One More Tea Party Post Before Bedtime

Reader Cathy took me to task for my having referred to the Tea Party as largely “Christian,” pointing out in her missive, which I posted Saturday, that the Tea Party doesn’t preach the Gospel or promise salvation.

I agree that it doesn’t preach a Gospel even remotely like that of the New Testament’s, and it doesn’t promise eternal life — just a life wherein they’re not taxed “to death,” or where the ideals of the Founding Fathers don’t “die off” from the effects of some nasty liberal elite, or where “death panels” don’t pop up via Obamacare to knock off Granny. So I suppose Cathy and I are in agreement: There’s nothing “Christian” about the Tea Party. I’d go a step further by saying there’s much about it that’s not at all Christian — and by that I don’t mean “neutral.”

I see it as a movement primarily fueled by people who believe the dismay articulated, and the solutions advanced, are consistent with — perhaps necessitated by — their Christian faith. In that respect, I think it’s largely a Christian movement, and that’s further supported as much by the Religious Right affiliations and prayers that accompany most rallies as it is by the near-total lack of participation by traditionally not-Christian religious and ethnic groups. Further, Tea Party standard-bearers like Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain have appropriated the vernacular, emblems, and trappings of an Evangelical revival. I can’t think of any Tea Party politicos who haven’t made much of their faith or who haven’t had Evangelicals to thank for their successes. It would be hard for me to imagine, frankly, how a devout Muslim or atheist who preached the Tea Party’s line would do at the polls.

It’s not their fervent faith that bothers me; what I find objectionable is the conflation of Christian faith with conservative/libertarian/Tea Party principles. Is there really a Christian exclusivity to Tea Party beliefs? More to the point, is there perhaps a morality that’s more distinctly Christian than a belief, for example, that the debt ceiling ought not be raised? Or is it inherently Christian to insist that tax rates currently at rates similar to those of the 1950s, with a burgeoning population and tremendous, and tremendously neglected, social needs, nonetheless need to be cut further — regardless of the harm it does to “the least of these”? Is naked nationalism or a greedy grasp of political power “Christian”? Finally, is disdain for government and its role in effecting God’s will in the orderliness and ordering of society an appropriate Christian belief?

No one is a true Christian who would check his or her faith at the door when entering the political arena, although it would be nice that if in embracing their faith while so entering, they’d also consider it a testimony to their faith in Christ to study the issues, understand the facts, learn to deal with context, and display some command of real solutions apart from rhetoric. But the Tea Party has taken the GOP and Libertarian disregard for the marginalized and perfected it, developing an entire party full of largely marginalized people nonetheless voting for those who’ve profited from their marginalization and whose policies will guarantee its continuation. “Doing unto” the least of these probably shouldn’t include bamboozling them.

I’ll end with a Biblical defense of government found in the Genesis account of Joseph, acting as steward of Pharoah, who “taxed” the people out of their wheat crop in order to store it in preparation for the famine whose severity and duration God had foretold in him. Joseph acted as part of an “unbelieving” government, one whose ruler and household likely would’ve survived the famine without much regard to the people under him, and certainly one who worshiped pagan gods.

But Joseph, centuries in advance of Romans 13, was led by God to seize the crop grown by the populace and store it for the good of all — even those “foreigners,” his own Israeli family later immigrated to Egypt. It was Pharoah’s government that took control of production and product, withheld a portion for the greater good — even redistributed the grain-wealth — under the direction of God and for the greater blessing of the nations. I find the story fascinating, not just as a testimony to faith, forgiveness, and family loyalty, but as a God-given template of what government can do when functioning in its proper role. And, unlike the illustration of collectivism in Acts, this example was not specific to the Church and, in fact, gains its strength precisely because it wasn’t.

So I don’t apologize for being a believer in what government can do. I believe that even secular governments can be used of God to maintain His priorities for society. That society will always include the poor, whose needs seem woefully underrepresented in the agenda of the Tea Party. The test of whether or not a political movement is “Christian” is not the religious rhetoric and trappings, or even the genuine piety, of those in it. It’s the degree to which it seeks the heart of Jesus for the poor and forgotten — not seeing government as savior, but government as a tool of the Savior to uplift the downtrodden.

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