Posts Tagged ‘faith/doubt’

For those of you out there who didn’t grow up in the evangelical culture, you may not be aware of this.  

HarrisMiracleDid you know that there are many, many fundamentalist Christians who believe that God is basically pulling the wool over our eyes, planting phony evidence for carbon-dated fossils, geological formations, DNA-based evolutionary relationships, and redshifts from galaxies that indicate that they are far older than the 6,000 years of existence accounted for by biblical creation?

Seriously.  The belief is that God, in his infinite wisdom, decided to not only not provide a stitch of evidence for the propositions laid out in his special book –  he also decided to plant evidence that actually contradicts these assertions.

And why does this make my stomach a little queazy?  It’s because this kind of thinking – that what we can see and experience and prove and test (let’s call this “science”) takes a back seat to what people want to believe – can lead to tragedy, destruction and death.  Does that sound over the top?  Maybe.

But here’s what’s happening:  Greedy corporate interests and unscrupulous politicians are exploiting the anti-science attitudes imbedded in popular religion in order to suppress scientific results on issues of global importance – issues that threaten the generations of humanity that will follow ours.  And then people get to do the “I don’t want to believe in human-induced climate changimages-301e, so I don’t” thing, and get away with it…to the detriment of our planet and to our descendants.  Their religion, egged on by corporations who benefit financially from destroying our planet, allows them to ignore unequivocal evidence, put their hands over their ears and shout “la, la, la, la, la, la, la – I can’t hear you!” while the world burns up.  This makes my stomach feel a little oozie.

I don’t see how you can be President without a relationship with the Lord.
-President George Bush, 2005

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The second coming of Christ is everything that I’m living for. I hope the rapture comes tomorrow.
-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, 2007

America has no King but Jesus
-Attorney General John Ashcroft, 2004

The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian Nation
-Official platform, GOP, Texas

Apparently some people think it can’t happen here in America – at least according to many of the comments on the various places my last article appeared. (See part one: “What will happen when the Christian right takes over”.)

Well, let’s discuss this.

Can you think of other examples throughout world history in which fundamentalist, right-wing, religious extremists have gained images-210power and plunged their country into a dark ages-like society of ignorance, oppression and fear? I’m sure you can – I can think of probably eight examples right now, without even using Google. So why couldn’t this happen here? All it takes are four ingredients, all of which are present right now in America.

1. A large group of religiously inspired fundamentalist leaders who are committed to seeing their religious texts made to be the law of the land. Check.

2. A large group of religiously inspired citizens willing to follow and support said powerful people. Check.

3. A perceived enemy. Check.

4. A persecution complex. Check.

Let’s briefly take these one at a time:

A large minority of religiously inspired fundamentalist leaders who are committed to seeing their religious texts made to be the law of the land.

images-211Dominionism, as I’ve written about previously, simply means that Christians have the responsibility to take over every aspect of society and to govern solely in accordance with Biblical law. These Christians believe that until we have a theocracy, Jesus will be delayed in His return.

In short, Jesus will come only after Christians succeed in establishing Christian rule over the earth.

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish.
-George Grant, executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, in “The Changing of the Guard.”

Let’s go back to 2005. By that time, the Christian right was well on its way to gaining control. James Dobson and his ilk had succeeded in bringing their brand of fundamentalist Christianity from the fringes of American life to the heart of political power.

images-212By 2005, 42 out of 100 US senators were entirely supportive of the Christian right agenda, holding ratings of 100 percent from the Christian Coalition. Extreme fundamentalists entered the US Senate, including Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (calling for the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions) and Jim DeMint (wanting to ban unmarried pregnant women from teaching in public schools). Fundamentalist Christian theology was already driving our federal policy on medical research (with the ban on stem cell research), sex education (which the government decreed should focus exclusively on abstinence), and US foreign policy in the Middle East (where an important driver of US policy was the need to have Jerusalem in the hands of the Jews in order to satisfy a biblical condition to the second coming of Christ). The federal government was channeling billions in taxpayer funds to evangelical organizations.

