So Tom DeLay, Rev. Rick Scarborough, Sam Brownback and others allege
a "War on Christians" is afoot. Predictably, this conference inspired derision
from my fellow liberals, expressed with all the restraint I've come to expect
from the liberal blogosphere. In this case, that's an entirely proper response to such a blatant power play, especially by corrupt politicians such as DeLay. I don't want to hear anything THAT man says about moral values.
But that's not why I'm writing.
Tom DeLay says there is a war on Christianity. And I agree. But somehow, I don't think he and I are referring to the same concept. I don't think he would like what I have to say. DeLay and his allies - with their rote attacks against "The Gay Agenda", "The ACLU and Radical Secularism", "Hollywood", and "The Media" - fail to grasp the scope of this war, nor their own complicity in it.
I don't think most people realize how truly radical Christianity actually is. Karl Marx? Thomas Jefferson? Lenin? Robespierre? Moderates. Conservatives, even, in the only battle that truly matters - that of Love vs Selfishness. You want a real revolutionary? Try this on for size:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48
Or how about this little story?
ÂWhen the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
- Matthew 25:31-46
Christianity calls for radical self-sacrifice. A total reorientation of the heart away from self-centeredness and toward God, and thus toward love. A transformation so massive, so fundamental that we Christians believe it cannot be accomplished without supernatural help: Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.
No wonder there's a war on Christianity! If our power-mad, lustful, greedy, egotistical, and materialistic society didn't wage such a war, Christianity might well topple our entire value system on its head.
The REAL War on Christianity takes this form: co-opting Christianity. Watering it down. Making it safe and acceptable for general consumption. Turning Christians into just another target market. Channeling their political energies into the Republican or Democratic party. (Or into simplistic attacks on "Secularism" that, even if they contain a kernel of truth, manage to avoid all self-examination.) Making Christians more concerned about their 401(k) than their neighbor.
This war has - with few exceptions - been wildly successful for 2000 years.
Let me illustrate with an example of one of the many distractions which ensnare Christians: unthinking patriotism. Saint Augustine once made the following insightful observation about nations:
Without justice, [which Augustine found lacking in every society he wrote about] what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom! This title is manifestly conferred on it, not because greed has been removed, but because impunity has been added. A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, "What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor."
You think that thought crosses the mind of Tom DeLay or Pat Robertson as they wrap themselves in the American flag and proclaim the glory of the USA? No, Robertson gets so wrapped up in what he thinks is in the American interest that he advocates assassination of foreign leaders
. (There is a rule
against that y'know.) Or Tom Tancredo gets so wrapped up in his glorious nativist vision of America that he wants to criminalize charity towards illegal immigrants and attacks
those who say it's un-Christian. Those are glaring examples, but almost all of us have our vision of the Cross blinded by the Flag in many ways. We let nationalism place boundaries on our love.
[Note: I'm not calling here for the overthrow of the American government or any government. As Augustine also argues, it's better to have some government to keep order than to have anarchy and the evils which follow anarchy.]
Unlike the speakers at the "War on Christians" conference, I can't get away without admitting I have a role in this, too. I'm still a product of my culture, so enmeshed in it that I probably can't tell how enmeshed in it I am. I, too, compromise my values for the sake of my interest. I, too, fail to think through the radical implications of my calling in Christ. When I do, I hope I am called out on it and that I am able to change.
But I think it's high time that those who decry the "War on Christianity" realize that some of the most effective footsoldiers in that war....are Christians.