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.

“First stop slamming doors…”

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

“Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris and Cindy Marrelli of Raleigh celebrate the passage of the N.C. marriage amendment during an election night party at the North Raleigh Hilton.”

I began my morning by reading the daily meditation from Richard Rohr, which begins with the above. I then saw several pictures online and in print picturing so-called “pastors” jubilantly celebrating the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina, and it struck me that these are exactly the kind of people that Fr. Rohr is talking about when he comments:

First stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality. Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors.

No one who supports the right of God’s LGBT children to live their lives honestly, openly, freely and without fear is surprised to hear that much (most?) of the bigotry that opposes such honesty and freedom is rooted in religion. Nonetheless, it never ceases to shock me in one way or another when the strong-arm of this bigotry exercises its might as it did yesterday in North Carolina.

The picture of a “pastor” raising his clenched-fist, smiling and expressing support for the fact that a majority of his fellow citizens have slammed the door on the faces of so many tens of thousands of their brothers and sisters — well, this just doesn’t seem very “pastoral,” now does it? This man — and too many other religious administrators (I won’t call them “leaders”) — would probably not yet be ready to begin to take the baby-steps that truly faithful people people take when they seek to know the path to God in humility and compassion.

Some may say this sounds judgmental, even a bit harsh. To that I plead guilty. But I think a little anger is justified when those whose actions seeking to deny the fundamental rights of others are temporarily successful. Thankfully, there’s that thing called the arc of history … and towards a better world characterized by Justice and Peace I hope and pray it will continue to bend!

Benedict XVI on Poverty, Wealth and the Responsibilities of States

Pope Benedict XVI

Earlier today (May 4, 2012) in his address welcoming several new ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Benedict stated:

“When poverty coexists with enormous wealth, a sense of injustice arises … Therefore it is necessary for States to ensure that legislation does not increase social inequality and that people can live dignified lives.”

I wonder how much this principle is kept in mind around the world as governments debate and pass legislation? How many Members of Congress, and their staffs, consider the growing disparity not only between the rich and the poor, but even between the majority in the middle and the extremes of either end?

How often do legislators ask this question when considering the many bills and motions and amendments that come before them in their work: “Will this legislation help people lead more dignified lives?”

Giving Manhattan a Bad Name — The “Manhattan Declaration”

You may have heard that a group of Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox folks have signed a document that they’re calling the Manhattan Declaration. It’s subtitled, A Call of Christian Conscience, and it was released on November 20, 2009. (Here’s the Manhattan Declaration itself, and here’s a List of Religious Leaders Signatories). If you haven’t read it — you should.

For an overview of it, read the blog entry from National Catholic Reporter. As NCR reports, there were a number of Catholic bishops and archbishops — including Richard Malone of Portland, Maine and Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC — who lent their support to this historically inaccurate and deceit-filled statement.

Here are a few sections that demonstrate how low those who hate gay people will go, all the while cloaking their animus in the claims of being faithful to Christianity and our two thousand year tradition:

  • “The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture.”
  • “We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct.”
  • “On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships?”

So much for a fair presentation of the issue, because all same-sex marriage efforts have also called for the legalization of “polyamorous” and “incestuous” relationships, right??

I have said before and I will continue to say:  the effort to civilly recognize same-sex unions is not about marriage; it’s about seeing God’s gay and lesbian children as fully human and worthy of the dignity of all God’s children — including the right to form loving, stable, and generative relationships.