart.

Fast forward to today. I often hear it said, either directly or indirectly, that to call myself a Christian must automatically mean I'm in a certain political party, with certain political views. I struggle to see the basis for this. For example:

-- Benevolence and giving to the needy are good, biblical principles. Yet somehow the very idea of governmental wealth redistribution (a.k.a. tiered taxation, welfare, etc...) is anti-Christian and it just coddles lazy people.

-- Killing and murder are bad things, and human life is highly valued in the bible. Yet somehow if a government official speaks about peace and troop withdrawals, he or she is a weakling and doesn't have the guts to fight evil and kill our enemies, the way a good Christian would.

-- The bible says we should speak in loving truth to one another, yet somehow today it's okay to spread vicious rumors and even outright lies about people if it's for the greater good of getting "our people" elected into office.

I think some of these things can be traced back to our picture of America and its roots. Some people of faith seem to think that we have always been a conservative Protestant country, with the founding fathers almost being a roomful of Baptist ministers, invoking Christianity into the very fabric of our union.

It's just not true. Here are a few tidbits, but my next post will cover our nation's heritage in more detail:

-- "In God We Trust" didn't appear on our currency until 100 years after our country began
-- The pledge of allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist preacher, but even he didn't include the words "Under God" in the pledge. Those words weren't added until 1954.
-- Francis Bellamy was a Socialist.

Several weeks ago at work I received an email describing the many ways we are a Christian nation. I took some time and debunked the entire email, showing point-by-point how it was filled with falsehoods. I will show that email in my next post.

I do not do this purely as a critique or an attack -- my intentions are positive. I ultimately want to focus on some of the things Christians may be able to rally around and support, and how they can be a force of unity in a politically-polarized time. And I want it all to be based on historical truth, not fiction.

Stay tuned!


Don said...

Do you mean to try to tell me Jesus wasn't a Baptist. He was "baptized" wasn't he? (he said, tongue-in-cheek!) I commend you for making this effort. I look forward to the next post. BTW, I met Ernie Fitzpatrick of LRC-Houston, last weekend. You're next!

Debby said...

I am very much looking forward to reading this. I take Sunday school with the oldsters, all 80s and 90s, and I love them dearly. However last Sunday they were all talking about politics. They believe that if Obama gets elected, that we are in the end times. Tim asked why. I said that I just couldn't bring myself to discuss it.

~aj~ said...

I can totally see you in a classroom someday (and not as a student). Looking forward to part 2.

Redlefty said...


I can't wait!

debby, sure we don't go to the same church? I sit in the back left of the auditorium....


You're a sweetheart. Thank you for such a kind compliment.

Debby said...

Sadly, our church does not have an auditorium. This means that there are at least two churchs out there with that same idea weaving through. Do you suppose that there are *gasp* more than two?

t.k.foster said...

I have often found myself disenfranchised by Christians in general and things like this make it clearer. I suppose some of the greatest propagandists were right when they said that religion or patriotism is the easiest way to control people - neither are based on critical thought and thus people act on irrationality.

Even though I am a follower of Jesus, I am absolutely disgusted by the Christian ilk of this country. But y'all create your own Hell and live in it. I'll take myself and my family elsewhere - to an atheist nation that actually is more "Christ-like" than a deluded nation of Christians.

Debby said...

Mr. Foster, stereotyping is ugly, whether the stereotype be based on race, sex, religion, money, what have you. The Jesus Christ you believe in came into this world to smash the stereotypes and give us a new way.

t.k.foster said...

Debby - The Jesus Christ I believe in was focused on individual changes, not government ones. The Jesus Christ I believe in respected the establishment of government, not surreptitiously tried to overcome the government.

Christian churches do not pay taxes and have no right to get involved in politics. The fact that they do is disrespecting the rules established for non-profit organizations. If Christians want to claim they are moral, when a political discussion comes up they should immediately point this out - yet they don't, and why is that? Yes, I witnessed this regularly as an atheist and was appalled by it.

Yet tax paying citizens, like myself, are being walked all over by candidates supported by the Christian deluded who vote on issues impertinent to the election and issues that only further the problem.

As far as stereotyping is concerned, I'll quote the words of Jesus: "You'll know them by their fruits." Hmm, the last candidate most Christians supported - twice - has made the wealthy wealthier; fought violence by using violence; continued to borrow to pay off existing debt; used torture in an attempt for "protection" and the list goes on.

