I was quite surprised to read an op-ed today on CNN.com by Jay Parini entitled Paul Ryan’s firing of Father Conroy should worry us all not because of it’s obvious anti-Republican bias, but rather because the author openly claims to be a Christian and was still allowed to publish his thoughts. I will say I agree with Parini in his condemnation of the “Prosperity Gospel” and the damage it has done to Christianity. Anyone who gauges their standing with God based on the quality of their health and wealth is likely not in possession of an orthodox understanding of the Gospel. I also share concerns that the House chaplaincy has seemingly become embroiled in a political skirmish. I don’t know all the details of that, nor is that the issue that really concerns me.
What really concerns me is the fact Parini attempts to politicize Jesus Christ, even in the midst of an op-ed condemning the politicization of the House chaplaincy. Parini says, “Christianity is the religion of Jesus, who was himself ‘political’ in that he took sides with the poor, the ill and those who lived on the margins.” There’s nothing political about loving the poor, the sick and the “sinners and tax collectors.” What Parini seems to be trying to imply is that Jesus would have been a progressive/Democrat versus a Republican because he cared about the poor and needy. He’s implying that Republicans, Christian or not, are all wealthy, greedy and care nothing for those “below” them, and that they revel in a health, wealth and prosperity gospel that affirms their self-righteous “smugness.” While there are unfortunately a few people who fit this description, they do not, and should not, represent conservative Christians as a whole.
I have moved among conservative Christian circles all my life, and I can say with a reasonable amount of credibility that most of the people I have known and been acquainted with seek to follow Jesus’ commands to love God and love others. Lest you assume I am unqualified to make this assertion, let me say that I have attended scores of churches, chapels and Bible studies in more than a dozen states and four countries. I have also known some of the most un-Christian people in my travels and jobs – the people Christians are called to love – and so have not lived an insulated, sheltered life speaking in an echo chamber or caught up in a perpetual “holy huddle” with like-minded Christians. Rather, my life experiences have taught me many things about politics and religion, two of which I want to highlight.
First, God’s people, aka the Church or “body of Christ,” are all over this wide world loving God and loving others. There’s nothing more encouraging than being able to travel just about anywhere and find pockets of people who really get it and who are really trying to build communities around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The second thing is that there is persistent and harmful mischaracterization and misperception of genuine Christians that’s propagated mostly by Hollywood, the media and academia.
Parini’s op-ed certainly does nothing to fix this issue, but rather encourages more division – not based on the genuineness of someone’s faith claims, but on how they vote. He fails to acknowledge the millions of conservative Christians who, though they may not vote Democrat or support all the government-funded welfare and assistance programs, love the poor, the sick and outsiders; and they do so by sharing with them the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ and by acts of service and the giving of millions of dollars and volunteer hours to charities and ministries that help the very people Parini accuses them of ignoring by voting Republican.
This is not intended to be a politically focused op-ed. I really don’t care how someone identifies politically. I really don’t care that Parini assumes conservative Christians can’t truly claim to follow Jesus Christ. In the end, opinions and political affiliations will not matter one bit. All that will matter when the trumpet sounds and Jesus appears in his glory to judge the living and the dead is whether we know him, and he knows us. But, until that day, I plead with everyone who claims the name of “Christian” – regardless of political persuasion – to be busy about loving God and loving others lest the mischaracterizations and misperceptions become prophetic.