Last week Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, a professor in Texas and contributor at MSNBC, said that the ACA (Obamacare) is the answer to the question of what Jesus would do. Robert Chao Romero, a professor a UCLA who is also somehow connected with Jim Wallis’s Sojourners, has said about the same thing. So am I a bad Christian because I do not like the Affordable Care Act?
A lot of liberals or progressives think that clearly their position derives from teachings of Jesus. (The religious right does this too.) And they imply those of us who disagree, along with being irrelevant and passe, are bad people. I have studied Jesus and I just do not see this. So am I an idiot as well as a bad Christian?
I have been trying to understand this. I have social media friends who include lay people and former parishioners but also clergy colleagues. I get a lot of political posts. Those from the lay people tend to be conservative or moderate. Those from the clergy are almost exclusively liberal. In clergy gatherings I feel like a double agent. I keep my mouth shut and observe so as not to upset the assumption that of course everyone present shares the same liberal values.
The troubling thing for me is not that mainline clergy tend to be political liberals, but that many seem angry at their parishioners for being bad Christians who resist this agenda. And their parishioners are those who are still in the pews after decades of more conservative people heading for the exits.
I have long been genuinely puzzled by this. But today I read an article that makes some sense of it. The article is be Damon Linker and its title is “How Christianity gave us gay marriage”.
He uses his reading of Alex de Tocqueville’s 17th century Democracy in America to understand the democratic revolution in America.
“The ultimate source of the democratic revolution — the motor behind its inexorable unfolding — is the figure of Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.”
So for many Americans the “equal dignity of all persons” translates into support for the supposedly egalitarian agenda of the big city machines, the public service unions, various minority lobbies, and the professors of “angry studies” courses. See how I am not convinced. Would Jesus have told people that if they liked their doctor and their policy, they could keep them?
But Linker goes on to give an interesting historical perspective.
“These are among the most subversive teachings ever uttered — and according to Tocqueville, Western civilization has been working out their logic for the better part of two millennia, as political communities have applied Christ’s egalitarian teachings in stricter and stricter terms.
First, the rigidly hierarchical order of the Roman Empire assimilated and transformed Christ’s message, creating a series of stratified Christian aristocracies that ruled Europe for centuries. But by the 11th century, the clergy, which “opened its ranks to all, to the poor and to the rich, to the commoner and to the lord,” had gained political power. In this way, the principle of equality began to “penetrate through the church to the heart of government.”
Over the next 700 years, as Tocqueville tells it, “a double revolution” transpired: “The noble has fallen on the social ladder, and the commoner has risen; the one descends, the other climbs. Each half century brings them nearer, and soon they are going to touch.”
They already did touch in the United States, the world’s first nation settled by egalitarian Christians (the Puritans) and explicitly dedicated in its founding documents to the principle of universal human equality. Where France required a violent revolution to overturn recalcitrant elements within its social order and advance the cause of equality, the United States merely needed to declare and secure its independence from a foreign power, before allowing the egalitarianism already implicit in its habits and institutions to flower and flourish.”
I agree that it was Puritan anti-Catholicism that had a big influence on America. But, as a self-described anti-Puritan, I question some of this. The Puritans were wrong, for instance, to reject the sacramental definition of marriage. Apart from marriage as a sacrament, I am against straight marriage too. But that is all I’m going to say about the gay marriage part of this essay. I don’t really care about that.
What I care about is the notion that the teachings of Jesus compel us to affirm the welfare state. Jesus taught the “equal dignity” of all people. The New Testament doesn’t quite put it that way, but I will accept that his teaching went in that direction. Modern bureaucracy, both corporate and government, seems to me a great challenge to human dignity. Isn’t that why people are in the streets in Venezuela and the Ukraine? And isn’t that what is behind the resistance to the mandates and curtailment of choice involved in the Affordable Care Act?
Jesus’ teachings are important. I do not think they fit either the agenda of the religious left or the religious right. But who Jesus is and what he does is even more important. He offers a vision of liberty and healing that go beyond anything any law or agency can do.