Saturday, October 8, 2011

A litmus test for "being a Christian"...for presidential candidates...

By Richard A. Oppell Jr. and Erik Eckholm, New York Times, October 7, 2011
(The piece documents a Dallas Baptist clergy's view that Mormonism is a cult.)
A Texas pastor introduced Rick Perry at a major conference of Christian conservatives here on Friday as “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ” and then walked outside and attacked Mitt Romney’s religion, calling the Mormon Church a cult and stating that Mr. Romney “is not a Christian.” ...

“I think it is going to be a major factor among evangelical voters,” he said. “The thing is, they won’t be honest and tell you that it is going to be a major factor. Most people don’t want to admit — even evangelical Christians — that they have a problem with Mormonism. They think it is bigoted to say so. But what voters say to a pollster sometimes is different than what they do when they go into the privacy of a voting booth.”

He also said that he believed Mr. Romney is a “good, moral person,” and that he would endorse him over the president.
If it comes to that, he said, “I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”
Witness the sparring of a "holy war" within a "holy war" as the purity of one's Christianity becomes a litmus test for candidates seeking the White House, especially on the Republican side. The United States has evolved, not so gradually, into a battleground for a new kind of war. On one side are the fundamentalist, evangelical 'christians' many of whom attend churches of thousands of members, a testament to the power of the size of the corporation, not to the spirituality of  the people in the pews or in the pulpits. Calling Barack Obama a "Christian who embraces unbiblical values" is, to put it mildly, to colour one's political persuasion with the paint of a peephole view of a complex faith.
It reeks of racism, of bigotry, and of superiority, three of the main tenets, one would hope, of any respectable faith and religion. Politics borrows from many fields in order to propagandize. One of the most accessible, and also potentially most potent, is religion. As a former clergy in a mainline church in both Canada and the U.S., I have experienced, directly, indirectly, subversively and overtly, the power of this kind of alienation. A former executive from Motorola, interviewing me for a position in "his" church in the suburbs of Denver, proudly, said to me over coffee, "I am proud to have driven the last priest from our church because he was not spiritual enough and I believe you are not spiritual enough either!" When I countered with the question, "And where would you like to be in your spiritual life in three years?" he snickered, spluttered and changed the subject because he had no idea what I was talking about..."but I am friends with the bishop" as if I should be worried by such a relationship.
Like Obama, I was perceived, by fundamentalists on both sides of the 49th parallel, to be "not spiritual enough" for their tastes.
I championed both uncertainty and searching as integral parts of a healthy spiritual life. I also championed prayer, reading, meditating and safe vulnerability, as part of the path to community, to sustaining the struggle and to discipleship. I supported a woman's right to choose; I opposed the death penalty; I supported civil rights, in a church where it was still an open question as to its political correctness.
These religious "tyrants" have some interesting models and mentors on which to base their "gate-keeping" and their alienation and their religious purity. Ian Paisley, from Northern Ireland is one of them. And people like me, and thousands of others like me, have been fighting their religious oppression from an early age. I fought it publicly in their "debates" as an adolescent; I fought it in public discussion of the "relevance" of the faith during Lenten study sessions; I fought it in their refusal to acknowledge "betrayal" as part of the Judas in each of us, while serving as a student intern in a parish betrayed by a clergy who took his life at the altar, in a previous Lent; I fought  their judgement of their fellow christians, as "un-christian" given their superior knowledge and insight into the nuances of the faith, always of a "black-white" nature.
Today, I fight the same oppression, with every fibre of my being, to bring down this form of tyranny which purports to goose-step through history relegating those who disagree with their "brand" of fundamentalism as apostates. They are Darwinian capitalists, religious tyrants, social untouchables, intellectual fly-weights and spiritual new-borns and they are a scourge on the depth, complexity and grace of a faith they are reducing to political and social and moral wedge issues.
And to champion their "success" because they have monstrous congregations, where no one knows anyone else, and only the size of the cheque on the plate really matters, is a dangerous development that takes the serious spiritual seeker away from the lonely and quiet and suffering path of deep and profound reflexion.

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