Monday, November 06, 2006

What if ...?

With the midterm elections taking place in the United States tomorrow, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the question “what if”. Now, before anyone gets confused, or upset let me explain: yes, I am Canadian, born and raised, but I am also of the belief that we cannot, as citizens of the world, sit idly by and be unconcerned with what takes place in the nation that singularly controls the most Weapons of Mass Destruction on earth. As a citizen of a neighbouring nation to the United States I believe it is incumbent upon Canadians to be as knowledgeable as possible regarding the U.S. political system for the simple reason that it has a direct bearing on our lives here in Canada. Which brings me to the question of “what if”.

In recent days and weeks the ruling Republican Party has experienced some major political hits as the result of some scandalous revelations. As the political group that yearns to be the moral compass of the country the recent allegations that one of their brightest stars had been an active sexual predator on Capital Hill for the past decade would have been bad enough, considering the actions of their leader, the president. Then, only days ago, an evangelical leader of thirty million conservative Christians resigned his post after admitting that he had purchased crystal methamphetamine from a male prostitute and had engaged him for a massage … but he adamantly denied having had sexual encounters with him, and he said that he threw away the meth, which added to the sorrows of the RNC as they try to maintain their hold on the Senate and Congress.

This minister had regular calls to the White House where he spoke with the President, counselling him on issues and providing other advice. He was also one of the staunchest opponents to gay marriage and any advancement of gay rights. While this certainly isn’t the first time a prominent Christian minister has been publicly “outed” for acting along lines that aren’t exactly considered “clean living”, this is the first occasion that the individual in question had the direct line to the Commander in Chief of the most powerful nation on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the fact that this minister may be gay – 10% of the world is, I’m over it – what I can’t reconcile is the fact that someone that may have been using crystal meth, a drug that you do not use casually, was giving counsel to someone in control of the lives of thousands of soldiers fighting a war … many of whom have been returning home in caskets.

So, what if … What would happen if the “Christian Right” (a group that is not necessarily correct) decided to vote according to what was correct as opposed to one or two single issues that evoke “knee-jerk” responses, mostly because they do not understand the complete implications of those issues. There have been ministers preaching that Christians – true Christians cannot support the Democrats. True Christians cannot support social programs. True Christians must be opposed to all medical research that involves stem cells. True Christians must ….

Wait a second, when did this become an election about religion? Whatever happened to the separation of the Church and State? The reason the framers of the Constitution wanted that separation was quite brilliant: it was to prevent the persecution of people according to their beliefs, as the Pilgrims had been persecuted in their European homes. Instead, they came to the “new world” and began to themselves become the persecutors of the native inhabitants here, looting the properties of the Indians and then killing them when they had the audacity to defend their land. Such laudable Christian practices; it’s hardly believable that the Christian right wouldn’t have any issues with the policies of George Bush.

What drives me to distraction the most is the way there is a wholesale distortion of Christianity and how the United States political system seems to have taken upon itself this distorted view. It is a view that is, in many ways, similar to the way that Islam is blamed for all terrorist acts without looking at what the religion actually says. This incarnation of Christianity bears little resemblance to the teachings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard … oh, that’s not right, is it? Oral Roberts? Billy Graham? Oh, I know … Pope John Paul II that must be it … no?

Well, I give up.

In all seriousness (I can be serious at times, it just takes more concentration than I prefer to exert), “true Christianity” bears precious little resemblance to what is being shoved down our throats by the “religious Right” (which isn’t necessarily). I have always marvelled at people calling themselves Christians who bless someone with one breath and then call for the death penalty. Some ministries have as their central focus the gaining of wealth: “God wants His people to prosper” they say, without taking into context exactly what wealth means in the Bible. My absolute favourite are the ministers that have the audacity to declare that God has rendered judgement against someone else, and that they are going to go to Hell because of the way they live their lives.

I realize it may seem odd that I haven’t identified specific ministries or individuals when it would be easy to do so; that is not the purpose of this article, nor does it serve any particular purpose to “name names”. I am merely bringing up examples that are well known within the ecclesiastical community and that have been discussed, ad nausea, under different circumstances. Having said that, I do want to expound a bit on some of the electoral issues and how they actually do fit within the Christian paradigm.

It is a fallacy to believe that the Christian faith is one of judgement and condemnation: the truth of Christianity is that it is the liberation from judgement and condemnation. There is one judge, and we are told that to judge others is to call upon ourselves the manner of judgement that we have used against those we have judged. Quite simply, the principal of “judgement” is something that is encountered under the Old Covenant. Jesus, or Yeshua HaMoshiach (Jesus, the Anointed One) promised a New Covenant that fulfilled the old laws, which not only allows us to wear cotton and polyester at the same time (or cotton and silk …), but it means that we do not have to be observant of the 613 laws that are a part of the lives of Jews who practice Judaism.

One of the examples I love to use (and one that tends to annoy people the most) goes like this: which sin is worse … homosexuality or adultery? Well, in the Old Testament it says: “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22, NKJV) This is repeated, slightly elaborated, in verse 13 of the twentieth chapter of Leviticus, the book in which the law was given. Adultery, on the other hand, made the “Top Ten” list of sin, coming in at number 7, just after the one about not murdering and before not bearing false witness against someone … and coveting your neighbour's wife (or their house, field, and etc.).

