Do you remember the trays we all used to eat off of in our elementary school cafeterias?
I usually had to bring my lunch from home, ‘cause $1.80 was apparently too pricey, but when I did get to buy my lunch at school I loved the trays we got to use.
Because those nice, neat little sections they were divided up into kept my food from touching.
And as any elementary school kid will tell you, there’s nothing worse in life than having your food touch. Although, I have to admit. Even as an adult, I sometimes have to agree with them.
Look, if God wanted my corn to be in my mashed potatoes God would have made corn potatoes. But He didn’t. Because clearly God doesn’t like His food to touch either.
As adults we may not use those wonderful gifts of gastronomic separation anymore, but many of us live our lives like we’re still in the school cafeteria.
We love to keep our lives nice and neat. We separate and divide everyone and everything into clearly delineated categories that we don’t have to think about and which we treat however we like.
We need to have our good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. No touching. No mingling. That way we can vilify anyone or anything at the drop of a hat without having to worry about messy things like nuance, complexity, or worst of all – diversity.
Which is why Stephen Colbert is ruining America.
He’s doing everything he can to destroy our cherished cafeteria tray way of life.
For some, he’s just a liberal blowhard.
For others, he’s one of the funniest guys on television.
And for the oblivious, he’s the champion of the Republican cause and the most patriotic American in history.
But what makes Stephen Colbert so frustrating is the quandary he presents, particularly to the church and her relationship to politics.
The modern myth of faith and politics in America tells us that all Christians are Republicans. Fortunately, the last election made some progress in dismantling this myth, but it still holds firm ground in the minds of many. The idea that a person could be a Christian and criticize the Republican Party, or worse, vote for a Democrat is nothing short of heresy for many good, faithful people in the church.
And yet there stands Stephen Colbert – a devoted Catholic, a family man, Sunday School teacher, and unabashed wearer of Lenten ashes who is not afraid to publicly call out his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (in both parties) when the policies they are advocating stand in stark contrast with the God they claim to be following.
Like the time he called all of us out a few years ago in what, for me, is one of the most stinging (and accurate) critiques of American Christianity ever uttered in the English language,
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.
With his brazen public admissions of faith and steadfast refusal to shy away from his Christian faith, Stephen Colbert forces us to rethink our cafeteria tray approach to faith and politics.
Unless we are going to position ourselves (rather than God) as the judge of someone else’s faith, then we have to take Colbert at his word (and deeds) that he is, in fact, a Christian. And if that is true, we must abandon our “us” vs. “them” approach to faith and politics and begin to recognize that sometimes “they” are really “us.”
Now, I’m not saying we can’t disagree. We can. And we should. But the demonization of people in the opposing political party has to stop, particularly since some of those people we are demonizing are our own brothers and sisters in Christ.
On a basic level, the utter ineptitude of our current partisan political climate demonstrates just how impotent this attitude renders our ability to get anything accomplished. But on a deeper level, when we caricature and demonize our fellow Christians (or people in general) on the other side of the aisle, we are denying them their God given identity as people made in the image of God by painting them instead simply as political opponents to be destroyed. When this happens we rip apart the Body we claim to hold dear.
Again, I am by no means denouncing disagreement. We should debate and debate vigorously, but must not demonize.
Demonization requires simplicity. It requires a stripping down, or even contorting, of reality to “basic issues” which replace the people who believe in them, along with the nuance and complexity of life that led them to their beliefs. When people become simply idea, “them,” or worse, the enemy, they become targets we think nothing of destroying at will, and with a sense of righteousness to boot.
However, the issues we are so passionate about are almost never as simple as we make them out to be, nor are the people we debate with as uniform or malicious in their beliefs as we portray them as being.
Faith and politics, life in general is not like an elementary school cafeteria tray. It’s complicated and messy. Boundaries are crossed as people and issues get mixed together in the face of the nuances that shape the reality of our complicated and ever evolving everyday lives. Pretending otherwise, that life is simply about voting “yes” or “no” on certain issues or that faith and politics can be constructively reduced to “us” vs. “them” is not only utterly dishonest, it creates an antagonistic myopathy that keeps us from answering our call to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.
We need a new approach to faith and politics, one that is honest about the complexities of life and which honors the humanity of everyone.
Which is why I am so thankful for the witness of Stephen Colbert.
He is ruining the America (and church) of “us” vs. “them.”
And I, for one, am very grateful that he is.
Grace and peace,