Which Christian Values?

(this was written during the 2008 campaign in which Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States. It seems scarily prescient for this current -2012- race, as well)

I recently received an email sent out in a blitz as these kinds of emails often are, with a ‘call to action’ claiming that this will be “the scariest election Christians have ever faced”. Here’s an excerpt:

This is the scariest election Christians have ever faced. From the looks of the polls, the Christians aren’t voting Christian values. We all need to be on our knees. Do you believe we can take God at His word? Call upon His name, then stand back and watch His wonders to behold. His scripture gives us, as Christians, ownership of this land and the ability to call upon God to heal it. I challenge you to do so. We have never been more desperate than now for God to heal our land.

Ranting emails like these usually inspire me to quickly hit the DELETE button but this one inspired more ire in me than most, and even as I shook my head, I felt compelled to respond. The democracy of the internet grants anyone with an opinion the ability to blanket the inboxes of unsuspecting recipients with everything from claims that Obama is a closet Muslim (with the proof residing in his lapel pin), to dire warnings about processed cheese, hair products or quasi-religious psycho babble like this. If history is any indicator, these will only grow in number and intensity as the election draws near.

One of the biggest issues I have when America is referenced as a ‘Christian Nation’ is that people presume that this means we need every leader and citizen to be a Christian. In the paragraph above, the writer claims: ‘His scripture gives us, as Christians, ownership of this land …’ I’m not a history professor, but I am a fairly well-read student of history and religious texts and I do not ever recall reading that God gave this land (here referring to America) to the Christians. If indeed God gave this land to anyone, He probably gave it to the Native Americans, and the ‘Christians’ who migrated to this land didn’t treat them very well. I’d be nervous proclaiming that God gave this country to anyone else – especially to the descendents of the ‘Christians’ who all but annihilated the original inhabitants of this continent.

As we enter another election season, I’m a big fan of prayer as it may be the only way to survive the endless political television ads and computerized phone calls. The writer in the above excerpt references the prayers offered by the English during the Blitzkrieg bombings of WWII and notes that this prayer seemed to exert a positive effect, so election season or not – it is NEVER a bad idea to pray, meditate, concentrate or chant for peace, harmony, world abundance, tolerance and love so I applaud the efforts of the writer in this regard, however; I was stopped in my tracks by the remainder of the paragraph:

stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States . . . and that the Bible will remain the basis for the laws governing our land and that Christianity will grow in the U.S.A.

This writer was on a roll with harmonious worldly intentions, and prayer for troops and leaders, and then s/he went down that slippery slope: praying that the Bible will remain the basis for the laws governing our land and that Christianity will grow in the USA.

Reality check: Christianity is in decline in the United States. Once a majority religion, Protestantism accounts for barely 51.3% of the nation’s people today. Catholicism would be in even worse shape if not for the masses of immigrants to this country who are Catholic. More reality: the fastest growing ‘religiously-defined’ group is that of the unaffiliated. That’s right – more people are leaving the church than are coming and guess what? Most of the folks leaving (or never coming in) are YOUNG.

Don’t take my word for it – look around on Sunday morning. There are more people in the parks and malls than in the church pews.

While biblical teachings and historic religious law clearly helped to form the foundation of many of the laws we (and other nations) have on our books today, in a free and democratic society the Bible cannot serve as the basis for the law. The first problem here is which Bible would we choose? The Catholic Bible? The Hebrew Bible? The King James or the New International Version? Secondly, whose interpretation of the Bible will you select? Southern Baptists? Methodists? Nazarenes? Quakers? or how about Mormon version of Christianity!? Will your view be one that believes in the inerrancy of biblical teachings or will you take a more modern view that nods to the Bible as an historical text but not the actual words of God?

Thirdly, while our founders were clearly men of Protestant faith and commitment, they recognized the importance of separating religion from the government’s purview. George Washington is known to have held a belief in Divine Providence and he believed strongly that religion was necessary in order to sustain a moral society, however; he was a strong advocate for the right of every religious sect to worship freely and equally under the law and as such, he held no tolerance for any form of bigotry, intolerance, discrimination, or persecution. Benjamin Franklin expressed evolving religious views throughout his life, writing in 1790, (referring to Jesus) “my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity”. Franklin clearly had some doubt as to the certainty of Christianity, and Thomas Jefferson vehemently believed that religion was a personal matter, in which the government had no business meddling.

Lastly, let us not forget that one of the reasons people left England to come to the new world was to escape the dictates of the Church of England, who controlled religion and religious practice. Religious peoples of various denominations often forget that, as they rally and cry for the return of biblical teachings and law, they are expressing a most anti-American ideal! Freedom of choice and affiliation is the ONLY American ideal when it comes to religion, and that includes the freedom to not have any one religion forced down your throat.

We should be praying this election season; for peace – in the middle east and in neighborhoods across this nation; for love – of those who share our values and beliefs and of those who may not; for understanding – that all people in this country and indeed on earth can step back and understand that what they believe may be perfect for them, and not such a good fit for others. Jesus is quoted in the book of Matthew (7:12) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (NIV)

Before your evangelical inclinations cause you to take pen to paper (or bytes to cyberspace), consider this: Islam currently has a global growth rate that outpaces Christianity. Today you might want the government to sanction one particular religion because you belong to that religion, but if that religion were Islam (or any other non-Christian religion) would you want it forced on you? Do you want it forced on your descendants or do you want them to live in a country that accepts and tolerates all religious expression, sanctioning and supporting no one religious tradition?

No need to answer – I think I know which you will choose.

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