Republican’s Obsession With Presidential Religions

As I was reading about how radio host Tim Farley, of “The Morning Briefing with Tim Farley” radio program, immediately cut off Retired Air Force Colonel Dick Brauer, Jr. after he started spewing the wingnut lie about how Obama is a Muslim, I just couldn’t help myself as I blurted out “it’s about damn time.” Someone finally took the microphone away and said he wasn’t going to let him start spouting his untruths.

The Republican’s obsession with trying to convince the American public that President Obama is a Muslim, is just nuts. The man has been elected president twice and not running for the presidency again. Why does it matter anyway.

For the first two hundred years of this country, most of our presidents worked diligently to keep their religious lives private and to keep some sort of wall between their religion and their Presidency. Two of our most famous Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, were unaffiliated with any religion.

Even though he is considered one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln probably would not be nominated, much less elected today because he never joined a church, never publicly confessed a creed, nor publicly uttered belief in God’s endorsement of his policies.

Andrew Jackson conscientiously refused to allow his religion to be a part of his office. Jackson was called on by members of Congress and influential religious leaders to call for a national day of prayer and fasting in response to a cholera epidemic. Jackson refused, stating that to do so would be to transcend “those limits which are prescribed by the Constitution for the President,” and he feared that this religious encroachment could “disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

So, during my lifetime I have witnessed the Republicans hatred for President Obama because he might be a Muslim (and he is black); their animosity towards John F. Kennedy because he was a Catholic; and their loathing of Jimmy Carter who was a devout Southern Baptist Christian. Yet, they were more than willing to run Mitt Romney for president and he was a Mormon (nothing bad, just not one of their kind).

The Republicans were so fixated on John Kennedy’s Catholicism and the possibility that his religion (i.e. Pope) may influence his presidential decisions, they made it a national religious issue. To mitigate this Republican obsession with his Catholicism, on September 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered the speech of his political career in Houston, Texas, before a crowd of several hundred mostly Protestant ministers. Kennedy was addressing what he referred to as “the so-called religious issue.” As Kennedy saw it, the nation was facing a raft of issues from the threat of Soviet communism to hunger and despair at home. “These are,” he argued, “the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues—for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.” Nonetheless, JFK knew he had to address the question of his Catholicism. Kennedy famously declared, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president—-should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote,” and he concluded, “I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me.” Earlier in his career in Congress, JFK once quipped that in Boston they learned their politics at home and their religion from Rome. As JFK put it, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

Now that was a great speech on keeping church and state separate.

Fast forward to today and we see that we have now done a 180º degree flip and the Republicans want exactly the opposite of what John Kennedy said. Now it is all about church influencing and guiding state policies and ministers telling their parishioners for whom they should vote. Do I see a Supreme Court decision in the future stating that keeping church and state separate is unconstitutional?

That is crazy you say. Think about it. Think about how politicized and radical the evangelicals have become in the last twenty years.  Maybe not so crazy.

Hey Mister… Are You Jesus?

Jesus holding lady in tears“Are you saved?” “Are you born again?” “Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?” These are the formulaic ways that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians will ask you if you are “right with God.” But I have to say that I become uncomfortable when someone uses these phrases as a thermometer to gauge my spiritual temperature. Not only does it seem to be very self righteous, but I start to think that what they really mean is that if I haven’t come to God by one of these particular processes, then I might not be a Christian.

Not to mention that usually in today’s America when a conservative Christian approaches you with such phrases, there is much unspoken baggage behind them. Such as: When you are saved or born again, you will want to become a Republican Conservative. You will want to be very patriotic because this is a Christian Nation. You will want to be for the death penalty and against all abortion. You will want to speak out against homosexuality and lesbianism . You will want little or no government intervention in your life. You will loath separation of church and state. And you will go to war if that war is “just,” etc.

But I don’t like it when people put God in a box. I would like them to throw their formulas away.  If I know anything about God I would say that he is very creative and omniscient, and he can bring people to him in many mysterious, joyful and loving ways. It’s like Forrest Gump said when asked if he found Jesus: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.”

Alter calls and “witnessing” campaigns are not for me. The early church met at one another’s houses. When the people around them watched them live their daily lives, they said, “See how they love one another?” That’s how we should be. I don’t think there is one perfunctory formula or living arrangement  that we are to pursue to get people to “come to Jesus,” or “get right with God.” As a matter of fact I believe that wherever we are, we “flesh out Jesus.”  We show by our actions that  Christ lives in us. It’s as simple as that. I don’t believe that we are supposed to get a beatific smile on our faces or have our eyes become glazed over.

We don’t have to speak in tongues or have some kind of carnival show. I have known when I am around a Christian. They don’t  have to say anything. They don’t sound like they are on drugs and smile at me like a moron. They don’t keep saying “Praise the Lord!” Praise the Lord! They do praise the Lord by the way they naturally act in love. They are human. They are compassionate. The difference is that they are genuine. You can just tell. I think they have authentic love because they follow Christ and have him and his love living inside of them. They “flesh him out.”

That’s how I would have felt around Martin Luther King. That’s how I would have felt around Gandhi or Mother Teressa. And I’m sure that’s how I would feel if I met Jimmy Carter. There is just something about people who walk in God’s love. You like to be around them. They love you unconditionally and accept you as you are. They don’t judge you.

I think conservative Christians like pat formulas because, in our commercialized world, they have turned Christ into a commodity, something to sell to people. Jesus used various phrases in the Bible to teach people what it’s like to know God or understand his love. He didn’t mean for us to make an idol of them and turn his love into mathematical formula.

There is a story about a business man who was frantically rushing through an airport lobby because he was late for a flight. A little boy was walking along with a puzzle that he had just put together. The businessman smacked into the boy and the pieces of the puzzle, along with the boy, went flying everywhere. The man sat down on the floor beside the boy to see if he was okay. He was going to miss his flight. While he was on the floor with the kid he put the pieces back into their proper places and handed the puzzle fully intact back to the child. The little boy smiled with surprise and said, “Hey Mister. Are you Jesus?”

By Keith Goss, for the Christian Left