A Match Made In Heaven or An Impossible Compromise?
The Pope’s recent tour of the United States, his message to Congress, and the outraged response from Christian politicians (and their constituents) has given many people – religious and non-religious alike – a reason to examine the glaring inconsistencies between the conservative agenda and the Christian values they claim to represent. Out of this examination has come an awakening for progressive Christians who, until recently, have been considered somewhat of a fringe group - one that sought to disentangle itself from the far right politics that Christianity is usually associated with. But thanks to Pope Francis they've been given a subtle push into the mainstream, and hopefully a chance to reclaim their religion from certain groups who have been misrepresenting it for far too long.
My Experience With Conservative Religion
It probably comes as no surprise that I personally identify as a progressive Christian, but my experience with church, Christianity, and my belief in God has been a complicated one. I attended the same Southern Baptist Church (just a short walk from my childhood home) for most of my life. My religious beliefs were passed on to me from my family, but never grounded in any personal conviction. And my family's church attendance for most of my childhood was sporadic at best. As I got older we started going more regularly, and attendance became mandatory. Pretty soon going to church on Sundays became a normal part of the week. Like going to school on Mondays – it’s just what was done. I went through the motions, sang the hymns, bowed my head, but never felt meaning in any of it.
Eventually, I started to resent my forced participation on Sunday mornings. More than that, I resented the preacher’s snide remarks about “Adam and Steve” in reference to homosexuality, and how the sermons so often seemed to play on guilt and fear rather than teach forgiveness or compassion. Then, one night at Bible study somebody made a joke about Buddhism just as things were wrapping up. It wasn't anything particularly offensive or mean-spirited - just an off-hand remark meant to be taken lightly - but something about it struck me as arrogant, and disrespectful, and not at all Christian-like. That's when I decided Christianity, and maybe even religion as a whole, wasn't for me
The Case For Liberal Christianity
A few years later I was ready to give religion another go, but I had to figure out how my personal beliefs were going to gel with new religious ones. After much reflection, I realized my opinions on certain issues – specifically sexual orientation, and a woman’s right to choose – don’t have to align with conservatives in order for me to be a Christian. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized that, for the most part, my left leaning politics are far more in line with Christian teachings than those of my right wing counterparts. I’m no biblical scholar, but I happened to notice that the Good Book spends way more time stressing the virtues of kindness, mercy, charity, love and forgiveness than it does condemning homosexuality or abortion. Call me crazy, but I think there might be a reason for that.
So why do conservative politicians, and religious voters cling to these two issues so blindly while completely ignoring the fundamental teachings of their supposed faith? If Jesus taught mercy and peace, then why do the majority of Christian politicians (and voters) favor the death penalty, support more military spending, and oppose gun reform? If Jesus taught compassion, generosity, and love, then why do Christian politicians criminalize Muslims, minorities and immigrants? Seek to slash welfare and education funding? Why are they politicizing the European refugee crisis, and using callous and dehumanizing rhetoric to describe those fleeing to survive? If God said "fear not", then why are Christian politician's constantly manufacturing fear? And why are conservative voters so fueled by it? Their hypocrisy is as blatant as the hate and bigotry at the core of the conservative message.
It’s no wonder Christian politicians have responded so unfavorably to Pope Francis and his message. It must be because he actually sounds like a Christian. And the time for true Christianity – the kind that doesn’t cry persecution or seek to persecute others–is now. We’re seeing the awakening of a Christian left that aims to put the teachings of Jesus into practice - starting with the poor, the marginalized, and the "least of these" - for the greater good. All without fear-mongering, grandstanding, or hateful rhetoric. The GOP obviously didn’t appreciate the Pope reminding them that the best way to keep Christian values alive is to be more Christ-like. But it was a reminder they sorely needed, and I don't think we'll be letting them forget it anytime soon.