The Irony of a 'Christian' Inauguration

Oklahoma Gazette | January 28, 2005
President Bush was not the only person inaugurated last Thursday. The Christian Right had its coronation also, and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a social conservative champion said it best at a black-tie "Values Victory Dinner": "Isn't this great, guys? We won."

Yes you did. And those of us who are Christian, but not Christian Right are more than a little worried -- but not for the reasons you think. While you celebrate the return of religion to the public square, we believe that the person who would be most upset about the Inaugural Party is Jesus.

Because, let's face it. In festivities that were saturated with evangelical fervor, the real guest of honor was Jesus of Nazareth, who will be invoked constantly, but left off the guest list. He would likely be holding a protest sign far from the throngs of those who sing his praises. It might say: PUBLIC RELIGION IS DANGEROUS!

While Rev. Rob Schenck, founder of the Washington-based Christian group Faith in Action, was organizing a morning prayer session to give thanks in large part for President Bush's "public acknowledgment of God," the Lord was somewhere in a soup kitchen off the parade route mumbling: "Haven't I covered this?"

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others…. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, an African-American pastor of a United Methodist church in Houston who is known for Pentecostal customs like speaking in tongues, delivers the benediction, the Apostle Paul will be on the road somewhere reassuring those of us who do not speak in tongues that this is a dangerous game to play, and that he would "rather speak five words with [his] mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue."

When the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition "celebrates" the inaugural by drawing chalk bodies on Pennsylvania Avenue to remind the president of aborted fetuses, we can be reasonably certain that none of those outlines will stand for the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, including those still in their mother's womb when our bombs vaporized them.

When the president speaks of the best way to fight terrorism, by "spreading freedom around the world," it will not take an Old Testament prophet to know that we have less freedom right here at home. Or that not so long ago, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter got out of their limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Ave -- something which is now unthinkable amidst the tightest security ever. The eagle may be soaring, but it is heavily guarded.

And finally, when the tab comes due for the most expensive inaugural in American history, who is going to stand up and say, "What would Jesus think of such excess?" At a time of record deficits, which hang like a great millstone around the necks of our children, wouldn't a "moral" president lead by example and have the most simple, austere, and inexpensive inaugural ever?

Just imagine that Bush had said, "Let's cut the $40 million in half, and give the rest to aid the victims of the tsunami." That would be real moral leadership, and Christianity at its best. As it is, what we have is exactly what Jesus warned us against: sanctimonious self-indulgence. Heavily armed hypocrites, throwing a lavish party for themselves -- ostensibly in honor of a penniless rabbi whom they forgot to invite.

Religious columnist Robin R. Meyers is a United Church of Christ minister and a professor of rhetoric in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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