Last week I wrote about the historical evolution of the Christian Right in the United States. I thought it would be good to review where we have been…… This week a look forward. Where are we going?
As we move ahead we need to be alert Christians. I explain this in a number of what I call, socio-theological-political observations:
- In the United States we are quickly moving from consensus to chaos. I am very concerned – alarmed actually – about the rigid, hateful, and violent polarization that has become a deadly social virus in the United States. It destroys the US ability to deal effectively with Covid-19, to live with an increasingly multi-racial USA, to resolve unemployment and poverty problems, to provide national health care, to cooperate with other nations in our global inter-connectedness, and of course, to handle the next big catastrophe: climate change. Covid-19 is awful, but climate change could be much worse.
- I am not a prophet of doom and I still believe in the human ability to resolve problems created mostly by humans….but the clock is ticking. The longer we delay the larger the problem and the longer it will take to resolve the problem. Being alert also means being active. And being alert and active is a community endeavor.
- We need honest self-appraisal and respectful other-understanding. We need to think about what we are doing and why. I come from a strongly Republican family background. I respect and love my family, but I am a Democrat. And my theology is more left of center than their’s. Nevertheless, I do respect a variety of theological and political positions, as long as we can be mutually respectful and willing to reflect and discuss. I do not try to convert others to my viewpoint; but I do want others to understand my viewpoint and I want to understand their viewpoint. It is in our mutual interest.
- Viewpoints do change as well. I was once a very rigidly fundamentalist Catholic. In high school they called me ”Pious Dick.” Then, one day, I began to ask questions about God, the church, and Jack……… I came to realize that I did not have all the answers and that no one has all the answers. I became an inquisitive thinker, with a strong desire to know and to know why….. I realized as well that we live and learn with provisional understandings. Human life is an ongoing truth-journey. And sometimes we have to stop, reconsider, and rethink everything we think we know.
- Institutions – religious and political — often prefer obedient non-thinkers rather than articulate truth-searchers. Obedient non-thinkers are easier to control. And some institutional leaders try to hide the truth (e.g. clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church) or they manufacture “truths and facts” to suit their own political or religious agenda. Our challenge is to be courageous questioners and thinkers who observe, reflect, and then act.
- There are often people who call themselves “Christian” but who behave in unChristian ways. Then there are authentic Christians. The indicators are clear. Authentic Christians do not mock, denigrate, terrorize, or violently abuse or kill those who do not agree with their religious or political positions. Christianity is not about holding a particular religious viewpoint nor belonging to a particular political party but belonging to Jesus Christ and holding on to and living his Gospel.
- Healthy Christians are self-aware and other-aware. People who are only self-aware become selfish and vindictive. The authentically Christian God is not the punitive god of rewards and punishments but the parental God of Jesus of Nazareth – the God of love, mercy, and compassion.
- Regardless who wins in November, the United States is at a great turning point in its history. I am a patriotic citizen of the United States and I believe in a “UNITED States” not a polarized society in which a few authoritarians have power over others. Power over others is demeaning and dictatorial not democratic. Our focus must be the common good. Cooperation, community, and the good of all should be our national goals.
And I conclude this reflection with a quotation from one of my theological heroes, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed on April 9, 1945 in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. (The 90th Infantry Division of the United States Army liberated that camp on April 23, 1945.) Bonhoeffer courageously opposed Adolf Hitler and his inhumane authoritarian Nazi regime.
“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should … shock the world far more than they are doing now… take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first of all the possible rights of the strong.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Sermon on II Corinthians 12:9)