I sometimes meet people who express regret that organized prayer is no longer allowed in public schools, and I always disagree with them for three reasons. The first is that when I was a public school student, most of my classmates and teachers were Christians who attended the same Columbia, SC churches – thatâ€™s no longer the case in a more diverse America. The second is that my wife once taught at an elementary school with Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Bahaâ€™i students where it was tough to craft a prayer that embraced all faiths without disrespecting someone. The third is that I wouldnâ€™t want some people who now call themselves â€œChristiansâ€ to lead my child in prayer.
I thought of that when considering the ongoing political circus to choose a Republican Presidential nominee. â€œEvangelicalâ€ Christians recently met in Texas to decide whether to make Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum their â€œevangelicalâ€ Christian candidate. I donâ€™t question the professed faith of any candidate, but as Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-23, weâ€™re known by the fruit that we bear. The fruit produced by almost all GOP candidates seeking â€œevangelicalâ€ Christian support has been – to put it kindly – rotten.
Mr. Gingrich uses both coded and blatant rhetoric to appeal to potential voters with racist tendencies. Mr. Santorum said that he doesnâ€™t want to help black people and has a track record of crude and homophobic statements. Mr. Romney, whose faith once questioned the human worth of African-Americans, said that he doesnâ€™t care about the poor. All of the GOP candidates have rudely and relentlessly attacked President Barack Obamaâ€™s faith, citizenship, motives and ability in ways never done with other Presidents.
Their tactics make one initially wonder how they could spew mean and ugly rhetoric to gain support from â€œevangelicalâ€ Christians, but when one considers some of what passed for historic â€œChristianâ€ behavior, itâ€™s not surprising.
The European justification for the violent imposition of colonialism in Africa and on other non-white continents was to make Christian converts. Those who kidnaped Africans to become slaves in the Americas used Christian evangelism to explain their actions. Every major American denomination split into northern and southern factions in antebellum America over the morality of slavery.
Those who enacted and enforced Jim Crow segregation through legal and illegal means considered themselves to be Christians while barring black worshipers from their churches. Those who engaged in lynching, rape and murder to intimidate African-Americans called themselves the â€œChristianâ€ Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Some of those who now call themselves â€œevangelicalâ€ Christians are the heirs of that legacy and practice a bogus religion that is ruthlessly judgmental, pointedly angry and divisive and sometimes embraces insults and violence to impose what they consider to be â€œGodâ€™s willâ€ on those who donâ€™t think, look or act in ways that meet their standard of piety. Those who carry that brand of religion into the political arena often call themselves the â€œChristian rightâ€ when the truth is that theyâ€™re dubiously Christian and usually not right.
Authentic Christianity, as is true for all authentic world religions, is not about division, arrogance, separation or mean prejudice but instead embraces the principles of righteousness expressed by Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40 – that we love God with every fiber of our being and love others as we love ourselves.
Those of us who claim to be authentic Christians will be known by our fruits. President Obama gave evidence of that when he said at the 60th Annual National Prayer Breakfast on February 2 – â€œTreating others as you want to be treated.Â Requiring much from those who have been given so much.Â Living by the principle that we are our brotherâ€™s keeper.Â Caring for the poor and those in need.Â These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths…they are values that have always made this country great. When we live up to them; when we donâ€™t just give lip service to them; when we donâ€™t just talk about them one day a year…theyâ€™re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.â€