But Leave it There

I respected the woman speaking to me. She and I had the same background, shared most of the same beliefs. But we were at odds that day. She looked at me with the hot-eyed stare of a person who is not to be reasoned with and pointed her finger at me to emphasize her words.

“You can go to church as much as you want,” she said, “but leave it there.”

She was angry with me because I had passed a bill that, among other things, required unemancipated minors to either get parental consent or a judicial bypass before elective abortions.

The abortion wars destroy friendships in politics, and my friendship with this lady was ending over this bill. I could have said a lot of things to her that day, but I sensed some deep wound driving her anger, and I didn’t want to hurt her. So, I held my tongue. I knew as I walked away that this woman who had been my friend was now my enemy.

I also knew that her request that I leave my faith in the church pews was both arrogant and common. Accusations that people who believe in the sanctity of human life are trying to “legislate their religion,” or that they want to “build a theocracy” are standard commentary from the other side of the debate.

I try my best to never reply in kind. I don’t call people who favor legal abortion names. I don’t attack them for slips of the tongue or research their personal lives looking for sexual peccadilloes, embarrassing photos from long-past fraternity parties or ugly divorce testimony.

I do all I can to let them have the low road if they want it so much and keep my focus on the one thing I care about in all this, which is my simple belief that it is wrong to kill people. I won’t use my job to kill people. And I won’t help anyone else kill them, either. I know that sounds almost comically simple. But adhering to it in a legislative environment can get you cursed, reviled, slandered, picketed and, yes, advised to leave your faith at church.

I’ve been getting these demands that I be a sham Christian for years. Go to church all you want. We don’t care. But leave it there. The people who say this are usually in a froth of self-righteousness when they do it. They can look at you with such hatred that it almost scorches your skin. And they almost always toss in a canard about “separation of church and state” to give dignity to what is in reality an outrageous thing to say.

It’s ironic. People are always accusing politicians of being hypocrites, but in this instance we have a large segment of the population actually demanding it of them.

“Go to church all you want, but leave it there” has nothing at all to do with separation of church and state. There is nothing in the First Amendment that says that elected officials may not reference their personal religious and moral beliefs in the decisions they must make.

I don’t believe this lady was worried about separation of church and state. I think she wanted me to live and vote according to her beliefs rather than my own. That’s the core of these attacks. It’s that you’re not doing what they want you to, and attacking you with bogus nonsense about separation of church and state and building a theocracy sounds better than just pitching a fit and saying “Do what I tell you or else!”

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning has advanced far beyond me and what an angry lady said to me in the hallway outside the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Today we have the Health and Human Services Department of the United States Government telling the largest religious denomination in America virtually the same thing and backing it up with what amounts to a draconian threat.

Teach what you want from the pulpit they tell the Church. But if you don’t bend to the government and violate those same teachings in your institutions, we will fine and penalize you out of business. That’s the gist of the HHS Mandate compelling the Catholic Church to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortifacients for the employees of its institutions.

What it all comes down to is that the Federal Government is telling the Catholic Church “Say mass as much as you want. But leave it there.”

And, yes, this time it really is a violation of separation of church and state.

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The ACLU, the HHS Mandate, and Religious Freedom

For decades, the American Civil Liberties Union has been the self-appointed defender of civil liberties in this country.

When they stood up for prisoner’s rights, I cheered. When they sued to allow members of the KKK to demonstrate peacefully, I was uncomfortable, but I knew it was consistent with the ACLU’s mandate and I respected this consistency. It spoke to me of integrity.

But when the ACLU began to twist the Bill of Rights to promote an agenda that furthered one side of the culture wars, I decided that it was no longer consistent. I’ve watched as this once great organization has abandoned its mandate and squandered the respect it once had to promote one viewpoint over another in the public debate we call the culture wars time and again.

The ACLU has worked assiduously to drive religion in general and Christianity in particular from the public square. In case after case, they have filed suit against city parks, state governments and courthouses all over the country in order to force them to remove statues, plaques and ban celebrations that smacked in any way of a Christian viewpoint. You would think that the mere sight of the Ten Commandments on a plaque was a violation of the Bill of Rights equal to using torture to obtain a confession in a criminal case.

