Where is Jesus in politics?

For almost as long as we have been a church, Catholic ritual for Palm Sunday has dramatized that people who … Continued

For almost as long as we have been a church, Catholic ritual for Palm Sunday has dramatized that people who greeted Jesus with “Hosannas” and palm branches on his entry into Jerusalem were in the crowd calling for his crucifixion days later.

Holy Week reminds us that religion can as easily distort consciences as illuminate them. This year, the entry of the Affordable Care Act into the Supreme Court invited Palm Sunday-like displays of acclaim accompanied simultaneously by dark threats of rejection. The final court decision is not on a par with Jesus’ passion, nor is Obama to be confused with the Messiah, but just because we consider ourselves God’s friends we are not exempt from the sin of distorting the Gospel message.

DARREN HAUCK

REUTERS

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan introduces Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as he attends a pancake breakfast in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, April 1, 2012.

I’m troubled that public opinion so easily characterizes religion as only right-wing Republican politics. (Catholics like Rick Santorum probably falls into this category, so my critique is ecumenical.) The question of health care insurance is an example of how persons professing to be the most religious among us can nonetheless violate basic teachings of Jesus. We Christians are called to care for material needs of our neighbors (Mt. 25) without imposing evangelization as a condition. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk:10:25-37), Our Lord criticized the temple priest and the Levite who passed by an injured man. Jesus praised instead the non-believer’s material help to his neighbor, while condemning the religious leaders’ escapism in the name of religious purity. Direct action for mercy is valued over abstract passion for piety. Logically then, it goes against Christian discipleship of Christ to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a substitute that will provide for 40 million uninsured, most of them children. Talk of “government take over” or “use of abortifacients” does not relieve the Christian’s need to be keeper of our brothers and sisters. Yet, we are treated these days to the irony of religion being invoked as reason to avoid Christian responsibility for health care.

Similarly, God’s friends say they want to remake the U.S. government in the model of Christian values. That clearly would include spending public tax dollars to perform the corporal works of mercy: food for the hungry, housing for the homeless, health care for the sick, etc. Yet the construct of their “Christian government” removes these functions from legislative action. Ironically, today’s so-called “secularists” promote Jesus’ values in government while the “Christian nation” folks largely oppose them.

The Paul Ryan budget endorsed by the Republican party is built upon the principles of atheist Ayn Rand. The Catholic League assails atheists and secularists for offenses like not illuminating the Empire State Building with red lights for Cardinal Dolan, but is meekly uncritical about Randism and uncharacteristically silent about Ryan’s individualism that contradicts centuries of Catholic social justice teaching.

Other “Christian” politics include legislating for more guns and opposing restrictions on their sale. I am waiting for one of these believers to explain how being pro-gun fulfills Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39). Why do they promote laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground: in other states? “Claims of justifiable homicide in Florida have tripled since the law’s passage in 2005” with the result that murder goes unpunished more often. The death of Trayvon Martin should not be required to condemn laws that violate the teachings of Jesus both in word and deed. Why would any Christian be silent about such abuses?

Jesus told us to take in “strangers,” and Catholic teaching has applied this to the need for humane immigration reform. Yet “super-Christians” favor deportation of all the undocumented, even to the extreme of Republicans in Congress ridiculing medical attention to those imprisoned.

When God has friends like these, why worry about His enemies? In the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, we in the pews are required to shout out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Maybe we should ask ourselves whether this is merely a ritual or if we are betraying Jesus all over again in our politics.

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • SODDI

    Jesu died a long time ago. He may have been an admirable person, there is little historical evidence other than your bible to go on.

    All that is left is you christians and you have carved a bloody swath of terror and oppression through history in your Jesus’ name. There is nothing good or admirable about christians.

    Secularists want better future for humans. Christians want power for themselves.

