“Snakes and vipers are among us,” and very often they hold positions of power and influence as ordained shepherds of faith. They use their authority like the pharisees and scribes described in the New Testament. While attempting to honor God, they ignore the mandates of the faith. They manifest extremism and they ask their followers to manifest the same; they ignore the mandates of the faith to elevate religious doctrine. They ask us to ignore greed, inequality, hate, jealousy, maliciousness, the disenfranchised, and our responsibilities as stewards of the earth, and instead to prioritize the advancement of political platform issues consistent with the church’s teachings on abortion, the role of women, and homosexuality. They manipulate the Bible and the teachings of Christ to gain political power and influence over the government. Pharisees and scribes are everywhere, in every religion. Today they are front and center in political discussions and more influential with politicians who will become government leaders than ever before.
In September before the 2016 Presidential election, the Church of St. Mary in Providence, fired its gay music director of 5 years for … well … for being gay. Once run by the Franciscan order, the Church of St. Mary’s in Providence was now managed by the Diocese of Providence, a.k.a Bishop Thomas Tobin. Tobin didn’t just force the firing of Michael Templeton, a lifelong catholic, who has served as a music minister in catholic communities for 24 years, he used him as an example to his followers. The Pharisee is revealed! Tobin didn’t just allow Michael Templeton to go quietly and sadly into unemployment, he decided to use this private personnel issue to make an example out of Templeton – and on his Facebook page – of all places! It brought to mind the well recognized passage from the New Testament in which Jesus was baited by the Pharisees and Scribes to agree with the death sentence they had imposed on a young woman for adultery. By saying, “let he among you who has not sinned, cast the first stone,” Jesus was not advising religious leaders or the angry mob to ignore the law or a moral wrong. But, he also wasn’t using the opportunity to shine a light on the sin (of adultery in that case), as Tobin did with Templeton’s firing. Rather he used the opportunity to make an example out of the religious leaders for their manipulative use of the woman and her plight for their own example-making. He could see that they cared not for her soul or her well being. They cared only to prove a point in the advancement of their agenda. Jesus’ words and actions in that passage of the Bible instruct that instead of shaming this poor woman to advance their own political agenda against him, the Pharisees should have first recognized their own guilt and recognized their fellowship with this woman as sinners. A true christian would not have dismissed Templeton, callously adding him to the unemployment rolls, and especially not just to make a point. At the very least, they might have had the basic decency to keep it off Facebook.
Then one week before the 2016 election, after Trump had bragged about sexually assaulting women; after Trump had accused all Mexican immigrants of being rapists; after Trump had dismissed climate change – a reality that will destroy the poorest of the poor before it ever reaches the steps of his gold plated plane – as a scientific hoax; after Trump advanced his argument to withdraw from the world, and to “ban all muslims;” after Trump mocked the disabled; after Trump selected a running mate who used his “christian faith” as a justification for signing a law in Indiana that allows businesses to refuse services to gay people; after Trump threw gasoline on the smoldering fear, bigotry, and hate that exists in this country; after all of that, the Roman Catholic priest who married me and my husband, Fr. Robert Marciano, declared from the pulpit of a Warwick, RI church that a “vote for Hillary Clinton would put his immortal soul in peril.” Pan out to the image of a driver of a pick up truck with a confederate flag flying off the tail end, shouting “Praise Jesus Christ!” I’m sorry, but are there even enough ??????????? in my key board to insert in this blog at this point? Has hypocrisy smacked anyone else in the face as hard as it just smacked me? Meanwhile, in Rome, Pope Francis said: “we need to knock down walls and build bridges that can lessen inequality and boost freedom and rights … What we want is a fight against inequality, this is the biggest evil that exists in the world today.” Hmmm. What is going on?
Is Pope Francis all we have? Where have our American religious leaders gone? Have they forgotten that as shepherds, their first obligation is to their flock, not to the guy pouring the drinks at the local pub who can get them a seat near the musicians in the nearby village? Do they really believe that we “the sheep” are so unsophisticated, so uneducated, that we don’t all (every single human being) struggle with the complexities of the abortion issue? Just because we don’t believe the government should be in the business of telling women what to do with their bodies doesn’t mean we want to see babies “ripped from the womb.” It’s not that black and white. And, if the politicians want to throw voters into pro-life, pro-choice categories, or label us as pro-gay rights, or pro-traditional family/marriage voters, our religious leaders should have the moral courage to guide us away from these absolutisms.
You can’t protect human dignity or the human spirit by waving scare headlines in huge print at us from the pulpits and you can’t fight inequality while electing people who promise to promote it.
It is my personal belief that when I see intellectual dishonesty, commingled with agenda, presented as faith, I have no alternative but to reject it. Let’s start calling a spade a spade.
Roman Catholicism is the religion of my family. It has been for generations. It is beautiful and filled with comfort and ritual that connects me to the sacrifices and struggles of my ancestors, the hopes and dreams of my descendants, and the needs and gifts of my neighbors. Christianity is the faith of the hopeful. It is a faith that at its core is about redemption, tolerance, forgiveness and exposing the hypocrisy of the powerful. It is the faith of the poor and the marginalized. It is my faith. But the church in America is being mismanaged and it is deliberately using its religious doctrines as political weaponry. It may not have division as its goal, but it is nonetheless content with the resulting division.
I’m not sure when being Christian became synonymous with political conservatism. I honestly used to believe that the agenda of the Republican party was inconsistent with christianity. Now, it seems that the political right have hijacked christianity with a blessing from the Pharisees who lead the the Roman Catholic church in America. And, somehow, I have been cast aside as not Catholic enough to be christian or not christian enough to be Catholic or not republican enough to be either.
Well I won’t allow that. Donald Trump, Bannon, Cruz, Guliani and the tea party can’t have my faith or my religion. I am a Roman Catholic. I am a christian. I am a liberal. I am a steward of the earth. I will stand up to hatred and inequality wherever I see it until the “moral arc of the universe bends [back] toward justice.”