The Common Good

COMMENTARY: More Christian Influence? Be Careful What You Wish For

Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

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I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.

Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.

God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.

An immigration policy following Jesus’ principles would have a wide-open border where those with food and freedom welcome the “tired and poor.” I think God must cringe at the nativist hostility now guiding right-wing policy.

Or take policies toward rich and poor, secure and vulnerable. Jesus healed those who needed healing, fed those who were hungry, embraced outcasts, and told the rich to give away much of their wealth. His ethic was compassion.

A political movement that carries water for the wealthy and displays meanness toward the vulnerable seems unlikely to count as Christian compassion. It’s just greed and meanness. It might be practiced by people who self-identify as Christians, but it isn’t remotely connected to anything Jesus himself valued.

Or take the culture wars. Jesus said nothing about sex, so sex would go off the table as a “Christian” issue. Jesus had ambiguous things to say about family, some of it forecasting splintering of families as faith touched their lives. The smug and regressive agenda of the “family values” set has little to do with what Jesus taught.

Or take race, the great divide in American life. Jesus loved all, encouraged his followers to love all and gave them this one new commandment, “Don’t be afraid.” That commandment covers many fears, but none so pointedly as fear of the other.

When Klansmen burn crosses to show their hatred of blacks, they might consider themselves proud Christians, but in fact they desecrate the symbol of Christian witness. So, too, with the countless ways whites in America restrict the lives and hopes of nonwhites.

Or take gender. Jesus welcomed both men and women to his company. Some of those women became leaders. The patriarchal nature of Christianity has zero grounding in the ministry of Jesus. Using Jesus to justify gender discrimination today is a mockery.

On any issue, the teachings and actions of Jesus are more radical, more revolutionary and more disruptive than anything imagined by the right wing, or the left wing for that matter. We are so far removed from the gospel that it’s a wonder we even try to imagine its providing guidance to our nation’s life.

American Christians are active politically on all sides of issues, from favoring racial integration to fighting against it, from favoring the poor and vulnerable to despising them, from challenging the wealthy to show compassion to giving tax breaks for bigger barns.

But that Christian tag has more to do with where they worship on Sunday than it does with the gospel itself. A nation that tried to live by, say, the Sermon on the Mount would be anathema to those who most loudly proclaim their faith as justification for cruelty and greed.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com . Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS.

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