Amazing! Truly amazing! Over 1,000 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis have died over the last year in a never justified and steadily worsening war, the Holy Land careens down a violent road map to nowhere, both create new terrorists faster than we can kill them, our federal deficit sets new records daily, unemployed workers watch their jobs head overseas and their health care disappear. Yet, 22 percent of Americans cited “moral values” as the paramount issue in this year’s election, and 80 percent of them voted for George W. Bush.
Moreover, 58 percent of those who attend church weekly, 64 percent of those who do so more than once a week, and 91 percent of those who said that “religious convictions were important as a quality in their leader” voted for President Bush - this, mind you, the President Bush who, at last count, had attended church only twice in the past year…on the two Sundays before November 2.
What, however, are the moral values of these voters and the religious convictions of the leader they elected? The simplistic exit polls didn’t explore such nuances. But Karl Rove and the President’s re-election team had. And they exploited the results of their research to craft a cynical symbiosis between a sizable bloc of evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews, on the one hand, and a self-proclaimed “born again” President, on the other. The axis of that symbiosis is a narrowly-defined cluster of issues related to a “culture of life” – i.e., abortion and stem cell research - and the defense of “family values” against a “homosexual agenda.”
Never mind that capital punishment and unjust war are not mentioned when discussing the “culture of life.” Never mind that the real threat to heterosexual marriage is not the blessing of a church on a monogamous relationship between two people in love, but rather the prevalence of heterosexual divorce.
Never mind also that none of these issues touch upon the central themes of the justice that speaks to us through the prophets, of the love that comprises the Gospel of Jesus, or of the equality and inclusion that, together, they bespeak.
Never mind. For Rove and his team were concerned in this enterprise not with religion, but rather with the political uses of religion. They have tapped the negative, exclusive, judgmental instincts of a religion that values personal salvation over societal solidarity and that misunderstands how we are called to constructing the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” And they have sought to play on the fears of those who would keep the different and the questioning out of their private comfort zones of certitude – folks like that 7-year-old on a recent CNN special, who, having “accepted Jesus” when she was three, could say with certainty that all those who did not similarly “accept” him were doomed to hell.
And, during the God-awful election campaign we have just endured, the White House pandered to and manipulated the adults who think like that 7-year-old by insisting on a federal constitutional amendment “defending” marriage and by quietly ensuring that anti-gay marriage amendments appeared on the ballots in eleven states, most notably Ohio.
Politically, these efforts paid off handsomely. To many evangelical Christians, the GOP became the Party of God and George W. Bush its messenger. They turned out in droves to support this man who speaks their language and professes to share their convictions. There is, however, a scary difference between Rove and the President on this score. As Ron Suskind reported in the New York Times last month, George W. Bush apparently actually believes that God speaks to him and guides American foreign policy. Last year, for example, he told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, that “God told me to strike al Qaeda and I struck, and then he instructed me to strike Saddam, which I did.”
One cannot object to the President’s apparently sincere religious views, outlandish though they may seem. Nor can one object to evangelical Christians or others voting on the basis of their sincerely held values, narrow though one might find them. As a Christian, however, I do object to Karl Rove or anyone else seeking to manipulate those values to create the impression that somehow God is on their side. It smacks of blasphemy – taking the name of God in vain for impious reasons, in this case, worldly political advantage. I do, moreover, object to the way in which the media has bought into this manipulation by accepting the suggestion that the religious right has some monopoly on “moral values” or speaks for all Christians.
Above all, I object to the way in which Christianity – my faith – has been distorted in the popular imagination into a narrow, judgmental, exclusionary brew that Jesus would simply not recognize. The Jesus I know opened his heart to prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, and others on the margins. And he chided the prim and proper and oh so righteous guardians of the religious status quo of his time. He was concerned not with the forms, but rather the essence of religion. Like the prophets before him, he preached justice…a leveling of the playing field for all God’s children. Above all he preached love, full, unconditional love of God and of all our neighbors, not just those who look like us or who smell nice, but all.
Mainstream Christians must reassert their vision of that loving Jesus, that inclusive Christianity in the public debate. With those in other faith traditions, and none, we must join the discussion of moral values. We must make clear that we, too, find offensive the coarsening of our popular culture and civic dialogue. We must point out that morality concerns more than just sex and that there is out there a much broader moral agenda of peace and social justice, of poverty and inequality. And we must preach the good news of a love that is the very antithesis of the fear we have heard too much of this year.
The above originally appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald November 21, 2004.
Posted by Vicki at 05:38 PM