Chris­tians: We can do bet­ter

Maxwell: I’m tired of Florida politi­cians us­ing faith to di­vide.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Maxwell Sen­tinel Columnist

This week, the Or­lando Sen­tinel’s ed­i­to­rial board spot­lighted five “bad bills” filed for this com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Most are re­hashed re­jects; failed bills from past ses­sions that leg­is­la­tors filed again.

Why? Be­cause in Florida, bad ideas rarely die.

In one, Jack­sonville Demo­crat Kim Daniels wants to force all pub­lic school dis­tricts to of­fer Bible-study classes.

Keep in mind: Daniels doesn’t want to force schools to teach scrip­tures from all re­li­gions … just the one she be­lieves in.

An­other thing to keep in mind: Some of Rep. Daniels’ ideas about faith are nut­tier than an Al­mond Joy.

Like the time she thanked God for slav­ery.

“If it wasn’t for slav­ery,” the black pas­tor once said, “I might be some­where in Africa wor­ship­ing a tree.”

Which brings me to a question I of­ten pon­der:

Why is so much of the news we read about Chris­tian politi­cians in Florida to­tally bananas?

Se­ri­ously, I’ve been a church-go­ing Chris­tian my whole life. And most of the peo­ple I’ve wor­shiped along­side are kind and sen­si­ble souls.

But in pol­i­tics, the peo­ple who scream loud­est about the Lord of­ten seem to be his worst dis­ci­ples.

Ear­lier this year, Pen­sacola Repub­li­can Mike Hill thought it was a hoot when one of his con­stituents sug­gested we round up all the state’s LGBT res­i­dents and kill them. (See: “Florida state Rep. Mike Hill laughs about ex­e­cut­ing gay peo­ple.”)

Maybe Hill thought the

com­mand­ment was: Thou shalt not kill … un­less it’s a class of peo­ple you re­ally, re­ally don’t like … and the idea of slaugh­ter­ing them gives you a good belly laugh.

Then there’s Ocala Repub­li­can Den­nis Bax­ley, the Se­nate

spon­sor of the Bible-study bill whose cam­paign motto was “Fam­ily. Free­dom. Faith.” Bax­ley re­cently made head­lines when he said abor­tion needs to be out­lawed partly be­cause Bax­ley fears that if Amer­i­cans aren’t forced to have chil­dren, they will be re­placed by im­mi­grants who are ea­ger to breed.

(See: “Florida sen­a­tor’s ‘racist’ re­place­ment the­ory stance against abor­tion slammed by re­pro­duc­tive rights sup­port­ers.”)

I need my non-Chris­tian friends to know some­thing: This is not nor­mal be­hav­ior. Not among most church-go­ers. Heck, not among most hu­mans.

Yet it’s not just the fringe po­lit­i­cal play­ers giv­ing faith a bad name.

Gov. Ron DeSan­tis and Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors are on a cru­sade to ex­pand the pub­lic fund­ing for re­li­gious schools that dis­crim­i­nate against gay fam­i­lies and teach­ers — schools that have writ­ten poli­cies say­ing they will ex­pel any stu­dent re­vealed to be gay or who even have gay par­ents.

(See: “Florida gover­nor, leg­is­la­tors back state fund­ing for pri­vate, anti-LGBT schools.”)

Politi­cians of­ten de­fend this state-sanc­tioned dis­crim­i­na­tion by cit­ing their faith or “re­li­gious free­dom.”

Yet when Florida’s pro­foundly dis­abled chil­dren face trag­i­cally im­moral sce­nar­ios — a wait­ing list for ther­apy and respite ser­vices so long that some chil­dren wait 10 years and oth­ers die be­fore get­ting help — these politi­cians don’t say squat about their bib­li­cal obli­ga­tions.

Ap­par­ently, their ver­sion of faith doesn’t com­mand them to do bet­ter by those chil­dren … only to dis­crim­i­nate against oth­ers.

It’s a highly se­lec­tive ver­sion of Chris­tian­ity. And it’s ugly.

No won­der many Amer­i­can churches are strug­gling to at­tract new mem­bers. Peo­ple look at all this anger and di­vi­sion and think: Why would I want to be a part of that?

To be clear, there are de­cent, faith­ful peo­ple in pol­i­tics. Many are just qui­eter about their faith.

They are peo­ple like Geraldine Thomp­son, a 71-year-old Bap­tist and state rep­re­sen­ta­tive who says she of­ten prays over leg­is­la­tion and that faith com­mands her to care for the vul­ner­a­ble and treat all peo­ple equally.

“Be­cause I am a Chris­tian, I am con­cerned about peo­ple — not only be­fore they are born, but af­ter when it comes to food, shel­ter and ed­u­ca­tion,” the Or­lando Demo­crat said. “God made all of us. So it’s not just the per­son who’s ex­cluded who has an obli­ga­tion to speak up; it’s all of us.”

Thomp­son re­sem­bles many of the Chris­tians I’ve wor­shiped along­side: Thought­ful. Re­silient. Soft-spo­ken.

She doesn’t feel the need to yell about her Chris­tian­ity or lec­ture oth­ers. She be­lieves her role is to serve.

But the Thomp­sons of the world seem out­num­bered in pol­i­tics.

I’ve of­ten won­dered why that is and con­cluded it’s partly be­cause pol­i­tics tends to bring out the worst in ev­ery­thing.

Think about it: Pol­i­tics doesn’t al­ways at­tract the smartest peo­ple, the most hon­est peo­ple or the most self­less ones. So it fol­lows that we’re prob­a­bly not get­ting the best role mod­els for re­li­gion either.

In­stead, we get politi­cians who scream about the sanc­tity of mar­riage while cheat­ing on their spouses and about the sanc­tity of life while ig­nor­ing the needs of chil­dren once they’ve left the womb.

Mean­while, the silent ser­vants get over­looked.

I hope we do a bet­ter job of tun­ing out the scream­ers — the peo­ple who Thomp­son says “make head­lines be­cause they are so re­moved from the norm, it’s ab­surd.”

I also hope vot­ers stop elect­ing those peo­ple.

There’s a sim­ple hymn with the re­frain: “They’ll know we are Chris­tians by our love.”

The song, in­spired by John 13:35, re­flects the mes­sage Je­sus gave his dis­ci­ples.

It’s a mes­sage lost by many who scream loud­est in his name.

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