  • danceron

    the occupy movement is inclusive…

  • leibowde84

    I would think that a secularist wouldn’t be stupid enough to put all Christians in the same “group” of “people who want power for themselves.” I am a Christian, and I pray everyday. I don’t support the church, whatsoever, though. They have distorted Jesus’ words and have created rifts between people that simply aren’t necessary. But to say that all Christians are part of this problem, is just as stupid as saying that all secularists don’t care about morality, or that all secularists are atheists. You need to watch what you say when it is flat out lies. Clarify the fact that only certain Christians are the ones you are talking about. Saying general facts about an entire religion is what the Germans did in WWII, it’s what the KKK said about the blacks, it’s what the republicans say about the left, ect. And, these types of comments are what keeps people from growing beyond religion.

  • SODDI

    I learned how to lie about my poliitical opponents from christians.

    After all, as an atheist, I am responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Pat Robertson said so. I don’t believe in your bible’s “moral” teachings so I must believe in wholesale murder. That’s what you christians tell me in the WaPo’s letter columns. (But of course, the time a Presbyterian church ripped me off for $3 grand on a flooded rental property doesn’t count as theft.)

    If I were a Jew, you christians would tell me I killed Jesus.

    So spare me your faux outrage. This is being played by rules you christians set up quite a while back, no holds barred and nuanced “truth” be damned.

  • Secular1

    leibowde84. of course not. But then, do you want us to litter every sentence we write with your exclusionary caveat? When we talk of christians in a negative light we mean the rightwing nutjobs primarily. But when we are talking of the stupidity that is inherrent in believing the fairy tales, then we are intentionally and correctly painting with a broad brush. Hoe that clears it up. By the way, if ypu would express your outrage against your fellow christians on their hypocrisy, then someone may take you seriously, instead of admonishing us for using a broad brush, in teh first place.

  • Secular1

    leibowde84. of course not. But then, do you want us to litter every sentence we write with your exclusionary caveat? When we talk of christians in a negative light we mean the rightwing nutjobs primarily. But when we are talking of the stupidity that is inherrent in believing the fairy tales, then we are intentionally and correctly painting with a broad brush. Hoe that clears it up. By the way, if ypu would express your outrage against your fellow christians on their hypocrisy, then someone may take you seriously, instead of admonishing us for using a broad brush, in teh first place.

  • SODDI

    “If I were a Jew, you christians would tell me I killed Jesus.”

    Really, this is the BIG one. Since the time of Saul of Tarsus, you christians have set up the Jews as the bad guy, for no other reason
    than that they wouldn’t convert to your particular cult.

    You got Jewey McJewington living in Engira, Roman Judea, circa 33 AD. He’s a subsistence farmer and fisherman with 3.9 sons and one wife. He’s a Jew because his father was a Jew and HIS father was a Jew before him. Maybe he goes to shul once a month and he can’t afford NOT to work on the Sabbath. He’s never been to Jerusalem because it’s a 40 day walk back and forth. He never heard of Jesus.

    But because SOME Jews in Jerusalem decide to punish an itinerant preacher like the Romans would punish a rebellious slave, McJewington and all his descendants for the next 1800 years will be villified, persecuted, tortured and slaughtered by the millions.

    “Some” christians will even come up with more crimes that Jewey (he’s since changed his surname to McGoyington in order not to draw attention to himself) and his descendants are “guilty” of. They trample on the sacred host and eat christian babies. They participate in “satanic” rituals. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Satanic rituals. And they caused the Black Death.

    And for 1700 the christian nations of Europe round the Jews up in ghettos and occasionally slaugher thousands of them. Doesn’t matter where. Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, England, Greece – all the sects and cults of christendom love them some Jew-bashing.

    Surprisingly, in all that time, one hears almost no christian voices raised in opposition to the race war against the Jews. No Papal Bull 13013 – “Hey, Leave Those Jews Alone!”; or “Wouldn’t It Be A Good Idea If We Eased Up On The Jews A Bit” by Martin Luther.

    By the 1400s, the christians also have the Negros and New World indigenes to persecute, enslave, torture and slaughter, but that’s OK – they still got plenty of hate in their hearts for

  • LTCOLHOWARD

    I am distressed that the writer mixes his personal politics into what should be a discussion about the whole package: America becoming a country of over promises and inability to deliver. Everyone should get top-notch medical care. Everyone should get top-notch housing. Everyone should get top-notch nutrition. Everyone should get top-notch education, etc. the way to do that is to grow the economy and then take off a fraction and allocate to help improve each of these various sectors. Unfortunately, desires grow faster than resources. May I say that I am disappointed in the writer who mixes religion and the tooth fairy.