And new legislation was being introduced almost weekly. A few examples, among hundreds: Have you heard of the Constitution Restoration Act? This law would have prevented federal courts from hearing church/state separation cases. Seriously. How about the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, which would have allowed tax-exempt churches to engage in partisan political activity?

And all this has continued, and it has actually picked up speed.

Did you know that there are many Christians, including in government, who believe that all Old Testament punishments, includingNew-Fundamentalism stoning, should be restored?

Did you know that in Oklahoma, to name just one example, most state-wide executive offices are held by evangelicals, along with over 85% of the legislature? And most of them support the entire agenda – criminalization of homosexuality, adultery and blasphemy (seriously!), the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions, reinstatement of mandatory school prayer, a requirement that Genesis be taught in science classes – all based on the Bible as ultimate law. They call their vision of America a “Christian Nation,” and all that stands in the way of that vision is the federal court system.

A large group of religiously inspired citizens willing to follow and support said powerful people.

73%-76% of Americans self identify as Christian.

Six-in-ten white evangelical Protestants say that the Bible should be the guiding principle in making laws when it conflicts with the will of the people.

Seven-in-ten white evangelicals (69%) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people and a solid majority (59%) believes that Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Significantly, those who believe that God gave Israel to the Jews and that the state of Israel fulfills biblical prophecy are much more likely than others to sympathize with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

An overwhelming percentage of Christians (79%) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, and fully 62% of white evangelicals say the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally.

A perceived enemy

Anti-Semitism served other totalitarian movements well, but it is currently off-limits. Communism worked for a while, but has faded as a credible threat following the fall of the Soviet Union. So which enemy did American fundamentalists choose? They picked two:

1. Secularism is the big one, which, they argue, is really a competing religion. It’s what they’ve been fighting for years.

images-2132. The “homosexual agenda.” Preachers preach that the rise of homosexuality is the surest sign of the coming end times. Conservative preachers remind the faithful over and over that the rise of homosexuality is God’s way of testing humanity – if we tolerate the abomination, then we are irrevocably lost and abandoned by God.

The official platform of the Texas Republican Party states:

Homosexuality is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.

A persecution complex

robertsonA common strategy of fundamentalists the world over is to claim victimhood, and our country’s evangelical preachers have successfully tapped into the “persecuted church” paradigm. The growth of a modern, secular, and tolerant society, they argue, really is about the tyrannical suppression of Christianity, because the idea of a secular and tolerant society is inconsistent with Christian claims to dominion over civil society. In an Orwellian twist, “religious tolerance” becomes, to the right-wingers, intolerant and tyrannical. Extension of basic civil liberties to those who engage in a sexual practice that is taboo to fundamentalists becomes an attack on the Christian church in which Christians are the true victims. Permitting gays to marry becomes an attack on marriage in which married people are somehow victimized. Abortion is seen as an attack on God and, by extension, on Christians. Not allowing teachers to teach scripture as science is now “persecution” of Christians. See how this works? Basically, if they can’t have things their way, they are being persecuted.

Pat Robertson kicked this whole thing off in the early 1990’s when he stated:

Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to Evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media, and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority group in history.

Do you hear how bizarre, how sick this thinking is? A former candidate for president asserting that the treatment of evangelical Christians by “liberal America” was more terrible than the treatment of Cambodians at the hands of Pol Pot, of the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority in Rwanda, the Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs, the Jews by the Nazis, the early Christians by the Romans, the Native Americans by the Spanish, the slaves by the slave owners? Just…wow.

According to the fundamentalists, if our society does NOT base its laws on the bronze age morality found in the Christian Bible, then it’s Christians who are being persecuted and victimized.

oppression

———————————————–

So, again I ask – why do people think that religious extremists could never plunge this country into the kind of hell that’s going on in Afghanistan and so many other countries around the world? Because our extremists follow a different religion and read a different set of sacred texts?

