Thank God for Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh was quoted a couple weeks ago in a story carried on Yahoo! news about the rise of the Religious Left. Given voice by groups like Sojourners and in publications like "The Wittenburg Door," the Religious Left is challenging the notion that to be a Christian means to be conservative, to vote Republican, or to support administrative policies like war in Iraq or tax breaks for the wealthy.
Limbaugh's comment: "The religious left in this country hates and despises the God of Christianity and Catholicism and whatever else. They despise it because they fear it and it's a threat, because that God has moral absolutes, that God has right and wrong, that God doesn't deal in nuance."
My first reaction, I admit, was to roll my eyes and call Limbaugh an idiot. I really couldn't figure out why he was being quoted. His fast and loose treatment of facts, combined with his infuriating Aren't-I-so-smart? style, makes him about as lampoonable as Michael Moore, and about as difficult to take seriously. Aside from the odd memorable sound bite, he's a lousy spokesman for reasoned conservatism.
Hate and despise God? That's ridiculous. I've been a Christian for seventeen years now, and I've grown more liberal the longer I've been a believer. Among the liberal causes I support are protecting our civil rights from governmental intrusion; tough hate-crime legislation; affordable housing; food, clothing and shelter for the homeless; civil unions for same-sex couples; education and self-improvement for those in prison; and an end to capital punishment. These are all liberal causes, and the positions I've adopted on them stem from my faith, which has been growing deeper, not shallower, over the years.
But you know something? Rush is dead-on. God has instilled moral absolutes into the world, and he doesn't deal in nuance. My effete liberalism offends him, it makes me an object of his wrath, and that absolutism is not something I feel comfortable with.
I read once that Jesus never intended anyone to feel righteous, and neither did Paul. The difference is that Paul's epistles include lists of sins, and that lets us feel superior to people who commit the sins that we don't. So conservatives in the church can rail against our libertine society, and feel good; and liberals can blast society for failing to feed the hungry, and feel good; and both groups completely miss the point that Paul's lists are actually fairly inclusive descriptions of human behavior and meant to remind us all of our own sins.
The issue at hand isn't whether I would perform an abortion or take part in a gay marriage, nor even whether I approve of those things. Nor is it whether Rush Limbaugh or someone else subscribes to the Bush administration's belief that giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans instead of to the people who stand to benefit the most with a little extra cash, counts as favoring the rich over the poor.
The issue is that I'm a sinner, and I do a poor job of upholding the standard of righteousness I profess to believe in.
I believe the dispossessed of society hold a special place in the economy of God, and I can show passage after passage of Scripture that bears this out. I can delineate with great fervor some of the injustices committed in my city, where affordable housing has been ripped up to install luxury high-rises; where homegrown businesses have been uprooted to make way for more upscale developments. I call this an injustice, I call it exploiting the poor, and I believe God sees it that way too. I've also done next to nothing about it.
I believe that people who presume to call themselves by God's name, as we do when we call ourselves Christians, have an obligation to love as he did, and that at a minimum, we should care for the people who live next door to us. Ask me the names of my neighbors. No, on second thought, please don't. I'd rather be spared the embarrassment.
I believe that we should pray for peace and lament when war comes, even if it is necessary; that we should pray for the persecuted church in the Middle East and elsewhere; and that we should pray for people who are imprisoned within their own hatred. That, at least, I do.
I believe a lot of things, but deliver on very few of those beliefs. It's nice to think that that's OK with God, that he'll wink at my failure to do anything meaningful with my life and say, "Oh, you meant well," and that he won't leave all my failures exposed for everyone to see.
I want God to be impressed. Everyone else is. I was a foster father three years ago. I was a missionary eleven years ago. I've led Bible studies and church ministries, tutored prison inmates and visited a sick neighbor in the hospital. Sadly, that's not enough. When all my sins are placed on the scales, weighted against the meager good I've done, even the heaviest feather won't be enough to tilt the scales in my favor.
And, like Rush said, that offends me. God's not going to bother too much over the nuance of why I stole a cheeseburger from McDonald's seventeen years ago, or why I haven't bothered to actually get to know the families across and down the street from me, or why I don't get out there and actually use the vision, the abilities and the means he's given me to make a difference in the world. He's not going to fret over how tired I was, or how I didn't know any better. And he's certainly not going to care that I thought my liberal views were better thought-out and more biblical than the conservative views that come from the Religious Right.
What I think he will care about is that about two weeks after I rolled my eyes at Rush, I realized he had a point. He'll remember that I started to think about all the ways I've failed to do anything meaningful with what I've learned and seen, and that I realized (once again) that I was being just as smug and self-righteous as I like to think Rush is, and repented.
And hopefully, it'll mark the beginning of a new period of grace in my life, when I learned to love a little better and looked a little more like his son, whom I claim to be following.
Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.