I’ve long considered this orchestrated attack on religious expression as part of a well-thought-out and deliberate plan to drive religious people and religious thought entirely out of the marketplace of ideas in this country. It has gone so far that people today honestly think it’s a violation of separation of church and state if an elected official says the name “Jesus” in a public debate, as if freedom of speech just dries up and goes away where Christians are concerned.

But then the ACLU took the ridiculous position that the HHS Mandate requiring the Catholic Church to violate its teachings on contraception and abortion or face fines and sanctions was not a violation of religious freedom.

The HHS Mandate is in fact a monstrous violation of the guarantee in the First Amendment from government intrusion into religion. The ACLU used plenty of verbal razzle-dazzle to justify their position. (They are, after all attorneys with the verbal skills that go with the profession.) But their arguments were bizarre, factually inaccurate and self-refuting. I read the reports and I felt as if I was standing beside the grave of the American Civil Liberties Union and all it has stood for.

It’s very difficult, abandoning everything you believe while trying to maintain a public perception that you still believe it. Politicians try to do it all the time. That is why they are so distrusted. The ACLU’s arguments in support of the obvious attack on religious freedom that this mandate represents put the them in the same league, and for the same reasons.

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She Could Have Been Me

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She could have been me.

I didn’t get to that thought at first. My first reaction when I saw the Live Action undercover video The War on Baby Girls was anger. I’ve known this was happening, that women were aborting baby girls because they were baby girls, for quite a while.

My sources were nurses and chaplains who work in Oklahoma hospitals. I helped pass a bill which tried, within the straight jacket of Supreme Court rulings on the subject of abortion, to do something about it. The supporters of legal abortion claimed that the bill was unnecessary, that sex-selected abortions don’t happen.

It gets wearying, dealing with the constant barrage of lies that attend politics these days. No one tells the truth; not about their intentions, the legislation, or the objective facts of medical practice. Nothing — and I mean NOTHING — brings out the facile lying more than the fine art and practice of medical misogyny.

So, when I watched that video, my first reaction was anger. It took a few hours for the other reaction to come around. I kept remembering that counselor. She was careful with her words. She never said “abortion,” or “abort.” The word “kill” didn’t cross her lips. She talked about “terminate.”

“If you decide to terminate,” she said.

I replayed her face as she told the girl to avoid telling people that she was planning to abort her baby if the baby was a girl.

Some people might “place judgement,”  she said.

Nothing about the counselor shouted Monster! But what she was doing, what she was saying, what she was aiding, abetting and helping to happen WAS monstrous. How did she, how does anyone, get to this place? The grim logic of abortion and its illogical conclusions doubtless played a part in her actions. If a five month old baby (and that’s what a 20-week fetus is) is not human enough to have a right to life, then what does it matter why we kill her?

But the counselor’s words resonate: “Place judgement” she said. That’s the paralyzing ethos of our times at work. Judging, judgmentalism, are the evils in this upside down world, not the murder of an innocent baby girl.

I would guess that a lot of people look at that counselor with disgust and rage. But I feel sorry for her. I hate having to admit this, but the truth is, she could have been me. There was a time when I wasn’t just pro-choice, I was a stinking fanatic about it. I had seen and experienced first hand the violence, degradation and destruction that is misogyny and, like so many young women of my time, I saw abortion as a way out.

But when you go down that path of using one evil to justify another evil you end up committing even greater evils yourself. If you really aren’t a monster who has no conscience or concern for other people, you look for ways to hide what you are doing from yourself. The greatest lies of our times are the lies we tell ourselves to justify doing things that we know are wrong. What makes it work is that the whole culture conspires with us in the doing of it.

The culture, not just of Planned Parenthood, but of our whole American world, says that you can not, you should not, you must not “judge.”

As with most lies that are effective, this one has truth mixed into it. The desire to play God runs strong in all of us. I think that if we had the power to enact our judgements on one another, none of us would go to heaven. We would all condemn one another to hell.

But using the word “judgement” itself as a condemnation is not only idiotic, it’s destructive. The human brain is designed by Our Maker to observe, compare, think and conclude. These conclusions are just another word for “judgement.” When our culture labels this power to discern and decide an evil; when it shears our thinking brains away from us, we become a culture of co-dependence and mental decay.

