Follow Jesus, Not the R or the D (Thank You Readers!)

Can a Christian be a Democrat?

That’s a loaded question in today’s America. We have one political party directly targeting Christians to the point of having paid organizers who “work” the churches for them. Meanwhile the other political party has become the outpost for every Christian-bashing group going. 

It would seem, based on that analysis, that the party providing the political home to the Christian bashers would be the one to avoid. That was the basic response of many of the commenters on my earlier post on this question. 

The arguments went back and forth, up and down, all along the political spectrum, but the upshot was that the Democratic party is hostile territory for traditional Christians, while the Republican Party is more welcoming to them. 

One commenter raised the question of what is a Christian. After all, there are some denominations who use the moniker Christian on their church bulletins and fit right in with the Democrats. Are they less Christian than the others?

In my opinion, all this begs the central question. Let me reframe it to be more specific. Can a traditional Christian who accepts, believes and tries to follow the 2,000 year old Christian teachings about human conduct and morality be a Democrat?

The converse question also bears a look: Can that same Christian be a Republican?

I think the answer to both these questions is yes … and no. 

You can certainly register as either a Democrat or a Republican. But you may not, on peril of your soul, budge one inch on the 2,000-year consistent teachings of traditional Christianity. 

Abortion? 

Can’t do it or support it.

Gay marriage?

Nope.

Stealing from the poor to give to the rich?

Uh-uh.

Unjust discrimination against other people?

Not allowed.

Following Ayn Rand?

Are you kidding?

The truth is that Christians can and should go just about everywhere in our society. We need to engage the culture at every level. But we cannot compromise the Gospels of Jesus Christ while we are doing it. 

If you follow that simple rule, believe me, you’re going to catch flak from whichever political party you join. Both parties torture the Gospels to make the Gospels fit themselves. Both parties have their toady churches who enable them to do this by providing theological cover. 

I’ve heard preachers quote take Bible verses out of context to justify everything from gay marriage to doing away with safety standards on food. The right wing does it for the corporations. The left wing does it for the gays and the abortion industry. 

This has reached the absurd point that people — intelligent people — will argue about which party is closer to Jesus. 

Repeat after me: Political parties are not churches. They are about getting power and keeping power. Everything else they say is a lie. 

The Republicans formed their pro life position as a strategy, not as a morality. They realized that it was an issue that could be used as a wedge to divide the Democratic party from their core constituencies of labor and working class people. This has been largely successful for the Republican Party.

It has not benefitted the sanctity of life or Christianity in this country. In fact, it has marginalized the whole concept of the sanctity of human life and turned it into a power issue in power politics. This over-zealous support by many religious leaders of the Republican Party and all its positions, including some that are quite evil, has tarnished the moral and prophetic voice of Christianity and weakened the leadership of Christian clergy.

People are sick of the Jesus-is-a-Republican heresy. Unfortunately, they tend to over-simplify and blame all Christianity for the sins of some of its more politically motivated leaders.

On the other side of the spectrum, good Christians are sick of hearing from the anything goes religious leaders who have searched the scriptures and come up with a namby-pamby version of Jesus that basically oks anything anyone wants to do except be against government hand outs.

Let me be clear about this. You can not say that killing unborn children is ok and speak for Christ at the same time. Conversely, you can not slight the needs of women or ignore the disgusting exploitation of and violence against women that is drowning our culture and be speaking for Jesus. 

You can not put your political party ahead of your fealty to Christ and be a faithful Christian. You can not do it. It makes no difference if you are a Republican or a Democrat, if you do not look at your party and see that it is doing things that are anathema to Christian teaching and following Christ, you need to get on your knees and pray for forgiveness and guidance. You have put the wrong god to the forefront of your life. 

Can a Christian be a Democrat?

Yes.

Can a Christian be a Republican?

Yes.

Can a Christian follow their political party instead of Jesus?

No.

We are called to convert the world, not let the world convert us. That includes our political parties. 

Go and Evangelize the Whole World

“The Church needs you,  your enthusiasm and joy,” Pope Francis told the 3 million assembled youth at the closing mass of World Youth Day.

“This experience must not remain locked up,” he said, urging them to go and evangelize the whole world.

The video below contains scenes from this last mass, including parts of the Holy Father’s homily.

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World Youth Day Flash Mob

I learned about this a while back. These young people have been rehearsing for weeks for this and it was a success!

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Conversion Story: Hell and Oyster Crackers

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Sam Rocha and Katrina Fernandez, aka, The Crescat, got together for a Facebook interview.

When those two get together, you just know the result is going to be interesting.

And it was.

