These are contentious times when it comes to the junction of religious faith and politics. Whether the issue is poverty, same-sex marriage or abortion, there is remarkable division even within the Christian world. This is evident in the fact that people often refer to, or ally themselves with, the 'Christian Right' or the 'Christian Left.'
It's a fascinating discussion, and indeed, Christians do have political leanings that vary widely. Some are dedicated, hyper-conservative fundamentalists while others feel that Jesus was a kind of 'proto-communist' and we should all be the same. Christianity can, in fact, be a rather malleable belief system. And like all ideologies it can be twisted to justify good and bad with equal fervor.
This is all fairly evident in the response to the US visit by Pope Francis. People on the left side of the faith are thrilled that the Pope is concerned with climate change and income inequality. Those on the right hope that he can overcome his Argentine bias against capitalism and see what a functional middle class, and a nation with safety nets for the poor, actually looks like. They also dream that he will speak boldly about the horrors of abortion. Both sides have 'a dog in the fight.'
The thing is, we all have it wrong when we become a faith of factions. We all have it wrong when we make it about politics and not Jesus. When conservative Christians (like myself) fall in love with war for its own sake, for the power and domination, for the intimidation and machismo of it, we forget the Jesus who loved even the enemies who crucified him.
When we fail to be sympathetic to the sick and broken, we neglect the Jesus who touched lepers and healed the blind and fed the 5000. When we love money and success as ends in themselves, we become deaf to the master who reminded us that the journey to heaven is nearly impossible for those carrying bags of earthly wealth.
When we believe morality is an end in itself, we abandon the Jesus who came to bring redemption and deliverance from our inevitable sins. We must try our best not to be 'conservative' or 'right-wing' Christians. We must only be Christians.
But when liberal Christians focus only on patching the wounds of this transitory existence by shifting money or passing laws, when they scoff at eternity and eternal consequences, they lose sight of the Jesus who told Pilate, 'my kingdom is not of this world.'
When they say that Jesus was merely a radical thinker who came to teach us acceptance not transformation, who came only to compel us to 'be nice' and not judge anyone (not even our own sins), then they turn their backs on the loving teacher (and ultimate judge of all, according to scripture) who lived and taught morality and who promised to transform us into something far better than what we are. The very Jesus who had hard words for every kind of sin, including sexual sin as well as greed, lies as well as hatred, and who spoke about hell and judgment extensively, even as he promised to rescue us from both.
Furthermore, when any flavor of Christianity reshapes Jesus to be more acceptable to popular culture, they forget that He said to his disciples, in Mathew 24:9 'Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.' Popularity, and popular acceptance of our beliefs, are not likely to happen if we truly live the way He wanted us to live.
We will certainly have varied opinions on politics and policies, and on the proper expression of our faith in our daily life and national politics But we aren't supposed to insult or disdain one another. We should, rather, care for one another and see what we can learn by loving those who share our faith but differ in perspective.
Jesus himself, the night before his arrest, said it best. In John 17:20-21 he was praying for his followers, and then continued, 'I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.'
Not a word about right or left. May we all be one.