In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1683, 83% of taxpayers stated that they “had no religious allegiance.” There is not a single mention of God in the US Constitution. And although deists and theocrats and religious dissidents of all stripes were among the earliest settlers of the New World, the political project that was America was first and foremost a project of the enlightenment, where freedom from state religion – the source of so much turmoil and tragedy in European history – was among the core objectives.

See part 3:  Lock and Load!  The new Christian Right rhetoric

american-flag-cross-1This is actually pretty scary…but stoppable.  But please don’t think it can’t happen in America.  It already is a work in progress, and it needs to be resisted.

Have you heard of Dominionism?  Or Christian Nationalism?  This is the belief that Christians need to establish a Christian reign on earth before Jesus returns for the second coming.  Dominionists/Christian Nationalists also believe that Christians in general have a God-given right to rule, but more particularly, in preparation for the second coming of Christ, that Christian’s have the responsibility to take over every aspect of political and civil society.  And here is what makes this even scarier:  They believe that this Christian-led society should be governed strictly according to biblical law.

Do you think I’m making this up?

Ever hear of George Grant’s “The Changing of the Guard?”   Grant is executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, and he wrote:

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish.

Christian nationalists believe in a revisionist history, which holds that the founders were devout Christians who never intended to images-205create a secular republic; separation of church and state, according to this history, is a fraud perpetrated by God-hating subversives.  The goal of Christian nationalist politics is the restoration of the imagined Christian nation.

Click HERE for an example of this just this month:  Republican Christians in Texas rewrote children’s history books  to reflect a more biblical world view.

Just last month, senators and presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz were in Iowa as featured speakers at a closed-door event for conservative pastors organized by David Lane, an anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-Mormon, Christian-nation absolutist who has declared war, not only on secularism and separation of church and state, but also on establishment Republicans who don’t embrace his vision of an America in which the Bible serves as “the principle textbook” for public education and a “Christian culture” has been “re-established.”  Lane describes his project’s goal this way:

to engage the church in a culture war for religious liberty, to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and to re-establish a Christian culture.

Does anyone else find it as frightening as I do that half of the Republican presidential hopefuls are aligned with people like this???

One of the foremost Christian revisionist historians is David Barton, who, in addition to running an organization called Wallbuilders that disseminates Christian nationalist books, tracts and videos, is also the vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party.  He says that – and this is serious – the Constitution is not merely a religious document–it’s lifted, verbatim from the Bible itself. That’s right. If you haven’t heard this before, it’s because Barton himself is pioneering this cutting-edge theory that experts have somehow missed all these years.  He says:

Now, that’s why the Constitution’s a problem. Look at Article III, Section 1, the treason clause–direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article II, the quote on the President [having] to be native-born–that is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, look at how many clauses come out [of the Bible]. That drives the secularists nuts, because the Bible is all over [the Constitution]. Now, we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document–we’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.

(Just for fun:  Deuteronomy 17:15 actually says “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.”)

Oh, and an FYI for you, David:

ver·ba·tim adv (ˌ)vər-ˈbā-təm\

Definition of VERBATIM

: in the exact words : word for word

And one more – Gary Potter of Catholics for Christian Political Action writes:

When the Christian majority finally takes over this county, there will be no non-Christian churches, no more free distribution of pornography, no more talk of rights for homosexuals.  After the Christian majority takes control, pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil, and the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.  (emphasis mine.)

By the way, I have over 200 quotes from current Christian right political leaders that tell this story…and it’s temping to include ALL of them in this article.  I’m going to hold back a bit…I want this to be readable, not too long, and not overwhelming.  But go to the end of this article for some of my favorites.  In the meantime, let’s talk for a moment about Sarah Palin.

