God and Politics: When flawed theology ruins political ideology

9 08 2015

God and Politics: How flawed theology ruins political ideology

I think I finally figured it out!  As I sat in my living room the other night, watching what I sarcastically referred to as “The Last Comic Standing” (otherwise known as the first-tier Republican Presidential Debate) I realized the source of my incredulity and frustration.  And it is not a group of aging and ambitious white guys, who simply have a different political persuasion that I do.  I can deal with that.  I can deal with people who have alternative views on America’s support for Israel, the health care needs of women, or the rights of the LGBT community.  Bright people who love this country always have and always will disagree on how such affections are translated into public and foreign policy.  I quickly and easily write off egotistical media mongers, who call our national leaders ‘stupid’ and women ‘fat pigs’; but fortunately they are rare.  Articulate and informed candidates, who can reasonably and rationally defend views that are different from my own – they are people I learn from and people who bring balance to our nation and our world.

But what I find so offensive in the Grand ‘Ol Party of 2015, is the number of people who are so calculatingly quick to invoke the God of their religion as the source of their political ideology.  This is always harmful to the American process, where we acknowledge a difference, and at times even a separation, between the laws of a nation and the laws of a religion.  But it is particularly harmful when that religion is Biblically simplistic and theologically flawed.  And that is what we are seeing among far too many of the Republican candidates preparing for the 2016 election.

For the past 20 plus years, the ‘religious right’ has had a stranglehold on the GOP, a stranglehold that has allowed Christian fundamentalists, pandering to Christian legalists, to pursue a ‘Christian’ agenda, that is in the view of vast numbers of people, anything but!   And the result is the polarization and extremism that has become far too common, way too acceptable, and in some instances even sought, by far too many.  These modern day Pharisees, regarded by the far right as ‘faithful and committed’, are not offering an accurate example of the One they claim to be following; and that is what made Thursday’s debate so painful to watch.

Now you can disagree with the characterizations I have offered thus far, and I will accept your perspective and respect your critique.  But here’s the problem.  Let’s say I were to proclaim that my God, and my religious faith, were the source of these characterizations.  Then, when you disagree with me, the people who follow me, (stay with me – let’s just pretend there are a few!) just might be inclined to see you as disagreeing with God.  You see, they just happen to believe that there is only one way to God, and one way of honoring God.  So when you challenge me, you are in a sense challenging God: and no one dare challenge the God of my minions!

Christian politicians love this, particularly when they are, dare I say . . .  radical Christian extremists.  Their theology was cut from the same cloth as the always right Reverend Jerry Falwell, back in the 1980s; and as President Obama accurately pointed out at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, it has many similarities to that of today’s Radical Islamic Terrorists.   Oh, today’s Christian extremists have held onto the lessons learned hundreds of years ago; they know that you can’t burn people at the stake, or fly planes into buildings, simply because some people may not agree with your take on God.  But their theology is the same.  There is one God – their God.  And one way to worship that God – their way!   And the prominence of this way of thinking, among some on the campaign trail today, is alarmingly frightening.

Unfortunately, and as is so often the case, Fox entertainment played right into the hands of these crazy American Christians in Thursday’s debate.  The final ‘God’ question, in case you were fortunate enough to have missed it, was as follows: In our final moments together, we want to ask an interesting closing question . . . have any of you received a word from God on what you should do and take care of first, if you are elected president?

What?  Are you kidding me?  Is this really a question being asked in 2015; and in a debate for the presidency of the United States of America?

First off, no matter how someone like Senator Cruz responds to that question, if I disagree with him, his followers will see me as disagreeing with God.  I will be regarded as a heretic, worthy of a rebuke and correction at best, excommunication and shunning at worst.  Discussion and conversation will be completely shut down, because I am not just at odds with the son of a Baptist preacher, I am at odds with the God of the universe!  And when I go further with Senator Cruz, and try to tell him that his subtle attempt to link his conservative values with the fruits of the Spirit, I will be further cast out into that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For I am apostate; so there is no need to listen to me, or to try and work with me.  And seeking to find common ground, and compromise with me?  Well that is regarded as being wishy-washy.  That would be caving in to political correctness, which, as we all know, is the unforgivable sin in the eyes of many of the GOP candidates on parade the other night.

The second reason such a question is so inappropriate is because it gives credence to this naive assertion of Marco Rubio: “God has not just blessed our country”, but God has done so “extraordinarily”!  And, because America has “honored” that blessing (whatever that means!) “God has continued to bless us!  And” . . . (no, sadly, it doesn’t stop there!) . . . “God has blessed us with young men and women willing to risk their lives and sometimes die in uniform for the safety and security of our people!”

What?  That comment may have just won you the vote of a few people “in uniform” Marco, but tell me what Scripture you are reading?  It is precisely that assertion, that God has blessed America EXTRAORDINARILY, that contributed to horrific events of 9/11.  Yours is one of the attitudes that has led to our being looked down upon by the rest of the world for the past 15 years.  And that kind of religious arrogance, guised in the patriotic garb we call “American exceptionalism”, is one of the ways we continue to feed the evils of the Islamic State today.