It’s as if we’ve all suffered a cultural stroke and the words “this is wrong” have been erased from our minds. Instead of saying the plain facts of things, we go into mental gymnastics, trying to “understand” the most hideous behavior. We create fantasy motives for crimes against humanity which are tissues of lies we tell ourselves. These fantasy interpretations of the plain reality in front of us help us silence the thinking, analyzing parts of our brains. They allow us to avoid the social anathema of being labeled “judgmental.”We find ourselves unable to set standards for behavior for anyone, including ourselves.

That is how a basically kind-hearted person can become a monster.

The great irony is that the flip side of this is no better. If we take the untrammeled power to judge others onto ourselves, we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the gulags, pogroms, lynchings, rapes and murders come from. On the other hand, if we flee from this into a refusal to “judge,” we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the attacks on Christians, abortions, euthanasia, and starvation of millions for corporate greed come from.

We can whipsaw our human nature from pole to pole; from legalistic judging to fear of judging that becomes another kind of legalistic judging, and we always end up right back where we started from. We are caught forever in the morass and mess of original sin and we cannot think, moralize or fight our way out of it.

The only thing that can save us is the cross. The only One who can save us is Jesus.

I know. Because He saved me. My first reaction to that video was anger. Then, I indulged in a few minutes of self-righteousness by remembering what I went through trying to help pass a bill to lessen the practice of sex-selected abortion. Finally, I came around to the truth: That counselor could have been me, was me, is me, without Christ.

Human beings become monsters when we take the deciding of right and wrong, good and bad, on ourselves without reference to the One who made us. Nothing we can do, and I mean NOTHING we can do, can save us from this. You can go to church, sing in the choir, read the Bible, but if you do these things on your own power and by your own lights, you can and you will become a monster to somebody. You may not have an abortion. But you’ll do something.

We are not saved by ourselves, of ourselves, or even for ourselves. Our salvation comes through the humiliation of the cross and the only honest way we can approach that cross is with humility.

The only salvation we have is at the foot of the cross.

The counselor in that video could have been me.

When you look around at the sins of the world, which of them could be you?

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Speaking Swahili in Oklahoma

I was elected to public office for the first time in 1980; the same year John Lennon was murdered and the Moral Majority became a major player in American politics. The country was reeling from the capture of our citizens at the American Embassy in Iran. There were long lines to buy gasoline and interest for a new car could easily cost 15% for someone with good credit. The Cold War and its mind-numbing threat of universal nuclear annihilation hung like the sword of Damocles over all of us.

These were not halcyon days. There was trouble in the world then, as now. But America was still the manufacturing power of the world. There were jobs, good jobs, that could support a family, and a college education was still affordable without living in penal servitude to student loans for the rest of your life.

The biggest difference for me personally between then and now is the difference in the people I encounter on my job as a legislator. Back then, if I wanted to convince a fellow legislator to vote either for or against a piece of legislation, I would talk to them about how the legislation would affect the people of Oklahoma. If I could convince the legislator that the bill in question would hurt people, he or she would vote against it. If they believed it would help people, they would vote for it.

If I try to talk to my colleagues today about how a piece of legislation will affect the people of the state, they look at me as if I was speaking Swahili. Once in a while one of them will turn his head away and not look me in the face, but that’s as close as you can come with today’s politicians to get them to consider how the votes they cast affect the people they represent.

In today’s politics, the only way to persuade a legislator to change their vote is to talk to them about how it will affect their chances of re-election, or how some special interest group feels about the bill. I won’t say that is the only thing they care about, but it is the only thing that will motivate them to change their actions. Even that falls to the way side when party loyalty is in play. Nothing in today’s political world is allowed to trump doing what your party tells you to do.

As with all blanket statements concerning people, there are exceptions. I know a small number of legislators in both parties who will step out and cast their votes based on the way a piece of legislation will affect the people they represent. Some of these people are women, some are men. The Republicans and Democrats in this group are about evenly divided.

It hurts me to say this but it is true; you are just as likely to find a pro-choice politician who will bravely stand up for what they believe as you will one who is pro-life.

