Countering the ‘Christians’

May 2, 2012

[Religion News Service] I have been a Christian my entire life, never more fervently than in recent years, and yet I cringe when I hear politicians and public figures announce their Christian faith.

Hold on to your wallet. Even more, hold on to your freedoms and rights as a citizen. Because the so-called “Christian moral agenda” threatens to marginalize, deprive and denigrate many Americans for failing to be “right,” as the Christian right defines “right.”

Homosexuals — off the bus. Women wanting to control their bodies — off the bus. Liberals offering different solutions to a nation’s pressing problems — off the bus. Dark-skinned immigrants, preachers speaking truth to power, anyone questioning big banking, big oil or big business, compassionate feeders of the hungry, hospitals serving all who are sick, educators aiming to raise up all children, environmentalists, scientists — all of you, off the bus.

No respect for you, no dignity, no freedom to act independently. Showy followers of a Savior who said, “Don’t be afraid,” make fear their weapon. They reverse everything Jesus stood for — radical inclusion, justice for all, food for the hungry, respect for outcasts, challenge to the wealthy.

Instead of the actual Gospel, they substitute a fear-driven secular agenda grounded in right opinion, harsh judgment and intolerance, and they call it “Christian.”

Never mind that Jesus said nothing about any item on their political agenda. Like recent presidential candidates, they just make it up. Maybe they find a few obscure biblical citations to justify their views. Mostly they just baptize their prejudices.

No wonder people have come to see “Christians” as “harsh, judgmental, intolerant, argumentative, and angry,” as a recent nationwide survey found. Who would want to affiliate with so much negative energy? As Jesus himself showed, God is about loving humanity, not denouncing people for failing some religious litmus test.

Think about it: if Jesus had applied to his followers the same tests right-wing Christians favor, he would have been accompanied by a small cadre of wealthy white men, and not Thomas, not the fishermen, not Bartimaeus, not Mary Magdalene, not any of the women.

Indeed, Jesus himself wouldn’t have stayed around — not with his penchant for self-examination, questioning, accepting, loving, serving, and staying on the move. No cathedrals and repurposed basketball arenas for him. No prosperity Gospels. No shouting down the divergent.

What right-wing Christians have done to the Gospel in America is both shameful and dangerous. It feels like the late Middle Ages all over again, when Christian hierarchs nearly destroyed Europe with their wars and support of repressive governments.

I think it is time for serious Christians to separate themselves from this right-wing agenda. Those who send missionaries to impoverished lands, those who send emergency-response teams to disaster zones, those who care about children and families, decency and respect, those who seek the Word that Jesus actually lived — they need to turn away from freedom deniers and repression seekers.

I had the privilege this year of evaluating magazines for an Evangelical Press Association contest. I found it profoundly moving. The story of the Salvation Army’s role in 9/11 won my top prize. While politicians and prelates were preening and shouting, the Salvation Army was feeding 40,000 a day, sitting with families, ministering to emergency responders, and all without a shred of bombast, blaming or delicious rage.

Their quiet servanthood spoke of America at its best.

— Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus”and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Statements and opinions expressed in the commentaries herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Episcopal News Service or the Episcopal Church.

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