A few columns back, I was chided by a reader for having called Rush Limbaugh a liar. This is a religion column, said my e-mailer, not a political one. But the question remains, can we separate the two?
In this country, conservative politicians invoke Christian faith at rallies opposing abortion and gay marriage. They tie Christianity into political ideologies dubbed “family values” and “the real America.” Some have demonized Islam by invoking the Bible to build fears of the “enemy.”
In this conservative camp, we might find more justice-based, eye-for-an-eye thinking: those condoning capital punishment, torture of terrorists to gain information, free-market competition over governmental regulation, opposition to abortion and gay rights, confidence that technology will offset environmental degradation, that warfare in the name of nation building can be good for the United States, and a belief that the long-term debt resulting from stimulus spending is a greater problem than the current recession.
Liberals, as well, use Christian values to press their arguments for universal healthcare and social welfare programs. They cite the stories of caring and sharing that come out of Jesus’ parables. If we are to be our brothers’ keepers, they argue, what fairer way than the progressive income tax structure to pay for housing, education, health insurance and retirement income for the less fortunate members of society.
In this camp, we might find more “good Samaritan” thinking: opposition to the death penalty and to unregulated capitalism, arguments for a woman’s right to abortion, gay rights, peace-building throughout the world, stimulus spending to alleviate current economic suffering, and a belief in the preservation of nature over unrestrained development.
This is but a sampling of the issues used to label the sides, and from both sides Christian beliefs have been used to make the rhetoric stick. Step back for a minute, and see how neatly framed, how diametrically opposed these two positions are. Is it possible Republicans and Democrats (broadly seen as the warring armies in this conservative vs. liberal struggle) have become so polarized, they can never work out bipartisan solutions to the problems we all face?
I believe we are being sold these broadly drawn cartoons of American faith as a way to maintain the status quo. What we have here are the talking points politicians and media personalities, co-opted by special interests, are using to polarize and paralyze society. The Christians of this country are, for the most part, far more capable of complex thinking, and of negotiating sensible, compromised solutions, than the caricatures outlined above. And Christian faith is not so issues-driven as these people would have you believe.
So why are these caricatures dominating the politics of the day? For just one reason — to keep things right where they are.
It’s all about money, power, and the science of manipulating public thought. There are powerful monied interests in this country who are doing very well indeed, while the middle class sinks into health-related bankruptcies, mortgage foreclosures, job losses to Third World countries and corruption of the faith. Christian churches that used to preach justice and love without political rancor are either taking extreme political positions themselves, or closing their doors. If the special interests can’t use you, it seems, you might as well disappear.
These interests are mainly financial in nature, and they have invested heavily in your elected representatives, who, in turn, have staged a lively show of name-calling and back-biting, feuding over whether Sarah Palin or Barack Obama is telling us God’s Truth.
Meanwhile, the system works against the people. The machinations of the health insurance industry, Big Pharma, the Wall Street banker bubble-makers, Big Food, Big Oil, the military-industrial complex, and all the others that spend billions lobbying heavily against the public interest, are the nation’s — and, I believe, Christianity’s — real enemy.
To help reach their goals, Big Greed is using Christian faith against itself. They know a house divided against itself cannot stand, and the real enemy, the corrupting influence that wants to control more and more of the nation’s wealth and power, has worked hard to divide us. They are not only the wolves at our financial doors, but the vampires at our spiritual throats.
Corporations serve a legitimate role in society, of course, but their power over government, the media, and society itself has gotten way out of hand. It doesn’t help, of course, that the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that corporations are legally people, and can spend as much as they want on “free” speech to influence elections.
But here (for my friend who told me not to write about politics) is the faith-based point: corporations are not people, because corporations have no souls. And because their core values are greed-driven, the people who work for them are expected to check their souls at the door daily. Conscientious whistleblowers are few and far between in this day and age.
What can get us out of this mess? De-politicize the churches, return to Jesus’ great commandments to love God and one another, and recognize the true enemy for what it is. Greed is an evil that must no longer be rationalized away by a Christian nation. And Christianity must reject the special-issue politics that are working to destroy the body of Christ.
Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.