Jesus Christ was a man that traveled
through this land;
A carpenter, true and brave;
Said to the rich, "Give your goods to the poor,"
So they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
I congratulate the president for putting his weight behind
an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. I'm pleased that the president has
not joined the chorus of religious bigots who insist that Islam is
inherently evil. And for altogether selfish reasons, I'm happy about
the president's efforts to have Medicare partially cover the cost of
prescriptions for geezers.
I say all that because I want to distance myself from the
wildest-eyed Bush haters who are getting almost as nasty as the
moderate Clinton haters.
But having said it, I'm sorry to have to report that I've
been getting strong whiffs of religious hypocrisy from the White House.
I don't wish to brag, but I know what religious hypocrisy
smells like. I grew up wallowing in it and rather enjoying it.
It wasn't a bad way to grow up. Every Sunday morning, I'd
sit in my First Baptist pew, a beatific look on my face, pretending to
ponder deeply what our minister was saying about frying in hell, but
really wondering how many hits Dixie Walker might get for the Dodgers
in the Sunday afternoon double-header.
And even though I'd been totally immersed in the baptismal
tank, I lusted after our preacher's daughterafter whom I knew I
should not lust.
And the whole congregation knew that Jesus said we should
sell everything we have and give the proceeds to the poor, and thereby
lay up treasures in heaven. But prices in our town were never quite
right for selling everything.
Thus we were quite content in our hypocrisy. It was, after
all, part of the human condition. In Adam's fall, we sinned all. We
took comfort in that.
So I was stunned earlier this month to read about how the
governor of Alabama appears to be taking his Christianity more
seriously than we did. Get this:
Governor Bob Rileya Republicanhas taken on the state's
farming and timber lobbies by proposing a tax reform that would shift
what the New York Times calls a "significant" portion of state taxes
from the poor to the rich.
His rationale for the change, the Times reports, is
in starkly moral terms, arguing that the current Alabama tax
system violates biblical teachings because Christians are prohibited
from oppressing the poor."
The new plan will be voted on in September, and if it
passes, the Times says, "it will be a major victory for poor people. .
.. . But win or lose, Alabama's tax-reform crusade is posing a pointed
question to the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and other
groups that seek to import Christian values into national policy: If
Jesus were active in politics today, wouldn't he be lobbying for the
The Truth, Mainly
You can see where this is going, can't you? It's about to
become another rant against the tax cut.
George W. Bush is the most self-advertised Christian
president in my memory. George W. Bush has championed the most
regressive tax bill in my memory.
You know the one I mean: the $350 billion tax cut on dividends. Who
gets dividends? The very rich, that's who. And if their taxes go
down, whose taxes will likely go up?
So how can the president be both a Christian president and a
soak-the-poor president at the same time?
That's the question behind a letter Rev. Jim Wallis and a
number of other clergy sent to the president a couple of weeks ago.
The letter, according to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, told
the president that most of the signers "supported your faith-based
initiative" and the presidential encouragement of "community groups
that help the poor."
But, the letter went on, "the good people who provide such
services are feeling overwhelmed by increasing needs and diminished
resources. And many are feeling betrayed. . . .Mr. President, the
poor are suffering, and without serious changes in the policies of
your administration, they will suffer more" because the administration
"is cutting resources to the poor while cutting taxes on the rich. . .
That kind of disconnect between what the president professes
and what the president does wouldn't have bothered me at all when I
was a kid sitting in my First Baptist pew. It probably doesn't bother
the president either.
But I like to imagine that he sometimes wakes up in a cold
sweat at 3 a.m. asking himself questions:
Which presidential candidate would Woody Guthrie's
proletarian carpenter, true and brave, make yard signs for? Which one
might He leaflet a precinct for? And (gulp!) which one might He vote
for in the Big Election in the Sky?
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail