Archive for February, 2016

Yesterday, a video came out that showed the Pope suggesting that Donald Trump was not a Christian. He said that a person who did not speak of building bridges, but only of building walls, was not a Christian because that was not the Gospel.  He also noted that he was willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.


The timing of this was particularly interesting as it occurred only hours before a Republican town hall where Trump was scheduled to speak. To my surprise, neither Kasich nor Bush, both committed Catholic, took the opportunity when CNN gave it to them to throw Trump under the bus.  Trump also did not respond with the level of bluster or insults that one might have expected.  He did suggest that the Pope was likely misinformed and misled by the Mexican government and that he did not believe the quote was as bad as the media made it out to be.  Trump maintained that he is a Christian.


I struggled with the questions posed by this situation. It’s not a new scenario.  Both sides of the gay marriage debate have been hurling insults at each other and accusing the others of not being ‘real’ Christians for a decade or two.  It has always seemed to me to be a very dangerous practice.  Ultimately, a person’s relationship is with God, and only they can know their religious beliefs and the content of that relationship.  The fact that I believe marriage should be between two adults who love and respect one another, regardless of gender, as a manifestation of my Biblical and spiritual principles, does not mean that I think that those who disagree with me are not Christians.  But, I’ll have to admit, that when stories come up about assaults upon and murders of gay and transgendered individuals, in the name of the loving, forgiving God that I know, I question those people’s faith.  I can’t help it.  How can I not wonder how a Christian, who claims to believe in the God of the New Testament, justify committing acts of violence against someone, often fellow children/teenagers in schools, in his name?  Is this the same God who instructed us to turn our cheeks?  Who, when an adulteress was dragged forward, said, ‘Let he who is without sin throw the first stone’?


So, do we believe that a person is religious by their faith or by their actions? I choose to believe that, while I do not believe that Trump’s actions are in accordance with the Gospel, as Pope Francis has said, that doesn’t mean that he’s not Christian.  I do and say things that aren’t very Christian.  It doesn’t invalidate my faith.  Trump’s faith is ultimately between him and God.  But I won’t pretend that our actions don’t reflect our faith, that the actions and the goals that we strive for don’t say something about us.  The sad fact is, one can be a Christian and not live the Gospel.  We all do it, accidentally or not; and we all need to live the teachings of Jesus better in our lives.  Being a Christian isn’t meant to be the end goal, it’s meant to be the beginning.


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Today, my political theory class discussed Socrates and Crito. The Crito is a discussion between Socrates and one of his followers, Crito, where Crito tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Socrates to escape Athens after he has been convicted and sentenced to death.  The question our teacher ended up posing to us was “Is it possible to be loyal to the state while you disobey its laws?”  I answered in the affirmative.  I believe in the ideals of our country: free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live our lives the way we want (assuming we don’t harm anyone else), social mobility, meritocracy, everyone is equal under the law.  But I also know that our country doesn’t, has never fully, lived out those ideals.  We are a country that shuts out its religious minorities, oppresses its racial minorities, degrades its women, and gives advantages based on birth from the second you begin to get medical care or education.


Many conservatives complain that liberals don’t love this country, that they only want to focus on America’s flaws and changing its awesomeness. Liberals, particularly many of my young friends, all but shout back, “But it is flawed!  This is wrong!  How can you praise your country when one out of six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and a black woman is much more likely to end up in jail or killed rather than college?”  They’re angry—and rightly so.  Anger in the face of injustice is understandable and perhaps, when channeled productively, is even the most rational, ethical response at times.


I understand. I share the frustration.  However, I also believe that a country is more than its individual politicians, its court decisions, its flawed laws.  I can still love this country because I love it at its best, at what I want it to become.  Whistleblowers, practitioners of civil disobedience, are all willing to take risks, take the consequences of their actions out of a desire to make our country better than it is.  Our class discussed the difference between laws and Laws.  Laws being the highest ideals, the underlying principles upon which we try to found everything else.  Patriotism doesn’t require obedience or lip service, in fact, an institution like a state should be strong enough to withstand criticism and discourse.  The fact that we have these ideals, often, I think, is what makes all of this so hard.  Something in our national consciousness cries out that this is not right, because this is not how it should be. This isn’t who we should be.


As I was thinking of all of this, I couldn’t help but suspect that part of this trend of disillusionment is why many millennials are opting for spiritual rather than religious, for personal development rather than a church. They look at hypocrisy among church leaders, abuse scandals, dogma that denies facts…a system that doesn’t live out its ideals, because it is made of flawed men and women who have not been able to live up to the promise of God’s true church.


Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent. For me, Lent is a time where we try, in our own lives, to get closer to that idealized version of ourselves.  It’s a time where we have to face our own brokenness and how far we have to go, but commit to trying nevertheless.  I think our country could use some Lent.

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