VIEW VIDEO On August 17, 2021, the Taliban in Afghanistan, hoping to project an image of moderation, pledged to honor the rights of women, vowing to form an “inclusive Islamic government.” On May 8, 2022, a scant eight months later, the Taliban passed a law requiring women to be covered from head to toe when outside the home. On that same day, the NPR program, Weekend Edition Sunday, quoted a young Afghan woman saying that “enforcing the veil basically disappears women.”
Roman Catholic Supreme Court justices Amy Coney Barret and Brent Kavanaugh vowed to honor settled law during their Senate confirmation hearings, then at the first opportunity began dismantling Roe vs. Wade, joined by their fellow Roman Catholics Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. It appears Neil Gorsuch, born and educated as a Catholic, will join their efforts. Each of those five justices were confirmed by senators representing a minority of American voters.
In Russia, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, has called Vladimir Putin’s leadership a “great miracle of God,” and in a recent speech said the people in Ukraine were “evil forces”, stating “we must not allow dark and hostile external forces to laugh at us.”
The danger of state-affiliated religion was expressed by Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, who said of America’s founders, “They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship, that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for mankind and for mankind alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”
When I began this sermon series, contrasting the differences between religion and spirituality, I intended to limit the series to ten messages. I would have happily stopped there if religion had behaved itself, but these recent examples remind us of the unholy alliance of government and religion. So I continue the series with this observation: Religions too often serve one segment of a nation, while spirituality serves humanity. Sometimes that favored segment is a political party, other times an economic class, still others a specific race, gender, or tribe. But far too often religions allow themselves to be used by the ruthless few to rule the compliant many. Spirituality, on the other hand, is for the whole world and not just one corner of it. Spiritually is committed to the expansion of love, not the narrowing of it.
In our nation, we are witnessing the co-opting of the Christian faith to support a social agenda that is anything but Christian. The language and structures of Christianity are being employed to further a political movement comfortable with fascism, white supremacy, male authority, and economic disparity. It offers no help to the poor and beleaguered, not one comforting word to the grieving, not the smallest measure of freedom to the immigrant, few options to women except obedience and compliance, no refuge to the victims of gun violence, and no word of hope to the gay and transgendered. Its intention is to increase its own power, while diminishing the power of those not like them. It endeavors to control every facet of our lives—our marriages, our right to bear children or not, our education, our right to learn what we need to learn, our right to vote without encumbrance, and to have our votes count. Many Christians in America have lent their enthusiastic support to this effort, caring primarily for their privilege and power. But make no mistake, it is a false Christianity, as far removed from the spirit of Jesus as east is to west.
Spirituality opposes cruelty, especially cruelty done in the name of God. It offers its whole and hearty Amen to the Jesus who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are oppressed.”
This past week I was on a Zoom call about one of my books with a church in Oklahoma. During the Q&A, one of the women said she didn’t think the Church should talk about politics. I knew exactly what she meant. She was weary of the turmoil our nation is experiencing. I understand that because I’m weary too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t view one another as enemies to be fought, but as friends to be helped? Unfortunately, that’s not the case today, is it? But let’s be honest, that has never been the case. Our nation was born in a climate of division and oppression. It is in the air we breathe. It is exhausting, and I understand why that woman wanted the Church to stay out of politics, so I didn’t say anything. But the discussion leader didn’t let me off the hook, so asked my thoughts about Christianity and politics. I said I sympathized with the woman’s frustrations, that I am frustrated and tired too, but that we can’t clock out early. We can’t leave before our work is done.
Politics, I told the group, isn’t about whether we are Republican or Democrat. Politics is our collective effort to live together in such a way that makes possible the equal opportunity for happiness. This collective effort we call governance or politics was so important to our spiritual ancestors that the first five books of the Bible dealt primarily with this subject. How will we live together? How will we treat one another? What will we value? Those are political questions. The only people who can avoid those questions and issues are the people for whom the prevailing order is working just fine, which is to say, us, well-off white people.
Politics is so much more than which political party we affiliate with. It is our shared effort to fulfill our founder’s hope for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, we don’t always agree on the best ways to accomplish that, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. And just because we grow weary, that doesn’t mean we get to clock out early and leave before the work is done.
I acknowledged to the group that it sometimes feels bruising to talk about such things, especially when we came to church hoping for or needing to hear a word of consolation and not a word of challenge. But Friends, we don’t have that luxury right now. Our sense of Quaker spirituality demands our engagement, requires our commitment to love the whole world and not just one corner of it, requires the expansion of love, not the narrowing of it.
As has happened before in human history, religious people have formed an unholy partnership with powers and principalities. It is incumbent upon us to address and resist this corruption, to stand always for decency, to rededicate ourselves to that most golden of rules, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And to, by God, do the right thing when others won’t.