I'd say the fruit is bearing forth exactly why I see Christianity as one of the greater evils and hardly following Jesus Christ.

Don said...

I'll quote a gentleman who says it better than I:
Organized Christianity has probably done more to retard the ideals that were its founder's than any other agency in the world. - Richard Le Gallienne

This quote is not meant to offend any individual, but is an indictment of what the church is not rather than what it is.

Bob said...

Oh man, Michael, sometimes I read your stuff and think you are inside my mind. Thanks so much for speaking (writing) truth here. I think I said this once before but if you have not read anything by Jim Wallis, particularly God's Politics, I would highly recommend his work.

BTW, I have heard Diana Butler Bass (her book is on your nightstand) speak and she is great.

MamaRose said...

Being GONE, in MB, for a week--I've MISSED/not been caught up with your GREAT blog, Bud!!!!!!!!!!

I TRY to remind myself how Jesus thought & acted toward the Government REIGNING during HIS lifetime & he TOLD them/us to 'render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's'--taxes, I infer & then, he also told them/us to PRAY for those IN AUTHORITY!!!!!!!--NOT complain and/or 'bad mouth'!!!

AND, even his closest friends/his apostles THOUGHT he WOULD (& of course he COULD have) OVERTURN the Government, then--BUT, HE DIDN'T!!!

That WASN'T what was IMPORTANT to Him--then, or now!!!!!!!!!

THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Debby said...

Mr. Foster, I'd say that really, we all should pay more attention to the fruit we are bearing then to condemn everyone else for their fruit.

You're missing the boat here, and I am sorry for your anger. You won't get where you want to be dragging that. Blessings to you.

t.k.foster said...

Debby - No anger rather stating the obvious. There's no need for emotions here whatsoever, just someone objectively looking at the picture. As far as fruit goes, I condemn materialism and I am hardly one.

Self-reflection is an Eastern dogma and why irony does not become us.

JP said...

Right on.

I agree with everything you wrote.
There is so much blatant hypocrisy coming from many neo-con christians. (I am going off on my own here and not implying that you were going off on Conservative christians) They say you can not be pro-choice and a Christian but somehow war, povery and the death penalty do not measure up or hold to the same importance.


Logan said...

Very good statements! I'm in agreement!

FishrCutB8 said...

The reason they killed Christ was because he refused to get into politics. If you'll recall, the conservatives of the time were very sure of who Christ was, where he fit int he scheme of the new era and that he would come and kick the collective asses of their enemies. When Christ refused to do that, they went with the most logical response--those who are not for us, must be against us. And those who are against us, must die.

looking to the government to solve our social ills is just naive. Sadly, that responsibility is the church's and we have failed miserably. There was a time (and there are still places) when the church took care of the poor, fed the hungry, redistributed property to make sure every one was taken care of. Sadly, our insular culture has taken these people out of our sight, and therefore out of our minds...and even our prayers, except for that moment once a week when we may ask God to bless the anonymous poor.

For Christians to look to the government to solve social ills is lunacy at best, and a betrayal of Christ and the principles he taught us at worst. Perhaps even more concerning is that our current reliance on government power and solutions focuses attention off of the Holy Spirit, which if we are Christians should be our source of strength, and therefore change in the world. He promised us a helper, of God,but we're pretty sure the government is going to save us from societal ills.

As for the end times, there was a pastor who once said he knew when Jesus was coming back. He was scheduled to give a sermon on that very topic and he called the whole congregation together.
"I know when Jesus is coming back!"
"When," the parishioners asked themselves.
"I said, I know when Jesus is COMING BACK!"
"When," they asked aloud.
"He's coming back.....TOMORROW! That's right, He's going to be here tomorrow. But if He's not...then He's coming back the day after tomorrow. And if He's not back then, it will be the day after that."

We need to order our lives like that, lik ethere's an urgency to our lives. Because ulimately, there is. The government isn't going to solve social ills, injustice, hatred, hunger, children dying. We are. Or, we're not. Each of us decides.

Bob Barbanes said...

I agree with you, Michael. I just keep asking myself: Who would Jesus kill?

Looking forward to the next installment...