I don't generally talk about politics, for the same reasons that I don't put my hand on a hot skillet, but I have had enough. Rick Perry opens his "Strong" campaign spot by saying, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” then spends the next 28 seconds making me ashamed to be called one. I have a simple request for the Republican presidential candidates, Fox News, Pat Robertson, and anyone with an ax to grind with everyone who doesn't agree with them: please stop calling yourself "Christians." You're entitled to your opinions and your beliefs, and you're just as welcome to list the people you hate and who you think are attacking you and your way of life as the separatist holed up in his Montana bunker, but to cover your intolerance, bigotry, and racism with the label of "Christianity" is simply grotesque.
I'd also like to say something to my non-Christian friends out there: please don't be fooled. These opinions don't represent the mainstream of Christianity any more than when a Congressman tells the news what "The American People" want. For every intolerant bigot shooting his mouth off on television, there are thousands of Christians quietly serving the poor, caring for the sick, and generally showing the love of Christ to their fellow man, simply because they actually read their Bible and that's what it told them to do. You don't hear about them because they don't make a big deal about it: they just do it. They aren't seeking power or recognition, and the only change they want to make in people's lives is to make them better. They want people to know that they are loved, regardless of what they've done. That's what being a Christian means to them, and to me.
When I see these talking heads on TV, I cringe every time they open their mouths to talk about their "Christian values," since none of them seem to actually have much value at all. When they self-righteously point at some other group and say, "They're morally decrepit because they don't do what I want them to do," I have to join my friend Handy the Hand-Puppet, and say, "You're making us look like jerks!"
For just a moment, let's go to the source, shall we? Since "Christians" originally meant "Little Christs," let's see what Jesus has to say about what he wants his followers to do:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.”What, only two commandments? That seems too simple. At least Moses got 10.
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
"Love God with all your heart?" What about "Cynically use God's name to cover your intolerance and fear-mongering to trick people into doing what you want?" That must be what he meant.
"Love your neighbor as yourself?" That sounds hard. I'm sure that what he really meant was, "Set up standards of moral living for your neighbors and make sure that they live up to them at all costs. If they don't, point it out with regularity and let them know that God hates them. Make stuff up if you have to. Oh, and don't worry about living up to these standards yourselves. Since you tell people that you're my followers, that's enough. You're exempt."
Interestingly, during Jesus' ministry -- a ministry marked by kindness for the poor and partying with the people that the established authorities deemed "morally decrepit," by the way -- he consistently targeted only one group for criticism. These were the people who had established themselves as the arbiters of who was good and who was bad, and who used religious authority as a means to gain wealth and power. I suspect he'd say something similar to our conservative figureheads today:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
“Everything they do is for show... they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!
“...What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith....
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
"Whitewashed tombs." Couldn't have said it better myself.