In other words, adultery seemed to be a fairly prominent issue when it came to laws being “written in stone”. Now, before any Christians start having seizures about the Pauline interdiction on homosexuality, relax, I haven’t forgotten about the ONE verse that Paul dedicates to the issue in his Epistle to the church in Rome. In fact, this is an extremely significant scripture for the singular reason that it is not actually what the contemporary church has made it out to be. Having been taken grossly out of context (as is so often the case), the meaning of the scripture has been warped to mean something that has absolutely nothing to do with what the man was saying when he wrote the epistle (just a word for letter).

The verse, as quoted by the Christian Wrong, is this:
“Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men, committing what is shameful and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” (Rom. 2:27, NKJV)

Now, the problem arises when you take a single verse out of the entire chapter without even making an attempt to give it any semblance of context, and context is critical to this verse. One of the important things to remember about the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is that it wasn’t written with chapters, verses, and all of the punctuation that we are accustomed to in the editions we presently possess. The second “chapter” of the epistle to the Romans is in a place that makes understanding verse 27 more difficult, unless you aren’t hung up over such things as large numbers at the beginning of a sentence. The first verse of the second chapter begins with the word “therefore”, which obviously refers to the previous text.

The previous text, having come after Paul wrote the infamous portion of scripture about “The just shall live by faith” (v. 17) comes before the text in which the issue of men lying with men is contained. If you read carefully, something that is, alas, rarely done when it comes to scripture, it can be seen that Paul is actually writing about the time before the Exodus, before the time of the Law.

Paul wrote:
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and made birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom. 1:22-25, NKJV)

It is important to note that there is an ending here; Paul uses “Amen” at the end of this portion. Amen literally means, “so be it”, or “let it be” and is generally used at the end of a prayer. That Paul has presented this portion of his epistle and then ended it with “Amen” would seem to indicate that he has heard reports of similar behaviours taking place within the community in which the Roman church existed at the time. There is a great deal of historical evidence demonstrating the prevalence of homosexual activities amongst the Roman militia, while they were within the military. Once they returned to civilian life their sexual behaviour was, mostly, heterosexual.

For this reason, Paul reminded the Romans of the times before the great Old Testament judgements:
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Rom. 1:26-32 & 2:1, NKJV)

It is the final verse, the first verse of the next chapter, that is the part missed most often. This is the second time in the scriptures that the Christian is told that judgement, particularly the judgement of others, is not within their list of things that they are supposed to be doing. To judge one sin is to assume that we have never done anything wrong, ever. It is a difficult situation to imagine, but that is also one of the things making this so simple in “true Christianity”: as Paul wrote, justification is by faith, not by works. It isn’t about how much money you give, or how many hours you spend in church; it isn’t about how much you own when the game is over. Faith is the foundation of Christianity.

So in the end, it turns out that when Jesus was out walking one day he came across someone who had been tried for a sin against the Lord God Almighty. Those who had judged this individual were well within their rights, under the Law, to carry out the sentence decreed by the Law: death by stoning. But Jesus confronted them and asked them a question that chilled them to their bones, making them abandon their righteous mission. All he said was, “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Not a word was spoken by the men who had been doing the work of God, taking an adulterous women and preparing her for judgement, but when faced with the mirror of their own lives, judgement didn’t look like such a great thing.

Several years ago the evangelical movement introduced t-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers and other ephemera with “WWJD” printed on them. This was meant to say, “What Would Jesus Do”, and serve as a reminder for young Christians in their daily lives. The only problem with this is that it neglects two important elements, which I believe is why the Republican party has been able to brainwash so many Christians with their lies for so many years.

Instead of just “WWJD”, there should also be “WWJT” and “WWJS”, for what would Jesus think and say respectively. It isn’t enough to do certain things that only serve to put on, in effect, a masque for the public. That is the sort of trap that the evangelical leader who resigned over his meth-buying and alleged gay relationship fell into. Wearing masques comes with the danger of the masque falling off. This is why we must always be aware of our thought lives. It isn’t a question of “practicing what I preach”, it’s a question of “practicing what I think”. The same thing goes with what a person says. This is also taught in the New Testament, where it is said that we aren’t defiled by what we put into our bodies (referring to the dietary laws) but by what comes out of our mouths (Paraphrase of Matthew 15:11).

If the Republicans, before going to the polls, spent some time really studying the New Testament and seeking the truth about what it means to be charitable, loving and forgiving, it seems to me that it would be difficult to vote for people who supported a war that was founded on well constructed lies and deception. Could they vote for people who supported the cutting of social programs, causing hardships for the poor, when Jesus himself told his followers to take care of the poor, to feed the hungry?

Why is it that the richest nation in the world, a nation that proclaims itself to be “one nation, under God” and Christian, has so many children going to bed with empty stomachs?

Is this the Republican dream for America?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am going to post this on my blog.