By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After combing through the Congressional Record, transcripts of television interviews, and magazine articles on the Bush administration and its faith-based politics, I’ve come to suspect that the Bush administration and its allies in the legislature have no real interest in Jesus. They’re quite happy to have fashioned a whole religion out of political expediency, and called it Christianityfor the name recognition. They don’t quote the Bible because the words of Jesus are not useful to them.
It wasn’t always this way. In 1785, James Madison, future father of the Constitution and fourth president, wrote to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to demand that it abandon its plans to collect a tax from its citizens on behalf of its Christian leaders. Such a tax, Madison wrote, would not only inhibit liberty in the new union; it would constitute “an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.” The Virginians had somehow established that “Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men” (a view upheld by neither anecdotal nor statistical studies), and therefore government-funding for Christian teachers would strengthen the new society. Madison thought otherwise, not because he foresaw the day when that significantly noncustodial parent Michael Newdow would sue to strike “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Madison wrote as a recovering Anglican who had witnessed the persecution of Baptists in Culpeper County and knew what could happen to a faith when it was used for political effect. “Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster,” he demanded of the Virginians. “Those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy.”
Back in Madison’s day, the people who called themselves evangelicals — heretical by Virginian standards — stood with him. Not anymore: On June 21, the National Association of Evangelicals published a draft of a document called “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” a selective reinterpretation of Old and New Testaments advocating political action among Christians. “Jesus calls us as His followers to love our neighbors as ourselves,” it says. “Our goal in civic engagement is to bless our neighbors by making good laws.” Though the document makes a noble effort to kindle compassion for the poor and concern for world peace in the evangelical community, and takes pains to re-associate Christian values with aid to the poor and sensitivity to the environment, it also calls upon Christians to “work for laws that protect and foster family life, and against government attempts to interfere with the integrity of the family.
“We also,” the paper confirms, “oppose innovations such as same-sex ‘marriage.’”
As usual, there is no word from Jesus to support this notion. There can’t be, because no version of Jesus, be it the “radical egalitarian” who emerges from Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biographyor the mystic described in The Gospel of Thomas, said anything about what constitutes a marriage. According to Crossan, Jesus was an itinerant Mediterranean peasant who considered the family an instrument of oppression, a microcosm of political hierarchy, and he sought to destroy it. (“From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three,” he foretold in Luke 12:52.) The real Jesus is frightening, revolutionary, inimical to the economic doctrines upon which we base our lives. Churches, which as Emerson observed, “are not built on His principles, but on His tropes,” are wise to have little to do with Him. Governments should have even less. And the less churches and governments have to do with each other, the better for Jesus’ reputation.
But if presidents and legislators can’t be persuaded to see Jesus this way and give Him up altogether, then perhaps they can at least start taking the words he allegedly handed down in the Gospels a little more seriously. DeLay, for instance, might be compelled to examine his desire to further slash welfare according to Mark 10:21, “Give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.” Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback could rise up and shout, “Woe unto you who are rich!” And ultra-pious Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma would respond wisely to Bush’s assertion that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were the actions of a “few bad apples” with the Lord’s words from Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.”
It’s not so far-fetched, when you think about it — I mean, it’s not as if Jesus is rigorously kept out of the congressional debate. A search of the Congressional Record reveals that Jesus Christ was invoked 57 times in the House and Senate in the last year, mostly by Republicans, and mostly in prayer and in passing. Curiously, though, while Republicans seem to have a lock on Christian values, only Democrats seem to have the stomach to recite Bible verses, and their most God-fearing colleagues do not like it when they do. President Jimmy Carter told Playboy’s Barry Golson and Robert Scheer in 1976 that “Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery,’” and subsequently admitted that he himself had “looked on a lot of women with lust,” which doesn’t make him better, in Christ’s estimation, than all the men who have left their wives and “screwed” slews of women. The remark earned him nothing but the scorn of the Jesusfolk.
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