By Rev. Joseph Pusateri
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NRSV).
I have been hearing a horrifying thing a lot lately.
Since the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in the GOP primary race, a significant number of people have been saying in the media (and to me personally): “He’s saying what we are thinking, but afraid to say because of political correctness.” Now what is horrifying to me is that I had no idea there were so many people with outright hatred and contempt for Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, the Chinese, Democrats, Republican rivals and whoever else has inspired Mr. Trump’s wrath. Now, I treasure political diversity in our community. I think it is a gift that we have conservative, liberal and independent people in our congregations and neighborhoods. I have no desire to tell people how to vote and I think that to do so—especially as a minister—is distasteful and inappropriate. But it is nothing short of sinful for anyone—especially a disciple of the crucified Jesus—to remain silent about a disturbing phenomenon in this country in the 21st century.
I can think of no plainer way to say it: Jesus commands us to love God and each other, especially those we consider our enemies. Period, amen. Whether you believe that larger or smaller government, far-reaching or less intrusive foreign policy, progressive, regressive, flat, low, high or no taxes are better for a self-governing democratic republic as the United States of America strives to be, wonderful. That is your right and I encourage you to exercise it and engage in a robust and civil debate on how we shape a more perfect union. But bigotry, xenophobia, religious, gender, racial, orientation or ability-based discrimination is uncivil, sinful, demonic, wrong, evil, un-American and un-Christian. Even for the Christian who believes only she/he and people exactly like them are going to heaven, and that everyone else is going to hell, is not justified by a single word Jesus ever speaks in scripture to treat anyone on the planet with anything other than love, even to the point of giving one’s life. Which is, by the way, exactly what Jesus did for people—even those (and especially those) who hated him.
This is why I do not like so-called political correctness: it hides who the bigots are. If there are lots of people who hate immigrants, women or people of other races, by God I think we should know who they are. It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and the work we need to do to repair deep wounds in the social body.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes through a litany of “You have heard it said… But I say to you,” phrases, which inform us of the high moral standard Jesus expects us to abide by if we are to be faithful. He says, “You have heard it said that you should not murder. I say to you, don’t even have hatred in your heart.” In other words, of course we shouldn’t murder people, but if we are all wanting to kill each other and simply not doing so in order to be compliant to the law, so what? What God is after is your heart. Don’t hate people. At all. That’s what God wants. And if you don’t hate anyone, not murdering people takes care of itself. The same goes with lust. Let’s not wear out our arms patting ourselves on the back for not committing adultery. Big deal. The point of God’s intention for faithful, human behavior is to not have lust. When lust is absent, adultery does not happen as a by-product.
What has been called “political correctness,” or the rules about what you can/should say or not say about other people is like what Jesus calls the law. But if we want a civil and prosperous society, the rules about speech (like adherence to the letter of the law) are not the point. We shouldn’t have bigotry in our hearts. Imagine Jesus saying, “You have heard it said ‘do not say the n-word.’ But I say to you, love black people like you love your own family.” The horrifying perversion of this is what we are seeing right now. People who have been resenting the politically correct instruction not to slur Muslims, immigrants and minorities are celebrating the right to hate openly. That would be like the people Jesus was preaching to only hearing the first part of the teaching on murder: “What did you say Jesus? The old murder law is out? Great! Because I can’t wait to kill some people.”
We have a lot of work to do. Whether Mr. Trump becomes the president or not, the lid has been torn off and what was festering underneath is not pretty. To be fair, I love Trump supporters. I really do. I love them because they are human beings, my neighbors, and God’s kids. I think most of their grievances are legitimate and deserve to be heard. But because we have stifled sane, civil dialogue across boundary lines, this horrifying spectacle is the result. I am pleading with those of you who follow Jesus, to help lead this community, nation and world to a place where the law of love might bind us together.