Over the last weekend, Congress passed the President’s health care program and did it with three votes to spare.
This has been the most controversial piece of legislation in decades. I’m tempted to say the most in my lifetime, but that takes in all the debates of the 1940s, the Cold War of the 1950s, the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s, the Vietnamese War issues of the 1970s, and so on.
But this one has been so mean-spirited, I wonder if it’s not in a class by itself.
The disturbing thing to me is how ugly some people can be even when they are occupying the high ground morally.
As congressmen and congresswomen worked their way through the crowds surrounding the Capitol building last Sunday–their safety was not the primary concern; security and police were everywhere–they had to listen to epithets being spat in their direction by these champions of the unborn. (Okay, not by all of them, but some.)
The gay congressman heard, “Fag!” yelled at him. The N-word was hurled at Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement if one ever existed. And we’re told that in the House of Representative itself, a congressman yelled out, “Baby killers!” to those voting for the health-care legislation.
I was in Springfield, Illinois, watching this on television from my hotel room in between worship services at one of our Southern Baptist churches. The pastor and I were discussing the behavior of the demonstrators.
That’s when he told me of the time a deacon hit him in the face and “busted my tooth.”
I said, “All right. I have to hear this story.”
The deacon, the pastor said, was not a young hothead. He was an old hothead. “Seventy years old,” said the pastor, “but he had never learned how to discipline his passions.”
“What was his passion?”
“Fundamentalism. He was an ultra-conservative and proud of it.”
And you’re a liberal?
“I’m not. But he didn’t think I was conservative enough to suit him. He wanted me to be as mean-spirited in my sermons as he was in his personal life, to ‘pour salt in the wounds,’ as we say.”
The pastor told what the issue was that brought all this to a head. It’s unimportant for our purposes here; suffice it to say it was an extremely minor point. The man was on a tirade. He was mad at a world he was convinced was going to perdition and looking for people to blame.
The pastor just got in his line of fire that day.
That morning, a few minutes before the worship service, the deacon had accosted the preacher. When the brief encounter ended, the pastor turned away to head back to his desk. That’s when the old man doubled up his fist and hit him in the mouth.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. This deacon has just busted me in the mouth. I could feel bits of a tooth he’d just broken with my tongue.”
I expect most of us would think of filing assault charges against such an individual, regardless of his position in the church. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians aside (I Cor. 6), such an act could be justified as tough love. But this pastor was more Christlike than I would have been. He washed his mouth out, asked a couple of his friends to keep an eye on the offender during church, and preached his sermon that day.
“That was the last day he came to our church,” the preacher told me. “He knew he had done wrong and there’s no way he was going to submit to the authority of the other deacons or his pastor in disciplining him. So he disappeared.”
Not long after, the pastor was contacted by the two bodyguards of the pastor of a mega-church in the nearest large city. That deacon was now worshiping there. Apparently they had seen something to tip them off and were checking into the man’s background.
We may have sometimes made our little jokes about mega-churches having to employ bodyguards for the preacher, as though this is the height of elevating him to celebrity status, but it’s an indication of the sick world we live in.
Saturday afternoon, as the pastor and I were coming out of a restaurant in downtown Springfield, demonstrators on a street corner held up placards calling on motorists to “Honk, if you oppose Obama’s health care plan.”
President Obama had been a state senator across the street in the Illinois Capitol. When he ran for president, Obama and Joe Biden held a massive rally at this very intersection. So it’s “the place to be,” I suppose.
It also happens to be across the street from the building housing the law offices of Abraham Lincoln and his friend Herndon. Historic, indeed.
As the wintry winds pelted us with icy raindrops, I teased the protestors, “If you folks don’t get out of this weather, you’re going to be needing health care!” One of the men said, “In that case, I’ll pay for it myself.”
He had a sense of humor. I think.
One wonders what takes place inside the mind of a person who decides to defend conservative values with mean-spirited tactics. In his defense of the unborn, he assails the decision-makers.
A congressmen who survived the gauntlet Sunday afternoon and was the target of the curses, said to the media inside, “Do they think such behavior will make me change my vote?”
No. They didn’t think that at all. They were just doing what mobs do, feeding off one another’s ill will.
Mobs come in all sizes and take every conceivable position. That’s why responsible adults who decide to participate in a protest should arrive with a plan in mind on when to leave. They must guard against getting caught up in a firestorm of ugliness.
Contrast the deacon who, in his zeal for fundamental Christian values, busts his pastor in the mouth and the Capitol protestors who, wishing to secure the rights of the unborn, cursed the lawmakers, with these words from Scripture:
“And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
“Bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
“And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity;
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
I can hear someone protest that this is a “lily-livered, cowardly” way to respond when the enemy is banging on your door, threatening everything and everyone you love.
As though there comes a time for Christians to act like the devil in our service for the Lord.
My own conclusion–for what it’s worth–is that not all who defend Christian values are Christian. Not everyone who is willing to fight for fundamental doctrines know the Lord.
Some people just like to fight. And if it weren’t this cause, it would be something else.
God’s people must be able to recognize these dangerous advocates and to steer clear of them.
Those who are on Facebook see it all the time: people who are so anti-Obama they resort to the depths of ugliness and ridicule in opposing him. Mostly, I ignore their rants. But once in a while I will respond, “If you would spend as much time praying for the president–as Scripture commands–as you do complaining about him, he might be a far better president.”
I recall sitting in a living room watching a debate (of a sort) between the disciples of a guru and the parents of a group of teenagers who had been caught up in his movement. The parents were upset and a few were hostile. The two disciples were conservatively dressed (they could have been IBM salesmen!) and on their calmest, most respectful behavior. In between, on the floor, sat six or eight teens, listening to the arguments and watching their parents self-destruct in front of them.
It occurred to me that the teens were not following the fine points of the discussion. They did not know the scriptures being tossed back and forth, but they knew their parents were being ugly. They were being seduced by the suave manner of the guru’s representatives at the same time they were being repulsed by the mannerisms of the people in the room who loved them most.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
“Father, help me never to be so caught up in any cause–even Thine!–that I am willing to forsake all that is holy in its defense. For Jesus’ sake.”