Four days before Christmas, I was very suddenly sacked from my job, the excuse given being that I (who had received a glowing performance review every month I was there) suddenly “lacked the proper skill-set” for the position. My former supervisor, however, later told the DES that I’d been “fired for insubordination.” This woman considers herself an evangelical, born-again Christian. But she could provide no documentation for her charge, even the DES came to the conclusion that she’d lied to them, and they awarded me unemployment compensation anyway. And now, I wonder: Is it strange that such a proud and self-satisfied Christian slander someone like that – or, in fact, is such behavior almost inevitable?
In her dealings with her coworkers, her character often veered back and forth between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I usually stand up to abusive authority, but in the hierarchical corporate world – where workers have even less protection of their rights, or recourse to justice, than to those in the military – that’s a tendency I have to check. On one occasion, after she had lashed out at me in front of coworkers and then dragged me into the conference room for a “disciplinary” talk, I very politely informed her that she had no need to speak to me that way. Friends have suggested that it was perhaps then that she decided to get me. But for some time thereafter, her behavior toward me was all sweetness and light.
Among the habits common to followers of the Religious Right seem to be a propensity to bully and tyrannize, along with hyper-vigilance toward the faults of others and a near total inability to recognize their own. Anyone who reads the gospels with an open mind can see that these traits are anything but Christ-like. Many of these people seem to regard even the most basic teachings of Christ (such as “don’t lord it over others” or “take the log out of your own eye so you can see to remove the splinter from another’s”) as a language as foreign as Mandarin Chinese. We all, of course, have been harmed by this disgracefully poor guidance. But it has cheated those who believe in it far more.
That my ex-supervisor probably learned nothing from the incident in question, except probably how to rationalize it to herself, is not her biggest loss. I don’t have to put up with her anymore. But she must go on living with herself. I believe I got, by far, the better end of that deal.
Political and business leaders – many of whom swear by the teachings of the Religious Right – now disavow all responsibility for our economic implosion. The people who have trashed our country and its morals – while their spiritual gurus proudly looked on – seem willing to do all they can to get away with it. The rest of us want war crimes tribunals, and perp-walks for criminal bankers. We want to know, “Where’s the justice?”
The most sickening part of all this is that those who have proven so morally depraved still claim God is on their side – “His” justice theirs to mete out to others as they see fit, but never to experience for themselves. Usually they apply it against their own, personally-appointed enemies: immigrants, uppity women, Muslims, liberals and – of course – gays.
Many people have decided that they no longer believe there’s any such thing as divine justice. They think that if we don’t take justice entirely into our own hands, we will never see it. I, however, still tend to believe the truth in that bumper-sticker sometimes seen on progressive Christian cars: “God is coming soon and is She pissed!”
To those who think they hold a copyright on religious faith, that bumper-sticker is a profane joke. They would never call God a “She,” even with a capital “S.” And even their hipster preachers, with their cute little goatees and Hawaiian shirts and rock-band backups and cringe-inducing slang, would hesitate to use a word like “pissed” to describe the Almighty.
The concept of God’s justice is either treated self-servingly, by those who all too obviously do not really believe in it, or else is dismissed as nothing more than cynical manipulation. But of course those who believe that God’s justice is real must live like they believe it.
A popular slogan for the Civil Rights era said, “No peace without justice.” Any attempt to establish peace without justice, as President Obama’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr made clear, will end in tyranny and result in neither justice nor peace. We ignore such warnings at our own peril.
We do not really serve the cause of peace by being polite and refusing to offend people at parties. God’s justice is not a topic that will bring us popularity in mixed company. But all the same, as Christians, we are called by Jesus to work for justice on this earth – no matter how imperfectly it may come to pass.
When I was let go right before Christmas, then slandered by my former company in their attempt to cheat me out of my unemployment compensation, the words of a girlhood hero from one of my favorite Seventies sitcoms, Maude, resounded in my head. She used to say, “God will get you for this.” Will God get them for it? Of course it isn’t up to me to say. The task of repaying sin belongs, as Scripture asserts, to God alone.
I worry, however, about the lousy moral guidance people like my former supervisor are getting. It’s the same sort of “guidance” the lords and masters of the corporate universe have been both getting from the Religious Right, and insisting it give them, for many years. Lousy moral guidance is placing peace in jeopardy all over the world. It goads on the insanity of both the terrorists and the self-appointed crusaders who combat them.
However, in the vacuum left by progressive believers, who don’t like to discuss the issue at all, what else can there be?
Those on the Right disparage all progressive efforts to establish justice in this world. “Mankind is imperfectible,” they sneer. But the same Jesus in Whom they claim to believe told us we “must be perfect,” even as God in Heaven is perfect. Surely God is merciful when we fail, but it is sheer laziness and cowardice to suggest that these words of Jesus’ have no meaning for us. The Right doesn’t want us to take that admonition seriously because they don’t even want to try – though partial adherence to it would certainly be a big improvement over none at all.
