Recent events have led me to think about going back to church, even though I don’t believe one iota of religious doctrine of any faith-based organization with a presence in my home town. But the election debacle we’ve just suffered has prompted me give this some serious thought.
See, I’ve been hearing a lot from conservative Christians about how excited they are now that Trump is in power, and several things bother me about the way they frame this excitement, not the least of which is the phrase “now that Trump is in power.”
Never mind that Manhattan con man and failed land developer Donald Trump is not “in power.” This is being written prior to the presidential inauguration, so Trump hasn’t yet been sworn in as president. We can still hope that he’ll be sleeping fitfully in his golden tower sometime next week and have a bad dream about pushing the big red button, and how nuclear-tipped missiles come raining down on America, and he’ll wake up in a cold sweat and decide this was a really bad idea.
Barring that, he’ll be sworn in, but he won’t be “in power” any more than any other president ever has been. Power is shared among three branches of government as a theoretical system of checks and balances, and while there may be a whole lot more sharing and damn little checking or balancing in the next few years, that power still does not accrue entirely to Mr. Trump, no matter how much he wants to be king.
But what really bothers me the most is the way these people juxtapose their version of Christianity over their political preferences. They are still angry that there was a black man – and a Democrat, no less – in the White House for eight years. That is not the America they were raised to believe in. They are angry because, somehow, even though there’s absolutely no evidence of this, they think illegal aliens are swarming into the country, taking jobs that they, themselves, would never stoop to taking, having scads of anchor babies and living off of the taxes they’ve paid with their “hard-earned money.”
Ah, yes, it’s all about the money.
And somehow, when Trump begins to exercise his “power,” America is going to be “great” again, and that translates in a way I cannot fathom into a Christian nation, as it apparently once was and always should be. I guess I wasn’t paying attention when that happened, because I don’t remember being a citizen of a Christian nation guided by Christian theology.
Nonetheless, let’s follow that line of … I hesitate to call it “reasoning” or even “thinking,” but nothing else comes to my mind … and see where it takes us. Let’s see what happens when we overlay fundamental Christian concepts over rigid conservative ideas.
The central precept of conservatism is that we are over-taxed, and our taxes aren’t being used for things we want them to be used for. That made me wonder (because I forget these things sometimes): Which of Jesus’ teachings said we shouldn’t pay taxes for things we don’t like? Was it in the Beatitudes? “Blessed be the taxpayers for they shall not have to pay for social programs.” Maybe it was the parable of the taxpayer who gets to judge the needs of others. “The vineyard owner said to Jesus, ‘This woman has had three babies by different men and wants us to buy her bread,’ and Jesus answered, ‘Yeah, you’re right, tell the lazy slut to get a job!’”
Wait, I remember now: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, unless you disagree with the way Caesar spends your taxes, and unto God the things that are God’s, but only according to the doctrine of your individual sect.” I think that’s how it went.
Like I said, I don’t remember this stuff all that well, but judging from how the conservative Christians around here talk, that’s probably how their bible reads.
Here’s the thing, though: I grew up in this area. I was raised, as best my mother could raise me, in a little Methodist Church in a little farm town on the Colorado prairie. Our pastor was Mexican (that’s what he insisted we call him; his parents were braceros from Mexico, so he was Mexican, and proud of it.) And this Mexican Methodist pastor with the Anglo wife taught us that Jesus was not a tall, soft-voiced, blonde Christian with blue eyes. He was a swarthy, combative Jew who challenged the authorities of the day, irritated the hell out of the religious leaders, and loved the sick and the destitute without limit. And the sins he died for were the sins of not loving each other and not loving God.
See, that’s the part most Christians leave out these days. When Methodist ministers preach about how Jesus died for our sins, people think of their venal little sins, like wanting to bang somebody else’s wife or cheating on their taxes or using bad language. But they don’t think about the real sins, the sins that, when vast swaths of society commit them together, lead to heartache and suffering and despair. Even when Roman Catholics go to confession, they don’t confess to ignoring the poor or demeaning the non-white (Surprise! There are more non-white Roman Catholics in the world than white ones!) Oh, sure, it’s “un-Christian” to make crude jokes about white women (but it’s okay, we can just get forgiveness on Sunday, right, boys?) but the black wife of the president? Hey, no sin there!
And cutting off any hope of medical care for the impoverished (and especially those welfare-sucking illegal aliens!) isn’t really a sin, and it keeps our “hard-earned” money in our pockets so we can spend it on things we really need like flat-screen TVs and over-powered pickups and fifth-wheel camper homes with bump-out wet bars.
All of this has led me to actually think again about going back to church. I haven’t attended a worship service since my father died (except for the occasional wedding or funeral) and I kind of miss the sense of community. I know I can’t adhere to the simplistic, literal translation of faith and the Christian bible that most clerics preach these days, but it’s highly improbable that anyone will ever really challenge me on it.
Instead, I can be a combative agnostic who challenges the authorities of the day, irritates the hell out of the religious leaders, and loves the sick and the destitute without limit. And I can urge my fellow church-goers to be more loving of all people and of God.
What could be more Christ-like than that?