During last Christmas season my thoughts turned to some of those who claim to be followers of the Christ child whose birthday we celebrate – those who proclaim themselves to be Christians. Lately Pope Frances has gone to great lengths to remind us that Jesus was all about preaching love and tolerance for everyone and about ministering to the poor, the down trodden, and the social misfits. Time and again he has pointed out that as Christians we should follow Jesus’ example. Too often here in the Alabama people who call themselves Christians are also extreme conservatives who have adopted the “I’ve got mine, the hell with everyone else” and the “my way or the highway” philosophies. In many cases it is perhaps unfair to say that they “adopted” these views. For too often they were indoctrinated by their parents into that way of thinking at a very early age in much the same way they were raised to be Alabama or Auburn fans, decked out in crimson and white or blue and orange as babies and taught to hate the rival team while they were still in diapers. They were indoctrinated in much the same way that their great grandparents were taught to regard “colored people” as inferior and that segregation was not only proper, but fully justified by the Bible.
To be fair, there are many Southern Christians who not only talk the talk, but also strive to daily to follow in Christ’s footsteps. They are kindly, tolerant folks who perform many good works and give generously to their church charities which offer support to the unfortunate. Others, however, misappropriate the title “Christian” while acting in a most un-Christ like manner. For instance, a very powerful political group calling itself the Christian Collation went all out to defeat a proposal to change sections of the Alabama tax code which unfairly cause poor people to pay greater percentages of their income in state taxes than those who are far better off financially. Thanks in large measure to this “Christian” organization the Alabama tax code remains one of the most regressive in the country.
On a national level, in response to the rise of the Christian right, in 1980 the Republican Party adopted several of their very conservative positions such as support of school prayer and dropped support for the Equal Rights Amendment in their platform. That is not surprising since studies have shown that many fundamentalist Christians are far more prejudiced than folks who have no religious affiliations. Early on several leaders of the religious right supported the continuation of segregation. In a sermon in 1958 Jerry Falwell argued that integration would lead to the destruction of the white race. While today prejudice is no longer prominent in the positions and rhetoric of conservative organizations such as the Christian Coalition, I have little doubt that many of their members still equate being poor with being black.
Nor is the Christian Right’s failure to come to the aid of the poor and disenfranchised relegated only to the distant past. In his campaign to become Alabama’s Governor Robert Bentley set forth his “Christian values” as one his most important attributes qualifying him for the office. Governor Bentley, a medical doctor, followed the lead of some other Republican Governors in refusing to allow the expansion of Medicaid in the state thus depriving 300,000 its most vulnerable citizens – mostly the working poor – of the medical care they so desperately need.
Many of the state’s medical and financial leaders pointed out in vain that the Governor’s decision made no sense economically because in the early years the Federal Government would pay all of the additional costs associated with the expansion and thereafter the state would pay only 10%. They also point that expanding Medicaid would have dramatically boosted the state’s economy with added jobs and added tax revenue far outstripping even the state’s largest economic development projects. According to one widely recognized study, the net loss to Alabama will be $942 million, nearly one billion dollars. Alabamians will also have to pay federal taxes that will go to support the Medicaid expansion in other states while reaping none of the benefits.
Yet, despite these overwhelming humanitarian and economic arguments Governor Bentley refused to relent for what are obviously political reasons. His ‘Christian values” obviously do not extend to adhering to his Hippocratic Oath which mandates that physicians care for those in need of medical assistance nor does he appear to remember Jesus’ lesson in the 25th chapter of Mathew, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me”.
In addition, while many of the Christian Right say they cherish our Constitution, their concerns for individual liberty evidently do not extend to their efforts to legislate their views on social issues into law. As they seek to impose their moral views on the rest of us, I think that it is no accident that members of the Christians Right often rely more on arguments derived from passages found in the Old Testament rather than those of the New Testament. The “fire and brimstone” and “eye for an eye” parts of the Bible written before the time of Christ apparently fit their purposes far better than the teachings of Jesus. When you consider what the Bible teaches us about how Jesus lived and what he taught, you have to wonder whether He numbers some of people who claim to be Christians among His true followers.