(The following is an article I wrote for ConversantLife)
There's something in the air right now . . .
Something familiar. A growing sense of frenzy that was kicked up around election time, and seems to have re-emerged with the conversation surrounding health care reform. People are panicking. They aren't just disagreeing, or questioning the administration, or sharing opinions. People are yelling and screaming, threatening and freaking, and believing and perpetuating some seriously creative stories about the government’s desire to kill disabled children and leave our elderly "out to pasture".
I wish I could just sit and watch this unfold as a detached observer. People are drawn to drama - this is a universal truth. It would be easier for me to laugh it off and shake my head at the antics of some imaginative figureheads who enjoy cattle-prodding the masses into mass hysteria. The trouble for me, though, as a Christian, is that as I watch this unfold, I am unsettled with the fact that most of this is coming from other people who share my faith. The conservative right and "Christiandom" have been inexplicably linked in our nation - so much so that I think many people have difficulty differentiating between the two. What’s worse, the conservative right are being represented in the media by people whose communication tactics are manipulative at best.
It is baffling to me to watch people who invoke the name of “Christ” so loudly, to be so deceitful in recruiting for their political causes. It is also confusing for me that so many Christians are not outraged at this behavior. When a previous candidate for the religious right suggests that retarded children will sit in front of death panels who will decide their fate, it’s time to question their integrity as a leader. When a popular conservative mouthpiece starts showing posters of Nazi's preparing to execute a person with cerebral palsy in a conversation about national healthcare, it's time to seriously consider if this person has a grasp on reality and should be informing anyone on anything. When that same person jokes about poisoning the speaker of the house, accuses the president of loathing white people, and acts complicit when a caller suggests that Obama is the antichrist, then it's a bit confusing to learn that this man still has a huge audience amongst Christians. And when a subsidiary of a big Christian university puts out a "factsheet" on the healthcare bill that is widely circulated amongst Christians and yet refuted by most fact-checking websites, then one has to wonder when honesty became an optional virtue for the religious right.
There is nothing Christian about stoking fears, scaring the less-educated, freaking out the elderly, and then winking and shrugging when a mob mentality starts sweeping the nation. Will this still be funny when someone resorts to violence, because they are believing the political swill? Because in case you haven't noticed, there are some seriously crazy people out there who are just waiting for a good fight.
Yes, our nation is grappling with healthcare. Boiled down, some of us think our employer should keep paying, while some of us would prefer the government to foot the bill. As Christians, we are free to respectfully disagree with the government on this issue. But please hear me - my concern is not about that. I believe there are many Christians who are able to agree to disagree on this issue and have intelligent debate about it. My concern is with the hysteria I'm seeing sweep the nation. While passions are high on this issue, I think most of the brouhaha has been guided (or misguided) by some savvy members of the conservative media who are now watching with glee as their Republican public is fueled by fear. If their fantastical predictions do come true, and a death panel is instituted, or the elderly are left for dead, or our country is dismantled, I hope we all have enough faith in our country and fellow citizens to believe that ALL OF US will be fighting back. But for now, it seems like fear is a powerful recruiting tool that some are using at the expense of integrity or truth. As Brian McClaren recently said,
"But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to “the just and the unjust”: How can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda – even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling. "
People love the thrill of a fight, and bonding over a common enemy gives people a sense of purpose. But inciting riots over imaginary scenarios is a dangerous game. Our job as Christians is to keep doing God's work - to be His hands and feet - until He returns. Our job is to seek justice, to do mercy, to walk humbly . . . Perhaps it is time for all of us to seek these qualities in the people who will represent us. At best, it's time to turn down the voices that don't, and to be accountable for the information we give and receive so that our words and thoughts are based in the truth. (i.e., checking the truth of incendiary emails we receive before sending them on).
Recently, Keith Olbermann made a plea for the religious right to act with more integrity. Let pause for a moment on that sentence: Keith Olbermann made a plea for the religious right to act with more integrity. He's not my favorite person, and I often think he is prone to emotionality as well, but this time I think he's got it right. His words here cut to the quick of the matter and I encourage you to give it a listen:
We don't all have to agree with the same political ideology. But making things up about the people we don't like? Even my four-year-old knows better than that.