December 2, 2015

GLANZEL | Jesus and the Politics of December

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By MICHAEL GLANZEL 

I did not grow up in a “religious” home; I was not baptized as a baby, and before I was 16 I had only been to about two or three church services.  For me, God was an afterthought — something I rarely considered.  When confronted with the idea of a deity, I embraced a quasi-agnostic attitude towards the subject of God.  If there was a God, I thought that He was impossible to discover or understand.  For me, the concept of a God was hard to accept and even harder to comprehend.

In September of my junior year of high school, my aunt invited my family to come to her small, local church.  The church only had about 30 people; everyone wore jeans and the pastor wore a bright Hawaiian shirt while giving the Sunday message.  But what struck me was not the casual atmosphere, but rather the simplicity and the clarity of the pastor’s message.  There weren’t any strange rituals, meaningless repetitions or Latin sayings.  Instead, the pastor simply read through a chapter of Matthew and explained the meaning of each verse, one at a time.  After that, my family — the same people who wouldn’t be caught dead saying grace before a meal — started going to church every Sunday.

As the months progressed, my agnostic shell began to crack as I began to understand the simplicity, beauty and veracity of the Bible.  In January 2013, I decided to give my life to Jesus Christ — a decision that I have never once regretted.  Now, it seems as if my world — the world of Christianity — has gained particular attention as of late via the presidential race and the holiday season.  Let’s start with the race for the White House.

Numbering in the tens of millions, the born-again Christian community is one of the most influential sectors of American society — and the politicians have taken great note of this.  From Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” to George W. Bush’s evangelism, thousands of politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have invoked the name of the gospel in the political arena.

At the Values Voters Summit in September, Donald Trump proudly waved his Bible around, stating: “I’m a good Christian.”  Throughout her political career, and especially during her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has invoked the Bible and Christianity as vehicle for “social justice,” stating: “We have to summon up what we believe is morally and ethically and spiritually correct and do the best we can with God’s guidance.”  The list of politicians who have invoked the name of the gospel during this campaign is extensive — and yet, I question the motivations behind this invocation.   

In the gospel of Matthew, Christ warns not to boastfully pray in public, stating: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.”  Instead of this boastful prayer, Jesus commands: “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place.”  In other words, Jesus said that when one boastfully praises God in the streets, the individual is simply seeking personal aggrandizement. Instead, Jesus states that one can truly praise God by worshipping him privately, via a personal relationship with God.

With the words of God in mind, I turn back to the politicians.  When a candidate proudly waves a Bible through the air and claims that they are “a good Christian,” are those actions for the glory of God or for personal aggrandizement?  Are politicians praising God in a “secret place,” or are their praises “on the corners of streets so that they can be seen by men?”  In essence, many of today’s political leaders use the Bible as an electoral tool rather than as a message of salvation, love and joy.

Turning away from the election, the Christian world has also faced a renewed fight in the “War on Christmas.”  In essence, this “war” is just as political as the race for the White House.  Certainly, a few politicians have sought to ban Christmas trees and other holiday decorations on public grounds — yet these isolated incidents are few in number.  Despite the rarity of these cases, many politicians and media leaders have sought to exploit these situations.  For example, various individuals, including Donald Trump, have recently attacked Starbuck’s decision to have a plain, red cup for the holiday season, stating that there should be a boycott of the company.

But I ask this: How many pastors, priests and reverends are praying that Starbucks changes their Christmas cups?  How many Christians are praying for Christmas tree displays?  In my own experience, the real war on Christmas, and Christianity in general, is in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere.  The prayers of the Christian community are directed towards these war torn lands where the word of Christ is regularly persecuted — not towards some faux “War on Christmas.”  This public outrage over an imagined “war,” alongside the consistent use of the gospel to further presidential ambitions, just helps to show how truly disconnected the political world is from the Christian community.

Michael Glanzel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at mg786@cornell.edu. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Thursdays this semester. 

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