Okay, we get it. Trump won and Hillary lost.
It’s time now for Christians to ask themselves how they will interact with the current administration. Christianity, like other religions, is comprised of a diverse group of individuals. Its hallmark is the belief that Jesus was not only a fully human prophet and teacher but was, at the same time, fully divine. Christians also proclaim, as do Jews, that human beings are created in the image of God, carrying a spark of the Divine within. In other words, to be human is to be inextricably connected to the divine.
Beyond that, “Christian beliefs” fall on a broad spectrum. Some believe that if they follow the rules (which have increased quite a lot since Jesus was alive and teaching), keep themselves pure, have faith, and just pray hard enough, God will deliver what they pray for. Others look outward, see that speck of divinity in “the other” and hear Jesus’ reminder that everything that’s important about those rules can be summed up by just two: “Love God. And love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus responds to a follow-up question (“Who is my neighbor?”) with the story of the Good Samaritan, he makes clear that he didn’t intend “neighbor” to mean only that person who is like us and lives near us.
Is our new administration doing all it can to help us, as citizens and as a nation, love our neighbor? Christians would see this role as a primary reason for government to exist—to enable people to live together in peace and harmony. In the case of our American democracy, we would surely add “with liberty and justice for all.”
So how should Christians respond to what we’ve seen thus far? Obviously, Christians should be offering prayers that President Trump will carry out the obligations of the office to which he was elected: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That Constitution includes the Bill of Rights, made up of the first ten amendments, the First Amendment being freedom of speech, press, religion and the right of petitioning grievances and the Ninth Amendment prohibiting the use of cruel and unusual punishments (i.e. torture).
When is it acceptable to interject religious beliefs into the public arena? Surely, it is acceptable when public policy allows for torture--which Jesus certainly didn’t condone--or other actions that adversely affect others. But these are not just religious issues. They are moral ones. In such cases, we need to find both an individual as well as a collective voice. For some of us that voice rises from deeply held religious understanding. But what about issues for which one’s personal belief system runs counter to another’s belief system? As an example, let’s look at issues of reproductive health. We might as well start with the big one: abortion.
Much in the abortion controversy stems from the question, “When does human life actually begin”. It isn’t just Christians who disagree on this; adherents of other religions likewise have differing views. The spectrum ranges from “conception” to “taking the first breath”. You have human sperm, human eggs, human skin cultures, and a cluster of human cells, which make up an embryo, which can organize into a fetus. But when does the fetus become a human “being”? St. Thomas Aquinas believed the fetus became a human being when the woman felt life. More recently, Pope Pius XI’s 1930 marriage encyclical “Casti Connubii” stated human life begins at conception. He did, however, stop short of stating this as an infallible doctrine. Others believe that personhood occurs at the first breath. Advances in reproductive medicine, such as cloning, certainly bring into question the judgment that a human being’s personhood occurs at the point of fertilization since, in the case of cloning, sperm would not be required to create an embryo.
It is worrisome that President Trump’s candidate for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, in his ruling on Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell objected to the provision in Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) that mandated employee insurance coverage to provide all approved contraceptives. Gorsuch noted that the law would require the objecting business to “underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” In Gorsuch’s words, the law “doesn't just apply to protect popular religious beliefs; it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.” This is a skewed view of religious tolerance. The ACA was not forcing the owners or employees of Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor to use contraception or to undergo abortions. Yet those individuals who do not believe that a “human being” is created at conception are denied access to health care to address their reproductive health.
Hobby Lobby and the good sisters had other options by which to champion their religious views. If you don’t want to support a governmental policy one option is to withhold taxes. Many Americans who are opposed to war are concerned with their taxes funding the Department of Defense. But most also realize that there are additional consequences to withholding their taxes. In our society we don’t get to “cherry-pick”, that is, have veto power on every line item in the Federal budget that our Legislators approve.
Can Christians, while remaining true to their religious beliefs, be tolerant of the beliefs of others in the public arena? Or do Christians believe that they have a monopoly on morality? Jesus was a Jew, he came to reform Judaism, not replace it. Christ came not to create more dogmas but to show us the Way to God through love of neighbor. Our Constitution clearly states that no religion should be given an advantage over another. We all need to be grateful to our Founding Fathers in prohibiting religious tyranny. Jesus died a victim of religious and civic leadership that put their narrow self-interests before principles of justice and mercy. He was neither the first nor the last to do so. We who are Christian need to speak up when we see government-sanctioned social injustice, in whatever form it takes. It’s time for us to institute a “Good Neighbor Rule.” If what is being done in our name doesn’t show love for the other, we are required to speak out, aware that we may be attacked and suffer for our actions.