This doesn’t happen because all elected officials are evil. A small number of the people I work with are craven opportunists who genuinely do not care about anyone or anything except their own ambitions. But the vast majority of them are good people who were put in office by political machines who recruited them to run, gave them their campaign funds, told them what their positions were based on polls and their political party‘s sell-lines, put out their campaign ads and organized their victory parties.

These elected officials are not representatives of the people in their districts. They are operatives for political parties who have themselves become consortiums of special interests.

They are so utterly out of their depth once they get into office that they fall for every bit of manipulation and flattery (and there is an endless supply of both for the winner in any campaign for public office) that comes their way. They are confused, overwhelmed and, like most people who are in over their heads and trying to hide it, easily angered and given to pomposity.

Most of them signed up to run for office because they had some notion that they could “make a difference” or because of vague beliefs about culture war issues. But by the time they’ve been processed and groomed into a winning candidate, they’ve drunk so much political kool-aid that they think people who talk to them about things like the common good and what’s best for ordinary people are naive lightweights.

A “tough” vote in this legislative environment is not a vote where the legislator is trying to figure out what is the right thing to do. A “tough” vote is one that catches him or her between two competing special interests. The toughest “tough” votes are the ones where they get caught between the power brokers who own them and the lies they told their constituents.

Legislators who are faced with one of these toughest of the “tough” votes tend to become fearful, petulant, bitter and easily enraged.

After that, anyone who tries to convince them that they need to cast their votes on what will be best for the people they represent would be just as effective if they really were speaking Swahili.

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WordPress to Patheos, What’s Happenin’

Dear Friends:

Moving a blog is a little bit like moving to a new house. There’s a lot more to it than you thought when you bought the thing.

Public Catholic Patheos will have its formal debut next Monday. I’m going to start publishing posts at Public Catholic Patheos before that. In fact, I plan to start in the next day or so. I hope you come over and look at things and give me feed-back.

My understanding is that if you come to the old Public Catholic site you will be re-directed to the new one, but that this won’t happen until everything is up and running on Patheos. Let me know if/when this starts working.

In the meantime, the site, which will be all-singing, all-dancing in a couple of days, can be found at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/. We’re still polishing the rough edges, but go over, have a look and tell me what you think. I welcome your feedback.

In Christ,

Rebecca

PS: Be sure to add that link to your bookmarks so you can find me later! You can also get Public Catholic Patheos by rss feed and a number of other methods that are on the site.

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The Search for Brad Pitt’s Spine

An elderly woman sent a letter to the editor in Springfield Missouri. The letter was published in the local newspaper.

That would — and should — have been the end of it. But the internet wolf pack locked onto this elderly woman and her little letter. They did this because she has a famous son. Brad Pitt’s name in a headline is always good for a few extra hits from the search engines. Driving up traffic to their web sites by whatever means is how these people make their money. It seems that the trashier they behave, the more money they make. So, the pack went on the hunt for Mrs Pitt.

I have not read Mrs Pitt’s letter. I don’t intend to. First, I am not from Springfield Missouri, so what an elderly woman writes in a letter to the editor of a local Springfield newspaper doesn’t matter to me. Second, I am not writing this post to comment on what she said. I don’t care what she said. I am writing this post to defend her right to say it.

Mrs Pitt has evidently run afoul of some of the internet sewer dwellers who seem to believe that anyone who says anything they disagree with is fair game for threats and character assassination. According to reports that I have read, this lady has been subjected to all manner of attack, up to and including death threats. She is evidently feeling besieged. The sewer dwellers have won their victory. They have effectively intimidated another person who disagrees with them into giving up the exercise of her right to free speech.

This isn’t anything new. Character assassination and verbal terror tactics have become the norm in what passes for public debate in this country. What is surprising is that Mr Pitt has responded to these attacks on his mother with silence.

Mr Pitt is a world-famous public figure who has not been shy about giving his opinion in other areas. His silence in this instance of the public trashing of his mother looks far too much like assent. What kind of man (or woman) would allow anyone to attack their mother this way and do nothing?

