Turning the Tables: Why Conservative Christianity Bears the Burden of Proof — [D]mergent
Please take time to read an article that really resonated with me. I long ago turned away from Christianity when I began to feel that it was at odds with my interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. The people who professed themselves followers of Christ were more quick to judge and condemn than be paragons of virtue and loving kindness. While many evangelical Christians believe in biblical literalism, it seems the one thing that many don’t take literally are the words of Jesus. The message of love and inclusion, caring for the poor, and turning the other cheek is absent from American evangelical Christianity. Instead, they deny scientific evidence of climate change “because GOD.” Drill, baby drill, because God gave man dominion over the earth. Men were justified in raping their wives because God gave husbands dominion over their wives. Republican Jesus would turn away from the poor children who wanted to touch his hem, away from lepers who sought his healing touch, away from the very poor whose company he preferred, according to the Bible.
As a child, I attended a very conservative Christian school.There were many things that were deemed “Satanic.” Rock and roll music, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons were “of the devil.” Pretty much everyone, including Episcopalians and Catholics, were going to hell. While it wasn’t exactly as extreme as the Westboro Church, I would say the intensity and fear factor was pretty freaking high. We would read about the flood, the trials of Job, the almost-sacrifice of Abraham’s son, and all the other terrifying stories of the Old Testament one day, then learn about the saving grace of Jesus. I couldn’t logically reconcile the two sides of Christianity. What I soon noticed was that we were Old Testament Christians. Jesus was someone we had to believe in to be saved, but we lived by Leviticus. Jesus was love, but God was vengeful, angry, and jealous. The messages were pounded into my malleable mind when I was very young. When I went to sleep at night, a terrifying deity watched me carefully for transgressions.
While conservative candidates must profess their total devotion to Christian ideals, their stated platforms and legislative actions undermine the spirit and intent of Jesus’ teachings. Conservatives have consistently and vociferously condemned homosexuality, women’s reproductive choices, and helping the poor, elderly, and mentally ill. Liberals are “godless,” although most liberal causes are in lockstep with Christ’s teachings. From the article:
What I want to challenge is the persistent and difficult-to-kill assumption that conservatives occupy some kind of religious and ethical high ground, and that any deviation from a particular kind of conservative orthodoxy isn’t merely a matter of interpretation, but is tantamount to initiating hostilities against God, motherhood, and the flag—all of which, interestingly enough, are conflated in some people’s minds. But that’s another article.
The smug certainty with which some conservative religious and political types believe not just that they occupy the side of truth on every issue, but that they occupy the side of God’s truth is alarming—not because they believe these things of themselves so uncritically (self-righteousness is a time-honored religious and political posture on both sides of the ideological divide, after all), but because so many in the culture agree to cede them this authoritative land of milk and honey.
I have recently discovered a group called “red letter Christians,” who take as “gospel” the teachings of Jesus, best represented by his “sermon on the mount,” found in Matthew, chapters one through three. Some of the greatest hits of this sermon include the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the penultimate Golden Rule. This philosophy is echoed through ALL of the major religions of the world from Buddhism to Scientology:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
So simple, yet so profound. And yet, the hardest rule to follow, it would seem. So many things that Republicans are fighting for these days, not least of which is putting guns in the hands of almost every American and waging unending wars all over the world, ensures that our country will be cursed by our own actions. For surely that which we sow, we shall also reap. 9/11 was a harbinger of that terrible harvest. And rather than learn from that horrible day, we have clung ever more desperately to God and guns. We lament the war on Christmas as our sons and daughters die far away from home, fighting a war that we brought upon ourselves. Some return home, minds and bodies broken, finding that they are forgotten as soon as the Purple Heart is pinned to their chests. The pious applaud the degradation of women who struggle to feed their children, deny them contraception and condemn them for wanting to have control over their own bodies. They advocate for the unborn, but would abandon them after birth. The undocumented among us would be left in the street to die rather than give them free care, and the falsely pious would call themselves righteous. Worker protections are slowly eroded, safety nets consistently threatened as more and more families struggle. All these things are justified by the same interpretation of the Bible that caused me to reject all the trappings of religion.
I feel that perhaps I gave up too soon. Why did I surrender my faith to those who make a mockery of the teachings of Jesus? My own philosophy can be directly attribute to the Red Letters. This is not so easy for fundamentalists in the right wing:
- I’d like to see a fundamentalist defense from scripture of such policies as cutting taxes for people who already have enough for several lifetimes. How does one “literally” read the prophets or the Gospels and come away thinking that protecting the ability to purchase another yacht or vacation home at the expense of those just struggling to feed their children is something Christians ought to have any stake in?
- I’d like to see someone defend from scripture fighting for a healthcare system, the chief motivation of which is to figure out ever more ingenious ways to deny coverage to those who can least afford it.
- I’d like to see a scriptural justification for treating undocumented workers not with Christian hospitality—if not as potential friends and neighbors, then at least as fellow children of God—but as an insidious threat to “our way of life” (in which “our” refers to American and not Christian).
- I’d like to see how scripture works as a legitimator of arms stockpiling in the service of military adventurism in other countries (see, in particular, Iraq).
- I’d like to see how the bible comes to the aid of those who would stand idly by while LGBTQ kids endure the dehumanizing and often deadly effects of bullying.
- I’d like to see how the bible can be put to use defending the belief that our ultimate loyalties to flag and faith are interchangeable, that to have invoked one is ipso facto to have named the other.
These are just a few of the things I too would like to see justified scripturally by those who have hijacked a radical and yes, LIBERAL philosophy. The Red Letters cannot by any stretch of the imagination be used to justify leaving an undocumented immigrant to die in the street for lack of health insurance. They are in direct contradiction to a guns in every hand. Jesus would weep to see a woman forced to bear the child of a rapist, then humiliated for seeking help to feed that child.
In a court of law, using the Bible as the Rule of Law, and most specifically the words of Jesus upon whose name Christianity is based, I contend that Republican Christianity would be judged a perversion of the Red Letters. Throughout history, war, violence, persecution, slavery and injustice has been justified by religion. Ancient texts dictate modern policy, but the most transcendent and resonant words are ignored. Isn’t it time to hold these conservative Christians accountable? It is time to stop allowing them to define what it means to be Christian. It is time to force them to justify their cruelty in biblical terms and explain why their version is in direct contradiction to the words of the man for whom their faith is named.