There’s lots to read, and you can find it here. I want to focus on one aspect of that free-ranging discussion: Katrina’s conversion story.

Kat came to Jesus by way of art. Imagine this: A seven-year-old who spends a lot of time in museums (already it’s getting unusual) spies Memling’s painting, The Last judgement. She’s small enough that her eye-view is of the bottom of the painting. She’s nose to canvas with the lost souls in hell. The prospect convinced her that hell was real.

Sam’s response, “You found God in hell?”

That sounds like a reasonable question to those of us who’ve never been converted by art. I mean, how does that track?

Here, according to Kat herself is how:

If Hell is real then it stands to reason that God was real. Simple as that.
Why do atheist struggle so? Their arrogance to dismiss their first instinct… that child voice plainly stating a fact as fact. There’s nothing intellectual about “well, duh!” which is what happened when I saw Hell. Well, duh! God is real.

She goes on to add, “Landscapes showed me God is kind.”

Weyden Beaune Last Judgment Altarpiece opened

Katrina is not the only person I know of who was converted by art. Peter Hitchens related an almost identical conversion experience in his book The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (which I recommend) and then later in this interview. Peter Hitchens, who is the brother of the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, found God by studying Rogier van der Weyden’s The Last Judgement.  

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Hitchens was an adult at the time of his conversion. He described it this way: 

… I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of hell.  These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation … They were me, and people I knew. 

Do you recognize the Power at work in both these stories?  Hint: It’s not the power of great art, although the power of great art is certainly real. 

This is the Holy Spirit, at work in two souls, calling them to Jesus.  These stories illustrate the single most powerful truth of conversion that I know: God meets us where we are. He is not too proud to accept us through any route to Him we find. In the Person of the Holy Spirit, He will call to us and reach out to us along any path that we will walk to Him. 

The fact that God meets us where we are has other facets to it besides His willingness to come to us through a painting or a sermon or the guilt we feel for our sins.

One of these facets is that He does not ask us to get perfect first. Too many times, people who are trying to bring people to God focus on the other person’s need to change. 

The truth is, you don’t need to change to come to God.   All you need to do is say “yes” to Him. The changing part comes later, and it will be through a changed heart and converted spirit. As I’ve said, God doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do. 

But at the beginning, all you have to do is open your heart — or in the case of Katrina Fernandez and Peter Hitchens and others like them, their eyes — and say yes to what is right in front of you.  There is no one right way to come to Jesus. Jesus Himself is the Right way. 

Kat and I both experienced another, second, conversion. This one was to the Catholic Church. In the usual Kat fashion, her experience was sudden, a bit defiant and absolute. Mine was gentle and insistent. But despite the differences, it was the same for both of us. 

Kat attended a communion service in a church where they offered communion, which I would wager they regarded as a “symbol,” in the form of grape juice and oyster crackers. Kat, being Kat, rebelled. She knew. Knew right then without any dissembling that this was not the real deal. She also knew that there was a real deal out there somewhere and that she wanted it. Here’s how she describes it:

It was Easter Sunday 
and the pastor wanted to “do communion” and wanted to try something a little different 
so he had us all line up to come to the “altar” and receive a shot glass containing grape juice and a packet of oyster crackers.









 And God said “NO!” I immediately knew this aping display was not the real thing. I grabbed my son under my arm and got up and left.

She was, in short, called to the Church by the Eucharist. 

Welcome home Kat, so was I. Only for me it was an almost constant call from Christ in the Eucharist. He called me for years to Himself in the Eucharist. When I finally found Him there, I experienced the healing of the woman who reached out and touched His garment.

That same healing is there for anyone, anytime, in all the Catholic Churches of all the world.  Conversion, real conversion, is a one-way street. Once you’ve found it, you know it’s real and you can never walk away from it. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is real. Life in Christ is a living reality. 

I love conversion stories when they’re told by people with authentic hearts. Every single one of them exposes a truth of God’s love for us and His simplicity in dealing with us. 

Conversion stories are always elemental stories of birth. They relate the dynamics of how a soul is born from eternal death into eternal life. And just like that first biological birth, they happen to each one of us individually. Because we are each unique and wonderful enough that the God Who made everything, everywhere, accepts us as the old hymn says, Just as We Are.   


Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

The Heresy of Politicized Christianity

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Deacon Greg Kandra published a post today describing a “study” that says that “Christian Progressives” are on the cultural ascendancy. 

I put the word study in quotes because all this study amounts to is some yo-yo with letters after his name who went out and tabulated Google searches, dividing them between “conservative Christian” and “progressive Christian.” His criteria: Google searches for “Christian right” vs google searches for “Christian left.” 

