"I'm voting for Bush, but I really hope Kerry wins." Thus spoke the tall, handsome African American gentleman who had just opened perhaps the thousandth door I knocked on while canvassing before the election.
My jaw dropped. "You hope Kerry wins, but you will vote for Bush? For heaven's sake why?" This was the most illogical comment I had heard yet.
"Well, you see, I'm a minister. If I were to vote for Kerry, my entire congregation would leave and go to another church."
I blinked several times. "Why?"
"To vote for Kerry would be immoral."
"Kerry favors abortion and gay marriage."
"What about the murder of thousands of innocent Iraqis? Is that moral?"
The preacher shrugged. "It's war."
"What about tax cuts for the rich at the expense of public childcare, healthcare, housing, and education? Is that moral?"
The young preacher dropped his eyes sadly as if to inspect the parapet at his feet. "That's why I hope Kerry wins. He won't cut taxes for the rich. But I can't vote for him. I would lose my congregation."
I went away feeling helpless and futile. It is a perplexing phenomenon, this strong support of Christians for Bush and his war.
Barbara Ehrenreich, a great advocate of working people, stated it rather strongly in the November 29th issue of the Nation Magazine. "A criminal has been enabled to continue his bloody work with the help, in no small part, of self identified Christians."
This is odd. Wouldn't Jesus be the last to invade Iraq? Would Jesus ever condone a policy of military aggression? Wasn't it Jesus who said things like, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you."
But the buzzwords arousing the Christian faithful during the campaign were abortion and gay marriage. Unfortunately, to vote against these so-called sins was to vote against public housing subsidies, childcare, and public health insurance as well. To vote against these sins was to vote for the continued upward distribution of wealth. It was to vote in favor of an endless war for oil. These moral issues should have greater relevance to Christians than abortion or gay marriage.
I am little more than an amateur theologian, but I am sure if Jesus had voted in the 2004 presidential election, it would not have been the way many so called modern day Christians did. Poverty and war are the urgent moral issues Jesus would have been concerned about, not abortion and gay marriage.
These latter concerns are those of today's Calvinist Christians, not those of Jesus and his early followers. Many Christians of today seem unlike Jesus' followers whom he advised to give all their possessions to the poor and follow him in a simple way of life. He hung out with folks at the lowest rungs of society, people who tended to be looked down upon by self-righteous upstanding citizens of his day.
As for the young African American minister I spoke with before the election, too bad it wasn't Jesus at his door instead of me. Jesus would have told him to vote his conscience even if it meant losing his congregation and his livelihood: Consider the lilies of the field how they grow. They neither toil nor spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was never clothed as one of these.
As for abortion and gay marriage, my concept of Jesus is not of someone who would be punitive on those issues either. I can see Jesus cutting slack for so-called sinners who respect a woman's right to chose or find it in their hearts to bless the same-sex union of a couple who love and respect one another: Judge not that ye be not judged. But I'll grant the young minister the benefit of the doubt on that, as would Jesus. Still, I can't see Jesus condoning the Bomber of Baghdad.
No, Jesus would not have invaded Iraq. In fact, if he were alive today, Jesus would advise his followers to resist the imperial ambitions of the Bush Administration.
Ehrenreich suggests we take a lesson from the early Christians, the ones that lived long before Calvin. She says, "Theirs is the story of how a steadfast and heroic moral minority undermined the world's greatest empire and eventually came to power. Faced with relentless and spectacular forms of repression, they kept on meeting over their potluck dinners, proselytizing and bearing witness . . . emulate those early Christians who stood against imperial Rome with their bodies, their hearts, and their souls."
That is what Jesus would advise if he were alive today celebrating with us his humble birth.