July 13, 2005

In The Name of God

Church-burnings appear to be coming back into vogue, and they still don’t make any sense. The most recent case occurred in Virginia, where a United Church of Christ church was vandalized and a small fire was set inside the building. Fortunately, the perpetrators apparently weren’t very good arsonists since there was only smoke damage from the fire. The graffiti on the side of the church proclaimed the congregation sinners, likely in response to their rule-making body’s endorsement of same-sex marriage a few days earlier.

This violent act, apparently in the name of God, is nothing compared to what Islamic extremists have been doing worldwide for years. They claim that Allah wants them to destroy the infidels (I’ve been called worse) and have the world conform to their type of Islamic lifestyles.

I’m not sure what God you worship, but the One I have given my life to, the One who loved me so much that He sent His son to earth to suffer and die to save ME from MY sins doesn’t think destruction and death are ways to spread His message of love and inclusion.

Let’s go back to the knuckleheads who were led to vandalize the UCC church because that denomination had the nerve to adopt a policy that did not sync up with their view of Christianity. It appears that he, she, or they decided to enforce their version of God’s will upon that group of sinners, since they obviously deserved it. May I suggest a radical solution to stop people from acting like this in the future—read the Bible!

Sure, in Old Testament days God did a lot of smiting. Many stubborn Israelites just didn’t get it when God gave them direction to do something, and the penalty was often death administered by Him DIRECTLY. He didn’t delegate the smiting, demonstrating He was the only One who could truly pass judgment on a person. Even if He would have, it wouldn’t have been to some amateur pyromaniacs with a can of spray paint.

Why, then, does ANYONE think they have the right to administer punishment based on THEIR interpretation of God’s Word. No human’s judgment is infallible. I know the Pope of the Catholic Church is said to be infallible, but since church policy has changed over the centuries, does that mean they’ve become more infallible? I seriously doubt it.

Recently, someone tried to set fire to a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana—I suppose they were punishing that group for violent acts committed by others who shared the same religion. Ah yes, the old "eye for an eye" policy. That is soooooo Old Testament. Perhaps these less than enlightened folks never heard of the sequel, the New Testament. There’s not as much sex and violence in the New Testament, but it does contain the most important story ever told, that of how Jesus Christ came to redeem us and, among other things, save us from ourselves, not to mention eternal damnation.

I just can’t get my arms around the concept of initiating violent acts in the name of God. I don’t know a lot about Islam, so I’m not going to try and analyze how Muslims can justify the types of action most people call terrorism, but I’m quite familiar with Christianity. Jesus came toward sinners with words of wisdom, open arms, and the love of God. He didn’t have matches and a bucket of paint.

Shouldn’t people acting in the name of God act more like God?

July 11, 2005

Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers

I was forwarded this piece written by John Danforth. Ambassador John C. Danforth is an Episcopal priest and the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He served for 18 years as a Republican Senator from Missouri. His Op-Ed article "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers" appeared in the June 17, 2005 edition of the New York Times. I didn't think I'd be using anything from a prominent republican in this forum, but I found this to fit very well. It's a good message of open mindedness and tolerance.

It would be an oversimplification to say thatAmerica's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics.

In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring theirvalues to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action.

So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say ourprayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith.

Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two.

To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth.

We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whos eopinions differ from ours.

Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love.

Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.