Friday, April 5, 2019

"Dear Christian American Patriot..."

          I received a piece of mail the other day addressed to "Dear Christian American Patriot." I am all that, but it still seemed a surprisingly unique way of addressing me in a fund raising letter. The appeal came from the Faith and Freedom Coalition. They are intending to register five million "Brand New" conservative Christian voters in the run up to the 2020 election in order to "STOP the Radical Anti-Christian Left from Winning the White House and Control of our Government in 2020 so They Can Destroy America Forever."
         I didn't know the threat was so serious! Here I've been worrying about climate change and a renewed nuclear arms race and the cost of drugs and health care and all the roll backs of environmental regulations and why my friends from Mexico and other people of color are constantly being harassed and sometimes deported or killed,  and why we have a President who seems more concerned about being thanked for a funeral than the flooding crisis in the heartland and the issues of the day, and here I've been ignoring this looming catastrophe that could   "destroy our country forever."

It's a good thing Ralph Reed and his friends have put together a "Battle Plan." Anyway, although I'm not what Ralph and the Faith and Freedom Coalition call a "conservative" Christian (although I think labels like conservative and liberal have lost their meaning, except for purposes of political warfare), I did take the survey and mailed it in, without a contribution to the $42.7 million goal. The reason I kept my wallet in my pocket is because I don't agree that the "anti-Christian, anti-freedom, anti-America left" … wants to "erase America's borders so we no longer have a country," and "be governed by the United Nations, not our own Constitution."

Honestly folks, can't we have a dialogue in this country anymore, a rational conversation, about our immigration system and how to regulate it? We all know it's broken. No one is suggesting "open borders" and there's no "invasion." Could we stop using emotionally loaded words and get down to the business of solving the problem?

The demonization of political opponents and the way religious groups are going to bed with candidates or political parties is a terrible tragedy. It's led me to think about the future of religion lately, wondering sometimes if there is one, because of the way faith traditions are captured by politics. It's not happening just in the United States but in other countries as well; in India, Israel, Iran. Instead of religious life influencing politics, politics influences religious life.

In a paper Martin Luther King wrote in Seminary on the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, he reflects on how the essence of Jeremiah's teaching is that the prophet must always challenge the status quo. For someone who has a vision of a realm where God dwells, all of our human constructs come up short. Someone needs to point that out, speak truth to power, the role of the Biblical prophet. 

    If Christianity is to have a future in this country, it needs to become more prophetic and less partisan. It needs to become more dialogical and less evangelical. There needs to be more listening and less preaching, more walking and less talking

     If Christianity is to have a future in the U.S. it needs to welcome the whole human family. In the Faith and Freedom Coalition materials it is clear the appeal is primarily to "white" conservative Christians. Implicit in the survey questions and the written material is the imperative of keeping the country safe from the open borders policy of the radical leftists, which will turn us into "a third world country." Really?

I must confess that the most uplifting spiritual experiences of my life have been in sanctuaries where the barriers between human beings are no longer in evidence. The person next to me is a person of color. The person in front has a disability. The person behind me is transgendered. The congregants are diverse, men and women, rich and poor, old and young! All children of the same God and present in all their fruitfulness and failings. For me, that's Christian community at it's finest.
    And rather than demonizing people of other traditions (along with the politicians), the Christianity of the future (if there is one), will welcome dialogue and common service to society with other traditions. 

        Omaha, Nebraska is becoming a hub of inter-faith activity. The Tri-Faith Center is expected to open in early 2020, a campus demonstrating the cooperation of the three Abrahamic faiths. Jews, Christians and Muslims will celebrate there together and use it as an educational resource center for all. In a world where politicians and partisan religionists spread distrust, hate and terror, the Center will point us toward the true relationship between these Biblical cousins.

There are also some values, some virtues, that seem essential for any kind of human future. They guard against the divisiveness and partisanship one finds in the F&FC materials. One is humility, a first requirement for any kind of cooperative decision making in religion or politics. A second is nonviolence in thought, word and deed. And a third is service for the common good. 

There are those working tirelessly to aid those trapped or trashed by floodwaters. Others are helping people stranded at our border fleeing violence and poverty. Still others are taking seniors to health appointments and delivering them meals. While still others do child care for sick moms and foster care for abandoned children. How can people of faith work together to structure our institutions and society to serve the common good? That's the question that needs our attention!

Forgive me, Ralph! I'm going to keep all the titles you gave me, Christian, American and patriot. But I'm not going to join your crusade. The status quo is not my idea of the Kingdom of God!

Carl Kline

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