ChristianNationDid you know that this dominionist outlook heavily influenced Wasilla Assembly of God, Palin’s home church, in a big way?  And if you’ve heard Palin talk for more than five minutes you know that Christian Nationalism is clearly the basis of her political philosophy.  And do you remember that Palin ran for vice president alongside John McCain in 2008?  And do you know that when presidents die or are hospitalized, vice presidents take the reigns?  And are you aware that McCain is dang old (over 80)?  And, although Obama whipped McCain’s ass (Obama received the largest percentage of the popular vote for a Democrat in a half-century), if it wasn’t for team Obama’s “get out the vote” and other aspects of their brilliantly run campaign, we could have had McCain for president?

In 2010 Sarah said on national television:

We are a Christian nation.  I think we should keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant.  They’re quite clear that we should create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 commandments, it’s pretty simple.

And she went on (and continues) to say things like this:

God truly has shed his grace on thee — on this country. He’s blessed us, and we better not blow it, lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers, they were believers.

For a vivid, well-argued, entertaining (in sort of a sick let’s-slow-down-and-check-out-the-car-wreck kind of way) picture of what Cover3Dcould happen here in America, read Frederic Rich’s Christian Nation:  A Novel, a story that reminds us that America’s Christian fundamentalists have been consistently clear about their vision for a “Christian Nation” and dead serious about acquiring the political power to achieve it.  This novel takes us down the terrifyingly credible path toward theocracy, in which people realize too late that the Christian right meant precisely what it said.

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I’m not trying to be alarmist…but please don’t think it’s out of the question that the “Christian Taliban” could one day be at the helm here.  Did you know that fourteen years before the first shot was fired in World War ll,
Hitler announced his plan to destroy the parliamentary system in Germany, to attack France and Poland, and to eliminate the Jews?  Why did ordinary Germans voting in 1932 not believe him?

He went ahead and did exactly what he said he was going to do.

And what is it that the Christian Nationalists say they’re going to do, once they’re in power?

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called on by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.

–Randall Terry, The News Sentinel

Nobody has the right to worship on this planet any other God than Jehovah. And therefore the state does not have the responsibility to defend anybody’s pseudo-right to worship an idol.

–Rev. Joseph Morecraft, Chalcedon Presbyterian Church, “Biblical Role of Civil Government” speech given at Biblical Worldview Conference.

The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship.

–Beverly LaHaye, Concerned Women of America

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This is God’s world, not Satan’s. Christians are the lawful heirs, not non-Christians.

–Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 102

[W]e need a legal strategy which protects the rights of those of us who hold Christian convictions which will afford us the opportunity to contend once again for the mind of this culture.

–Keith A. Fournier, ACLJ brochure “Religious Cleansing”

Most politically active Christians don’t want equal time with homosexuals, abortionists, animal worshipping pagans, witches, radical feminists and pornographers. We want them silenced and mercifully disciplined according to the word of God.

–Jay Rogers reviewing Ralph Reed’s Politically Incorrect in “Chalcedon Report”

I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation images-204under God.

–President George Bush, August 27, 1988

We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.

— Gary Bauer, Family Research Council

We’re going to bring back God and the Bible and drive the gods of secular humanism right out of the public schools of America.

–Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan addressing the anti-gay rally in Des Moines

The ‘Owner’s Manual’ for the Constitution is the Bible.

–Tony Nassif, California Christian Coalition and the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools images-207

One day, I hope in the next ten years, I trust that we will have more Christian day schools than there are public schools. I hope I will live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!

–Jerry Falwell, “America Can Be Saved”

Yes, religion and politics do mix. America is a nation based on biblical principles. Christian values dominate our government. The test of those values is the Bible. Politicians who do not use the bible to guide their public and private lives do not belong in office.

— Beverly LaHaye, Concerned Women of America

Article by Mike Nash
Click HERE for part 2:  The four things the Christian Right needs before it can take over

Cross Spangled Banner Wallpaper

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

images-183I think I might have lost an old friend this week. We’ve known each other for 25 years. This sucks. And it isn’t the first time this has happened to me in the past couple years.

My buddy’s main complaint, boiled down…I’ve changed.

And I have. He’s correct. The biggest change, of course, and the one that is the most troubling for him, is that I no longer identify myself as a Christian. He, on the other hand, proudly states that he believes the same things today that he believed when he was 21.

