Sunday, July 31, 2016

Our National Elections and the American People -- On the Same Page or Not?

One Web Pastor’s Biblical Argument on Why Sanders Should
Have Won, and What Would Have Happened If He Did
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

With both of the conventions that nominated America's next presidential candidates having concluded, I have already come to the conclusion that this year's choice for presidential candidates is really no choice at all. We the 99% have two candidates to choose from who are both from the top .1% in America's economic pecking order, candidates who are clearly bought and paid for by Wall Street, corporate America, and the military-industrial-incarceration complex. “We the people” have the worst choice of candidates since Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson way back in 1964! When Bernie Sanders ran for president he was hoping to initiate what he called a “civil discourse.” He has done far more than that. He inspired a cross-section of American generations who plainly see that our country can do far better than it is, and he inspired this Web pastor, published author and blogger to write this week's message stating such because I stand with Jesus Christ, and I also stand with Bernie Sanders. My biblical argument lies with two rather unconventional Jews. When I saw Bernie Sanders on stage, I saw someone akin to John the Baptist. I saw the wild-haired, roughly-clothed John the Baptist, eating honey and wearing camel’s hair, and crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and for abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about.

Never mind that Sanders supports a woman’s right to choose, to have control over her own body, as well as supporting gay rights and cannabis legalization. Those evangelicals who would have others believe that that's what Jesus cared about most have simply have never read the Bible. If they had, they wouldn't dare say such things about our Savior. Sanders said: “The great irony is if you read the red letters of Jesus, there are no statements on abortion. There are no statements on gay marriage. Now, that’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak about these things, but it certainly is to say that Jesus, founder and master of our faith, did not see fit to make these high-priority topics.” There is one thing — one major thing — that Jesus did care about. The Jewish prophet John the Baptist cried out in the desert to warn the Pharisees, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, and make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3: 2-3) I have often tried, sometimes fruitlessly, to point out to the religious right that they have strayed far from the path, and the words, of Jesus. I make a point of bluntly confronting them with Jesus’ own words and have lately begun to equate that with Bernie Sanders’ words, or maybe vice-verse. Sanders said on stage during a speech at Liberty University, “I believe that my views are 100% consistent. And so I think that the shock value for that comes in beginning to appreciate that the Bible and Jesus, in my opinion and in my very moderate reading of the Bible and the words of Christ, leads us to a Progressive worldview.” The words of Jesus resonate in the words of Bernie Sanders. He quotes Jesus from the Book of Luke: “I have come to bring Gospel — good news — to the poor.” 

But there is more, so much more! Jesus taught in all four gospels, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” But He didn't stop there, he went after the religious leaders. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them'.....'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.'” (Matthew chapter 23, verses 1-4; verses 23-24)

Those were the words that came to my mind when I watched Sanders on stage, calling out evangelical leaders for abandoning the poor. It was a trans-formative moment for American politics! We commit to the mental gymnastics necessary that allows us to abandon “the least of my brethren”, to abandon the poor, to abandon the immigrants, to abandon those who are in prison, to abandon those who suffer from mental illness or addiction. As I watched Bernie Sanders, he said he wanted to welcome the immigrants and give them dignity. He said he wanted to care for the sick children, and their mothers and fathers, who do not have health care. He said he wanted to decrease the amount of human beings who are corralled like cattle in our for-profit prisons. He said he wanted to end this extortion racket known as for-profit education, and make higher education freely available to all without qualification. He said he wanted to do justice for those who have nothing and live homeless. All these things are the things Christ would be doing if he returned today. The wonder for the rest of us may be that it has taken so long – not for an evangelical to come to this moment, but a Jewish gentleman to realize that the poor, the sick, the homeless are the true mission of Christianity and of America. “The first job of any government”, said Thomas Jefferson, “is for the care and well-being of its citizens.” But those layers of defense, those mental gymnastics that the faithful have labored under for decades are heavy and thick. It’s no wonder, after all the reinforcement from their so-called ‘leaders’, that the light of realization has failed to penetrate.

This kind of breakthrough and willingness to speak out are not only invaluable, but demonstrate the ability of Bernie Sanders to draw together a diverse base of support. That base had, and still has, one thing in common. Religious or not, its members have heart, and compassion, and want the country to be a compassionate, loving, and forgiving place. When we choose to follow Jesus we decide that the Kingdom of God, and the men and women and children of this world contained therein, are more important than the individual. Moreover, that accidentally makes us all Progressives. The day we decided to follow Christ, and the day we decided that we value other human beings more than ourselves, we accidentally became Progressives, or maybe social democrats like in Europe. Accidental perhaps, but we are all Progressive Christians as a result of our faith as well as our politics. It’s a concept whose time has most definitely arrived.

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