American Views Abroad

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Do You Really Want Honest Religion? This essay by the Rev. Davidson Loehr first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday 6 August 2005 under the heading: Even in the Pulpit, Religion, Politics are Sensitive Subjects. Here is the article in its entirety. The phases in bold were cut by the newspaper.

Lately, some people with long histories of love and support for religion have spoken against the state of the churches and the clergy. Bill Moyers has railed against the silence of the pulpits in America. And I recently heard Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong tell an audience of 1300 in Berkeley that America's preachers had become wimps, lacking the courage or the conviction to speak out about the sins of an illegal war, a rapacious economy or the hijacking of religion by fundamentalists.

But as a preacher, I wonder: do you really want the truth?

If 'news' is the information that keeps people free, our media haven't had much news in years. But do you really want them giving us news? Even if it means criticizing the president, the government, the economy, and the growing power of the religious right? Or would advertisers cancel their ads, and subscribers stop subscribing?

If 'economics' is about how we create a just and empowering 'home' for ourselves -- that's where the word came from -- then we are a long way from an honest or fair economy. We have monetary policies that favor the very rich and flog the rest. But who would you permit to say this, loudly, consistently, and in great detail? Your preacher?

And if politics is supposed to be the art and practice of living together under rules that empower rather than enslave the majority of citizens, then our politicians -- of both parties -- have routinely betrayed the vast majority of Americans. But do you think they'd ever get adequate funding to run a successful election if they told the truth?

Finally, if religion is about 'reconnection' with our highest and most life-giving ideals, and if preachers are expected to speak about the gods that are really running our culture -- then religion and its ministers have indeed become both irrelevant and cowardly.

But do you really want honest religion?

What if your preacher says our economy is rapacious and unfair, that it has stolen money from the earners and given it to the owners through tax cuts bought to reward only the very rich? Will you cut your pledge to get him or her back in line?

What if your preacher reminds you that our invasion of Iraq is illegal, sold through outright lies about weapons that weren't there, and tied to 9-11 when Iraq had no connection of any kind to 9-11? What if your preacher reminds you that we have killed over 100,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians, women and children? Since documents like the Downing Street Memo and others have made it clear that our president intended to invade Iraq when he took office, months before 9-11, what if your preacher compares our invasion of Iraq with Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939? Will you get up and walk out? Will you cut your pledge? And what if your preacher points out that 'all of God's children' includes gays and lesbians, and that by any honest standard they must be included among 'the least of these'? Or that Jesus never spoke a single word of judgment or hatred toward them -- but he spoke a lot of words about not judging others, and about his vision of the 'kingdom of God' as a place where we treated all people as brothers, sisters, and children of God? Will you double your pledge and increase your active commitment, in thanks for having found a place where you can feel the presence of the holy spirit rather than the spirits of bigotry and mendacity? I'm one of the lucky ministers who serves a church that knows a 'free pulpit' can cost thousands of dollars in reduced or cancelled pledges when you really think religion is commanded to serve only the highest sorts of truth: the challenging kind, the often uncomfortable kind, the kind you seldom hear from the media or from politicians. All great religions teach that this path is narrow, and few want it. But these teachings, as all honest religions know, are sometimes very troubling. They can even feel impolite, or downright rude. And so these disturbing truths that can set you free are available in any religion. Still, I wonder -- and know that many other preachers also wonder: Do you really want honest religion?

The Rev. Davidson Loehr is minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin. He holds a Ph.D. in theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science. He is the author of America, Fascism and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, due out from Chelsea Green Publishing Co. this month.

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