What’s a Christian to Do?

images   There’s a price to pay for claiming Christian identity, and it can be high. Maybe that’s why the word “Christian” seems to be slipping out of public discourse.  

   This week, The New York Times reported that a certain group of people wants senate Republicans to force a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court, without waiting to resolve the question of whether he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford.

   “If Republicans fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” a prominent member of that group suggested, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based conservative voters in November.”

   The article calls these people by various names — Evangelicals, social conservatives, anti-abortion leaders, members of the religious right — but it never calls them Christians. I wonder why not?

images-2   I would bet that all the people implicated in that article would claim the name of Christian, as would I, which means that Christianity has a claim on them in turn, and on me: a claim to live according to a set of principles which cannot be reduced to galvanizing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, or to undermining one.

   One of the primary tools for living out those principles is the Revised Common Lectionary, which offers a set of scriptural lenses for reading the puzzle of reality each week. This week, one of those readings features an argument among the disciples about which of them is most important. Jesus resolves that argument by reminding them that “whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.” I’m inclined to tear out that verse, drag it down Pennsylvania Avenue, and throw it over the fence at the White House, or wherever that certain group of people gathers.

   The problem with doing so is that they would throw the next verse back: “Then Jesus put a child among them and said, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” That verse makes the question of abortion, which is a primary factor in Kavanaugh’s ascension, seem easy to answer.

   But what about Kavanaugh’s welcome of fifteen-year-old Christine Blasey? Wasn’t she a child? Yes, one might answer, but then so was he. Perhaps, but not a child who saw himself as the servant of all. Besides, anyone who knows abortion knows it can’t be answered easily.

   These disputes among you are a sign of war within, another lectionary passage says. You lack something, and you can’t obtain it, so you throw verses, or push your agenda, or pin a smaller person to the bed.

images-1   “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will be disorder and wickedness of every kind,” James says. “But wisdom from above is gentle and willing to yield, without a trace of partiality.” Which means I should ask the same questions about everyone: what does Donald Trump lack, and what do I? What is the selfish ambition of the Religious Right, and what is mine? What do I envy in them, and what do they envy in me?

   “Save me, O God, by your name,” the psalmist beseeches, “and vindicate me by your might.”

   Most of us Americans prefer to vindicate ourselves by our own might. Perhaps that’s why the article avoids the name of Christian: it’s hard to read myself through the same lectionary I apply to people rife with envy, ambition, and disorder. If they are that, then what am I?

4 thoughts on “What’s a Christian to Do?

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  1. “You lack something, and you can’t obtain it, so you throw verses, or push your agenda, or pin a smaller person to the bed.” This line really struck me. It is powerfully written and ties our desire to our belief to our action in a way that is very visceral. Just two sentences below you state: “But wisdom from above is gentle and willing to yield, without a trace of partiality. ” The word yield here is jarring to me. Is this wisdom from about something we are supposed to reflect? If so are we supposed to yield? As a female reader reading this line against a line about pinning someone to a bed makes me think – well if I am supposed to yield then is the godly thing submitting to advances. I do not believe this is true but I are this leap and find my own thought pattern somewhat disturbing.

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    1. Thanks for engaging, Samantha. I appreciate your comments. The line about wisdom from above is a paraphrase of the lectionary reading from James. I’ve gone back and put quotes around it to make that clear. Still, the problem remains: I don’t think yielding is right in that context. I can’t imagine Jesus would say Christine Blasey should have yielded on that bed, or that anyone in similar circumstances should tolerate that kind of assault. But what about the whole turn-the-other-cheek idea? I don’t know what to do about that in a context like this, except to say that it doesn’t apply — and to say that reading the Bible is a continuously contradictory experience that undermines my certainties at every turn, which is one of the primary reasons for doing it.

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      1. Thanks for the Beliefnet link. I understand the importance of historical context for determining what a text may have meant in its day, but that kind of investigation doesn’t always open doors for me, especially when it seems bent on discovering what it wants to see. So the backhand-versus-forehand analysis doesn’t speak to me. Connecting “turn the other cheek” to the verses that follow it does speak to me. It has long been clear to me that “give him your cloak as well,” and “go also the second mile” are methods of subverting control, not submitting to it. So placing “turn the other cheek” in company with those clearly subversive tactics makes it seem subversive, too. Subversion is lost on drunken people trying to pin smaller people to a bed, however, so it wouldn’t make any sense to turn the other cheek in that context.

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