“Breaking news,” I read on Twitter. The ACLU has sued Rowan County for refusing to stop opening its commissioner meetings with sectarian prayer. The news saddens me. Not for the ACLU. They warned the commissioners a year ago, giving them a chance to make changes, even including an election season. The commission leadership made sport of it all, playing up the extra publicity, with the chairman volunteering to be the first to go to jail. The following two meetings became mock church services with well-meaning local Christians singing hymns and rallying in the overflow spaces outside the meeting, presumably defending God. So, no, I am not sad for what the ACLU is doing, nor for the commissioners who could have avoided all this.
Nor do I hurt for God, who is not on trial at all, or Jesus, who was never the political messiah whose part he is being forced to play in these political dramas. The Gospel of Jesus is about caring for the poor, not just with an annual “love offering for hunger,” but by selling everything we own. Pretty heavy stuff. “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he said, “than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus lived and preached caring for the forgotten, the oppressed, the outcast, the least of these, and praying in private where God alone can hear us, not in the public square. The Jesus who shouts that gay people are going to hell, that life begins at conception, and that government meetings should be conducted as Christian worship services is a made up Jesus, a political imposter. Admittedly it is easier to follow the passions of the made up Jesus than to follow those of the real one, but I’m getting off topic.
No, my heaviness of heart is instead for the thousands of devout Christians, inside and beyond Rowan county, who will be the victims of this charade. They are the ones who will be most hurt. Hurt because many of them will truly believe that God is on trial, that God must be defended, that the government is the enemy, much like when we teach our children to fear the police officers who work for everyone’s protection. They will hurt because they have fallen victim to the mix of Christianity and politics that’s being preached in so many churches. They will hurt because they will be led to believe that this is spiritual warfare, a battleground in the so-called war against Christianity, Christians vs. non-Christians.
To all the Christians I love: I believe there is no such war (even if our politics desperately needs us to believe there is), and that God is not on trial. The ACLU works to protect our American freedoms, not to take them away. Before letting ourselves get caught up in the political heat that is about to engulf us, with everyone trying to dictate to us what it means to be a Christian, let’s prayerfully reread Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all alone, and be reminded of the Jesus for whom our faith was named. May we pray for wisdom to discern what is our Christian faith, what is our politics, and what is the danger of mixing them together.