Andy Schmookler: What kind of Christianity is this?
By Andy Schmookler
In the past several decades, a major force has entered the American political arena under an explicitly Christian banner. I’m talking about the Christian Right, which has aligned itself with the Republican Party. Has this alliance advanced the values that Jesus taught?
Jesus advocated for the poor and the outcast, and castigated mostly the privileged and the mighty. Today’s vociferous Christian political force supports the party that cuts programs to feed the hungry and to lift up the downtrodden, while protecting the interests of the fabulously wealthy.
When I hear Republicans talk about the poor in derogatory ways – lazy, slackers, etc. – I wonder, where in the Bible does Jesus show any such attitude toward the poor?
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. But the party with which this Christian force is allied has made our politics into a kind of warfare. They disdain compromise, they treat their opponents without respect, and they fight even against ideas that they originated, once the other side proposes them.
At the heart of Jesus’ teachings was an ethic of love. I’d like to ask the good Christians who support today’s Republican Party: When was the last time your leaders have inspired you to love anyone or anything — except for an “Us” arrayed against a hated “Them”?
In the most powerful scene in which Jesus deals with issues of wrong-doing and punishment, the emphasis of his teaching is directed at the crowd that’s ready to stone the adulteress. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” he says to the crowd, and then turns to the woman to deliver the caring message, “Go, and sin no more.”
In the Republican dealing with issues of crime and punishment, can anyone point to a spirit of compassion and humility, rather than harsh punitiveness? Can one find “blessed are the merciful” in the main Republican attitude toward impoverished people who have sneaked across our borders?
I was not brought up in a Christian household, but got my first vivid sense of the Christian spirit from images in spectacular movies during the 1950s. These films – like Quo Vadis, The Robe, and Ben Hur – presented sharp contrasts between the brutality of the Romans and the beauty of spirit in the followers of Christ.
The Romans were all about power. They were harsh, contemptuous of those who did not live by the sword, taking pleasure in dominating and even in inflicting pain on the vulnerable. When the scene switched to the Christians, the spirit changed to gentleness, forgiveness of those who trespassed against them, generosity of spirit, and humility.
I took an interest in seeing what this teacher, Jesus, had said to bring forth such beauty in the human spirit.
Now I wonder how anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus could also follow even for a moment someone like Rush Limbaugh. Practically his every word violates what Jesus taught (Matthew 5: 22) against expressing contempt for one’s brethren.
Something has gotten dangerously switched around, turning up into down and light into darkness.
When I was a candidate for Congress (2011-12), I traveled all around Virginia’s 6th District, speaking with citizens of all kinds. In the process, I was privy to a variety of strains and disagreements and antagonisms. But among all these, one stood out dramatically.
There was one actor – one power–in the district that was regarded in a way like no other, with a kind of elemental repulsion and deep dread I’d never heard expressed in America before. The object of these extraordinary feelings was Liberty University, the Christian institution of higher education in Lynchburg, Virginia.
What does it mean for a Christian institution to be experienced that way by its neighbors. It hardly seems possible that following Jesus’ teachings –“Love they neighbor as thyself”–could give rise to such feelings.
And what does it mean for an institution built to advance Christian values to be aligned with the party that serves the mighty powers of Mammon, and that regularly preys on the lowly and vulnerable?
Many good Christians seem to have been led to believe that if they give their support to politicians who oppose abortion and oppose recognizing rights for people with a different sexual orientation, they are serving the cause of Christian values in America. But even if he’d agree on those two issues – and he had precious little to say about such things– his message was so much bigger. His teachings bore upon the entire spirit that infuses human affairs.
It has long seemed to me that the world would be a much better place if people acted according to the spirit Jesus taught. What would Jesus do? One thing seems clear to me: in America today, he would not vote Republican.
Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District.