Clinton/Kaine vs Trump/Pence – a study in religious contrasts

Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton (r) and running mate Tim Kaine

From the perspective of Christian faith, it’s hard to imagine a more stark study in contrasts than that between the recently announced presidential/vice-presidential teams. Tim Kaine gave a rousing speech yesterday (July 23, 2016) when he appeared for the first time after being chosen by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Kaine proudly declared, “Soy católico … I’m Catholic…” and his speech was filled with explicit references that show how deeply his Catholic Christian faith has formed his values and directed his life’s work. Kaine impresses as profoundly influenced by his Jesuit education, his missionary work in Honduras, and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus as a lawyer who worked to defend the housing rights of the poor. The Clinton/Kaine duo proclaim that their lives were formed by a faith that asked how they could help others. It is a faith that puts belief into practice, living out the social, communal dimension that Christianity absolutely requires.

Trump/Pence, on the other hand, seem to be much more formed by or comfortable with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (an oxymoron if ever their was one).  While there are some Christian leaders in the Evangelical tradition who recognize that this “gospel” is an aberration of historical, biblical Christianity, there are many others who have succumbed to its allure. This philosophy is uniquely American. It is the spawn of the marriage between 19th century Protestant fundamentalism and that brand of American individualism which puts the self before others, the individual before community, and one’s own success ahead of or at the expense of others’ success. Its focus is on “my rights” and not the common good. To be clear, this focus on the “rights” of the individual can be exploited on either end of the political spectrum. It’s the same right espoused by gun-owners, abortion advocates, and the increasing number of laws that permit assisted suicide. At its root, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes two basic claims: First, if your faith is strong enough, God will shower you with earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success; and, second, if you have earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success, then these are signs of God’s favor.

Perhaps it does need to be stated, but this view of the Christian Gospel — preached by such megachurch leaders as Joel Osteen (who, by the way, has no theological training) and Joyce Meyer — bears so little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus that it cannot be rightly called Christian. It is a “gospel” without humility, without prudence, without a sense of justice. It lacks a belief that the goods of this earth are for all God’s People, not just the industrious few who stake their claim first, whose might trumps right, or who know how to manipulate the economic and legal systems to their advantage. On the contrary, as Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931),

Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits,” (no. 57).

To anyone schooled in the social justice tradition of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, this quotation will ring true. Pius XI’s reference to his predecessor, Leo XIII, is a reference to that pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which is generally considered the first papal document in modern times to spell out some of the basic principles Christian faith requires for a socially just society. From the perspective of Christianity and its two-thousand year tradition, there is no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus does not exist without Jesus’ “new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). Come November, each of us must decide which of these two teams contending for the highest offices in the land have lived lives that most exemplify the common good the Gospel requires.

Ducks, Lies, and the Truth about God’s LGBT Children

“An untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker.” That’s one definition of lie provided by Merriam-Webster. I do not know if Laire Lightner believes what she says, but I do now that it is a lie.  Ms. Lightner, it seems, is “the driving force” behind an online petition to have Duck Dynasty personality Phil Robertson reinstated. Mr. Robertson was recently removed from that program for his comments denigrating LGBT people in an interview (perversely entitled, “The Gospel According to Phil”) with GQ magazine.

LaireLighter

Laire Lightner (with her husband) is leading the charge to reinstate ousted, anti-gay Phil Roberston (Photo: John Osborne / Naples Daily News)

In today’s edition of the Naples Daily News (Naples, FL), Ms. Lightner is quoted as follows:  “Homosexuals and Christians have different values, but I will fight to make sure their rights are protected.”

While the second part of her statement is laudable, the first part is blatantly a lie. It is a longstanding canard of fundamentalists and Biblical literalists to claim that Christianity condemns homosexuality, that one cannot be both gay and a disciple of Jesus. Thankfully, the facts of history — as well as the lived experience of thousands, perhaps millions — of LGBT Christians undercuts that assertion on its face. As a gay man and a Christian, I am just one example of someone who is gay by Nature and Christian by Grace — and both Nature and Grace are authored by God.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us that Ms. Lightner “studied divinity at Liberty University,” the fundamentalist school in Lynchburg, Virginia founded by Jerry Falwell. Having only studied divinity for two years, perhaps Ms. Lightner would be open to continuing her education by learning about LGBT Christians and then reconsidering her statement.

