Last month the government of Sweden ended its 400-year official relationship with the Lutheran Church, much to the satisfaction of Swedes and Lutherans everywhere. As of this writing, the state of Minnesota is the only place left on earth where Lutheranism is the official religion. And if Gov. Jesse Ventura has his way, that won't last for long, either.
What's ironic is just as Sweden was becoming the last Western nation to sever its official ties to an established religion, presidential candidates in the United States are falling all over themselves to pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ. Asked in an Iowa debate who was his favorite political philosopher, George W. Bush answered "Jesus Christ, because he changed my life." Bush refused to elaborate.
He didn't have to, because in what looked like an ecclesiastical re-enactment of the Who tragedy, all of the Republican candidates at the debate stampeded to proclaim that they, too, were big supporters of the son of God. Christians to the bone. All except for Steve Forbes, who politely explained that he really does have more money than God.
Bush claims that Jesus Christ is the guiding influence on his life, yet the state he governs executes more people than any nation in the world, outside of a handful of third-world dictatorships.
Even though most organized religions — including nearly every major branch of Christianity — have condemned the use of the death penalty, Jesus seems to be calling Dubya to kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out later.
Not to be outdone by a pasty-faced Texas oil millionaire, Al Gore proclaimed himself a "born again" Christian and remarked that he often finds himself thinking "What would Jesus do?" when he's pondering the intricacies of foreign and domestic policy. Apparently, Jesus would shill for campaign contributions from Buddhist monks and bomb the living shit out of Iraq for an entire decade.
My God, what a bunch of hypocrites!
If anybody from one of the two political parties happens to be listening, and it's a pretty good bet that they aren't, they could see in this latest episode one of the primary reasons why so many Americans loathe politicians and the political process. Assuming that one or more of the candidates really does possess something like religious faith, it's repulsive to see them trot it out during the Iowa debate as a cheap applause line.
Jesus Christ: The latest wedge issue.
I've developed a theory over the years, and the events in Iowa seem to bear me out: People who are forever going on about how much they love Jesus Christ are likely the worst sort of Christian.
Take Pat Robertson, for example, who has established an entire television network to tell the world how much he loves Jesus yet at the same time preaches violence toward people he doesn't like. A few months back, Robertson openly advocated political assassination as a tool of foreign policy — a sentiment I have yet to find in my Bible.
How about the Rev. Fred Phelps, whose ministry includes picketing the funeral of gay-bashing victim Matthew Shepherd? In full view of Shepherd's grieving mother, Phelps and his followers waved placards saying "God Hates Fags" and "Matt Fag in Hell." I guess that somewhere there's a passage in the Bible about inflicting gratuitous emotional pain in the name of God, but I'm still looking for it.
And then there's the radical anti-abortion movement, which loves God enough to commit multiple acts of domestic terrorism — including arson and murder. If Jesus were here today to repeat his teaching about "those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword," he would doubtless be run out of town and branded an atheist.
The greatest issue confronting modern Christianity is how to rescue Jesus Christ from a loud and violent minority who use religion to justify their behavior. But since the Republican Party is deeply beholden to this faction of quasi-Christianity, it seems obvious that when the candidates profess their faith in Jesus Christ, they're talking about the god of the pathologically violent.
God help us.
JEFF RITCHIE is a Cincinnati-based free-lance writer and president of Roselawn Evangelical Lutheran Church.