A religious liberal looks at “Christianists”

By Jean Fitzpatrick

With apologies to Kermit the frog, it’s not that easy being a liberal religious voter.

People tend to pass you over in all the speculation about which candidate the evangelicals and right-wing Christians will support. Nobody polls us, and sometimes it seems as though nobody knows how we see things — or recognizes that ours isn’t “religion lite.”

It’s confusing, seeing a Presidential candidate who doesn’t seem entirely clear whether he’s an Episcopalian or a Baptist. I don’t cast my vote based on a candidate’s religious affiliation, but when a person’s been an Episcopalian for 71 years and then during the South Carolina primary last year suddenly tells a reporter, “By the way, I’m not Episcopalian. I’m Baptist,” even though he’s never had an adult baptism, I think we deserve an explanation. It would help us understand what makes him tick. The Washington Post’s faith blog was calling McCain “John the Baptist” this weekend, noting that John the Episcopalian made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 2000, which is also when he called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “forces of evil.”

It’s worrisome, seeing a Vice Presidential candidate who calls herself as a “bible-based Christian,” prays for a natural gas pipeline, and thinks the U.S. mission in Iraq is a task from God. “A lot of people were praying,” James Dobson said recently, “and I believe Sarah Palin is God’s answer.” What was the question?

It’s sad, hearing speech after speech by sarcastic Christians at the Republican convention. What was that nasty tone? We all have our moments, God knows, but it wasn’t as though this was road rage — these people were reading speeches off a teleprompter. Snarky might play well in the convention hall, but seeing it on the small screen I wondered where love thy neighbor fitted in. Exaggeration is certainly no stranger to politics, but hearing one untruth after another from Palin about her own record and Obama’s on everything from tax hikes to the Bridge to Nowhere — not to mention Huckabee claiming Palin “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States” — I wondered what happened to thou shalt not bear false witness.

And now McCain is running a commercial accusing Obama of supporting legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education to kindergartners.” Implying a condoms-and-cucumbers approach to the facts of life, the voiceover intones ominously: “Learning about sex before learning to read?” Obama has repeatedly stated that he favors community-based programs that teach young children to know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. As a pastoral psychotherapist with years of experience helping sexual abuse survivors, I am all too familiar with the need for programs that protect the most vulnerable among us. To distort this kind of education insults both Obama and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse.

Voters and leaders get into trouble when Christians turn into the home team and all they can think about is scoring. Here’s a little news flash: Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It’s not our job or our calling to claim the world or the country or even little Wasilla for Jesus. When we prey on people’s fears and bring out the worst in them so they’ll vote for us, then we’ve succumbed to lust for power and lost touch with what’s essential. We diminish ourselves and our faith. I’ve decided to start using Andrew Sullivan’s name for people who use the name “Christian” as a political identification: Christianist. “Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith,” he wrote a couple of years ago on Time.com. “Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism….I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.”

The God who loves me loves Muslims and Jews and atheists, blacks, whites, and browns, gays, straights, wearers of flag pins, snowmobile racers, Eastern elites, moms of special needs babies, teens who have abortions, Republicans and Democrats, loves us all. Somehow we’ve all got to start doing a better job of leading this country, not to mention sharing this tiny, precious globe. A good start would be getting our facts straight and respecting one another. That’s the candidate who gets my vote. It’s not that easy being a liberal religious voter, but it’ll do fine. It’s not religion lite. It’s hard. Demands all the brains and heart God gave us. But it’s beautiful, as Kermit said. It’s what I want to be.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

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