Bested by Decency
It is the shame and disgrace of the Christian tradition that it has been bested, too often and quite rightfully, by common decency.
Consider the venom that was spewed by pulpit and pew against heretics, witches, Jews, American Revolutionaries, the emancipation of slaves, women, voting rights for all, civil rights in general and a host of other targets.
Yes, these are all regretted by most Christians nowadays.
Yes, we are so much more enlightened than we were.
The glass ceiling that still needs cracking; the frantic bulwarks erected against investigations of child abuse; the “turban-top” equation of Islamic faith with terrorism; the continued tacit acceptance of racist and anti-Semitic innuendo; the relentless binding of Jesus Christ to all things “American“…
So much more enlightened.
As in times before, it is left to secular voices to bring us to our senses.
Secular voices that bespeak common decency.
Secular voices, not Christian proclamations, brought down the likes of Joe McCarthy, who received his final coup de grace at the hands of a fellow senator who had the simple moxie to proclaim, “Have you no sense of decency?”.
In this case, as in so many others, the God-fearing lost the moral war.
The religious facade crumbled.
Common decency prevailed.
To be sure, there is no human being or human institution that has not fallen short.
To be sure, Christianity has been hijacked by some for their own agendas.
Yet all too frequently, lack of decency is part of a coherent and integrated fabric of Christian belief.
How peculiarly rankling it is, that Christianity should fail the standards of decency.
We should be the masters of decency, having been in the love business for two millennia.
For what other reason have we suffered massive weekly injections of Christian moral teaching, if not to become proficient in this practice? For what other reason have generations of Christian scholars and thinkers filled libraries with their scholarship and intellect?
It is the shirttail cousin of spiritual wisdom and moral philosophy.
It is the cheap flick compared to Hamlet, the homespun wisdom of Will Rogers parked next to the volume of Aristotle, the mulligan stew discovered with horror in the back kitchen of a four-star restaurant.
Yet our highest ideals suffer by comparison with this simpler fare.
In your infinite mercy, your speak outside of our churches.
You speak on behalf of others.
You advocate for them before us.
For too many of us have spoken against them.
And everlastingly against them.
Like a pagan army raised up against foreign invaders, or like a medieval army marshaled against the infidel, the voices of Christian righteousness are rallied…
In their purest form, stripped of merely political or personal ambitions, these agencies burn to please their god.
But, deafened by the roar of the flames that they have laid at the feet of their heretics, they lay gifts at the feet of a master whose words they have not heeded.
They forget that they have been told, quite plainly, to refrain from judgment.
They forget that they have been told, quite plainly, to love one another.
They forget the words that must have made their Rock tremble: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat…”*
For, in final perversity, they have ascended to the throne of the sifter.
They seek to imitate “the accuser of our brothers…who night and day accused them before God.”**
And, one might add, accused them before their sisters and brothers.
At the root of these voices is the belief that we are…not enough.
Woman, therefore not enough.
Lesbian or gay, therefore not enough.
Black or Hispanic, therefore not enough.
Liberal, therefore not American enough.
Conservative, therefore not compassionate enough.
Human, therefore not enough.
With brazen audacity, or with total lack of recall, they do not recognize the identity of the one who first suggested that we are not enough.
He said that we were not enough as we were.
He said that we were lacking.
He dared us to aspire to greatness.
So he whispered in the garden.
As if to embrace this heritage, we act like Adam run amok.
Not being content to name the animals, we have arrogated to ourselves the right to name and define each other.
And spin those names and definitions to our liking.
Then come the categories, and the standards of measurement.
And then comes the burning question, “Do you fit?”
As if we were called to these offices.
I take no name in vain; that was an earnest petition.
It is said that God made us, knew us from before we were born, and saved us, even from ourselves.
And our response is: “Not enough”.
Thank God for common decency.
It has pulled us out of many a fire.
It has saved us from ourselves.
So it has the earmarks of a gift.
Perhaps the godliness of this simple fare is another piece of hidden wisdom that hides, like so may others, in plain sight.
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Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for sixteen years. In his home tradition, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.