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Piety or Politics (1999)

Excuse me?


The politically popular pietism suddenly in vogue raises a few more questions than it conveniently answers.

"Christ changed my heart"? From what to what, one might ask? Unless it's enough to simply invoke the name and trust that the association means votes, shouldn't we expect more than a dismissive "it's hard to explain"? That amounts to the religio/political version of "sit back, relax, and leave the driving to us."

This current glut of divine name-dropping crosses the political divide, joining otherwise constant adversaries in a presumptive theological clubbiness even as it excludes all who don't share their particular version of faith (and, apparently, even some who do). This group of self-professed, faith-enhanced candidates includes some experienced in national governance and one who leads a state. And what, pray tell, have they brought us?

WWJD ("What would Jesus do?") is, it is claimed, a question often asked by the like-minded when faced with a deeply meaningful or troubling issue. A good question, one might think, if familiar with the teachings of Jesus. But if so, what happened?

Jesus said of those in prison, "insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." (Matthew 25) Our nation's criminal justice system, under the auspices of those in positions of state and national leadership, is a shameful scandal. Women prisoners are routinely sexually abused by guards; male/male rape occurs in epidemic numbers, sometimes with the knowledge of those in control, sometimes at their instigation; gladiator-style fights among prisoners are arranged by guards for purposes of punishment, control or amusement; incarcerated children are abused by custodial personnel; minorities, the poor, the mentally damaged, the innocent and those who can't afford a decent defense clog death row and one state has passed legislation making inmates legally non-persons in an attempt to escape human rights requirements. Is this any way to treat Him?

Jesus said of children, "for the Kingdom of God belong to such as these." (Matthew 10) If so, it's a good thing, because those in state and national leadership leave them impoverished, uninsured and ill-educated in this world, then bray that the inevitable child lawbreaker be tried as an adult, incarcerated with adults, or executed - presumably taking it like a man. One of our Jesus-inspired candidates introduced in the U.S. Senate an omnibus crime bill that would lower the minimum qualifying age for the federal death penalty from 18 to 16.

Jesus said, in repudiating the rationale for capital punishment, "You have heard that it was said 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but now I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who does wrong." (Matthew 5) Apparently not one to turn the other cheek, the state leader who claims his heart was changed by Christ has killed more people in the past year alone than Ted Bundy ever thought about.

Articulator of the ethical code of one of the world's great religions and arguably history's greatest lover, Jesus may be the best-known human rights advocate on record and humankind is striving to evolve to a place worthy of the principles that he, along with the leaders, founders and practitioners of our other great faiths, exemplifies. This Jesus with whom so many of the candidates find it profitable to align themselves - at least in terms of their public pietism - stands for the direct opposite of the base acts to which they have pledged fealty in pursuit of political power. That being so, it might be worth knowing just how it is that those hearts have changed through knowledge of Him, just as it might help to know what the practice of asking oneself WWJD means if one's subsequent action is directly to the contrary.

Or should the question for politicians more appropriately be WWPD? What would Pilate do?


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