I was heartened to read a piece today by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni on the dangers inherent in using lables such as "religious right" to characterize Christians. Bruni makes some astute comments on the kind of Christianity espoused by US politician and sometime presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann is back in the news for denouncing a prominent Washington politico and onetime Hilary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, as a Muslim Brotherhood infiltrator and security threat.
Bruni asks the question, should we accept a poltician's self-description as being "deeply religious" when it clashes with our understandings (and there are many) of what it means to be a religious person? Why, Bruni asks, do "we accept [Bachmann's] descriptions of herself, and in turn describe her, as a deeply religious woman. That grants too much credence to her particular, peculiar and highly selective definition of piety. And it offends the many admirable people of faith whose understanding and practice of religion aren’t, like hers, confrontational and small-minded."
Bruni is right to point to a Christian spectrum in North America that is widely divided between left and right, and where some may be socially liberal but theologicaly conservative. He's right to remind us that extremism is extremism and fundamentalism is fundamentalism, whether we are talking about certain Moslems or certain Christians. He raises the interesting question, are extremist Christians in government more of a threat than potential Moslem infiltrators?
Before we accept a leader's claims that they are religious, Bruni suggests that we first examine their actions. He quotes US mayor Corey Booker, who says “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all His children.”