Christmas quickly approaches. This Feast of the Incarnation celebrates our belief that, by taking on human flesh, God reminds us in Jesus that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. As an early Christmas gift, here are some resources for Ms. Lightner — and all those who hold that same false belief — to begin that education.

786 Years Ago Today

Francis of Assisi died.  Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was 45 years old (b. 1181; d. Oct. 3, 1226).  His view of himself and the world is an utterly Christian, incarnational view, seeing in all creation the wonderful and sustaining presence of the Divine.  The sun and the moon, the earth and the mountains, vegetation and animals and all humanity are bursting with the Spirit of God.

Perhaps this is why Francis and the orders of friars and sisters who bear his name today are so appealing to God’s LGBT children.  Having been told by others with a more dualistic outlook that our bodies and desires are merely sources of sin, LGBT people (and all people, really) experience in the flesh the untruth of such assertions. What Francis knew almost eight centuries ago so many of us, our fellow Christians, and especially our Church leaders are still learning.

Franciscan Father Richard Rohr puts it this way (reblogged from his Daily Meditation):

Richard's Daily Meditations

St. Francis of Assisi by Nancy Earle, SMIC.

FRANCISCAN MYSTICISM

In most paintings of people waiting for the Holy Spirit they are looking upward, with their hands outstretched or raised up, the assumption being that the Holy Spirit will descend from “up” above. In the Great Basilica in Assisi where St. Francis is buried, there’s a bronze statue of him honoring the Holy Spirit. His posture and perspective are completely different from what we have come to expect. He’s looking down into the earth with expectation and desire! This is the change of perspective that became our alternative orthodoxy—although it should have been mainline orthodoxy! He was merely following the movement of the Incarnation, since Christians believe that the Eternal Word became “flesh” (John 1:14), and it is in the material world that God and the holy are to be found.

Francis recognized and took to the logical conclusion the implications of the Incarnation. If God became flesh in Jesus, then it is in the world, the physical, the animal, in the natural elements, in human sexuality that God must be found. Speak of embodiment, physicality, and the world—use whatever words you want—these are the hiding places and the revelation places of God. This is how Christianity was supposed to change everything. Most of us just kept looking up, when God in Jesus had, in fact, come down. (This is the foundation of Franciscan mysticism.) On this day in 1226, Francis died at sunset and asked to lie naked and exposed on the earth as he died. The friars were embarrassed, but conceded to his wish. Now you know that it made total sense.

From an unpublished talk in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

These People are Not Christians

These people are not Christians. That needs to be said simply and clearly. One of the things that those who oppose same-sex marriage often state is the truth that merely stating something doesn’t make it so.  On this principle, they are correct; but it probably applies to them more than it does to anything they say. The mere fact that people like this call themselves Christian doesn’t make them followers of Jesus. The mere fact that they claim to be “bible-based” or “God fearing” doesn’t make them people of faith, people of love, people of charity. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to forgive those who persecute us. Their version of “Christianity” has little room for love or forgiveness, so filled is it with self-righteousness, intolerance, and even hatred of every modern-day Samaritan.

There’s a current country-music song getting some radio airtime by a singer named Josh Thompson.  This mean-spirited guy has a song entitled, Way out Here.  The song starts  with these words:

“Our houses are protected
By the good Lord and a gun
And you might meet ’em both
If you show up here not welcome, son.”

How is it that in America — and in particular, the American South — people have so twisted and perverted Christianity that someone could even think of such lyrics, let alone record them and have that song well-received by so many? What about the message of Jesus of Nazareth do they not get? How can they possibly reconcile a perspective which threatens murder simply because someone is different or “not welcome,” with a supposed belief in “the good Lord”?

If these people are unable to see the face of Jesus in the stranger at their door, is it any wonder they can’t see the face of Jesus in the foreigner, the gay man, the lesbian, the illegal immigrant, the Jew, the Muslim, the black President, or even “the enemy”?