Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Right" is possibly the most insidious misnomer of our time.
Among those who are most mournful and angry about the outcome of
the last election, doubtful about the integrity of the process,
and opposed to the neoconservative agenda are Christians who believe
the name of Christ is being pressed into service to market a corrupt
and militaristic political agenda.
Here are some
of the identifying features of that agenda:
--suppression of authentic diversity and debate in the name of "unity"
--fearmongering and secret surveillance in the name of "safety"
--wanton military aggression in the name of "liberation"
--triumphalist rewriting of recent history to justify economic imperialism
--use of religious language to persuade a poorly informed public
to accept political control by the few
--literalistic and selective use of biblical texts to legitimate
--sale of government to big business to consolidate that control
--sloganeering, anti-intellectualism, and oversimplification to
forestall reflection, analysis, and debate
--expropriation of public media to insure the success of all the
has used the term "citizen militia" to describe the flag-waving
hoards who celebrate the election of a president who has used his
supposed "mandate" to ratchet up weapons programs, further
assault the ecosystems that sustain all our lives, protect the interests
of the rich, and subordinate the needs of the poor.
Alas, a good
number among those cheering the Republican takeover are churchgoing
people who sincerely believe that God has sent us a leader whose
purposes are God's own. Why do they think this? (I've asked.) Because
he prays. Because he gathers with his cohort to study Scripture.
Because he's "unafraid" to invoke the name of God publicly.
Because he opposes abortion. (This from the single-issue voters
who need look no further.) Because he supports "traditional
family values." Because he appears to believe that America
is a Christian nation (demographic and historical data notwithstanding)
and as such, a chosen people whose objectives are God's own.
The very public
nature of Bush's religiosity ought to be at least a yellow flag
for any believer who remembers Jesus' admonishment to the Pharisees:
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be
seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father
who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1). Bush's "God talked to
me" approach to political decision-making needs at least to
be submitted to the test Paul sets forth in enumerating the fruits
of the Spirit: if an action is truly "Spirit-driven,"
it will be marked by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians
5:23). Moreover we are explicitly reminded that "Not every
one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven,
but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew
7:21). So it appears "sincere belief" is subject to a
is, of course, a manifestly useless and dangerous criterion of rightness.
A list of those history has shown to be sincerely and disastrously
wrong would require a volume at least the size of the Bible itself.
Some of the most sincere people I know are also the most poorly
informed. Indeed I sometimes wonder if sincerity isn't the opiate
of the invincibly ignorant.
And I wonder
how those on the "Christian Right" whose rallying cry
is "family values" read Jesus' admonishment to the disciples,
"If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and
mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and
even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Or his answer to the messenger who interrupted him to say his mother
and brothers wanted his attention: "Who is my mother and who
are my brothers? . . . whoever does the will of my Father in heaven
is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:42). Obviously
these startling "hard sayings" need to be read in context.
No one claims Jesus was "antifamily," but neither did
he elevate a particular model of family life as the only acceptable
context in which to live a godly and faithful life. Rather he seemed
to indicate that there would be circumstances in which people would
be called to leave their families, to reconfigure them, to challenge
them, and in any case to understand that as members of the Body
of Christ, they would have to subordinate their allegiance to all
human institutions, including family. Focusing on the family can
the "family values" banner conveniently serves the purposes
of Bush's deeper agenda, all too reminiscent of the National Socialist
slogan, "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (Children, Kitchen,
Church) that focused the attention of a compliant population on
the domestic sphere as the locus of their proper moral concern,
while real political power was usurped by the state.
The claim that
the last election was won by those who voted on the "moral
issues" is surely one of the most offensive to those of us
who believe in the richness and complexity of the biblical story
and the way it invites us to moral reflection. Evidently the "moral"
issues in the election were reduced, for the Christian Right to
abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. Liberal Christians
(unlike most of their compatriots to the far Right) recognize the
moral complexity of these issues and the need for careful reflection
on the context of biblical guidelines invoked in discussing them.
What is most offensive about the positions routinely taken by the
"Christian Right" on all three of these issues is the
oversimplification of what is at stake for persons immediately involved,
and their alarming unwillingness to see these issues in the wider
context. Abortion can hardly be opposed without giving comparable
attention to systems that support people in a wide range of desperate
situations--people for whom the decision is neither abstract nor
ideological, but rather economic, relational, and radically personal.
As to gay marriage, a colleague of mine put it best when she pointed
out that Christians who most vocally oppose it are generally those
whose lives are least affected in any direct way. "Why don't
we spend our time on the sinsif they are sinsthat we
ourselves are most prone to, rather than adjudicating the behavior
of those whose needs and longings we can't know or experience?"
she asked. To which I can only add, Amen. (cf. Matthew 7:3)
Stem cell research,
like abortion, is not a simple issue, and we need to be vigilant
indeed about the uses to which human lives and bodies are put in
the name of science. As with abortion, it does raise significant
moral and medical questions and ethicists who have done their biological
homework are needed to serve as guardians over the processes by
which stem cells are collected and used. Nor do I think we should
simply "leave it to the experts." But those of us who
aren't experts have some homework of our own to do before presuming
to pronounce with the utter certainty of many on the far right that
efforts to determine the healing potential of stem cells are evil.
of all, of course, is the fact that so many seem to restrict their
concept of morality to personal actions. Where is the moral concern
for the underfunding of services for the poorest among us, or stewardship
of the natural world that has been put into our keeping? How can
we overlook the moral obscenity that is war? Especially a war based
on lies that has laid waste to the land and infrastructure of Iraq,
killed well over 100,000 innocent civilians, and brutalized the
psyches of our own troops as they brutalize their victims in the
name of security.
As a Christian
teaching at a Christian college, wife of a Christian pastor, I am
appalled at the irresponsibility, ignorance, and self-righteous
posture of the "Christian Right." I am deeply grateful
for progressive Christians like the editors of Christian
Century (christiancentury.org) and Sojourners
(sojo.net), congregations that have rallied against war and weapons
buildup, organizations like the Mennonite
Central Committee (mcc.org), the American
Friends' Service Committee (afsc.org), Pax
Christi (paxchristi.org), and Church
Folks for a Better America (cfba.info) who offer an alternative
political vision to people of faith.
Many on the
"Christian Right" are fond of posing the question "WWJD?What
Would Jesus Do?" I'd like to remind them what Jesus DID do:
he cared for the poor. He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
He prayed alone. He commanded us to love our enemies. He preached
peace. He ate, drank, and lived with "tax collectors and sinners"the
lowlifes and outcasts of his daywhile reserving his condemnation
for the religious leaders who lorded over them with their hypocritical,
legalistic morality. He told his disciples not to oppose the healing
work of those outside the ranks of his followers. And again and
again he reminded us to care for the poor. (Concern for the poor
gets more air time than any other topic in the gospels: 1 verse
in 9.) If Christians concerned about how to respond to the grave
global issues facing us were to reread the Gospels for guidance,
I think we'd find some pretty clear indications there about what
Jesus would do. And what he wouldn't. (One of the few bumper stickers
I've been tempted to affix to my still undecorated car reads, "Who
would Jesus bomb?")
would do, given what he did do, and what he has promised he will
do, I don't think it looks much like what the insulated, self-congratulatory
Fox News fans on the Christian Right are doing.
Visit us at