Editor’s note: Jonathan Miller is featured in the EthicsDaily.com documentary “Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationships with Jews.”
With the near arrival of the fall Alabama political campaigns, we are preparing again for the silly season.
As many candidates did during the primaries, politicians and their wannabes will line up their Christian bona fides, and each will try to “out-Jesus” their opponents. They are preparing their 30-second television commercials touting their faith: They attend church, they can shoot a gun or ride a horse, and they have a hard time accommodating gays and lesbians and budget deficits.
Some may even claim they are solely responsible for the Ten Commandments, as though God gave them to political candidates at Mount Sinai. The silly season is about to renew itself in earnest.
I know I sound cynical, but as one of Birmingham’s rabbis, I wish our political candidates would act on their Christian faith. Christians are a blessing to the world. I would hope our candidates would put away their guns and rhetoric, and do what Jesus would do if Jesus were in office. Then, regardless of political party, I could vote for them with great enthusiasm.
I have recently returned from a trip to Bangladesh with a group of prominent Christian clergy leaders from Alabama. Birmingham native son Joseph Marino, now an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, serves as the papal nuncio to that poor country, and he graciously hosted us. We spent our days with Christian missionaries, Catholics and Protestants alike. I was amazed and overjoyed to meet these people who devote themselves to their Christian faith and their service to God.
I daresay that Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, would find far more in common with these humble servants than with many of the gun-toting or gay-bashing politicians, who turn on these social issues as their religious monikers during the election season, and then turn off their Christian service once they are elected.
The Christians in Bangladesh comprise a tiny minority in this overwhelmingly poor Muslim country, about one-third of 1 percent. Still, Christians are known to their Muslim countrymen for their service for the greater good.
They build and run schools to provide a quality education for Christians and non-Christians alike. Large numbers of Muslims attend schools established and run by Roman Catholics. Even the daughter of Bangladesh’s founder, who now serves as the country’s prime minister, attended a Catholic school. One school had a population that was only 1 percent Christian, and still the school is kept open for everybody. Even in the Christian schools, Muslims are taught about their own religion, and opportunities for daily prayer are provided for all according to their own tradition.
We met physicians who have become priests, and priests who serve as doctors to the poor in the countryside. Dr. Les Morgan and his wife, Presbyterian missionaries, have devoted their lives to serving the sick as best they are able. Forgoing lucrative stateside medical practices, these Drs. Morgan live among the poor, treat them as they come across them, deeply living their faith. This lifetime of service has been challenging. Occasionally, they think of giving it up. Still they serve, one person at a time, one patient at a time. They never ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Instead, they ask, “What hurts you, and what can I do to help?”
The Sisters of Charity take in the unwanted children and nurse their wounds and love them for as long as they need love and protection. They don’t ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Instead, they see the face of Jesus in each child they take off the streets.
Father Eugene has spent 55 years in the Bangladesh jungle. He built a school that educates a thousand children. He knows how to neutralize venomous snake bites.
Bishop Poren’s worry for the day was for a poor village in his far-flung diocese. Rampaging elephants destroyed the village, and Poren is trying to raise $40,000 to help rebuild the 40 homes the elephants destroyed. This small but overpopulated country doesn’t have enough space for all the people and all the animals, who encroach on each other.
Poren’s first worry is the shelter and welfare of his people, and then the education of the too often ignored tribal girls so they can make their way in life. I would venture that his serving the poor occupies more of his energy than teaching the catechism. He serves in the name of Jesus.
So here is my plea to our political leaders and those who are trying to replace them: Don’t tell us about your faith; we have seen those clips. Tell us how you are going to serve. If you are yourselves Christian, do what Jesus would do. Take care of poor people. Make sure they have enough to eat. Take care of people who don’t have homes. Make sure everyone in our state is treated with dignity, no matter their faith, race or ethnic background.
It shouldn’t matter where people come from. Jesus took care of those who lived in the margins of society. Make sure every child has an opportunity to receive a quality education. Jesus was a teacher. Make sure people whose bodies are hurting have the opportunity to see a doctor and get well. Jesus was a healer. Make sure those who can work can find meaningful employment so they and their families don’t have to suffer the indignities of poverty. A few loaves and fish can feed thousands. Help people become bakers and fishermen.
Put away the rhetoric. Don’t talk for Jesus. Instead, be like Jesus. Serve like Jesus. Show us your faith.