Tuesday, June 08, 2004

What would Jesus do? Why, vote Republican
Sunday, June 06, 2004
N ear as Tony Campolo can tell, it was sometime in the late Eighties when Jesus switched political parties and registered as a Republican.

True, the official voter registration form has never surfaced, but the word on the street is that Jesus apparently wearied of those evangelicals for social action and the liberal church's preoccupation with poverty, racism and injustice.

Whatever his issues, we're told Jesus spent the early Nineties helping Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed pull the GOP farther and farther to the right. He was credited with rigid opinions on abortion and homosexuality, issues he barely (if at all) addressed in his apolitical youth. He became a hard-liner on capital punishment and individual responsibility, even as he lost interest in those silly verses in the Gospels that are fixated on serving the poor or suggest "from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded."

The Republicans, not surprisingly, were delighted to find Jesus on board and lost no opportunity to declare that the interests of the party and Christ's church were identical. As Campolo -- an evangelical Baptist minister -- wrote in 1995, "There is no better way for a political party to establish the legitimacy of its political point of view than to declare that Jesus is one of its members."

It's a little harder to understand what the church gained in all of this. I've always thought the church should be a thorn in the side of the power brokers --conservatives and liberals alike -- because the meek, the mourners and the peacemakers require its advocacy.

I've assumed the church needed to keep its distance from the body politic, if only to remind us that Jesus -- the original, at least -- made a distinction between giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.

And I've hoped the church was above allowing itself to be fashioned into a partisan weapon, a role various hypocritical Catholic bishops have embraced while selectively disqualifying pro-choice politicians from a place at the Lord's Supper.

I guess I'm not grounded in Scripture. Clearly, I was wrong.

The Christian church, however, now has a rare opportunity to rethink its political goals, courtesy of the president's re-election team. Five days ago, a campaign e-mail revealed that Bush-Cheney '04 wants to "identify 1,600 'Friendly Congregations' in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis."

As reported by The New York Times, the campaign wants to select a volunteer in each church body "who can help distribute general information to other supporters." This plan to turn "friendly" Pennsylvania church sanctuaries into campaign field offices, a Bush spokesman confirmed, is part of an extensive national grass-roots crusade.

Onward, Christian soldiers. Given Jesus' current party affiliation, I trust hundreds of congregations will step forward, the separation of church and state be damned.

But I do hope these churches aren't willing to sell out too cheaply. The Bush campaign's quest to make sure born-agains vote Republican again is so relentless that the church should be able to demand a little more than the usual lip service to the "sanctity of marriage" amendment and stem-cell research.

Why not insist on universal health care and cheaper drug prices for the elderly so middle-class Republicans can focus on immediate family needs? Why not order the administration to replace John Ashcroft at the Justice Department with Eliot Spitzer so the White House can train its guns on white-collar criminals rather than septuagenarians seeking autonomy at their own end times?

Why not trade tax-exempt space in those church lobbies for sincere tax relief for Christians whose tithe goes to their church rather than congressional incumbents?

Anything less is crumbs from the table. Anything less and you'd have to conclude church leaders, like tired Hollywood celebrities sitting courtside at the Laker games, want nothing more than to rub shoulders with the power elite.

Steve Duin: 503-221-8597; Steveduin@aol.com; 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201

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