Based on this handy-dandy spreadsheet workout, this person has extrapolated to all sorts of predictions and prophecies about the direction of Christianity in the future USA. 

Aside from the fact that this is about as scientific as predicting the future by studying the entrails of a goat, it does reveal quite a lot about the researcher and the way that Christianity is discussed today. 

After I converted to Catholicism, I encountered a lot of talk about which Catholics were “orthodox” or not. I remember wondering what the tar-heel an “orthodox” Catholic might be. I had some idea about what an Orthodox Jew was. But an “orthodox” Catholic seemed to be one of those vague, do-it-yourself monikers that people hang on themselves in order to chastise other people. To this day, I’ve never heard a useful definition of what an “orthodox” Catholic might be, even though I still read about folks who claim to be one and seem to think they know. 

Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the blogging waters, I find myself repeatedly encountering verbiage that attempts to define Christians and Christianity along political groupings. Even here at Patheos we have a portal for “progressive” Christians. I don’t fault Patheos for this. The moniker is out there everywhere and the Progressive Christians themselves seem to think they are members of some clearly demarcated understanding of Christianity that groups them together and separates them from the rest of us who stand at the foot of the cross. 

Not that I’m saying they don’t stand at the foot of the cross. But I guess they would place themselves in a separate group of before-the-cross-standers that distinguishes them from other, non-progressive Christians. Of course, we also have the “conservative” Christians there before the cross, as well. In this Americanized/politicized version of Christianity I guess the rest of us who don’t want to be “conservative” or “progressive” Christians just wander around aimlessly, or maybe circulate back and forth between the two groups.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider this imaginary portrait I just painted. We have the cross, with the crucified Savior of the World hanging on it. And we have His so-called followers standing there in front of it, looking not at Him, but at each other. The “conservative” Christians are standing as far away from the “progressive” Christians as they can get, and vice versa. They are not thinking about or concerned with the God who died for them on Calvary. They are not grieved by what their sins have wrought. They are not caught in wonder at the love God has for them. 

Nope. They are both like the Pharisee who went to pray and spent his whole time thanking God that he wasn’t like that sinful tax collector over there. 

Pharisee

Does anyone remember what Jesus had to say about the Pharisee? If you don’t, you can find it in Luke 8: 9-14.

I wrote a post yesterday, encouraging Christians to engage with the political structure. After reading the comments it garnered, I repented of that post. We aren’t ready. 

Before Christians can engage the larger culture they’ve first got to be all-in for Jesus. That appears to be a major stumbling block for a lot of people. These ridiculous designations of “conservative” and “progressive” Christians are a symptom and an expression of just how far away we are from actually following Christ, or even taking Him seriously at all.

In today’s America, “conservative” and “progressive” are political terms. If we were being honest, we’d just dispense with those terms and say what we mean. On the one side we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following right wing politics instead of following Jesus, and on the other side, we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following left wing politics instead of following Jesus. 

They are, both of them, following the world instead of following Jesus. And they are claiming that Jesus not only supports them in this, but He is following them. 

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a pew-sitting Catholic who is grateful that, after the things I’ve done, they let me inside the Church at all. But I love Jesus. 

This disregard of Him, this crude claim of ownership of Him, by people who carry His name hurts me. It stings and bites at me when I think about it. What is wrong that so many people can look at the living God and see a self-justifying reflection of themselves?

I repeat: I am not a theologian. But I think that this twisting of the Gospels to suit fashionable politics and political power is heretical. It is also, evidently, deeply embedded in people’s hearts. 

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If you look at the cross and feel smirky holier than thou self-justification for you and your politics, then I would wager that you are not looking at the cross at all. You are considering a piece of jewelry you’ve hung around your neck that is made of cold metal and, without the real cross that it symbolizes, can not save you. 

Conservative/Progressive/Right/Left Christianity is a human invention. It gives us what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” which is to say self-approval. It makes us self-righteous and mean. 

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If you are interpreting the Gospels in the light of your politics, then you are not following Christ. This business of co-opting the Gospels to fit the world has eternal consequences. 

There is one Jesus; one narrow way; one means of salvation; one cross. 

Our job as American Christians is to believe that one Jesus, walk that narrow way, and to conform our lives, including our politics, to Christ and Him crucified.

I want to follow Christ. I do not want to follow conservative Christ or progressive Christ or right or left or middle of the road Christ. I want to follow and I pray for the grace to follow, Christ and Him crucified by conservatives and progressives and rightists and leftists and all the rest of the crowd who will not follow Him without reframing Him to suit themselves. 

