Last week I wondered what Christians do that give others the opinion that we're either angry, judgmental, and unhappy, or else stupid. This week I have yet another example as to why.
GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann said to a group in Florida, "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here? Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to reign in the spending.'"* Really? God is mad at American politicians who value spending money to try to help the poor and bring peace to the world over keeping a balanced budget? I realize that how government spends taxpayer money is certainly a matter for debate, as are the intentions behind such spending, the effectiveness of the efforts, and the appropriateness of such priorities in a democracy. But claiming natural disasters, one of which took forty lives (and counting!), are God's way of championing the rights of Americans who don't like the way their government is being run is heartless, arrogant, ignorant, and cruel. I'm one who thinks the government needs to reign in spending, but I don't want God to throw a tree at an 11 year old boy's home and killing him to make my point. Furthermore I refuse to worship a God who does so. Fortunately I don't have to repudiate my faith or my God, because Bachmann's interpretation of recent events is wrong. She does not have the monopoly on understanding God's will. (Neither do I, before you start pointing fingers.) Unfortunately she's got a microphone to help her spread her interpretation, and media focusing attention on it. No one is going to repeat with such fervor that the earthquake was due to perfectly natural friction caused by the constantly moving tectonic plates beneath the earth's crust, or that the hurricane was caused by typical weather patterns for this time of year.
Not all Christians believe as Bachmann does, but she's got the louder voice and the sexier story, so her beliefs are understood as representative of all believing Christians.
And we (those of us who subscribe to faith and reason) let her do it, by keeping silent.
It's understandable why we keep silent. When we speak and offer an alternative interpretation, those who believe as Bachmann does shout us down with their accusations that we're not really Christians, that our faith is tainted, or misguided, and not true Christianity. And those who aren't Christian (by their own profession, not my designation) won't listen to us, because we're Christian and therefore obviously ignorant and reactionary, because they know how Christians are (they've heard what Michele Bachmann said, after all!).
I don't know how to counter this. With the increasing polarization in politics, society, and the world, 'faith seeking understanding' is no longer seen as a viable approach. It's now either/or. The most vocal Christians proclaim that faith gives all the answers, and anything that challenges those answers challenges the faith. Because of that insistence, faith has been pushed out of all other conversations, and those of us who have faith are assumed to have nothing of value to contribute. That more than anything else, I believe, is what may succeed in relegating the church to irrelevancy. In many ways, we're almost there already.
It doesn't have to be a choice between faith and reason. The two are not diametrically opposed. There are thinking Christians out there, trying to contribute to the important conversations. And they are out there, doing good work in spreading the good news. They just never make the news. At best they're seen as the exception, and at worst, they're not seen at all.
*As reported by the L.A. Times.