What’s the Matter with Jesusland?

The day after the U.S. elections, my neighbor, who is a Christian conservative, said to me, “This was foretold in scripture. You see, I knew Jesus would fix it.” I reminded her of our many political chitchats of the days leading up to Nov. 2nd when she expressed absolute disdain for Bush, as well as tremendous reservations about Kerry. She replied, “This win is not for Bush. It’s for the reign of God down here on Earth. We must obey God’s rules as told and exemplified by Jesus. Hallelujah!”

My neighbor is a blue-collar worker who finds the political ideology of the “blue state” party out of touch with the rest of America. But she finds the religious rhetoric of Bush’s “red state” party as that of a righteous cohort of Christian warriors preparing the path for the return of Jesus among them. And no better indicator, many Christian conservatives would argue, is that of statistics taken from national exit polls.

When voters were asked how often they went to church, 61 percent who attend church weekly voted for Bush compared to 39 percent who voted for Kerry. Those who attend church less than weekly voted for Kerry, 55 percent to Bush’s 44. Just when many of us Democrats thought the driving issues would be the war on terrorism and the economy, the overwhelming issue for voters was “moral values.”

But whose moral values are we talking about?

In light of this faith-based election where personality and public piety trumped the issues on terrorism, the economy, and the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, are you a less moral human being if you don’t believe in Bush’s theology or God?

“The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” Senator Joseph Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, said in 2000 during his bid for the White House. As a matter of fact, American democracy suffers when people have to be closeted about their faith because it fosters a climate of religious intolerance. While the separation between church and state prohibits the establishment of a state religion, it does not mean that the public sphere in American life should be religion-free.

Therefore, a just morality must have a clear demarcation between the sacred and secular spheres in society; must be inclusive of all people by having clear and ethical rules governing respect of all its citizens — Christian and non-Christian, churched and unchurched — and must share core assumptions about what constitutes discrimination based on race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

I agree with my neighbor that America is at an End Time, but for different reasons. . . We have confused prejudice for moral values, and we have hearkened back to an era of anti-intellectualism, pre-Enlightenment, where the theories of creationism are played in oppositional discourse with those of evolutionism.

My neighbor, like many other Christian conservatives, speak of this political era as morally bankrupt and uses biblical apocalyptic terminology to prognosticate that America’s End Time is near, as society plays God with legalizing abortion, and advocating for therapeutic embryonic stem cell research — and angers God with legalizing same-sex marriages.

I agree with my neighbor that America is at an End Time, but for different reasons. The nation has not been so polarized since the Civil War. Bush’s win has politically realigned the Old Confederate South. We are at a nadir with respect to religious plurality and tolerance. We have confused prejudice for moral values, and we have hearkened back to an era of anti-intellectualism, pre-Enlightenment, where the theories of creationism are played in oppositional discourse with those of evolutionism.

And while America tramples into foreign lands to obliterate the terrorism fueled by the religious rhetoric of Muslim fundamentalists like al-Qaeda and Sunni hardliners, America fails to look into its own backyard to see the deleterious effects of its tyranny of Christian fundamentalism.

One of its effects was best seen in the anti-gay ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage that drove Christian fundamentalists with righteous zeal to the polls. And the result of that zeal was that the 11 states that had an anti-gay initiative on the ballot all approved state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. Hallelujahs, heard and unheard, resonated through those states, and many other ones as well.

Many Monday morning political quarterbackers pontificated that Kerry lost the White House because he did not approve of amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage — after all, he’s from the sin-sick state that sanctioned legal marriage for gay couples – and he neither made apologies nor showed any compunction about being from “blue state” Massachusetts.

While many like to think that the issue resulting in Kerry’s loss was his inattention to moral issues, the real issue is how a virulent form of Christian fundamentalist rhetoric feeds into people’s fear and ignorance.

I asked Mary Jo Peterman, a lesbian who lives in Belmont with her partner, Chris Polcari, and a recent transplant from Dallas, Texas if religious progressives can dismantle the religious rhetoric of the Christian Right that seemed to have driven this election.

I have learned that while popular opinion on an issue might reflect a majority’s viewpoint, it does not however always reflect the right choice or a moral position. Let’s remember this country’s pro-slavery stance was built on a moral value — that people of the African Diaspora were less than human.

“No, because Old World Christianity is too embedded into our psyche. It would have to change at the root level. When we continue to teach from judgmental old Christian ways, we will continue to stay closed-minded,” she told me.

While it is also true the Democrats need to talk more about their moral values, they need not do it at the expense of scapegoating a group of people, which the Republicans have done.

As a former church pastor, and as an African American and a lesbian, I have learned that while popular opinion on an issue might reflect a majority’s viewpoint, it does not however always reflect the right choice or a moral position. Let’s remember this country’s pro-slavery stance was built on a moral value — that people of the African Diaspora were less than human. Let’s also remember this county’s segregation edicts were built on a moral value that people of the African Diaspora were less than human.

Therefore, I have found that the right choice and the moral high ground on an issue derive, too often, from that small struggling group trying both to be seen and heard among the cacophony of dissenting voices and opposing votes. And it is with this group that democracy can begin to work, where those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right.

Marriage is an inalienable right — one that ought to be afforded to all and one that ought to be non-negotiable in light of the changing world we live in. But this issue of who has the right to marry whom has become the prism through which heterosexism and homophobia refract and reflect light on both the church, the state, and a right-winged government.

While political observers feel that Democrats need to fill their “God gap,” Republicans, on the other hand, need to get right with God. And in so doing, if Republicans had a radical obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ and not a blind obedience to a right-wing political agenda, Republicans would then know that one’s longing for God is also one’s longing for justice in the world, and for full acceptance of who we are as the body of Christ.

Those Christian soldiers trampling on the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people working to ban same-sex marriage “in the name of Jesus” need to know that the ministry of Jesus was about the inclusion of all of God’s children, and therefore it is not surprising that in the Bible we find Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

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