Last weekend was a tough one for the Christians who continued the struggle to maintain their spiritual legacy at the hands of the Lions who packed their defensive line with both the obfuscation of the Gospels and the utter disregard for the principles and responsibilities of a free and diverse democratic society. Look at these news items:
- A 15-year old girl was punitively dragged on her stomach from a rope tied to a van at Love Demonstrated Ministries' boot camp near Corpus Christi because she failed to keep up with a running exercise. A retired U.S. Air Force instructor is the "commandant" of the camp that was created to "re-instill the values that have been lost in our society for a couple of generations, values such as discipline, morality, unity and integrity," according to the camp's Web site. The ministry is supported by both private and government funds amounting to $314,673 to operate the camp season of only 32 days with $278,549 going for salaries. Licensed camps in Texas are supposed to be at least 11 weeks long.
- At the last minute, the High Point Church, a nondenominational megachurch in Arlington, Texas, reneged on its offer to provide a memorial service for its deceased janitor, a Navy veteran of the first Gulf war, when staff members discovered he was gay. Because the church's principles deem homosexuality a sin, the pastor feared that the membership would regard the memorial service an endorsement of the gay lifestyle.
- U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo in his quest for support from Religious Right Republicans at Iowa's Straw Poll spewed out hate speech against minorities, immigrants, believers in evolution and even a foot washing sink installed in public bathrooms at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, which attracts significant numbers of Muslim students.
These stories illustrate the blatant hypocrisy and gall the Lions assume because they believe they have God on their side. They then denounce other people who have religious beliefs different from their own. These incredibly moralistic people believe that Americans have too much freedom (a lÃƒÂ the 1960s) and not enough Jesus so they have advanced an agenda that is anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science and anti-Constitution.
They also claim to be very patriotic so that's why they call peace activists and anyone who disagrees with the president a traitor. During the research for my book I interviewed one Bush supporter who said that the war in Iraq was a good idea. "The world is coming to an end anyway," she said, "we might as well get started." For a long time I couldn't understand her motivation but have since discovered that she is a Dominionist, one who is focused on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Armageddon, the end of the world-and salvation for believers like her. Dominionists see September 11, then, as an opportunity for a revitalized crusade against the infidel in the Middle East. There are 38 million Dominionists in our country or 12.5 percent of our population and they have gained a significant foothold in our government, our military and our courts.
Of course, the Dominionists are not the complete picture of religion's influence on America. According to a worldwide study of 80 countries by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, the United States is one of the most religious countries in the world with about 46 percent of American adults attending church at least once a week, not counting weddings, funerals and christenings, compared with 14 percent of adults in Great Britain, 8 percent in France, 7 percent in Sweden and 4 percent in Japan. Yesterday Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (when the Blessed Mother is resurrected) and the Cathedral in my town was packed-for the noon Mass, the third Mass of the day!
Such a devotion to religion among Americans should have something to show for it but I'm afraid the Christian message has been lost in our quest to be rich, powerful and secure. For Christians the criteria for goodness are found in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), where Jesus says: take care of the poor and suffering and those who can't defend themselves as in "Blessed are the poor in spirit...those who mourn...the meek." To do this, he says, we must seek justice and be merciful, truthful and peaceful. Another key text that is found not only in Christian texts but in Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and all the other major religions is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "Love your neighbor as yourself."
These rules of seem pretty straightforward, however, religious people oftentimes believe that once they are on board with the Lord, they are clean, clear, and comfortable from any danger of wrong-doing. Such arrogance will not save them from sin but such a focus on the hereafter will divert attention away from the people and the problems down here on earth. Actually, sin comes in two packages: sins against God and sins against the community. Ironically, the sins against God (idolatry, worship of other gods, keeping the Sabbath) seem a lot less harmless than the sins against the community (adultery, lying, stealing, killing, coveting). As for those people who hold positions of power, these sins against community have a great impact on large numbers of people so we need to be careful about who we elect as our leaders.
Upon being interviewed for his first book, former President Bill Clinton admitted that the great mistake of his presidency was his relationship with Monica Lewinsky "because I could." The effect of his indiscretion took two years away from more important issues like the environment, health care, unemployment, education-and, in retrospect, handling terrorism in the world. Likewise, President George W. Bush has used September 11 and created the War on Terror with all its spin-offs because he could. His actions have resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of a million Iraqis with unrest throughout the Middle East, the sell-off of our military to private companies, the downsizing of government services for Americans, especially the poor, the loss of a major American city, the continued deterioration of our infrastructure, a ruined national reputation, a Constitutional crisis, mistrust in government-and all this at in incredible waste of taxpayer dollars. Both of these men claim Christianity as their religion yet they committed these egregious offenses against the community, the nation.
How can we hold all these professed Christians accountable for their actions? Unfortunately, Jesus also warns us that those who follow his path will be criticized, laughed at, shunned and even persecuted by those who hold the power. We have seen that play out especially viciously with this administration. So the question for the Christian-or any religious person-who confronts an injustice in society is: am I going to speak truth to power or will I co-opt myself to the powerful. If we don't act on the former option, I'm afraid we all will continue to be devoured by the Lions.
Olga Bonfiglio is a professor at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several national magazines on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is www.OlgaBonfiglio.com. Contact her at email@example.com.