As the emotions from the 2004 election recede, it is time to contemplate its meaning. There is a multitude of exit poll data to examine, but here is a set of numbers that caught my eye.
–Persons who say they attend church more than weekly: Bush 64 percent, Kerry 35 percent.
–Persons whose annual income is greater than $200,000: Bush 64 percent, Kerry 35 percent.
–Persons whose annual income is less than $15,000: Bush 36 percent, Kerry 63 percent.
These numbers are so stunning that it takes a moment to recognize what they are saying. It is apparent that there has been a major shift in the identity of the church, and it is difficult to imagine a more searing indictment of Christianity in America.
If those who attend church more than weekly represent its most committed members, those whose identity is most closely connected to the church, then what do the numbers tell us?
They tell us that the church votes just like rich people and just the opposite of poor people.
I have officially been a follower of Jesus for 36 years now, though I believe that I was on this path even before my baptism at age 8, and I have been voting in American elections for a quarter of a century.
I have tried never to base my vote on allegiance to a political party or my own personal interests. Based on my understanding of the gospel, the only way of making such a decision that has ever made sense to me is to look at how the poor and other dispossessed groups are voting and vote in solidarity with them. I did that again this year, and since I attend church more than once per week, that means I was in a small minority of 35 percent within that group.
It is now apparent to me that the Christian church in America has been hijacked and is being used to preach a false gospel that promotes unjust wars, winks at poverty and pays no attention at all to racial inequality.
Instead of values like peace and justice, which I understand to be at the core of the genuine gospel, this false gospel places at its center a collection of political positions on issues like gay marriage and stem-cell research.
Notice that this political ideology has used these new issues to move its former marquee issue, abortion, away from the center.
After eight years of steady decline under the presidency of Bill Clinton, the number of abortions began to rise again under the leadership of George W. Bush. Despite attempts to cover up these embarrassing facts, this issue has lost value for the Christian right-wing, political ideology and is being replaced by others.
These so-called “moral” issues have little if anything to do with the actual lives of those who hold them, and the sense of self-righteousness and personal morality which they bring comes at no cost to the holder.
No text reveals the disparity between this false gospel and the gospel of Jesus Christ better than the Beatitudes that Jesus pronounces at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
Therefore, I have felt compelled to revise those Beatitudes for use by this political ideology that passes itself off as Christianity and which is indistinguishable from a materialistic, strutting pseudo-patriotism.
–Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Why not, they own everything else?
–Blessed are the arrogant, for they will inherit the earth, and pay no inheritance tax on it.
–Blessed are those who have declared themselves full of righteousness, for they need nothing from anybody.
–Blessed are the merciless, for they need no mercy.
–Blessed are the war-makers, for they shall be called patriots and Children of the Almighty.
–Blessed are those who persecute others who are not as righteous as them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
–Blessed are you when you revile and persecute and utter judgment against the lowly and despised of this world, for they are the cause of all our problems.
Two final assertions are necessary in conclusion.
First, I take very seriously another statement Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus cautions against calling someone a “fool.” In Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1, “fool” is a designation for an unbeliever.
Therefore, according to this teaching of Jesus, I do not get to decide or declare who is or is not a believer. My condemnation in this essay is aimed at a movement that I believe is deceptive, manipulative and evil. It is not intended as an evaluation anyone’s spirituality. I do not get to do that.
Second, unlike the politicians and religious leaders who often speak for this movement, I can tolerate criticism. You may disagree with my position and voice that disagreement. I will not tell you that you are not allowed, or that disagreeing with me makes you unpatriotic or a hater of God’s people.