Yes, I have changed. A lot, in fact. Including my religious beliefs. And I can understand why this is difficult for many of my old friends. I wasn’t just a back-pew-at-church once-a-week-on-Sunday Christian. I directed Christian ministries, which is where I originally met many, if not most, of my old friends. I led worship. I was an interim pastor at my local church. I taught a thriving Bible study in my home for four years. I counseled people from a Biblical perspective. I prayed with people. God/Jesus was the center of my life, which is still true for these old friends. So I get it. I know how exclusive and all-encompassing the Christian faith is, at least for evangelicals. It’s the defining factor in their lives, like it was for me, and because of this you are either in their club or you’re not. And although these folks have no problem reaching out to non-believers (this is not a group of people who behave like judgmental assholes toward non-Christians), they do find it difficult to be close to people – even long-term good friends – who no longer share these same core beliefs and motivations.

And I have to be honest about this. I’m finding it harder to be their friend, too, but for a very different reason. This buddy of Broken_church_in_the_jungle_by_Linolafettmine mentioned to me this past week that “Satan is deceiving me.” He also made a comment about my “shaky morals,” which I truly don’t get. (I consider myself more morale now than I ever have before.) It’s hard to feel close to people who think these things about me. Does that make sense? I accept this guy…I love him as a brother. We’ve walked with one another through difficult life events and have shared honestly and openly about our deepest struggles and greatest victories. Because of this long-term commitment to one another and the respect and love I have for him, I can handle the fact that we think about things differently. In fact, differences don’t scare me anymore. I celebrate them. I can disagree with someone about things – even important things – and remain committed as a friend. But I have to admit: it’s truly hard to be close to someone who thinks you’re going to hell and who considers you immoral.

Yes, I have changed. This is true. I’m on a great adventure of change, in fact. I have walked away from a faith that was really good for me for many years but that I probably should have walked away from ten years before I finally got up the nerve to do so. And there have been other changes, as well. I like myself better. I’m both more confident as a person AND more gentle with, tolerant of and understanding toward others. I listen better. I’ve become quite a bit more liberal and even progressive in my politics and beliefs. I like rap.

Where I haven’t changed: I’m still committed to social justice and doing whatever I can to help unfuck up the world. In fact, I’m probably more committed to that than I was before. I still love my wife, am faithful to her and plan on being with her for at least another 26 years. I love my four kids and would do anything for them. I consider myself a faithful friend, although not a perfect friend. I still make people laugh. I talk too much. I take risks. I’m not afraid to “come out” about who I am and what I think, and I know I can offend others, which is something I’m still trying to self-monitor. And I still get hurt and feel lonely when people who have been important to me find themselves unable to remain close, and I still feel badly when I’m judgmental and intolerant toward them.

images-184Where I might still change: Who knows? Faith may grow or shrink, ideas may change, opinions may modify. It’s an adventure.

One last thought: I have some really great friends. I am accepted and loved for exactly who I am by some old friends who are still “in” the evangelical world and by old friends who are no longer or never were in that world. I also have some awesome new friends. I am a lucky man.

Mike

PS. Click HERE for my “In which I come clean about my faith” story from last year.

UPDATE: The awesome Facebook page and blog “Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented” reposted this story this afternoon, and I received many touching comments. One of them, by Emmett, was a great reminder for me. He said:

I wouldn’t fall too harshly on the Christian friend mentioned in this story. I mean, friendships can fade; people who became very close over something that was the most important thing in the world to both of them can find it difficult to reconcile the loss of that thing. Speaking as someone who is non-religious, it’s easy to say, “(The friend) is not a Christian, then.” But I imagine it must be difficult for him as well. He likely feels like he’s losing a friend as well.

What a great comment. Thanks, Emmett. It renewed my empathy and understanding for this old friend. I will continue to reach out, yet will learn to be satisfied with whatever depth of friendship we end up with.

 

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I don’t know why all three of my posts today have been about god…maybe she’s trying to tell me something?  