From what I’ve read, Mrs Pitt made some sort of comments about the current Presidential race and about same-sex marriage. Based on what I’ve read about her comments on the one hand and Mr Pitt’s stated views on politics and this social issue on the other, I am guessing that he does not agree with his mother’s viewpoint on these things.

My question is, What does that matter? She’s his mother. The issue isn’t whether or not they agree, it’s whether or not he’s man enough to stand up for his mother when she is being attacked and abused.

I don’t know of  a gay man — and I know several of them — who would sit by and let someone attack his mother like this. It wouldn’t matter what she had said.

I wish that both Mr Pitt and the responsible members of the gay community would take a stand against this kind of outrageous attack on people who are merely exercising their right to free speech. Mrs Pitt’s letter was published, presumably with her permission, in a newspaper. That makes everything she said open to equally public disagreement and debate. It does not open her or anyone else up for personal attacks, filthy name-calling and death threats.

I do not see how a movement that is based on working for the human rights of a group of people can justify advancing that work by attacking the human rights of other people.

I have no quarrel with homosexual people advocating for the things they believe. I also have no quarrel with them working within the electoral system and the courts in support of those beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether or not I agree with all their goals. That’s how we do things in this country.

The rights to petition the government, vote and organize, freedom of speech and access to the courts belong to every American. The Constitution applies to every single one of us; whether we are gay rights activists, or an elderly woman writing a letter to the editor in Springfield Missouri.

Anyone who tries to effect social change will encounter disagreement and resistance. If you can’t accept that and answer these disagreements, counter this resistance, in a civil and intelligent manner, then it makes it look like your cause is without real merit.

I hope that responsible leaders in this movement will make a statement of non-support when followers of their movement do something so wrong as these attacks on Mrs. Pitt. I think they should do this out of respect for the basic human rights of all people, including those who disagree with them, and also out of respect for their own movement and the things they say they believe.

As for Mr Pitt, my only advice to him is,  grow a spine.

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Public frustration prompts new campaign for political civility :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Public frustration prompts new campaign for political civility :: Catholic News Agency (CNA).

I think this speaks for itself. I am proud of the Knights of Columbus for doing this and will sign the petition.

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Culture Warriors

I am creating the Culture Warrior Award to honor two stalwart culture warriors. These men stand for life, and they are in the fight for the long haul. They are two of Public Catholic’s finest Culture Warriors. We need more courageous blogs like theirs. You can find them at: http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/ and http://scpeanutgallery.com/

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Nobody Even Cares About What’s’is Name

Read the blogs. Look at the polls. Ask your neighbors.

People are planning to vote against President Obama.

Other people are planning to vote for President Obama.

Nobody (except maybe his family) appears to be voting either for or against What’s’is Name. You know who I’m talking about; that other guy — the billionaire I-was-one-of-the-most-aggressively-pro-abortion-governors-in-America-until-I-decided-I-wanted-to-run-for-president thingy person that folks who are voting against President Obama have to … ummm … sorta vote for.

It appears that the President is in this race pretty much alone. And he’s got himself in a tie. Somehow or other, this supposedly genius politician has maneuvered himself into a dead heat … with himself. What’s’is name focuses on teeny-tiny issues of gaffe attacks and unseemly arguments such as the I woulda killed him deader than you did debate. He dances and prances around the ring alone, shadow boxing with himself. Meanwhile, Obama pounds himself with a right, a left, a right … until … he’s got himself on the ropes.

I’ve seen a lot of stupid things in politics. But this bizarre dumb-off of a presidential election takes the cake.

Both our contenders seem focused on attacking one another. They’re spending a lot of money, attacking each other’s positions and opinions. The problem is, we the people know all this stuff already. We already know that Obama never met an abortion he didn’t like and Romney feels pretty much the same but has, pragmatic politician that he is, decided to pretend he doesn’t. We already know that Obama wants to bring religion under the government heel. We already know that Romney is the bought and sold creature of the big corporations.

We. Already. Know.

So. What’s an American to do? Go to the write-in ballot?

I am a duly elected legislator. There are a lot of people who think it’s part of my job description to line up with my party and support our turnip, no matter what. But I guess somebody forgot to put the poison in my kool-aid, because I won’t do it.