  • good_wife

    This is Reagan trickle down approach — been tried, fails big time.

  • SODDI

    Skip forward a couple centuries (and over an endless list of pogroms and persecutions and murders and burnings-at-the-stakes and mass deportations of Jews by “some” christians). And skip over an endless litany of anti-Semitism hurled from nearly every christian pulpit and oozing from the pens of christian intelligensia. Anti-Semitism has even moved to the New World, where Jew hatred flourishes in a nation that has very few Jews, indeed. But look it up in contemporary documents – “some” American christians scream for Jewish blood, because, I dunno, they killed Jesus and stuff.

    By the 20th Century, Jews in Europe have entered respectable society. They are doctors, lawyers, scholars, filmmakers – even political advisors. A couple even invent communism. Then the hell that is World War I breaks out, and when it’s over and the dust clears, well, gosh, “some” christians decide that it’s the Jews’ fault. The Jews are responsible for the ruinous war debts, the Jews are responsible for me coming home with my lungs rotted out by phosgene, the Jews are responsible because that one Jew prospered while I’m doing so poorly. And by the way, they killed Jesus.

    So a nice Catholic boy and his Lutheran beerhall buddies team up and and form The He-Man Jew Haters Club, with the express intention of forming a new Holy Roman Empire, a Unified Christian Europe free of Jews and communists and Gypsies. And they have a Solution for the problem of those pesky Jews who killed Jesus. And they start rounding up the Jews…

    Meanwhile, all over Europe, the anti-Semitism continues. Winston Churchill lets it be known that he doesn’t much like Jews. In America, you’d be hard-pressed to find an editorial writer who isn’t pleased as punch at the way that nice Mr. Hitler is helping Germany shape up. And Father Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest, spewed his pro-fascist, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic venom all over the American radio airwaves to millions of American supporters.

    And at the end of the war, when the deat

  • SODDI

    Too bad about all them jobs we were supposed to get as result of all of these tax cuts, the “job creators” must be crying into their Moet & Chandon.

    I’d love to parse out Mitt Romney’s Bain investment portfolio – how much of the whole thing is invested into American investments, you know, the moneys he earns on that is only taxed at the special “job creator” tax rate. You think he’s got 10% of his portfolio in American investments, 5% or less? How much in Chinese investments?

  • plattitudes

    For me, whether or not Christ would support the Affordable Health Care Act, etc. is really a question of whether the ends justify the means. As the author states, Christ gave His followers a mandate to provide for the poor, the sick and infirm, the widows, etc. The end is care of all who cannot help themselves, the means is Charity.

    Affordable Health Care, on the other hand, also provides for the poor, the invalid, the widows (and the freeloaders). The end is care of all who cannot help themselves (and those who will not), the means is Compulsion.

    Does the end justify the means? I’d say the jury’s still out on that one, but the SCOTUS is still deciding whether to hear the case, so we’re not even that far along.

  • ethicalanimal

    Compelled giving is not charity.

  • persiflage

    ‘Compelled giving is not charity.’

    Tell it to the IRS – humans are compelled to do a lot of things that are offensive to any number of individuals. Living in groups has always had a price…………

  • GovSquid

    I’m not certain how the author would defend his assertion that “Christian values…clearly would include spending public tax dollars to perform the corporal works of mercy.” Charity is a personal act, and it simply doesn’t count if you sacrifice somebody else’s time and treasure.

    The author also asserts that Christians offer no alternative to ObamaCare. This is just nonsense, given the tens of millions of hours and dollars donated by the faithful in furtherance of their charitable mission every year. How many hospitals have a saint’s name attached to them? Beyond health and medicine — how many congregations help their neighbors with job searches, and day care, and food, and clothing, and all the other things Christ told us to do to help the less fortunate?

    We do not need the government to take care of our neighbors. Until 50 years ago, it was the sort of thing we did pretty well without the government’s “help” at all.

