Joshua 24:14-16, Isaiah 58:6-11, Luke 4:16-21
Rev. Doug Van Doren
Since the election there has been a great deal of talk about "moral values." That is, a particular definition of morality. In fact, people who analyze these things tell us that 22% of those who voted in this election said that "moral values" were their primary consideration in the voting booth. I should think that 100% of voters' primary concern would be "moral values!" Certainly that was my main concern.
However, I sense my definition of "morality" is quite different from those who answered that way. Their definition of morality seems only to include individual, personal, bodily behavior. In fact, "moral values" has become a code word among the radically conservative Christian right. Those who display positive moral values in their judgment are those who profess a born-again Christian faith, see the U.S. as God's chosen nation, oppose equal rights for LGBT people, and oppose a woman's right to choose. In one interview I read, a man said he voted for a particular politician because "he wore his faith like a comfortable shoe." Well, if your faith doesn't make you uncomfortable, it isn't the faith of Jesus Christ as I see it!
Because, talk about "morality" has been a cornerstone of this election, and morality is in the realm of the church; and, because talk about church and faith has been central in this election, I think we have not only the right, but also the obligation, to talk about it. There is no way to do that without sounding somewhat partisan. I want to be clear that I am not talking about the majority of people who voted for George Bush. Rather, I want to use this "moral values" thing as a jumping off point for talking about another Christian perspective on morality.
First of all, I think we need to be careful not to give the radically conservative Christian right too much power. Religious conservatives appear to make up about 34% of the population - a sizeable minority. Certainly, not all of those are the radical Christian right. However, white Evangelicals make up about 20% of the population; about 1/5th of voters. Seventy-eight percent of them voted for President Bush based on their definition of "moral values." So, as a percentage of the total population, they may not be huge; as a voting bloc they were huge in this election. They also have power out of proportion to their size, because it appears that their values are reflected in the Presidential and Congressional leadership.
I find this very disturbing! Not only is it shaping our national policies and personality, but also it represents itself as the definition of Christianity. I feel a little like the woman who came on Easter morning and, not finding Jesus, said, "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have lain him." Only it is all too clear where they have lain him; it is on the altar of U.S. Nationalism.
I was talking to a young woman the other day and she said, "I grew up in the church and I have thought about trying to find a church, but all this stuff makes me not want to have anything to do with the church." How many does she represent? I'll admit I sometimes feel that way too. As tempting as it is to join her, however, we need to do just the opposite.
I do not believe that the radically conservative Christian right's definition of moral values represents a Biblical Christian Faith - quite the contrary. That morality is not in the Bible that I read neither is it in the God that I know through Jesus Christ. There is nothing conservative about Jesus! There is nothing that blesses hypocrisy, untruth, greed, exclusion, or war. There is nothing in my Gospel that could possibly justify again using gay and lesbian people as faggots. A faggot, in the Middle Ages, was a bundle of sticks used to start a fire or make it burn hotter. People accused of same-sex sexual relationships didn't even rate being burned at the stake. Rather, they were thrown into the base of the fire like faggots, bundles of sticks, to feed it. Thus came that despicable name. It seems to me in this election they were used in exactly the same way - to fan the flames of fear, repression, and mean-spiritedness.
I know that this is a Stewardship Sunday and that, perhaps, the Stewardship Committee members are cringing a bit. But I believe that we are called, we are charged, to be stewards of the radically inclusive, liberating love of God that we believe and experience. I believe that it is more important now than ever to enable this Good News to be seen and heard, through Plymouth's witness and ministry as it is reflected in our individual lives, in our life together, and in the ministries and missions we do in God's name.
We can no longer assume that American Civil religion or American policies reflect our moral values. Neither can we assume that ours is the dominant view among those who are most passionate about their religion. But the church has always functioned most authentically, most faithfully, when it has not been part of the dominant society. Our call is to reflect the truth we know, in season and out of season. It is to make the vision plane, as the prophet says. We need to be unashamed to say we are Christians and to say what we believe Christian morality demands.
We believe Christian morality demands that we support people in loving mutual relationships, gay or straight. Our Lord had no trouble with sexual minorities. It was the rich, the religiously-bigoted, and the arrogant he had trouble with!
We believe Christian morality demands truth-telling. We follow the One who said, "The truth will make you free."
We believe Christian morality demands concern for the poor, the outcast, for the least of these. We follow the One who said, "Blessed are the poor;" "Feed my sheep;" "Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."
We believe that Christian morality demands peace- making, that it abhors the killing of people no matter what their nationality. We follow the One who said, "Blessed are the peace makers;" "Love your enemies;" Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
We believe that Christian morality demands basic humility, civility, and kindness. We follow the One said, "Love one another as I have loved you," and whose prophet said, "What does the Lord require but to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
We believe that Christian morality demands that we live by love, not by fear. We follow the One who did not abandon us from fear of death on the cross, the One who said, "Be not afraid, for lo, I am with you always."
My friends, I am saddened by the attitude and policies of the U.S. right now. I am saddened and angry over the deaths of over 1,000 U.S and probably 100,000 Iraqis. I am angered by the inevitable quagmire and the cost of the war in Iraq. I am saddened and angry with so many U.S. citizens who are so uninformed that they still think Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. I am angry that now, and for years to come, there will be neither the money nor the will to provide healthcare for those who cannot afford it, to reverse the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, to deliver on the promise to leave no child behind.
But I am in no way tired, and I hope you aren't either, for God is our strength and witness. And God calls us to the ministry of seeking and serving the just and peaceable realm. May it be so. Amen