Sometimes I just feel like blowing off steam about stuff that bugs me. The opinions expressed here are those of your Old Religious Guy, and aren’t necessarily those of my congregation or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—although they ought to be!
Last weekend my wife and I were watching C-SPAN and heard Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz address the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee gathering. From the rhetoric of both candidates one might conclude that a Trump or Cruz presidency would amount to a declaration of war on Iran. Gotta be honest here—this kind of talk scares the crap out of me. BUT, I am an old religious guy, so maybe I should confine my opinions to religious topics. For some time I’ve been thinking about a comment made by an older and more religious guy about our presidential contest.
A few weeks back, Pope Francis was asked his opinions on Donald Trump. The Pope said—if I’m quoting him correctly—that a man who talks about building walls and not bridges is not Christian. (Please forgive my lack of citation here, but I’m pretty sure you can Google this!). There are two schools of thought about this comment. The first would be questioning whether any human being—even the Holy Father—has a right to declare who is or is not a Christian. After all, none of us are God, and none of us can see into the human heart and know what our brother or sister believes. Therefore, none of us really has a right to judge the faith of another.
On the other hand, however, I am reminded of the evangelical preacher Jim Wallis’ thoughts in his 2005 book God’s Politics which suggest that we American Christians have watered down our understanding of faith to a simple assent to doctrinal teachings. That is, if we say, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” we are then “saved,” and granted a free pass on our earthly behavior. As a Lutheran pastor who preaches the doctrine of justification by God’s grace through our faith, I’d have to agree that such a confession is, indeed, salvific. But another Lutheran pastor, the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, might call such an understanding “cheap grace.” That is, such a confession of faith may pay the minimum amount of lip service necessary to acknowledge God’s gift of eternal life, but ignores the call of Jesus to true discipleship.
If Jesus really is both our LORD and Savior, then we are his vassals and subject to his command to love and serve our fellow human beings and the world the Father God created. In other words, if the faith of Jesus is really in our hearts, than Christian IS as Christian DOES. We are all called to serve the least of our human family as if we were serving Jesus himself. If we arrogantly assert that we can ignore the poor for the sake of a balanced budget, place free market values over a child’s welfare or the health of the planet, ignore Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies and work for peace, marginalize an entire section of our demographic, or equate virtue with wealth and victory, then the Pope is right—we aren’t Christian.
Okay. Here’s another rant. What’s with ABC-TV’s The Bachelor? The ancient Romans used to have the Colosseum in which spectators could watch gladiators fight to the literal death and Christians and other criminals tortured to death or torn apart by savage beasts. The ancient Romans were really into this stuff. They got their jollies watching others suffer. Today, we Americans have The Bachelor, a TV show which allows us to watch twenty-five young women develop a crush on one dude just so twenty-four of them can be disappointed and get sent home in tears. Isn’t this cruelty as entertainment? Just asking.
And Bachelor TV weddings really set my teeth on edge. Seriously. The last happy couple to be wed by Disney Entertainment had show host Chris Harrison officiate the nuptials in a lavishly produced ceremony. Okay. Forget for a moment my natural aversion to Mr. Harrison’s bullshit Universal Life Church mail-in-your-boxtops ordination which makes him legally qualified to preside at weddings in the state of California. Just consider that in the entire ceremony broadcast on national television there was not a single prayer, blessing, or even the use of the word “God.” There was no reference to any faith tradition whatsoever. There was, however, an opulent setting, expensive clothing, and a pyrotechnic display as the happy couple marched toward their reception. To me, the message seems to be that weddings are not about God’s gift of love between two human beings, but, rather, how spectacularly and extravagantly such a union can be celebrated. Such displays seem to me to be self-aggrandizing and in very poor taste.