  • persiflage

    National healthcare is the sane option in any advanced society. Until Obama’s initiative (largely watered down by sly republican obstructionism), the USA was the only modern western society without such a plan in place.
    And it could have been so much better than it is – and yet, republicans would overturn the current legislation and disenfranchise 30 million Americans that will actually have healthcare for the first time.

    Already, much good has come from this legislation – 2.5 million parents have been able to provide continuing healthcare for children over 18 years of age that would otherwise have no coverage.

    It’s remarkable that republican revisionists doing the work of the rich still have such entrenched support among ordinary wage earners that are a couple of paychecks from living either in their cars or on the street…………..not something that Mitt Romney will ever have to worry about.

    This fantasy that religious people will take care of 300 million of their brethren in need, as a substitute for national healthcare, is bizarre thinking – but not at all unusual if one lives primarily in their imagination, rather than in the real world of hard knocks, chaos, and misfortune.

    I suppose one must conclude that God is quite the mischievious creator – what with all the misery and suffering. National healthcare could be viewed as a pretty good stopgap for God’s peculiar and often malevolent sense of humor, where humans are concerned.

  • Catken1

    Trouble is, charity does not and has not met its end. We do not care for all those who cannot help themselves with private charity, because there isn’t enough charity trickling down from those who hold the wealth.
    Affordable care, on the other hand, involves contributions from all of us, yes – in order to share the risk that all of us face, and in the end, minimize all of our costs. In countries where a single-payer system is in place, health care costs tend to be lower and results better than in our system. Whining about “compulsion” ignores the fact that if you do not get health insurance through your employer, or else get very sick and lose your job because you’re very sick, and with it your health insurance, and you can’t afford to pay for your care with insurance (and costs are so high that very, very few can), you are _compelling_ the rest of us either to commit the moral horror of letting you die when you can be saved, or else spending more money on saving you and others like you, collectively, than we would if we had a single-payer system.

  • Catken1

    Ethicalanimal, being required to support the community and the infrastructure that allows you to make your wealth in the first place is not “compelled giving”, it is your responsibility as a social, and yes, ethical animal.
    Why is it that conservatives whine that the unemployed widow who is trying to support her kids on welfare until she can find a job is a “taker” and a “freeloader”, but have no criticism for those who make millions and millions of dollars thanks to the support of a stable government, a solid community, public education for themselves, their kids, and their workforce, tax breaks for their business, a transportation system that facilitates delivery of their raw materials and products, a communications system that allows them to advertise and to buy and sell quickly and cheaply, etc., etc., etc. – and then whine about having to pay taxes on the money they earn with all of our help?

  • Catken1

    50 years ago? You mean when the top income tax rate was 91%? About twice what it is now?

    And no, private charity does not work and has never worked to solve the problem of poverty – it ameliorates it a bit, but the problem is too large, especially with health care beyond almost everyone’s reach without insurance (and insurance dependent on employment, which is often dependent on good health).

    Plus, much of that charity comes with religious strings attached. The Salvation Army won’t give you food or shelter until you pray to their God in their way. (They wouldn’t even let a social worker I know visit her client in one of their shelters unless she attended their church.) Many of those hospitals with saints’ names on them won’t treat me as a full human being if I’m pregnant, or if I’m raped and want to avoid getting pregnant, because their religious rules define me as property the moment I conceive a child, and won’t even let me save my life at the expense of that child’s right to use and inhabit my internal organs without concern for my consent or well-being.

  • Catken1

    And Leibowde, I’ve heard any number of Christians assert that moderate Muslims deserve to bear some of the blame for the actions of their more radical brethren, because they didn’t speak up enough against them? With, of course, no amount of speaking up ever being “enough”.

    Why should you be any different? Why shouldn’t we hold you responsible for the radical fundamentalists of your faith?

  • snelson134

    I dare you to show me where Christ said that charity should be performed by sending Caesar’s legions out to steal the wherewithal at spearpoint so that a bunch of scribes and Pharisees could hand it out with maximum self-righteousness to enhance their personal power.

    I can point to a dozen passages where Christ commanded charity to be performed by individuals for individuals with as little fanfare and recognition as possible.