Frankly, I am disgusted with the choices that our two political parties keep giving us. Year after year, election after election, we have to choose between the guy who’s owned by the special interests who are going to stab the American people in the back, and the guy who’s owned by the special interests who are going to stab the American people in the back with a different knife.

From time to time, a reporter will ask me how I voted in this or that election. It’s usually about some hot button issue here in Oklahoma. I always tell them that I voted by secret ballot. I do this because when I go into a voting booth, my vote is the same as any other American’s, and like all Americans, I have the right to privacy with my votes. My other votes, the ones I cast as a representative, are very public, and they should be. But not when I vote in elections. When I do that, I’m a private citizen.

So, come November, I’m going to vote by secret ballot. There are a lot of questions further down the ballot, issues and races that aren’t presidential, where I want to vote. I have an opinion and I want to express that opinion at the polls.

But when it comes to the dead-heat of Obama vs Obama with a side order of What’s’is Name … um … well … I wish I didn’t have to vote for either one.

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Walking Between the Labels

My husband and I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes Saturday night. The hero ape, after a lifetime of gentle living at the hands of benevolent humans, was cast into a cage of swinging, screeching, fist-banging members of his own species. As we watched his shock and dismay, I remarked to my husband, “That kind of reminds me of going to work.”

The reason my husband thought that was funny is because I had mis-matched the labels. If it has hair all over its body and walks with its knuckles dragging on the ground, it is not human. The knuckle-draggers among us are labeled “apes” and we know that no matter what the ape might be, it ain’t us.

This primal ability to distinguish “us” from “them” keeps us alive. It helps to know the difference between a rattlesnake and a cabbage, between giant spiders and your grandma. Labels not only keep us safe, they allow us to live together and cooperate with one another in how we order our society.

Unfortunately, people are smarter than they are wise. Whatever ability we have, we always seem to find a way to apply it for evil. Labels can be used to ostracize, punish, degrade and manipulate other people. Used this way, labels become shorthand slander. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the political world.

Political discourse has devolved down to scandal-mining one another’s histories, gaffe attacks and label slinging. Never mind the problems besetting our nation and the world; if you can catch someone using an off-color word when they thought the mike was off, or if you can get enough people to label them a “communist” or a “fascist” or whatever, why then you beat them at the polls. You can win the election. Take home the prize. Get your hands on the state treasury and the power of government.

The standard way for politicians to survive this is to pick a side and stick with that side. “Your” side will then stick with you. They will label, gaffe report and scandal-mine your opponents for you. They will be your tit for the other guy’s tat.

The one thing no politician in their right mind would ever do is venture out from under the cover of “their” side. With no one to protect them from the hail stones of public excoriation, they will be beaten to a pulp and carted off the field in nothing flat. The only way to survive in politics is to, as Okies say, “dance with them that brung ya.”

There comes a point in every political career where sticking with your side means doing things you know are wrong. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal, the day will come when your “side” expects and demands that you chose them over everything else you believe.

If you are a Public Catholic, this day will come soon and be repeated often. If you think you can hold elective office and never be forced to choose between God and your party, God and your friends, God and your “side,” you need to think again. You will have to choose, and you will have to do it over and over and over again.

If you chose Jesus, if you decide that the “side” you’re on is the Jesus, Joseph and Mary side, there will be payback. Your payback is that both sides will come at you. “Your” side will do everything they can to punish and purge the “traitor” in their midst. The “other” side will join in where they can and wish them success. You will be alone.

Public Catholics have to walk between the labels. They’ll call you a “communist” one day, and a “fascist” the next. What they really mean is that you are not “one of us.” It won’t be long before everybody on both sides is slander-mining your history, gaffe-reporting your speeches and labeling you everything but a nice person.

You will be maliciously misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted, and just plain lied about.

The only comfort you can take is that this is exactly what Jesus said would happen. It’s how they treated Him, and if you truly try to follow Him, it’s how they’ll treat you. Their labels don’t fit you. You’re not a “conservative” or a “liberal.” You are a follower of Christ in a world that hated Him then and hates Him now.

You follow a risen savior Who was beaten, mocked, tortured, despised and murdered. You follow Jesus. And His label is the cross.

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