Friday, April 29, 2005

Justice Sunday

Perhaps that was a real "Justice" Sunday. With so many of faith speaking out against what they see as, to say the worst - blasphemy, or to say the least - improper use of the pulpit, it is heartening to think that some who had previously bought into the verbiage of the Religious Right may now be hearing the falsehoods hidden in the words.

A fantastic video of Jim Wallis from the "Freedom and Faith" service held in the same town on the same day came to me via email subscription to sojomail (go to sojo.net if you are interested in this provocative commentary). If you use RealPlayer this is the link: rtsp://real.faithandvalues.com/streaming/sojourners/050424_wallis.rm or if you use Windows Media Player this is the link: mms://real.faithandvalues.com/streaming/sojourners/050424_wallis.wmv

Jim says it better than I can, he really gets it, but the gist of it is that if you see and hear what the GOP neocons are doing as wrong, it's time to take the fight to the streets, to stand up and speak your mind, to seek opportunities to tell others within and without the church how you feel.

There is no Biblical basis for attaching God to any political party. My sense is that God wouldn't support any one political party anyway - He's not that kind of entity. We are all His children and we all, depending on the moment, either horribly embarrass Him or provide Him with great joy. I think the Justice Sunday telecast was an embarrassment to all of us, and to God. Just my opinion, my understanding, my personal theology.

The good that came from Justice Sunday, however, is in the embarrassment that I think some in the room and watching on TV or the web must have felt. Even the staunchest listener had to wonder at some point - "Would God exclude any person of faith from His kingdom for their political opinion?" And the simple answer, and the absolute answer is "No." God is not political, although He probably enjoys it when we get it right in His eyes. God, through Jesus Christ His Son, is about forgiveness through faith. Forgiveness trumps all of our mistakes, or sins, whatever they may be. Forgiveness alone is available through faith alone, politics don't matter.

Faith, however, does. Through faith alone we are forgiven. Through faith and baptism we ask the God through the Holy Spirit to enfuse us with the ability to lead better lives, to please God as we walk and talk, and yes, to forgive us as we forgive others.

So - we are left with the responsibility to forgive Senator Frist and those religious leaders for the harm we see them doing to our country, for their extremist spouting of their interpretation of The Word driving non-believers further from The Truth, for the lies we hear them speak. I find grounds for me to personally forgive them based in not knowing what leads them to these conclusions, what their life experiences were like, and in accepting that people, all people, make stupid mistakes. And gosh, do I see those as some stupid theological mistakes they made in their "Justice Sunday."

My forgiveness of them, however, has nothing to do with my desires to strongly oppose them at any opportunity, to spread The Word as I understand it, to work towards an America and a world that will bring God greater joy.

Going somewhere that I am even less learned - isn't it against tax laws to speak politics from the pulpit? My understanding is that a church, being a non-taxed entity for religious reasons, and for the separation of church and state, cannot promote one political ideology over another. If so, can we get those churches non-taxable positions revoked, please?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Church and State

The media and many secular players are calling for an affirmation of the separation of church and state. They say the church is getting too close to government, that too many of our public servants rely on personal faith to form law and that we need to remove all evidence of religion from our public places.

Boy, do they have it wrong.

The need is not to keep religion out of our government. That cannot be possible when our country is largely a people of faith and the government is made up of representatives of those people. Primarily Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, Native American, Spiritual and vastly varied from there, our country is populated with people born of faith, seeking faith and finding it.

Most faiths have moral laws and conduct expectations, to greater and lesser degree, and these attributes are anticipated of a person professing such faith. These qualities are a part of that person, who they are and how they relate to others. Most people of faith consider these religious laws to be the historical basis of common law today.

We cannot keep faith out of our government, because the people that make up our government, like our country, are largly a people of faith. To keep the faith out, would be keeping the people out. No people, no government.

The need is to keep our government out of our religions. We cannot let the concept of "religion" be co-opted by those allied with the right wing Christian Coalition. We cannot let them spread their political spin with the Word tied to it as if in agreement or support of their policies. We must step forth in faith proclaiming the Truth about the poor and the environment, about civil rights, being truthful, peace above war and real family values.

The religious right has spoken so loud, and gotten so much media time, that they do harm to the perception of Christianity as seen from other religions and among the secular. The neo-con religious right are in many cases the Sadducees of today, the wealthy upper class religious party taking the intent of the Bible and turning it to their own gain, doing a discredit to God as they wallow in their own love of money, power, and greed. Many non-religious Americans are pushed away from Christianity because they associate the church with those whose fine shirts have overstuffed collars and whose lips are wet and rosy.

From the Beatitudes as recorded in Luke 6: 20-26:

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Strong words and well worth considering. John Kerry did well in quoting Abraham Lincoln when he said, and I may be paraphrasing here, “We should not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on God’s side.” When we read the Scripture above, this is an apt prayer.

Unfortunately, the Democrats only partly get it. Some like to proclaim Faith, although generally only quietly and when to their advantage. There are strictly secular elements in the Democratic Party that have voices heard throughout when policy is being formed. John Kerry proclaimed faith, was properly humble, well spoken, and rang true to me, but it was too little too late when faced with the relentless onslaught of Karl Rove’s minions. Faith needs to be spoken of clearly and as often as it comes to front of mind, but humbly.

For those of Faith to trust that the Democratic Party has faith, those leaders that have Faith need to address the issue consistently and often.

We need Faith at the forefront in the Democratic Party, spoken with sincere voice. That voice doesn’t come from practice, it comes from the heart and the mind when the Truth is known deeply. We need to point to the social issues that Jesus spoke of in the Bible, and attribute them to Jesus publicly. More of our Democratic leaders need to get deeper in their Faith by spending time in group Bible study and prayer. It’s easy to go to church on Sunday, hide out in the pews and say you are Christian. In truth that can be a simple Christian Faith and may well define half or more of the Christians in this country. I do not mean to demean their understanding of their Faith; in fact I want to acknowledge it. But without a more consistent personal attempt to truly understand the Word which can only come with study of the Word and discussion of the Word, one cannot speak to nor witness the Word.

Some of the Democrats will say that they have a moral compass covering these social issues outside of faith, that it is simply the right thing to do and it needn’t be defined as a religious issue, that it is an issue of mankind. It seems they are afraid to publicly proclaim their faith because the GOP owns that turf. No party owns religion, but the public perception may be that Christianity is aligned with the Republicans. We need to change that by publicly speaking of faith on a regular basis but this proclamation comes with a caveat: this is not a strategy that can be faked; nothing rings more falsely than insincere faith to the learned ear.

I have been listening to Air America during my twice-weekly commutes into Los Angeles. I hear some of the speakers speaking of prayer or saying, “I will pray for you.” I think it a great thing, but in some cases it rings hollow to me even though I know (hope) it is well intended. Prayer is a personal thing, even when done in public. Hearing a person pray can be a beautiful thing, and inspiring. Let’s not put on a face of piety unless it is sincere, please. I hope, and pray, that I am wrong in this paragraphs thinking.

The Word is the Way and the Word is Christ. Read the Bible, consider its historical place, consider its source, and learn to keep it at the front of your mind in all instances. Then you will be able to speak it from your heart and mind, talking the talk that others of faith will hear.

Speaking of historical place, the Ten Commandments are a piece of legislative history and should be treated honorably. Those tablets have as much to do with our law as does our constitution; they are global in nature as compared to our national papers. Both should be revered.