  • amelia45

    Well done. Yours is a rare voice. What is sad is how rare that voice is within the real Catholic community – the pew sitters. I have almost despaired of the bishops bringing any sense to the health care debate. They would rather have power over women’s fecundity than health care for 40 million people. They would rather stigmatize gay people than minister to them. And, they are terrible confused over what it is to be a citizen of a democracy and to be a Christian. They act as if the government should be the Church and visa versa. Unfortunately, too many pew sitters have forgotten their history on that unholy alliance.

    Jesus’ message was simple. Love God and love one another. You get it. So few people do.

  • Catken1

    I think Christ might come down rather hard on those who spend their lifetimes benefiting from a solid infrastructure and a healthy community and then whine about “theft” at “spearpoint” when they’re asked to give back a reasonable share so that others can have the same benefits and the same infrastructure that allowed you to make that money.

    When you get from a community, you give back to that community, or you’re no better than those who live off the charity of others with no concern for earning anything themselves.

  • Catken1

    Sorry, that should be, “and you can’t afford to pay for your care without insurance”. Although sometimes, given how much for-profit insurers will fight to avoid covering anything, people can’t afford healthcare with insurance either.

  • SODDI

    The pew sitters are the majority.

  • haveaheart

    “We do not need the government to take care of our neighbors.”

    So why aren’t they being taken care of?

  • leibowde84

    The pew sitters aren’t the majority. To be a Christian, or a Catholic for that matter, there is no requirement to go to church or have any respect for any organized institution. A religion is a belief system, nothing more. Going to church is not necessary to believe something.

  • leibowde84

    There are millions of people out there who believe in Jesus, God and the holy trinity that never set foot in church.

  • leibowde84

    Good point. I think it is very clear that most people won’t help their neighbors. Someone has to … so who better than the government? Would you rather have them starve on the street?

  • SODDI

    When did a Catholic Hospital NOT send someone a bill or NOT sic collection agencies on them when they couldn’t pay their bills?

    Is that their idea of “charity” – one they deserve a tax free status for?

  • SODDI

    By the way, how much of the Vatican’s vast wealth and property holdings are based on wealth and property seized from Jews during the Inquisition?

  • ragvoice

    Right on the money. Thanks Anthony. I’m a pastor in Southern Colorado. I have been trying to get this message through to people here for years. People tend to think Christian and Republican are the same thing. My message is, as Christians we follow Christ not a party. When our party’s politics are clearly against his teachings we must act, challenge our leaders or find another party. The problem is that one is then forced to choose the lesser of two evils when you only have a two party system.

  • Elohist

    Gov Squid says that legislation that provides charity “doesn’t count” as a virtue by the individual because it is the law for everyone. Then not murdering people, not stealing, not shooting up with drugs cannot be counted as virture because it is the law for everyone. And not having an abortion would not be “virtue” because it would be against the law when Santorum is president.

    Give us a break GovSquid! The column pointed out that putting Christian values into the legal code is part of Catholic heritage. Why are you against that?????

  • BeeAnn

    re your comment .
    ” My message is, as Christians we follow Christ not a party. When our party’s politics are clearly against ”

    I thought you just said ” we follow Christ not a party ”
    Christians shouldn’t have a political party !

    Do you really think if Jesus were on earth that he would vote one way or the other ?

    Time to re-think if your actually following Christ’s example or not !

  • BeeAnn

    re ” Where is Jesus in politics? ”

    He’s not in politics !

    there’s nothing but lying & cheating in politics & Jesus would have NOTHING to do with such activities !

    Seems that many a preacher & church forgets about separation of church & state .

    They don’t want the state messing with the church but they want to mess with the state .

    Hypocritical , ain’t it , well that ‘s religion for you !

  • LLCisyouandme

    Jesus, the “Librul,” is in Heaven. His minions are the ones still mucking along here, oblivious, in some ways resentful, of their origins.

  • winemaster2

    Which Jesus, that humble decent Jew helping his fellow mankind, or the one the RC Church and other invented in the man’s own image and went as far as labeling his wife Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.

  • mickfan

    Amelia I very much liked your comment, could not have said it better

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