It was a day to celebrate diversity, a day to celebrate progress. It was a day to look forward with great hope and resolve. It was also a day to look with sadness on the deep divisions of race and religion running through the course of our history; a day to recognize the tragic and growing chasm between plenty and want. And yet, for all that, it was a day to believe in the best ideals, the most beautiful landscapes, and the hard-working, free-thinking people that make up our great nation.
And yet–certain religious leaders tried to upstage all those layers of darkness and light, by making snarky comments about the President’s faith. Or lack thereof. Let’s call that camp of pastors “He who shall not be named”–(because, you know, saying the Dark Lord’s name gives him more power). The widely-tweeted comment was something to the effect of “praying for the President as he places his hand on a Bible he does not know, making a pledge in a God he doesn’t believe in.”
I don’t really want to repeat or engage such negative words at all. I mean…who is he, after all, to comment on someone else’s life, let alone another person’s relationship with God? Thing is…those same kinds of pastors comment on my life, and my relationship with God, all the time. They say I should not be allowed (yes, allowed) to preach, because I’m a girl. They say that I am not called to ministry–perhaps I heard wrong?–because God would not speak to me in that way. Furthermore, they say that my husband should not be a stay-home dad, because of some obscure biblical text that basically says men need to work a 40 hour week and bring home a pay check in order to ensure that their sons won’t be gay. (Side note–in what obscure epistle do people find this $*%&??).
I’m a pretty secure person. He-who-shallnotbenamed can say this stuff, all day long, and ima still be in the pulpit come Sunday. My husband will still be at the drums with a small child on one knee–possibly two. It’s whatever. i don’t care what they say about me.
However–i do care what this brand of Christian leader says to other women and girls, who maybe don’t have the network of support and affirmation that i’ve had, all my life. I do care that they feel entitled to comment on another person’s worthiness to speak the name of God–whether it is a woman pastor, or a gay person, or a President whose faith does not quite fit in the same box –or on the same bumper sticker–as that of the masses.
I do care, when pastors talk about religious freedom as though they–the straight, white, affluent, American male–are somehow the ones being oppressed.
So, we’re going to play a little game i like to call “What Would Jed Bartlett Say?” For instance, what would Jed Bartlett say, were he the President being sworn in, upon finding out that the mega-preacher in the back row was saying disparaging–and public–things about his belief in God?
Here is my best guess:
The Pretend President Bartlett, who lives in my head: “I’m sorry, who is this guy? He’s a pastor, right? With a following of thousands? Maybe HuNDREDS of thousands? Is his faith so insecure, so fragile, that he needs it written into the constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court? I find that troubling. Maybe he’s just mad he had to sit next to the Lutherans at the interfaith prayer breakfast. I hear they had some women in collars as part of their delegation.
Anyway, we don’t do this. In this country, we don’t point fingers and claim that ‘our God is bigger’ when we disagree. We don’t go in front of cameras and say that our faith is better than somebody else’s. We don’t question the contents of a man’s soul. I don’t care if he’s the President of the United States or the guy who cleans up peanuts after a baseball game. We don’t do this.
But if we did…I say, if we did, I might tell that guy that he’s, right; I don’t believe in his God. I don’t believe in a God who’s been tragically limited to a certain time by a particular cultural context; a God who has been named and claimed by a slim demographic of people, and wears all the same blinders that they wear. I would also say that the Jesus I follow does not look much like his Jesus. The Jesus I know talks about feeding the poor, and loving your neighbor, and sitting at a table with people you don’t like very much. His Jesus looks like a frat guy.
But we don’t do this. Not in this House. By the way, I guess this means all those ocean-liner-sized churches are officially ready to give up their tax-exempt status now, so they can campaign for the other guy next time. Tell them I’ll take their check, anytime now…”
**Thankful for my inner Jed Bartlett, for such a time as this. Now I’m off to work on some sermon notes. For a message about the body of Christ having many gifts, many parts and pieces, many voices; but one faith, one baptism, one Spirit of Love. May as much be true in our time and place. Even if we don’t all fit on the same bumper sticker, maybe we can learn to at least share a government and dispense with the name calling.
Or maybe I’ll just go home and watch reruns of The West Wing.