That is why I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not because they are easy or politically correct. But because I’ve tried making God in my own image. I know that I can’t judge, can’t decide, can’t know. Left to my own devices I will do horrible things, just as my heretical brothers and sisters on the left and the right are doing horrible things. 

Standing before the real cross means that you know you are not worthy to be there. You know that your own understanding put Him there. You know yourself for what you are and you realize that without Him you are doomed to the hell you have created and earned; to the hell you deserve.

“Lean not on your own understanding” the scriptures tell us. 

It’s good advice. 

Conscience Rights and the Obama Administration

Standing Against Christian Persecution

The USCCB released a new video today discussing the war on the right of conscience in America.

I think it’s a powerful video that expresses the issues far better than anything I could say. All Americans should be upset about what the Obama administration is doing to our First Amendment liberties.

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Our Papa’s Digs for WYD 2013

Take a look at the room Pope Francis will occupy during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio.

I’m not one who likes over-decorated houses. But this room is too spare for more than an overnight, at least for me. I like homey touches that say sit down, relax and stay awhile.

At the same time, this clean, calm space has a kind of simple elegance. I can imagine it would be quite restful after a day of dealing with intrusive cameras, huge crowds and the noise that goes with them. The only thing missing is a comfortable chair for relaxing. Hopefully, there is one off camera. 

Source: CNA

The room where Pope Francis will stay during his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day Rio 2013 Credit Intermirificanet CNA 7 15 13The room where Pope Francis will stay during his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day Rio 2013.

Credit: Intermirifica.net.

Even Water Moccasins are Cute When They’re Babies

Even water moccasins are kind of cute when they’re babies.

Kind of.

However, it doesn’t take too long before they turn into fat, stinky, ugly poisonous death dealers that will come at you over the water like they were on patrol.

If they bite you, I guarantee that it will ruin your day, your week, possibly your life.

But they do look harmless when they’re babies. As, I would imagine, do Black Mambas and Gaboon Vipers.

Everything has its harmless-appearing phase. But some things are snakes right from the beginning, and if you take them in and try to cuddle up with them, it’s a matter of time before they teach you the reality of what they are and the damage they can do.

It’s much the same with blind hatred of groups of people. It can seem kinda cute at the beginning, when comedians and quipsters are making funny comments at their targets’ expense. It can even seem a good thing when social custom and the first few laws start the process of tamping down on what seems to the rest of the world as the excesses of behavior of the group in question.

After all, it’s reasonable. And besides, they’re bringing it on themselves.

But somewhere — and it’s not too far — along the line, the baby snake proves that even when it’s a baby it can kill you. Cuddle a baby rattler, and you’ll find out. It’s much the same with hatred of a group of people. Almost before you know it, you’ve tripped over into the dehumanizing concept of they-bring-it-on-themselves so saying-hateful-things-about-them and limiting-their-freedoms-is-reasonable-and-good.

The first serious victim of the poison of prejudice and discrimination is the purveyor of the prejudice, the practitioner of the discrimination. Once you believe it’s ok to hurt people just because, you’ve successfully chipped a bit of the gold-plate off your own goodness and let the cheap clay that’s inside come through.

You damage your own soul long before you begin to really damage the people you decide it’s ok to attack and hate.

I’ve said this a number of times, but the idea seems to float by some of the readers here without latching on and growing roots. Violent persecution is not the beginning of the process. It is the end result. It begins as the cute little snakey thingy of quips, mockery and derision that make up social practice.

I don’t know if it’s a refusal to see, or the concept really is difficult for some people. But life is not just a frozen section we call right now. It is a continuum. In fact, what we call right now is already past when we say the words.

Little hatreds grow into big prejudices, and big prejudices turn into discriminatory practices and laws, which turn into discrimination, which, over time, becomes persecution that leads to violence and ends, ultimately in genocide.

It really is almost like a row of dominoes falling over.

That’s why I find myself scratching my head and wondering “Are they for real?” every time I read a comment saying that, yes, there may be “some” violent persecution of Christians in “other places,” but in America, there is no such thing.

While it’s true enough that Christians are not jerked from their beds and drug into the streets to be beaten, raped and tortured here in America, it is also true that we are being subjected to overt pressure from our government and from social practice to restrict our beliefs to behind closed doors. It is true that what began just a few years ago as trendy criticism, some of which was even true, has, in some quarters, become nasty, Christian-baiting hatred that seeks to intimidate and isolate Christians.

We are faced with an increasing number of regulations and laws that seek to limit Christians in the free exercise of their Constitutional rights.

This is happening in America and in much of the rest of the Western world.