Marco, God does not bless nations!  Nations can behave in ways that honor God, and may then give thanks when such behavior leads to justice, goodness, and peace.  But God doesn’t bless one country over and above another.   Further, since rain falls on the just and the unjust, sometimes bad things happen to good nations and good things happen to bad nations.  So America’s standing in the world today really has no more to do with God’s blessings, than North Korea’s standing in the world today has to do with God’s curses!  We Americans are not God’s chosen people – and you Zionists should know that better than anyone.

The flawed theology of people like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike ‘Bubbaville’ Huckabee, and Rick Santorum, do not speak for everyone in the GOP, nor do they speak for everyone in the Body of Christ.  I know that.  But right now, their voices are some of the loudest.  And when put alongside the nonsense being spouted by “The Donald’, even we Democrats feel bad for the party.  You see most of us really DO want to govern WITH you.  We know that the success of our democracy and the effectiveness of our actions at home and abroad, are directly related to the strength of our two-party system.  BOTH parties need to be healthy.  And right now . . . if the events in Cleveland on Thursday night are indication of your party’s health . . . well let me just say it: it’s time the call a doctor!

Please, give us a Jeb, or a John, or a Carly.  But Ted, Mike, and Rick S. need to take their flawed theologies, and their resulting political ideologies, and go home.  Put them in a pulpit somewhere . . . far away from me . . . and let them preach their venomous nonsense there.  It is simply not appropriate for the national stage.  And it is certainly not worthy of the White House.

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The Book of Mormon . . . the Musical

4 08 2015

Clearly, Broadway gets it!  Writers, actors, dancers and singers appear to have all come to the realization that it’s all about the metaphor!  They apparently know that the truth does not lie in sacred mountains, angelic visitors, or golden tablets, but rather with the transformation such tales give rise to in the human heart.  The myths and the stories, in and of themselves, are not the point.  Rather, it is their call to kindness, compassion, and courage that lead to salvation.  It is their rousing motivation to stand up to injustice and be true to the human heart, that leads humanity and all creation to the things of God.

They get it!  And while it may be communicated in ways that raise an eyebrow, or that cause this 54 year old pastor to cringe at times, they appear to know what so many of us religious types have yet to grasp.  And that is that it’s all about the metaphor!

So how come?  How come they get it, and so many of us don’t?  Why is it taking the Church, and so many other faith communities, so long to grasp what the bright lights of Broadway have been illuminating since “The Book of Mormon” premiered in 2011?

While we continue to fight about whether or not homosexuals will be permitted to marry in our sanctuaries, they are getting their college roommates ‘certified to perform marriages’ and heading to nearby wineries.  While we debate the veiling and education of women, they are going to college, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, and changing the world.  While we continue to kill one another over laws and land, they are saying “F*#& you!” (literally!) to our irrationally conceived gods and rewriting their own stories of redemption and new life.

And why?  Well perhaps because one is about persevering, while the other is more interested in preserving.  And you can probably guess which is which!

Both terms are used frequently in Scripture, however for some odd reason, the Church today tends to see itself as the vanguard of preservation; and this is painfully evident as we listen to the voice and see the work of so many faith communities.  The act of hanging on to what was, not allowing change or movement and thus restricting growth, seems to have become our mission . . . our god!  Rather than embracing the new things that the Spirit is doing in, to and with our world, the Church has become distracted by hanging onto the past, falsely believing that like antiques, if something is more than 100 years old, it is worthy of hanging onto!  We cling to stories and beliefs composed in the days of nascent scientific knowledge, and we refuse to allow our myths to grow and develop so that they might continue to speak to a 21st century world.

While catchy, and entertaining, “The Book of Mormon” is not a musical I’d like to take my parents to see.  Certain scenes are just downright offensive and embarrassing.  But an even sadder fact is that there are many churches I would never take my children to . . . and for the very same reasons.  Their stories offend our intelligence, and their methods are embarrassing naive!

But here’s the thing – this is NOT true of ALL churches.  In fact many are not at all offensive, OR embarrassing!  You just need to look around.  They are in every part of this country, and in most every town and city.  You just need to look! Search for congregations that have Sunday morning worship gatherings that are uplifting, creative, and in a language we can understand.  Look around for worship spaces that are visually stimulating, overflowing with music and messages that are relevant and engaging, and full of people who embrace their traditions but are not being strangled by them! And get online, and go to church websites, digging for words that yes, are politically correct (in spite of the fear that strikes in so many hearts!):  words like inclusive, accepting, emergent, open, and progressive.  And then seek those places out, and discover the adventure of following Jesus!

And one more thing — don’t be afraid of the small, old, mainline church!  Because sometimes, it is the fastest growing religions (and churches) that are the most . . . well, let me simply say ‘messed’ up!

At the end of “The Book of Mormon” (spoiler alert: stop reading if you don’t want to know the ending!)  the young, 19 year old missionaries wind up leaving the church of their youth because it becomes an obstacle to their persevering in the real mission to which they believe they have been called – ministering to the people of Uganda!  They decide that if they have to choose between their ‘religion’ and caring for others, they are going to choose caring for others.

But maybe we don’t need to make that choice!  Maybe, we can choose both.  Perhaps, if we begin to grasp the power of metaphor, and stop trying to preserve the past, we will be able to move into the bright and beautiful future God has waiting for us.  And if you don’t have a church telling you this, then keep looking.  Because they are out there, and you will find them.

In the meantime, check out Broadway.  Because it looks like they get it!