Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spreading the News

The Good News came to Iowa last night. Good news for Cruz, Trump, Rubio and their large blocks of evangelical supporters.

What does that mean for the rest of us?

The English word “evangelical” comes from “euangelion,” Greek, meaning “the good news.”

So far so good.

According to the website of the National Association of Evangelicals, “The evangelical faith focuses on the ‘good news’ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.”

Okay, not too bad. A little specific to that one prophet, but I grew up around Christians and they seemed harmless enough at the time. This was after the crusades and witch burnings, so I never felt any fear other than of having to sit in church and listen to some guy tell me that pretty much my whole plan for the next week was going to send me to hell. I even liked singing bible songs around campfires. (The s’mores were a big inducement.) Here’s one song I remember:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world.

The song was written by C. Herbert Woolston of Chicago, who was said to have been inspired by Matthew 19:14, where Jesus says, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

So that’s good, right? The good news according to Jesus is to welcome all the little children, regardless of color.

But wait, not those Muslim kids. He couldn’t have meant them. And surely not the Mexicans and Central Americans. There were no Muslims or Mexicans nearby when Jesus uttered those welcoming words.

Maybe what Jesus urged us to do must be construed in the context of his time. Maybe evangelicals are originalists, like Scalia on the Supreme Court.

There were Egyptians nearby in Jesus’s time, but nobody is talking much about Egyptian immigrants just now. Syrians were all over the place then. They’re trying to get in now, but the darlings of the evangelicals—Cruz, Trump and Rubio—don’t want to let them in because they might be terrorists. Maybe that’s a distinction an originalist evangelical can hang onto. There were no suicide vests in Jesus’s time, so no worries about welcoming a few Syrians in those days, but now…  

I have to say, what evangelicalism seems to me to boil down to is rejection of anyone who is not a Christian. As far as I know, Iowa’s evangelicals haven't suggested dealing with heretics the way as ISIS does—I haven’t seen any images of bloody heads rolling down snow-covered Iowa corn rows—but they make me nervous nevertheless.

I’m not a Christian, but that’s not supposed to matter in our country. Remember us, the nation founded by people fleeing religious persecution?

Elections have consequences. This isn’t about a constitutional interpretation by the Supreme Court, which tries with varying degrees of success to balance our two pillars of religious liberty, the establishment and the free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment. This is about the will of the people. Whom do we want to lead us? What principles do we hold most dear?

Are they exclusion or inclusion? Are they fear or hope? Will we help others, as Jesus and the Golden Rule exhort us to, or only those who look like us and share our faith?

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