I am putting a brief video below about a street preacher in Britain who was arrested for saying that homosexuality is a sin. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with what he said or not, the question is, does he have the right to say it?  If the same restrictions had been placed on homosexuals a decade or so ago, they would not have been able to conduct their movement.

I would have been up in arms if anyone had arrested a gay activist for saying any of the many wacky things they’ve said down through the years, including when a queen in full drag sang “Your son will come out tomorrow” outside the National Democratic convention a few years ago. They’ve got a right to do this.

And so, if the West is going to continue to have free speech, does this preacher.

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Courage and the Faithful Homosexual Catholic

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Jesus is a love story. It begins with His love for us, and then, as we accept Him as our Savior and begin to become conformed to His teaching, it is also about our love for Him.

Conversion begins by falling in love with Christ. Like all love stories, it’s unalloyed joy at the beginning. Jesus is gentle with those who are babes in Him. He gives a lot and doesn’t ask much. But as time goes on, the Holy Spirit leads us to a deepened awareness of our own sinfulness. We realize that we have to change.

Early in our Christian life, conversion may mean giving up some cherished little sins. It does mean backing off from the sins that were eating at us and that drove us to our knees in the first place. But there are other sins that we have either hidden from ourselves or just won’t see. Legal abortion was one of those sins for me. 

I came to Christ deeply repentant over something I had done. But I had neither shame nor guilt about my years advocating for legal abortion. I thought that was a positive good, a way of saving women’s lives. No one could have been more convinced of their pro choice convictions than I was. 

The interesting thing is that God didn’t confront me with this at first. It took about a year and a half before that inner voice that is the Holy Spirit began to say, “This is wrong, and you’ve got to change.”

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was so difficult that I made a mess of it. I tried, against all reason, to hang on to the relationships and the people I had been close to in my pro choice life. I dipped and dodged, stuttered and hid, trying to be two people at once. 

I spent tortured hours wondering about all the questions that people raise on this blog: What about rape victims? What about women with severe diabetes or who are undergoing cancer treatment? 

It was tough, miserable and painful. I would not have made the transition so fully if God had not pushed me. 

I write this to tell you why I have such sympathy for gay people who experience the same longing for the Divine that everyone else does. “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St Augustine said.

God calls homosexuals to Himself, just as He does all people. He uses them as priests and laypeople throughout His Church. 

In this day and age, when so many of their friends attack the Church because it refuses to bend on matters of human sexuality, Catholic gay people often find themselves in situations similar to the one I encountered when God asked me to step out and proclaim that abortion killed a living a child. 

They will lose the people they love if they go forward in a Church so many of their friends think of as the enemy. They will be challenged if they try to follow the Church’s teaching that they are called to celibate lives.

This is a hard teaching, a difficult way of living. Those who follow it with integrity of purpose are doing something heroic for Christ. Make no mistake about it: Faithful gay people who eschew the wide road of gay culture to pick up their cross and follow the narrow road of faithful Christian living are earning stars in their eternal crowns. Their reward will be great.

The Catholic Church is almost unique in that it does not condemn or revile gay people. At the same time, it does not re-write 2,000 years of Christian teaching to suit the demands of the gay rights movement. So many Churches fall into one error or the other regarding homosexuality. But the Catholic Church hews to the straight line of loving and empowering gay people, while refusing to tell them that sinful behavior is ok.

“The Church finds herself in the unhappy situation of having to say ‘no’ to things she knows are contrary to the human good,” Father Paul Check says. 

The Church is charged with the care of their immortal souls. As such, it can do no less. It would be clerical malpractice of the worst sort to do anything other than tell people the truth about their sinful state. 

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All people, including homosexual people, need the support and comfort of human contact. We all need community, and those of us who are wounded in various ways need the community of people who are like us. Gay people need the friendships of other gay people. Christians need the friendship of other Christians.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It follows, doesn’t it, that gay Christians need the friendship and fellowship of other gay Christians. Courage, the well-named organization for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, provides ministries, as well as opportunities to build social relationships for gay Catholics. 

Courage will hold the 2013 Courage/Encourage Conference Thursday, July 25 – 28, at the University of Mary of the Lake, Munelein, IL. Cardinal Francis George will be the main celebrant for mass on Friday, July 26, at 11:30 am. Bishop John M. LeVoir will also celebrate mass. 

According to Father Check, who is the national Director of Courage, the conference will feature workshops, personal testimonies, and opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration. 

If there is not a Courage affiliate in your diocese, it might be a good idea to work toward starting one. For more information about the conference, go here

 

This is the Gospel: God. Our. Sins. Paying. Everyone. Life.

This is an extraordinary interpretation of Scripture in poetry by Dare to Share Ministries. Watch it and be blessed.

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