Op-Ed

Jesus didn’t join the tea party, either

Mike Huckabee Attends Religious Rally At North Carolina State Capitol

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee explains why he decided to headline the 'I Stand With God, Pro-Family' rally in Raleigh on Saturday.
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Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee explains why he decided to headline the 'I Stand With God, Pro-Family' rally in Raleigh on Saturday.

On Saturday, a throng gathered at the Capitol in Raleigh for what they termed an “I Stand With God Pro-Family” rally with Republican presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee. The initial “Stand With God” event occurred in August in Columbia, South Carolina – another key political GOP battleground. In fact, much of the crowd at the Capitol traveled from South Carolina.

Brandishing Bibles, speakers claimed that the country has lost touch with biblical values and decried abortion and marriage equality for gay Americans. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the darling of the tea party, made the case for limited government, saying, “Government is not the solution” but nevertheless urging those who claim Christianity to “get involved with politics.” This so-called “Stand With God” makes a mockery of the Christian faith for narrow partisan purposes.

Jesus never once mentioned the allegedly moral issues touted by Huckabee, Forest and their admirers as the centerpiece of faith. Instead Jesus’ first sermon placed Jesus firmly on the side of the poor. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he said, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus defined his purposes as to bring “good news to the poor” and “to let the oppressed go free.” That was how Jesus taught until the religious authorities and the sanctimonious mob crucified him.

In his final sermon, Jesus once again placed himself at the feet of the poor, the sick, the hungry and the prisoners, urging his followers to focus on the needs of those who are hurting. “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these who are members of my family,” Jesus declared, “you have done it unto me.” This is the heart of the Christian faith, but such concerns find no place at these “Stand With God Pro-Family” rallies, which instead appear to find that biblical values apply only to Republican hot-button issues.

Those who now claim to “Stand With God” instead stand with the politics of injustice and with their wealthy backers

Putting aside the persistent pleas of Jesus, these self-proclaimed conservatives are wildly liberal interpreters of the Bible, defining abortion and homosexuality as the Christian litmus test. True biblical conservatives might hew to the words of Jesus, which make no case for any right-wing agenda but instead focus on the needy among us – the heart of the Gospel.

The cries of such partisan Bible-thumpers are not new to the much-abused Christian faith. Instead, they stand in the regrettable “conservative” traditions of indifference to the poor and hostility to the despised among us. Their political ancestors used hypocritical and heretical interpretations of Scripture to support slavery, denounce women’s suffrage and to claim that social safety nets for the poor were against the will of God. Now their ambitious tribunes define morality only within the realm of right-wing politics, which they speak in God’s name to urge others to join. They need to open the Book and read instead of merely waving it in the service of partisan politics.

Those who now claim to “Stand With God” instead stand with the politics of injustice and with their wealthy backers. They embrace the allegedly “family values” of injustice and hatred. Meanwhile, thousands of families in North Carolina suffer from the evils that Jesus decried.

How can the crowd at the Capitol rally for the religion of Jesus when they come to a state with half a million human beings denied Medicaid and say nothing about it? How can they utter not a word about North Carolina’s 1.7 million desperately poor, 700,000 of them children? Do “the least of these” merit no mention by the followers of Jesus, who speaks of the poor and disinherited nearly every time he opens his mouth?

It is true that not only religious persons but also all of us with moral concerns, however we may arrive at them, need to be engaged in public life. But believing in God and believing in the tea party platform is not the same thing.

Back in 2014, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee warned the tea party not to back religious purity tests for our leaders. “Politics is not theology,” he warned. Of course, that was before he was running for president.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the North Carolina NAACP. Timothy B. Tyson is visiting professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School.

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