Tuesday, January 28, 2003

This morning my uncle forwarded me a message urging to me to pray for our good Christian President George W. Bush. The general gist of the message that because he has such high regard for both God and the military, we should give him our spiritual support.

What a blessing to have a professing Christian as President.

Please take a moment after you read this to "pray for him." He truly
does have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Pray that God will
sustain him and give him wisdom and discernment in his decisions.

Pray for his protection and that of his family.

And after you have prayed, send this to everyone on your e-mail list.
Our President needs Christians, Democrats and Republicans alike, to be
praying for him. As this makes the e-mail rounds, eventually there could
literally be millions of people praying for him, and for our Great

This wasn’t exactly surprising. My uncle is an army reservist, with two children who’ve recently entered the service, and a devout Christian. And of course like many of us he’s trying to reconcile himself to what’s going on in the world. But of course it bugged me. As a lapsed Catholic and a liberal my feelings on prayer and politics are inconclusive to say the least. I have never been comfortable with the idea of public prayer. I can come up with reasons and ideology to back me up but I don’t think they would quite go the distance to describing my squeamishness. It’s like kissing someone passionately in a crowded room or shouting in a library. The idea of a large church wedding terrifies me because if I’m going to declare my love before God I’m not sure I want everyone watching. These feelings have only been exacerbated in the last several months, so when I read that email, I immediately began searching the Web for any text about Christianity and the antiwar movement.

I hit upon a Jesus Was a Leftist Web site and sent the link to my mother. She emailed me back pointing out the questionability of this citation:

Was Pro-Choice (proven by what Moses wrote)

Exodus 21:22-23
(Word of God from Moses)

22 "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [1] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,

I’m not sure what it means but I’m definitely sure it doesn’t endorse choice. Then it hit me what I was trying to do.

If there’s anything that forever damns the Republican Party in my eyes it’s the way they’ve hijacked Christianity to their own narrow and vicious ends. And it’s dismally remarkable how easily the language of the Bible lends itself to racism, warmongering, hate crimes, and violent crusades against perceived sinners. More shameful that that is the Get Out Of Jail Free nature that calling someone a Christian affords. We forgive so much when given a glimpse of a public display of piety or hear tell of a leader’s revelatory Christian transformation. It is this sort of distortion that has never failed to infuriate secular, agnostic, and atheist liberals, who see the hypocrisy but, having removed themselves from religious argument are powerless to combat it.

Now in the wake of George W. Bush’s regressive two years in office, a new breed of Christian has found it’s voice in liberal politics, particularly in in environmentalism and the antiwar movement where the language of Christianity can be most directly applied. Initially I was thrilled. When confronted with their liberal counterparts, conservatives were often left tongue tied. This was comically evident when Jerry Falwell clashed with the What What Jesus Drive organization for conservation. ( "I urge everyone to go out and buy an SUV today.") Outbursts like that only prove my point: those on the right who espouse Christianity the loudest were the worst kind of hypocrites. How else would you describe a person who can’t see the religious significance of preserving the Earth? And why shouldn’t liberals take back Christianity? After all, its philosophies of forgiveness, compassion, philanthropy, and humility are more in line with liberal ideology.

But as Jesus Was a Leftist Web site illustrates, in the end it’s still a game of citation twisting. Biblical language is ambiguous at best and both sides can quote forever and justify pretty much anything. And once again I turned to the question of Christianity, prayer and politics. Is there ever a good way to mix them? Looking back over my uncle’s email I can’t quite dismiss it altogether. Underneath the rhetoric is something that I can ponder on; an admonishment not to hate Bush even if I disagree with him. This is something I can think about on a purely practical level. I don’t enjoy hating Bush. It hasn’t enriched my life in any way. It gives me insomnia and ruins my appetite. But that message is a far cry from asking me to pray for Bush and that I cannot do. When I pray it will be for the armed forces over seas, those they may potentially kill, the families here at home, and for myself and finding a sense of balance in a world of extremes. But I won’t pray for Bush.

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