Sermon on the Mount

This piece appeared in newspapers in late December, 2023.


I have often here spoken of the great appreciation I had for the conservatives of the Shenandoah Valley back in the 1990s, when I conducted hundreds of hours of talk-radio conversations about “the questions of meaning and value that we face in our lives.”

I respected the fine qualities of character and noble systems of value and belief I encountered in the conservatives with whom I discussed such questions.

“Good Christian values” was one of those noble systems. I found beauty in the people whose lives expressed ideas like “Do unto others…: and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (I could see how that Christian spirit shows the path for us humans to create the kind of better human world we for which people have always yearned.)

It has pained me in recent years to see how that great moral beauty, in these conservative people, has been replaced – in some important ways – by its very opposite.

It has been disturbing to see, for example, how people who had taken Jesus’s teachings to heart became supporters – or even ardent followers – of a leader whose spirit was ruled by the very opposite of what Jesus taught.

(Explicitly the opposite: this leader has publicly declared his rejection of “turn the other cheek” in favor of the opposite, saying he believes in hitting back “ten times harder.” And one can readily infer how anyone who announce that he’d made that switch would – in general — be ruled by the opposite of the spirit of Christianity. The path of enmity and cycle of vengeance the Christian ethic sought to prevent, this man has boasted that he practices.)
These “good Christians” gave their full-hearted allegiance not just to an anti-Christian leader but to a whole political party that consistently

• chooses a path reflects the opposite of “Goodwill” (toward the other party, or another race, or immigrants at our border) and

• insists — at every juncture – that our political process be one permeated by war, the opposite of “Peace on Earth.”

(That party’s reaction to the message “Black Lives Matter” has also manifested the opposite of the Christian spirit. Although the Black Lives Matter movement quite clearly arose out of those terrible videos of police killing unarmed black men, this anti-Christian Party has refused to extend to a people forced to live in fear any Christian compassion.)

(Nor does this anti-Christian Party show an ounce of Christian repentance, refusing even to acknowledge – in what our children are taught – some of the deepest sins in our nation’s history.)

Jesus was the champion of those who cannot get their legitimate needs met by wielding their power – the poor, the outcasts – and he called for a world in which even “the least of these, my brethren” are treated like the neighbor that we love as ourselves.

It has been disturbing to see many of those “good Christians” – whom I’d appreciated from my call-in radio conversations during the 1990s – throwing their support to strengthen a political party that continually targets the vulnerable.

I continue to know, personally, people who support this anti-Christian Party who are still good Christians in other aspects of their lives. The beauty I’d loved seeing before is still visible in their kindly neighborly relations, their trustworthy way of doing business, and the caring way they bring food to a family that’s bereaved.

Somehow, over the years, some sort of “Dark Spirit” seems to have opened a divide in the souls of people– a divide that leaves them being “good Christians” except the that particular domain of their lives of interest to the Spirit that cares only about power.

In the political sphere, these Good People align themselves with a Force that Christian teachings call Evil.

• People who act like Good Samaritans in other kinds of situations – i.e. where power in the political realm is not involved – support in their politics the spirit of the thug who beat the man the Good Samaritan saved.

• Asked who he meant was our “Neighbor” that we’re supposed to love as ourselves, Jesus chose a despised-outgroup – the Samaritans – to say that includes everyone with whom we share the world. Again, that’s the very opposite of what this anti-Christian political force continually does.

Now there’s reported a story that shows most starkly the anti-Christian nature of the spirit that has arisen in the conservative part of Christian America.

The editor of Christianity Today relays the disturbing experience of many pastors around the country. These pastors report how, when they present their congregations the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, they have congregants protesting such “dangerous” ideas. Stunned to learn these are Christ’s teachings, many nonetheless explicitly reject Jesus’s ethic as “weak.” Our times, they say, require the opposite.

The report sees this explicit rejection of Christian values not as an isolated aberration but as an extreme manifestation of Something troubling that’s become powerful in “Christian” America.

And I see an important part of America’s political crisis being that an anti-Christian Spirit has moved “good Christians” to support, in their politics, the opposite of what their faith teaches.

The crisis would be over, I believe, if the Good Christians of conservative America refused to support to any party that attacks the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

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