I’m frequently told that religious conservatives’ main failing is that they believe in a “just me and Jesus” concept of relationship with God. This does seem to be true, as far as their rhetoric is concerned. But ambushing a loyal fellow employee, fabricating a charge of “insubordination” and then slandering her to a government agency hardly measures up to even that low standard. Of course, even before we can work for social justice, we must uphold it individually in our hearts. When we look at the “individual responsibility” index in our society, how are the religious conservatives – who so loudly preach this – measuring up?
I’m almost sure that Christians who stoop to unethical behavior in the workplace claim they are “just doing what they have to do” to support their families because “that’s just the way things are.” But things are that way because that’s how we, as individuals, have helped to make them. To excuse ourselves from the struggle for a more just world is, surely, to waste our lives. And to help turn the world into even more of a stinking cesspool than it already is hardly benefits the children we claim we need to do “whatever it takes” to raise. How, indeed, is this in any real sense actually “supporting” them?
The prophets of the Old Testament made a clear connection between justice and peace. The people lacked the latter because they did not serve the cause of the former. In the teachings of Jesus, who so frequently hearkened back to the prophets of old, this connection – this necessity – is both unmistakable and urgent. How can Christians, at any point on the political or theological spectrum, seriously consider themselves His followers if they fail to take up the Cross and follow Him here?
A frequent charge, from conservatives, is that progressive Christians wish to “define deviancy down.” This is an odd accusation, especially coming from them. At nearly every turn, they have perverted the Gospel of Christ, watering it down to mean whatever they want it to mean while conveniently ignoring the tougher challenges it issues. They “make heavy burdens for others to bear, yet will not lift a finger to help them.” Jesus surely meant this charge to apply not merely to the religious hypocrites of His own day, but equally to all who would follow in their footsteps.
There are many basically decent and sincere people being led astray by the fraudulent teachings of the Religious Right. What has bothered me the most about my former supervisor’s treachery is that I know she is not a “bad” person. She is more fair and welcoming, with regard to GLBT issues, than just about any other conservative evangelical Christian I know. She genuinely wants to serve Christ, and I know her quite well enough to vouch for that. Therein – for her and for so many others – lies the tragedy.
The evangelicals know that they are wrong when they persecute GLBT people. The very fact that Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church scrubbed its website of all anti-gay content, during the recent flap over his invocation at President Obama’s inauguration, demonstrates that. Were they certain that “homosexuality” is the sin they have so long claimed it is, they would have, with proud defiance, left it up there for God and the world to see. A friend of mine keeps trying to get me to come with her to her church, assuring me that “they almost never say anything about that.” But in an age when we are being brutalized by the conservative churches, silence on this issue clearly only serves the status quo.
God’s justice serves to protect those most subject to human cruelty. Which means that it exists to protect us, as much as anybody. God’s compassion truly motivates “His” protective justice. God observes every tear that falls, every drop of blood shed because of injustice. She is coming – and she is pissed!
The Right Wing peddles a concept of “peace” that has nothing to do with real, stable or lasting peace. It operates like a protections racket. As long as those most powerful and privileged are appeased – in effect, bribed – they promise not to rampage all over the rest of us. Otherwise, we’d all just better look out. That is “peace” not from God, but from the devil, and it resembles the order that reigns not in Heaven, but in Hell.
Only when the poor, the vulnerable and the too-often-despised are safe, their needs met and their rights regarded, can there be any real peace. When the best-off sit atop a seething cauldron of resentment, sooner or later the lid will blow off. It is not even in their best interests for injustice to be ignored. There are always going to be more of “us” than there are of “them.” When the great majority are miserable, any supposed “peace” is a farce.
God loves every one of us as if we were the only one. We heard, once and for all, God’s verdict against injustice when Jesus hung, broken and bleeding, on the Cross. To falsely accuse, slander, cheat or rob anyone – anyone – is to add another lash of the whip to His back, another hammer-blow to the nails in His flesh, another thrust of the spear into His side.
As long as this world endures, our task will never be completed. But as followers of Christ, our task is to move the cause of justice forward. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. Could He have been speaking of those who were to crucify Him, or did He mean those words for those who rejoiced when He emerged, triumphant, from the tomb?
The goal, for a community striving after the Christian ideal, is rooted not in peace or justice, but in a love that balances both.
Not only is peace impossible without justice, but there should be no peace without justice. One of the “justifications” for Christ’s crucifixion was that it would, supposedly, keep the peace. He was executed for the sake of peace, but His execution was unjust. Injustice never serves a genuine peace.
I hope and pray for the time when my former supervisor comes to understand that. As much for her own sake as for that of the Kingdom of God I know she truly wishes to serve.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called “Born on 9-11” and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.