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Progressive Revival

Yesterday, Ed Schultz posed a question on both his radio
program and his MSNBC show:  Where
is the religious community on health care? 

Ed, a Christian who admits he is not a regular churchgoer,
sees the issue in pretty simple terms. 
Jesus healed the sick.  For
free.  Period.  Why aren’t churches out on the front
lines arguing for a compassionate government that will care for the infirm,
ill, and dying?  After all, don’t
these same people understand that America is somehow a Christian nation?

Hey, Ed, I’m a fan. 
And since I was driving to the beach, I listened to you for two hours
get more and more heated–and take some pretty heated calls–on the issue.  I was with you, buddy.  But I think you missed a thing or
two.  Let me help you get the religion story straight.

First, many mainline and liberal churches are on the front
lines with this issue.  For
example, the Episcopal Church’s policy office issued an alert to Episcopalians to contact their members of Congress and has tried to answer
questions regarding the current legislation.  And they aren’t the only ones.  Most American mainline denominations have policy offices
working on this issue (and some have for quite a number of years now, around
SCHIP and other health concerns).  In
addition to denominational efforts, on August 10, cooperating groups across a
theological spectrum kicked off “40 Days of Health Care Reform” campaign to rally faith communities to support new health care policies.   There are lots of Christians–mainstream, mainline, moderate,
liberal, emergent, and progressive ones–who care about healing as a social and
spiritual issue.

Second, and I say this quite ruefully to you, Ed:  mainstream religion is of little
interest to most of the media.  Ed,
while you may be quite supportive of the Episcopal Church or the 40 Days
Campaign, you really wanted to know where James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Rick
Warren, and Franklin Graham stood on health care.  Ed, you wanted to know about the leaders of the conservative
evangelical community–the big TV preachers and religious right political types.

I can tell you where they are.  They are hiding. 
Some people think that evangelical opposition to abortion is keeping
them away from the health care bill (the abortion issue is a factor worrying
some Roman Catholics).  But I think
that many conservative evangelicals are using abortion as a way to duck
addressing the issue.  In
Washington, religious leaders know that abortion is pretty much off the table
in regards to the health care bill. 
The Hyde Amendment will keep the government from paying for abortion (as
long as the Hyde Amendment remains in force) and private insurance companies
will–or will not–pay for abortion as their policies dictate.  As you rightly pointed out, Ed,
abortion stays status quo in the current discussion.

The real thing keeping these leaders from speaking out is
that large segments of their audiences suspect that President Obama is the
Antichrist
,
the long-predicted evil political leader who will usher in a universal
socialist state, complete with a false religion that will doom untold millions
to eternal damnation with “666” stamped on our foreheads.  “Becoming Russia” is code language for
these fears–whether overtly or intuitively understood.

In other words, Ed, this isn’t a health care debate.  This is the Apocalypse.

The most chilling aspect of the apocalyptic fever gripping
the Bible Belt right now?  I can’t
think of a time when American fundamentalists believed that the Antichrist was
the President of the United States. 
Typically, fundamentalists have identified the Antichrist as someone
outside the United States–Hitler, Stalin, Gorbachev, or Saddam Hussein to name
a few recent candidates.  A few
fundamentalists thought Bill Clinton might be the Antichrist, but he was more
often seen as the “forerunner” the real bad guy, a kind of wicked John the
Baptist-type preparing the way for the big apocalyptic show.   And for whatever perverse reason,
Barack Obama is seen as the real thing.  Some Christians have turned inward for the Antichrist; President Obama is the darkness (and I mean “dark”) within.  

In other words, Ed, don’t expect any sort of rational
discussion–or even biblical argument about a compassionate Jesus–to convince
these folks.  This isn’t
rational and sophisticated theology is out of the question.  This is pretty much the
worst kind of religion that can be imagined–apocalyptic fervor and biblical
literalism stoked by the fears of racism and xenophobia–the sort of stuff that
makes me think that the neo-atheists have a point.  Wonder why the town halls are so heated?  It isn’t that religion isn’t in the
room.  Bad religion–and lots of it–is
present in the room.  It just isn’t
the sort of religion that you or I approve of Ed.  It isn’t about healing the sick; it isn’t about caring for
the least of these.   It isn’t
really about Jesus.  It is about
wide-eyed fear over the end of the world as some people know it.

And the only thing that can possibly speak to it is sane religion, the simple teachings of Jesus:  Heal the sick, care for the poor.  

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