Children-300x252Article by David R. Hensen

I was profoundly saddened to hear the state legislature of North Carolina won’t be considering a bill that would have allowed it to establish a state religion.

Of all the hackneyed ideas put forward by conservatives, this one at least was interesting.

Not because I think everyone should be Christians or that the state should force everyone to be Christians or even that one should have to believe in God to hold elected office.

Rather, I thought it might be helpful to establish Christianity as the state religion, particularly in light of all the unloving and uncharitable (read: oppressive) laws Southern states have been considering in recent days.

Now, I realize establishing a state religion is unconstitutional, and plainly offensive to people of other faiths or of no faith. I’m not seriously advocating abolishing the establishment clause. But it is interesting to think, if Christians were to take their faith seriously, exactly what that might mean for a state.

The first result of establishing Christianity as the state religion, of course, would be to images-105abolish private property and require that it be held in community for the benefit of all. All laws related to private property, including tax incentives and loopholes, would be immediately repealed. Following the teachings of Jesus and the early church presented in Acts, the state would ban excessive wealth and any policy that contradicts the equality of all, including equality of religion. This, of course, would essentially dismember capitalism in the state.

Maybe the North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis considered all this when he decided to kill the bill today.

Perhaps he decided it would be unwise to establish as the state religion whose founder told wealthy landowners to sell all they had and give to the poor, who instructed his followers to give to all who ask, who said it was easier for a camel to squeeze its hump through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Or maybe he considered all the jobs and military bases he would have to kick out of the state. Maybe he thought about how it would be impossible to square the military drones that are piloted from a base in his state with a state religion of Christianity. Maybe he realized he didn’t want to uproot the already established civic religion of the military-industrial complex with the faith of a man who willingly went to crucifixion rather than pick up a sword and fight.

images-106Speaking of which, Tillis would also have to abolish death penalty if Christianity were the state religion.

In this light, one might not be surprised the bill was killed so quickly.

Now, again, to be clear, I am an advocate of the separation of church and state, and am not in any way suggesting that Christianity should be established as an official religion of the state. I love the pluralism and diversity of faith in this world and in our country, and I have had my own faith deepened through the open-hearted faith of Hindus, Muslims and Jews and the open-minded dialogue with atheists.

But, when I see an unholy and cruel bill like the one in Tennessee’s legislature, which ties parents’ welfare benefits to their children’s school performance, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the state house did indeed get a little religion. It doesn’t have to be Christianity or really even religion per se, just any ethical framework other than the one currently operating in Tennessee whose dehumanizing, paternalistic, racist, classist and selfish values supports this bill.

Jesus didn’t ask his followers to interrogate the poor about their work ethic (which is usually unrelenting) or about their grades (which is profoundly affected by poverty, environment and hunger). He asked them instead to throw feasts and invite those that could not repay them, to invite the destitute and downtrodden and give them the honored seats at the table.

images-107Jesus didn’t ask what the little children’s grades were before he welcomed them with open arms. He didn’t ask how involved their parents were in their lives before he told his disciples to let them come to him.

Jesus didn’t ask his followers to require the destitute to degrade themselves by requiring them to document their destitution, but instead to give to all who beg. Not only that, but Jesus says that he is the destitute, that he is incarnated by the least of these and that if we want to see him, we should look among the oppressed, the very people who would be subjected Tennessee’s welfare bill.

Is this how we would treat the hungry and impoverished Christ? Indeed, I dare say we do already.

To be honest, considering all this, the Way of Jesus really is no way to run a government.

But, then, Jesus didn’t ask his followers to build a state religion. His kingdom, he says, isn’t of the world. Instead, Jesus invites his followers to be citizens in a kingdom that turns the world and its conventional wisdom of power and violence upside-down.

Establishing Christianity as a state religion would be an easy way out, a way to conflate the Way of Jesus with the American way.

It is much harder to follow Jesus than it is to establish religion, much harder to live into the faith of the kingdom than to live under the religion of a state.