“It’s not easy being real”

Last night I listened to President Obama’s speech on contraception and religion institutionso courtesy of Unedited Politics. I then looked to see if there were comments. There was only one:

“This has nothing to do with so called women’s health, it’s Marxism 101.”

With no elaboration as to how or why the President’s speech or position on women’s health care, on the one hand, and religious liberty, on the other, was Marxism 101, the comment accomplished what such comments nearly always do, until they are challenged. It called someone by a name. End of discussion. No need to explain how or why it’s Marxism. “Bad! Boogie Man! Evil in the White House!! The Marxists are out to get us!”? So I wrote my own comment:

Oh, my! Dear friend, whoever you are, you must never have taken Marxism 101. This isn’t Marxism. It’s the work of a democratic republic – messy, balancing values that sometimes conflict with each other, protecting the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority, and guaranteeing equal protection (in this case, health coverage) to all citizens. It’s comments like this – confusing a health care position with Marxism (i.e. communism?) – that divert the discussion and take us back to the darkest time of American history, the Senate Hearings of Sen. Joseph McCarthy that painted decent, patriotic Americans as evil. The President is NOT a Marxist, my friend. Time to rescind the comment for the sake of civil discussion that helps to solve real problems.

The reply came soon after:

Try reading his books and consider the fact that he attended a Marxist church for 20 years.

Again, I replied:

I’ve read Marx. I spent the summer of 1966 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia as the Chicago Ambassador of the Experiment in International Living. I lived with the Schulz family, all members of the Communist Party. Marxism is more than a figment of my imagination. And the church Obama attended is a CHRISTIAN Church, United Church of Christ, one of America’s historic “mainline” denominations. ABC watched 500 sermon videos and chose to air a one-minute clip from a sermon on one of the Hebrew prophets that led viewers to conclude Jeremiah Wright was a communist. Radical? Yes. Off the wall? Sometimes. But Marxist (i.e. not Christian, not a disciple of the Jesus who turned over the money-changers tables)? No. And to talk about this President as a Marxist is…go back and watch Joe Welsh’s final rebuke to the character assassination campaign of Sen. Joe McCarthy: “Have you no decency, Sir. Have you no decency left?” Please think twice before raising McCarthy’s ghost. It’s ugly.

In 1966 I was certain that my finalist interview with the selection committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living had disqualified me as a candidate as Chicago Ambassador to Czechoslovakia for the summer of ’66.

“You’re a Christian and a seminarian, asked Paul Harvey. “Why would you want to go to a communist country?”  I responded at some length that I didn’t trust the stereotypical representations of Eastern Bloc countries any more than I would trust their representations of the West. I felt there was propoganda on both sides of the Cold War. I wanted to see for myself.   I also told them that there was a theologian in Czechoslovakia named Josef Hromadka, the father of Christian-Marxist dialogue. I had been reading Hromadka and others and wanted to participate in this discussion. I believed that the Marxist classless society was a rendition of the central biblical message of the Kingdom of God. I came out of the interview and said to another candidate, “Well, I just eliminated myself. Hope you have a great summer.”

To my surprise, they selected me. The generosity of Pan Schultz and Pani Schultzova, their son Vlado and daughter Jana who welcomed me like a member of their own family, conversations with students about Franz Kafka and the existentialists at the university coffee shop, and the ugliness of fellow-American Ambassadors (there were 11 of us) who insisted on ice cubes in their drinks combined to further open the aperture of my camera lens as I look at the world.

I decided long ago not to keep silent when the labels like “Marxism 101” march across the field of my camera. My experience is only mine, but it’s the only experience I have, and God knows how limited it is. But, I decided to to heed Frederich Buechner  counsel – “Listen to your life”, he wrote – and to speak out loud what I see and hear, hoping and praying, as I do every Sunday morning before I dare to preach, that in some inscrutable way, “the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts will be pleasing in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.”  I’d love to hear your meditations. Leave comment to share.

4 thoughts on ““It’s not easy being real”

  1. Gordon, I really appreciate your response to the labeling, and I am glad for your resolve to respond to signals like this when you see them. Labeling is a form of vlolence; it permits the writer/speaker to disregard the other; and it does violence to truth. It breaks community.
    In this country especially, those of us who know the grace of God have not just an opportunity but a commission to share God love with others. This means that we are our “brother’s and sister’s keepers.” We have a responsibility to work for the good of the whole–especially “the least of these”–not just for what is “in my interest” Labeling denies the truth of this and the dignity of the other. It is hateful. Thank you.


    • Hi, Susan, Great to hear from you. It is “a form of violence” – a form of homicide with the tongue as the weapon. I struggle with this all the time. When I see it in others, especially in the code words used when I was growing up, I feel compelled to unmask the violence behind the labels. But, often, in doing so, I find myself committing the same offense, sliding into spiritual pride/arrogance, the very self-righteousness that Jesus found so offensive in his time. How to speak the truth (as one sees it) in love is a conundrum. Sometimes what I hear from political candidates is so ludicrous that I go over the edge in a tirade. Then, just as quickly, I remember that my words and behavior have been nothing short of ludicrous at times. I can’t forget the log in my own eye, or my own wicked tongue. I preached a sermon this morning on “The Leper” that speaks to the dynamics of socially, and self-imposed, ostracization, and the healing that brings us all back into the health of the whole. Again, thanks! So good to be in touch.


  2. There’s no question, as you say, that this discussion is a very slippery slope, and the name-calling is a major factor in what makes it slippery. My concern is the extent to which Ayn Rand’s philosophy of the virtue of selfishness has become the ruling philosophy of our culture. Each one fend for himself. The problem with each of us paying for his/her own health care coverage is that some of “us” can’t rub two nickles or dimes together. Universal health care is the right thing to do, in my opinion. The problem with “Obamacare” is that it doesn’t go far enough.

    Re: “messy democracy at work” – the implementation of the health care legislation passed by Congress is now in the hands of the appropriate department of the Executive Branch where, by all accounts, it has been hotly debated internally before arriving at a resolution. In my mind, these are not just bureaucrats, unaccountsble functionaries who mindlessly do what someone else tells them to do. This is the way a REPRESENTATIVE democracy works. There’s a reason why we are not a pure democracy. We elect representatives who, in theory (though often not in practice, to be sure) are called to use their best judgments to solve problems and lead the country. Just my thoughts. Thanks for sharing. Come to MN and I show you God’s country.


  3. Marx and communism is way too easy to throw around. If you want to make a point make it, name calling has no place in a civilized debate. I have a dear friend who grew up in Poland, she now lives in the states, her husband has worked around the world, but she refuses to live in a communist country, given the horrors she experienced in Poland.

    In my opinion, this is a very difficult issue and a very slippery slope, in that it balances freedom of religion against the power of the state to impose its will. The simple but not easy solution is for all of us to pay for our own healthcare, then it is not an issue. By the way, it is not messy democracy at work but a bureaucrat deciding coverage, democracy would require it to be debated and voted on.


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