12/10/2012 05:09 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Let's Throw Our Demons Off the Cliff

Priests get asked to do strange things. A few weeks ago I was asked to give the invocation, an opening prayer, at an annual event to celebrate the accomplishments of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Social Responsibility.  They believe being a good citizen is good business. I got up to do my three minutes and realized I was looking out at a room filled with nuns -- incognito, but they were nuns. You can tell. 

If I prayed five times a day for the rest of my life, I will not have prayed as often as the women who sat waiting for my opening prayer.

That kind of thing happens to me all the time.

I was there because Sister Simon Campbell of NETWORK was scheduled to be a speaker. Sr. Simone is now a celebrity because of her speech at the Democratic National Convention. She was invited to speak at the convention because of the popularity and effectiveness of the Nuns on the Bus, taking on the moral failings of the Ryan budget.

Like many religious people I found myself in tears during Sr. Simone's DNC speech. She embodied and beautifully articulated what I believe most people of faith believe: our political actions have moral dimensions, primarily in how we care for and empower the poor, the marginalized and the immigrant. As a Christian, I can't help but notice that the diverse books of the Bible seem to beat us over the head from all angles with a simple message -- a primary sin in the eyes of God is social inequity and injustice. The Bible says, over and over, God just hates that and expects us to do something about it at the level of governance, not just the personal level, and even more, God hates those who attempt to approach God in worship but despise the poor. Says so in the Bible in any translation you like.

God through the prophets, poets, scholars and priests who composed the Bible never says we hope those who suffer find a nice guy to help them out. The Bible says the sign of God's sovereignty in our lives is how we organize our public life. 

Much of contemporary Christianity has somehow made morality about personal, private matters. There is that component in the Bible, but we should be really clear about proportion. That personal stuff is not a dominant theme, at times those moral proscriptions only apply to priests offering sacrifices at the Temple, which no longer exists, except for the Wailing Wall and these great steps, or is found in the letters of Paul to the first Christian communities, marginalized and without influence to do anything but govern their relationships with one another while waiting to be martyred. In general God seems to be about much bigger things, which is something I look for in a God.

I am proud to see a movement among young evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics speaking out as Christians engaging the political process on issues like climate change (stewardship of creation) and poverty (we're against it, and we don't think the poor are to blame). 

I believe followers of Jesus don't have much choice on these issues. We might disagree on what the most effective ways are to provide universal health care, nutrition, education, work, reasonable shelter and retirement for all, but I don't think we can argue that it is an option to let people suffer and die when we have the resources we have in this country to prevent it. Jesus wasn't tough, and he wasn't a banker or businessman. The Son of God didn't come to us as a prince, politician or wealthy landowner. He comes to us the child of poor wanderers, Palestinian Jews, who cross a border into Egypt to keep him safe at a time of political repression. He travelled with humble people, and the desperate and needy followed him in hordes, and he fed and healed them.

Nations reveal their values in how they tax and then spend that revenue. Our current national budget reflects a high priority in defense or attack on behalf of the business and political interests of Americans or however you understand the use of our military, and then a paltry sum allocated for the development of our infrastructure as a nation and the development of our people increasingly gifted to corporations whose profit we seem to believe will cause justice to magically flow. Hasn't been working. It might be worth remembering that a free market and corporate subsidies are not enshrined anywhere in the Christian tradition, and definitely not in the Bible. It says in Acts that the earliest Christians held their property in common and took and gave to one another as was needed. It is the mark of our faith. And because we inherit the entire text, we have in the Hebrew Scripture/Old Testament a remembrance of God's instruction on how to govern a nation, a nation that would have within it foreigners, workers, the desperately poor, widows and helpless orphans. God who is made incarnate in Jesus says, the test of your devotion to me is to make your nation a place of justice for them. 

It might sound a little over simplified, but that's because it's really quite simple in the Bible.

Sister Simone Campbell spoke to those convictions at the heart of our shared tradition in one of our largest political forums. I cried through her talk. What has happened to us as a nation that it is so rare and courageous for a Christian to speak the truth of the Christian tradition in public life and challenge us to do better for the poor? That's kind of the area that nuns (and all the rest of us) are supposed to cover. All that praying takes you to the heart of God they say.

It is rare because Christianity is more commonly cynically used in our political life and has been since the rise of the religious right who would have us believe that followers of Jesus are marked by their homophobia, sexism, assorted other bigotries and slavish commitment to a government subsidized "free" market for the wealthy. I just checked, and that last part is totally not in the Bible. 

Remember that time when Jesus went to Gerasene and the man possessed by demons came right up to the boat and cried out to Jesus to let him be, afraid that the demons were inherent to who he was. It says Jesus looked at the man, saw him, seemed to really see him and love him and cried out to the demons to leave him.  The demons who were about to be homeless asked that they be sent into an, unfortunately nearby, herd of swine. Jesus did as asked. The poor, possessed swine go nuts and run off of a cliff to their death.

So, how about we take our demons -- those bigoted, fearful, destructive ones that rage in our nation, causing us to tear at our own common body and yet feel like an essential part of us -- and send them over a cliff.