How did I end up agreeing with the Christian right?

A few years ago in Louisville, during a battle over a state constitutional amendment to ban marriage between people of the same gender, a church got involved. I actually imagine a lot of churches were involved, but this one church was large and loud, a far-right congregation, spiritual home of the moneyed, suburban, business class. It dominated the conversation with billboards, put a lot of money into “traditional marriage” defense, and made these awful bumper stickers of stick figures and arithmetic. The congregation empowered and amplified the voices of other like-minded churches, and together they owned the issue. The amendment passed, not surprisingly. Maybe it would have anyway, but it wasn’t even close.

The perennial criticism – then and now – is that churches should stay out of politics. It is a common cry for those on the left, who are less likely to be coalesced around a faith agenda. “Separation of church and state!” they/we would cry. And then bemoan the theocracy we perceive to be arising in plain view.

This past week, still reeling from an inauguration that threatens to undo America, I’ve been thinking.

The rise of Trump was fueled in part by Christian fundamentalists, who have, for decades, railed against any sin of a Democrat but given pass after pass after pass to its own beloved champions. (Remember Newt’s multiple marriages? Henry Hyde’s “youthful indiscretion”? We all can recite the litany of hypocrisy.)

Religion, say those who don’t claim one, is a devotion of convenience or personal taste, and ought to be left out of civic discussions. Instead, we have just experienced an inauguration bloated with Christian prayers, Christian scripture, calls to follow Jesus, and announcements of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) blessing the god-anointed Mr Trump.

I paced in my house this week and considered the ways I’d like the religious right to keep out of it – the critiques I have of them for pushing their abhorrent faith into public policy. I hate the way they use scripture to make their case: to justify their xenophobia; to justify stealing people’s lands; to repress women, oppress immigrants, justify racial disparities; to outlaw LGBT humans, murder those convicted of something, keep poor people poor. I hate it, whatever religion they are fundamentally adhering to (or co-opting). The Christians are just more in my face these days.

But, then I thought to myself, I do the same. It is my faith that drives my vision of the common good. Oh yeah, I read those bible stories through vastly different eyes, take away wildly different lessons. But it is surely scripture that undergirds my public participation.

So, there are some things I have in common with the religious right (she said, begrudgingly). Not religion-based inaugurations; I think state ceremonies ought to be prayer free, though I am certain that people of faith can and should gather in their own houses of worship to pray for the nation and beg for a righteous vision. I just don’t think state events should be religious events. It’s not fair to our American electorate – a people of many faiths or no expressed faith at all. We are a nation, not a congregation. Thus it should be.

But the cries to keep faith out of public life should perhaps extend no farther than the officialdom of the January 20 barricades on the National Mall. Here’s why: we all believe something. We all have some foundation for what we hold to be true and just. For our nation, we have the constitution, the declaration of independence; but we – all. of. us. – interpret and augment those national tenets with other, more personal or partisan, manifestos. Statements of faith. The 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Barmen Declaration; the Communist Manifesto; Dr. King’s speeches; FDR’s 3rd Inaugural Address or Reagan’s first; the Geneva Conventions; the Kyoto Protocols; the Paris Accords; BillBoard Top 40, or what my grandmother always used to say, or the Kama Sutra; whatever. We all have, we all rightfully get to have, our own inspirations, the movements or documents or traditions that define for us what a just and good world should look like.

So here is where the Christian right and I begin to converge. We have the bible.

For the religious right (of whatever religion), their vision is from their sacred books; so is mine. For the religious right, their faith informs their politics; so does mine. For them, quoting scripture is authoritative; it is for me, too. I unapologetically hate their vision of the world. My own theological angst is, in part, that such a vision could be gleaned from sacred scripture in the first place.

So, the divergence, then, comes quickly: we choose different sacred texts (or different parts of the same bible) and rely on an altogether different way of reading.

There is a battle going on for the heart of America, with ripples that lap every shore around the world. In so many ways, people of faith are driving the conversation. But the answer is not to try to keep faith quiet; the answer is for people of a more open faith to be as prominent and insistent as the ones who claim exclusive blessing and act out their awful faith-based tyranny. We must empower and amplify the voices of the left.

Our fallacy is in believing that the faith-basis of our love of diversity and inclusion should be excised from our political imagination. It cannot; it should not. There are more liberals than faith-based fundamentalists in America. In the ranks of people of faith around the world, there are more of us – people of faith willing to share the world and ensure that it works for all its inhabitants. But if the right seems to be the side that’s growing, perhaps it is because we aren’t as good at sharing our stories and describing what’s at stake.

When we keep our faith silent, even out of a desire to be “tolerant,” we let the impression stand that the choice is between the religious right and the heathen left. Nothing could be further from the truth.

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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