I don’t think many in this country realize how powerful the religious right has become over the past 20 years in terms of their influence on our political system.
Some of them are led by greedy posers who are using religion as a way of getting Christian voters to elect candidates who will do the bidding of people who only have their own financial interests in mind. They are not interested in any kind of religious ideology to follow in their personal lives. They just want to stay rich and powerful. And they intend to use the large voting block of gullible very conservative Christians to do it.
And then there are leaders who are the truly religious fanatics who have lost touch with the true message of Christianity, which is completely love centered. These fanatics approach religion in terms of legalistic, rule-oriented, judgmental, punishing thoughts and actions. There is no joy in their faith, no room for grace or charity, no tolerance of anyone who does not march in lock step with their very narrow-minded self-made theology. They are angry. And sometimes they are mean. And they have the potential of being violent.
Both of these kinds of leaders have realized how easy it is to manipulate people through religion. If you present yourself as a believer; if you talk about Jesus and prayer and quote a Scripture or two, well, you’re in with a whole lot of people. It doesn’t really matter what else you say or do; if you convince folks you are righteous, that you love God, that the Christian faith is an important part of your daily life, then you are accepted with open arms. And frankly, you can just about get away with anything.
It’s a pretty simple ploy, actually.
When I was in the ministry I met a fellow minister at a conference one time. He was in my group all week and we would have lunch or dinner together with a few other friends. I remember him telling those in our little group late one night that before the ministry, he had been a “collector” working with a mob family on the East coast. He was such an outgoing and funny guy we all thought he was joking. But then he started telling us about his past life. We all sat there stunned. He told how he beat up people who didn’t pay a debt. Beat them with hoses and pipes and brass knuckles and just wild stuff. Then he told us how in the middle of all of that he was a member of a local Christian church. Served as an usher. Had the youth group over each month at his huge home. He wore expensive suits and drove a nice car and he said people at church thought he was such a sweet Christian and a loving family man. I’ll never forget he said, “People in church will believe anything if you can convince them you are a devoted Christian.”
He said he ran away from that life, changed his name, found an authentic faith and went into the ministry. I never did know if that was just a cover of some kind or not. I didn’t know if he made all of that up or if it was true. The guy was so convincing. I did find out later he actually was the pastor of a small Baptist church in Oklahoma.
Good, decent Christian people are vulnerable to charlatans and phonies with big smiles and a smooth line. Far too many unscrupulous politicians know this and today take every advantage of it.
Some of them know how to talk church, how to sound religious, how to hit all of the hot buttons that rouses unassuming believers and drives them to their cause, even if it betrays the very faith those believers hold to.
In her novel, Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell has one of her characters say, “Maybe that’s the way to tell the dangerous men from the good ones. A dreamer of the day is dangerous when he believes that others are less: less than their own best selves and certainly less than he is. They exist to follow and flatter him, and to serve his purposes. A true prophet, I suppose, is like a good parent. A true prophet sees others, not himself. He helps them define their own half-formed dreams, and puts himself at their service. He is not diminished as they become more. He offers courage in one hand and generosity in the other.”
True prophet or true politician, the same should be said of both. And these days, we desperately need to know the difference between them and the others.
© 2012 Timothy Moody