With so many of our presidential candidates flaunting the bona fides as Christians, it might be wise to reflect on what that word actually means. For many in my own Catholic faith, being Christian boils down to your position on abortion -- be agin' it and you're in; be fer it and you're out.
But what does being Christian mean if not following the way of Christ? Remember him? The guy that started the whole shebang?
To get to the core of Christ's teaching, you can do worse than to start at Matthew 5: the Sermon on the Mount. In his sermon, Jesus listed a number of aggrieved groups that were in for some blessing: the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the clean of heart, peacemakers, those insulted for being his own followers. Jesus identifies these as people who are in distress now, but who will be comforted in the age to come. They are God's special people, who though oppressed by the world, will find relief in God's reign. If I am to follow Christ's lead, then should I not also bless those whom God blesses? Should I not take the part of those in spiritual poverty and fill them with hope? Shouldn't I comfort those who mourn the death of those lost to addiction, militarism, gun violence, terrorism and sexual slavery? Should I not assure the meek and oppressed of their dignity and worth in my eyes and in the eyes of God? Shouldn't I feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty? Shouldn't I encourage those seeking to live lives of moral, intellectual and physical integrity? Shouldn't I support those who seek more peaceful communities and a less warlike world? Shouldn't I stand with those being attacked for trying to follow the tenets of their faith?
I can assure you that many who call themselves Christians fail the Sermon on the Mount test. When you incite people to violence, or threaten to deport the poor, or advocate for more and bigger weapons, or put more and more people into prison, or pollute food and water sources or deprive entire communities of their basic human dignity, then you fail Christ.
And you lose your grip on the claim to be Christian.
In this presidential election cycle, we have been treated to the spectacle of "Christian" candidates falling all over each other to pander to other "Christians" by playing on their fears and prejudices. To them, there is no struggling poor person who is beyond being attacked as a fraud and a drain on the economy. There is no bedraggled refugee who is beyond being compared to the most conniving terrorist. There is no program helping the wounded vet, the uneducated minority or the vulnerable woman that is beyond being threatened with elimination. If following Christ's teachings will bring us to heaven, then what can we say of those who rush headlong away from them? Are they not hell-bound? Are they not antichrist?
These are strong words, and potentially dangerous ones. But at some point, I have to name the evil that is consuming this nation. Those who seek to lead us into the reign of God are instead leading us into a reign of terror against those unlike them. Those who were in power in the world before the 1960s -- predominantly white, heterosexual Christian males -- are reacting with a shocking lack of compassion to those who rightly deserve to share that power -- women, people of color and people of alternate sexualities. The myopia that afflicts many supporters of today's more vicious candidates is precisely what Jesus preached against. The small and powerless, he taught, would have power in God's reign. That makes them valuable to God. And if valuable to God, then valuable to us.
Christianity, if it is to have any meaning at all, must be more than a label -- a gang affiliation. It must continually call us to compare our own actions against what Christ taught. And to make corrections if necessary. Otherwise, the atheists will have it right when they are repelled by religion. Perhaps it is not creeds that trouble them, but the creeps that masquerade on their behalf.