Post Author: Mariclair Partee
We’ve all seen it. We’ve all groaned, or objected full-throatedly, or taken to our blogs to protest. Pat Robertson did it in 2005, the Rabbinical Alliance of America did it in 2010, and the mayor of Tokyo did it in 2011. The members of the Westboro Baptist Church do it so often it doesn’t even make the news anymore. Maybe we’ve even been guilty of it ourselves, especially lately.
It is bad theology and lazy humor. So can we all stop blaming folks we don’t agree with for calling down God’s wrath in the form of natural disasters?
In the week leading up to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, with a hurricane barreling down on the entirety of Florida, I watched as friend after friend, on every social media platform available, posted some variation on “Well, if we got Katrina for being liberal/progressive/etc., then what does this mean for the conservatives?” with implied sniggering at the ridiculousness of the very thing they were suggesting. These are good people. Most are highly educated, thoughtful, deeply faithful and kind people who practice compassion in their daily lives, yet our current level of debate is such that it proved impossible to pass up an opportunity to say nah nah nanny boo boo.
I highly doubt these friends of mine meant anything along the lines of what they seemed to be saying, and I know in my heart that they didn’t for a second believe that the God they have given their lives to loving and serving would rain down destruction and suffering on an area because some folks who disagreed with them about tax policy and the role of government were having a big party there. But as we say so often in the liturgical tradition I belong to (though we like to say it in Latin so we feel a little less dire about our student loan debt)- how we pray shapes how we believe. And how we joke shapes who we become. If we keep repeating it, even in jest, eventually we may find that we have come to believe it. Anne Lamott put it a little better, when she said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
For the first years of my ordained life, I thought I simply wasn’t allowed to have political opinions ever again. I erred so far on the side of not offending anyone that I was a blank slate, and probably wasn’t a very good pastor or preacher, honestly. Eventually, I came to realize that though there are folks out there who will be offended by the very existence of opinions contrary to their own, I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any favors by self-editing to oblivion just to accommodate an angry few. Plus, I was going to get in trouble with those folks eventually anyway for having opinions on something else like altar flowers or appropriate pedicure colors or parking.
I keep my opinions on candidates and parties to myself, and can’t imagine ever discussing those from a pulpit, but I speak out for gospel values like feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the aged and infirm, and respecting the dignity of every human being. I base my words in our scriptures, our common prayers, our baptismal covenant. Our national conversation lately is so politicized that any opinions at all can trigger a barrage of red state/ blue state jibes from those who perceive they are on the other side from us, but rational responses and a laugh can usually bring those conversations back to a healthy, holy place. So I stay well away from registering God as a Republican, or a Democrat, or even an Independent. I don’t make winking remarks about hurricanes, or tsunamis, or wildfires. Because, if we accept that this is true, even a little, what we are left with is a God who wants to trick us, a suspiciously human looking God who sets traps and doles out punishments to well-meaning individuals. That’s not the God that I believe in.
So let’s try, no matter how much we disagree with someone, no matter if we find their opinions ignorant, or provincial, or maybe even dangerous, let us try to recognize each other, fundamentally, as fellow children of God. Let us see reflected in each other’s eyes the loving caress of our creator, and by letting that be the foundation of all of our conversations, let us temper our tongues. If we are right and they are wrong, we should be able to establish that through actual logic and facts presented without anger or accusation. It would be pretty great to reintroduce this as a regular phenomenon in daily political discourse.
Most likely, we will find that on most issues we are both right, sort of, and maybe also a little wrong. We might even find that our passion has blinded us to some truth on the other side. And we can congratulate ourselves for being on the side of all things good and civil. It is harder this way, definitely. As a history professor in college, moderating a mock debate set in Reformation England, once told me, if your only argument is “God says I’m right.”, you haven’t done a very good job of preparing your case. We owe it to God to prepare our cases, to avoid the easy feints of antagonism, personal attacks, questioning someone’s faithfulness if she or he dares to disagree.
And for the (literal) love of God, let’s come up with some better jokes.