Monday, April 24, 2006

Whom Do You Say That He Is?

There’s a group in America that feels misunderstood and persecuted. They have been waiting for one of their own to lead this country in a revival. They pray about it, they organize for it, and they believe it is their destiny.

For many conservative Christians, President Bush has always represented a type of messianic figure: a president who will return this country to its faithful origins. For many, he is the fulfillment of a dream. After years of post-sexual revolution morality, culminating in Bill Clinton, Bush is the one chosen to start returning this country to more conservative ideals.

For many who have believed, and waited, and prayed for a conservative Christian president, they will never accept anything less than George W. Bush as an answered prayer. This, of course, gives Bush all kinds of political capital to expend. He has been largely held unaccountable by his strongest supporters. How he governs and the results of his policies are irrelevant questions. Bush’s opinion polls continue to drop lower and lower, largely revolving around the answer one key question: whom do you say he is? Is he a crusader masked carefully in political rhetoric? Or just a man to be judged by his actions?

Criticisms and questions of Bush are met with zealous defense. The arguments from the faithful usually amount to something like one writer praising Bush as someone “who actually acts on his deeply held beliefs” as if that were the key measuring stick for presidential success. By that logic Hitler was a pretty good leader too.

Like the taking of Masada, perhaps the 43rd presidency will serve more for what it symbolized than what was actually accomplished. Indeed, it already feels like a Pyrrhic victory. For millions, there is just no way they can admit that Bush is doing a poor job. That would collapse an entire belief system. We’re back to the problem of cognitive dissonance, where reality confronts belief, and reality is ignored.

But blind obedience is not what Jesus asked for from believers. He said it himself: if a blind man leads a blind man they will both fall into a pit. The meaning is that some who claim to lead the faithful have no idea what they are doing, and the faithful should be discerning enough to know the difference and not follow.

And it seems like many have deserted Bush already, denying him three times and moving on with their lives. Perhaps they are like me, people who put their faith in the man, only to have it abused. Perhaps they are like Cindy Sheehan, asked to pay the ultimate sacrifice for a mishandled war. Maybe they are like so many other Christians who have been asked for blind faith and have received only promises.

But it is time to move on. It’s not about whom you think Bush is, it’s about what he does and what the results are. Anyone can claim to be anything, it’s the actions that count. That was Jesus’s entire defense against his contemporary religious leaders. He urged his followers to consider not what they said but how they lived. His was a pragmatic faith, grounded in action and he was recognized by the fruits his life produced.

And what has been produced from the White House? War, debt, lies, abuse of power, ruined careers and lives. These are the answered prayers we’ve been waiting for? I really hope not. I think we would represent Christ better if we tried to help the poor, and worked toward peaceful solutions to problems. These are ideologies, ironically, more closely aligned with the very un-religious countries of Western Europe which abandoned spiritual rhetoric and moved on to human action.

I think a few lessons will be learned from all of this. Clinton’s free-wheeling personal life in the Oval Office led to the election of a man determined to lock down behavior and restore good old-fashioned Christian virtues to the White House. Six years later George W. Bush has abused that trust, obvious to all but the most fervent remnant. Maybe the reaction will be to elect a president whose actions produce the kind of positive system most people are hoping for.

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