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Putting politics above moral requirements

Has your house of worship, if you have one, reopened this weekend for in-person services? That, after all, is what President Trump seems to want all congregations to do.

World-religionsThe congregation of which I'm a member isn't reopening yet. Our leaders -- lay and clergy -- believe it's still too risky and likely would expose some people to the coronavirus. So we'll wait.

But it's been distressing to see Trump trying to suck up to his religious followers by urging them to open so they can exercise their religious freedom. The congregations meeting via the internet are exercising that freedom now, of course, and in a safer way than by gathering again in person.

I thought this Dahleen Glanton column in The Chicago Tribune got at this matter in the right way.

In the midst "of a pandemic," she writes, "the push to reopen churches seems like a hypocritical demand by those who use the Bible as a guide for how they should treat the weakest and most vulnerable. Most parishioners realize that congregating at this stage would be both risky and selfish." The religious rights of some, she wrote, "should not outweigh the health and safety of others."


Notice, too, that although Trump declared houses of worship "essential" in his recent statement asking that they reopen, he didn't attend any service himself.

This is a time for faith communities to be focusing on their core moral teachings. And in all the great religions of the world, those teachings are about care for others, especially people who in some way are downtrodden. So people of faith should be spending their time on providing pastoral care for their own members, for sure, but also on reaching out to others in need when millions have lost their jobs and now more than 100,000 Americans have lost their lives.

It would be a terrible mistake to mix that task up with the politics of a man whose life before and after he was elected president reveals no respect at all for those core moral teachings. It's a point made over and over by the Christian evangelical essay writers in a new book edited by Ronald J. Sider, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump. Worth a read.

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In February 2019, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, in a very close vote, made the appalling decision to keep -- and strengthen -- the denomination's ban on the ordination of LGBTQ+ people as pastors. Almost immediately there was talk of schism. That schism would have happened earlier this month, except that the coronavirus pandemic canceled the meeting at which it would have taken place. That meeting now has been rescheduled for Aug. 29-Sept. 7, 2021, at the Minneapolis Convention Center, as this Religion News Service story reports. This whole controversy is an embarrassment not only to the UMC but also to Christianity generally as certain branches of the faith insist on a literalistic reading of the Bible to justify treating gays and lesbians as second-class human beings. That's a misreading of scripture, as I note in this essay. As the UMC moves toward a split, potential members will want to be quite careful about understanding which side of the split the congregation they're thinking of joining will end up on. Buyer beware.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about KC area clergy, to their surprise, finding at least a little joy in this time of pandemic -- now is online here.


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