(RNS1-april29) Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the International Association of Firefighters delegates at IAFF Presidential Forum in Washington March 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joshua Roberts *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SANDERS-FAITH, originally transmitted on April 29, 2015.

When your religion is hijacked by politics

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By Patricia Bruininks

This election season has been a boon to satirists and political cartoonists.  My favorite cartoon  (so far) depicts the Republican candidates on one side, standing on a cramped stage with the words, “Make America Jesusland Again” while spouting very un-Jesus like sentiments.  On the other side is Bernie Sanders,  talking about how the poor are “getting a raw deal.”  In between them stands a somewhat mystified pope, pointing to Sanders, saying, “I’m going with the Jewish guy.”

Christ was once a refugee in Egypt, fleeing from Herod’s wrath. He instructed his followers to care for “the least of these” including the poor and the prisoner. He healed the sick. He directed an attentive crowd to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and treat others the way they would like to be treated.  He instructed  a rich man to separate himself from his earthly treasures.  He warned against hypocrisy. He commanded us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Therefore, I expect self-identified Christian political candidates to express sympathy for refugees and offer them hospitality.  I expect them to care for the poor enough to examine why, as one of the richest industrialized countries in the world, we have the largest percentage of residents living in poverty. I expect them to question policies of our “justice” system that target minorities.  I expect them to advocate for all citizens when considering healthcare policies. I expect them to heavily weight diplomacy when dealing with international strife. I expect them to live modestly. I expect them to scrutinize their own hypocrisy.  I don’t expect them to adhere to specific policies, but I do expect their political vision to be consonant with Christ’s teachings.

I don’t hold these expectations for all candidates, just those who invoke their Christianity as a selling point. But these expectations are not only being ignored, they’re being stomped on in the name of politics. I want my religion, which is the source of my values and beliefs, to be accurately represented by Christian politicians who are powerful and rich enough to garner endless media coverage. I strongly believe in separation of church and state, but not separating religiously informed values from promoting governmental policies.

Perhaps what is more troubling is the lack of uproar from some Christian leaders. The institution of religion, which has freedom from government, has been very slow to challenge those who insist on betraying the former for a chance at leadership in the latter. The non-Jesus hatred that is being spewed by these candidates toward minorities – and each other – is unprecedented. In the past, morals and manners would have been enough to keep things in check, but no more. The Christian voice in politics has never been more needed than it is now. Not to demand particular policies or endorse certain candidates; I believe Christians can disagree on important issues. Rather, it is essential that we come together and repudiate these false witnesses who want power in the name – but not essence – of Christ.

So what to do? Like every voter, I want to see my values represented in the White House, but there are no ‘Christian’ candidates for whom this applies. That does not mean, though, that there are no candidates espousing my values. And for me, it’s adherence to Christ’s teachings, and not the religious label itself, that matters most.

I’m going with the Jewish guy.

Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Faith and the Democratic Process” at 9:30 a.m., March 5 at Stella’s Cafe, 917 W Broadway Ave. Bruininks is a panelist.

About Patricia Bruininks

Patty Bruininks grew up in northeast Tennessee. She left the South to attend college in Michigan and graduated from Hope College. She pursued her doctoral work in social psychology at the University of Oregon, becoming a lifelong Ducks fan. Before moving to Spokane, she taught for five years at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Now at Whitworth, she teaches courses on the psychology of poverty and consumerism as well as a course on love and forgiveness. She also studies and conducts research on the emotion of hope. Dr. B (as her students call her) is married to Mr. B (Jim); she has two grown sons, two daughters-in-law, one granddaughter, and a rescue dog. Her hobbies include camping, photography, and spinning. She is in her 13th year at Whitworth University as a Professor of Psychology.

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2 comments

  1. Something I’ve found helpful in understanding the fundamental disconnect between those who seek earthly power by invoking the name of Christ and the actual Christ who explicitly and repeatedly rejected such power is a distinction I found in Kierkegaard, between Christianity and Christendom. Kierkegaard saw Christendom, the institutional church with its hierarchies and great secular wealth and influence, as antithetical to true Christianity, the legitimate function of which he saw as that of a Socratic “gadfly,” a critic who stands *outside* the established order and is thus able to critique it honestly and fearlessly on behalf of those pushed to the margins by it.

    Of course, in Kierkegaard’s day, the church was just another arm of the state; in theory, at least, the first amendment to the constitution prevents this (but no amendment, however well worded, can “prevent” human nature). And the power of the gadfly, of the critic in general, is somewhat limited; we are called “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] Lord.” Doing justice requires working through the structures and systems we have, no matter how imperfect they may be. So his position that the true faith should always make one an outsider to politics must be viewed and moderated through this lens, which is (I think) one of the reasons he juggled so many pseudonyms and assigned this belief to one of them.

    The long and short of it is that faith calls us less to a stand than a dance. Tempting though it is, we aren’t meant to stake out our shoddy versions of eternal truths and build massive institutions around their perpetuation. Rather, we are called to always be attentive to that “still, small voice” that tells us when we are falling short of our sacred obligation to one another tand to all of creation, and to always be willing to change course in response to that voice, even if doing so means abandoning our most deeply cherished “truths.” Because the Truth that “shall make you free” is not some abstract, fixed, concrete set of facts and rules; it is a person, a living embodiment of universal love and justice whom we follow as best our natures allow. God–Truth–is not a commodity that can be monopolised by priests and functionaries, but rather a subject the love of Whom calls us to be better than we are. Or so I’ve come to believe.

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