A Christian Nation? Stephen Colbert Calls Us Out

This little gem from Stephen Colbert has been very popular on Facebook in recent weeks. At least in my feed.

It’s not the first time we’ve addressed Christians not behaving Christ-like on L&P. Bobbi Jo Rohrberg brought it up in the context of Christmas a little more than a month ago. It's also not the first time I've written about Colbert in the last few weeks.

If I remember this Colbert quote in context he was talking about politicians who advertise their Christian values shamelessly, but manage to not legislate like Christians. In particular, when it comes to the poor. In fact, just yesterday the Romney campaign went into damage control when he was quoted as saying, "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling."

I don’t know what Romney was really thinking here. I suspect he was pandering to everyone who considers themselves middle class (and that's most Americans, even if they're not really), but at a time when the ranks of the poor appear to be increasing -- and the division between rich and poor is widening -- this struck many as an insensitive comment from a silver-spoon, multi-millionaire.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

The reason I love the Colbert quote is that it cuts to the quick of our hypocrisy in this country - and not merely the hypocrisy of our politicians. This incisive satirist was speaking about all of us. If we are to call ourselves a “Christian Nation,” should we not behave that way?

Legally speaking, we aren’t a Christian nation any more than we’re a Buddhist nation or an Atheist one. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the constitution ensures that. We don’t have an official religion and going down that road would be extremely dangerous. We are, however, a nation with an awful lot of people who like to make a “thing” of being Christian. We weirdly have a Christian litmus test for our leaders. We require that they go to church, or maybe synagogue, and express their faith openly. Americans seem to take comfort in believing that our leaders have faith in a Christian God. Some of us aren’t even comfortable with other Christian faiths that differ from our own. According to a recent Gallup Poll 22% of Americans say they won’t vote for a Mormon. Ouch! Not to mention the 9% of people that wouldn’t vote for a Jew. Really?? Jesus WAS a....oh, never mind. And - I’m not kidding - more people wouldn’t vote for Catholic (7%) than wouldn’t vote for a woman (6%). A full 49% of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for an Atheist. Those poor heathens. I’ll bet a few of them are in office, but have to suffer through mouthing the words to the Lord’s Prayer at Congressional breakfasts lest they be outed as non-God-fearing.

Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon

We require our leaders to pay lip service to being Christian (and accept the occasional token Jew), but we don’t ask that they legislate like it. If we were really upholding our supposed Christian values, we’d be more outraged that in 2010, 15.5% of households in this country were food insecure. As we surf the web and sip our lattes some child has an empty belly and no idea where her next meal is coming from. Other children - through no fault of their own - will sleep on the street with their families tonight. If we aren’t demanding that our “Christian” leaders care about the most vulnerable in our society, then why are we demanding that they be Christian at all?

There are many approaches and solutions to poverty in this country and I believe that the solutions may come from a combination of better government policies at all levels and private organizations. Ideally, private and public agencies could work in partnership. If more of the citizens in this country who claim to be Christian actually behaved that way, we’d start to see systemic change. We’d see legislation that gave the poor “a hand up,” we’d see improvements in our failing schools, we’d see single mothers who were free to pursue careers or educations because their children had affordable day care. If we just demanded that something be done - or did it ourselves - there would be no children going to bed hungry tonight or sleeping on streets.

I'm reminded of a sermon I heard when I was living in Scotland. To paraphrase the priest, "....most of you don't give a shit about the poor. And the sad thing is, half of you are now more concerned that I said 'shit' in church than you are concerned that I said you don't care about the poor." That morning a homeless person had been sitting on the Cathedral steps as we all filed past him. We all ignored him.

I struggled to find Colbert’s original clip, but here is the audio.