The Theological Problem with Rick Perry’s Ad

Thirty seconds is not long to say anything but the thirty-second ad speaks volumes. The candidate, speaking directly to the camera while subtle music plays in the background, names who is inside the circle, who is outside the circle, and who knows the one right way to believe in God. 

Watch this 30-second ad for yourself.

The candidate begins by naming his bias; he’s a Christian. So far, so good. It never hurts to name the perspective from which we each come. Unfortunately, calling yourself Christian is not descriptive enough in naming the biases from which you operate. Biases are multifaceted and Christianity itself is multifaceted. Christianity is more like viewing God through stained glass than picture glass. God is perceived through the events and images depicted on the glass just as we perceive God through our own journeys.

After calling himself a Christian, the candidate implies that you can call yourself Christian and not attend church regularly or even practice your faith religiously. You just have to believe as he does. (Yes, I can and often do argue that weekly attendance is not necessarily the best metric for faith but fundamentalist Christians, with whom this candidate identifies, typically do.)

Next, the candidate identifies who is inside his circle and who is outside his circle. He demonizes those who identify as GLBTQ. He suggests that there is a connection between the right to serve our country through military service and children “openly celebrat[ing] Christmas or pray[ing] in school[s].” He promises to “end Obama’s war on religion.” Outside of the hyperbole which all politicians seem to practice, this candidate’s reference to a “war on religion” is a criticism of the President for not supporting the same interpretation of Christian teachings and practices to which he subscribes. He suggests that our public schools should support the culture and practices of his version of Christianity. The hidden message here is that the current President is an outsider and that there is only one way to practice the faith. 

The candidate concludes by vowing to protect “our religious heritage.” The heritage to which he refers is his way of practicing religion. Those who interpret the Christian traditions and Bible in the way he does, are insiders. Those who do not, are outsiders. 

I find this ad problematic from a theological standpoint. The candidate ignores the ever widening circle of inclusion that is present in the Gospel narrative. Jesus preached to the Jews who were under occupation by Rome. He offered hope for a future. Jesus’ circle was wide enough for the outcasts of the society of his day. His circle even widened to include Gentiles. As a Christian minister I disagree fervently with this candidate’s theology and his interpretation of the canon. 

Despite my disagreements with this candidate, I recognize we are brothers in Christ and in the human family. That means, we each have gifts and perspectives to offer as we strive to do God’s will. It is difficult, however, to engage and learn from one another when one of us implies that we have the one right answer. That is why I am a pluralistic Christian. I don’t have the only or right answer. I have very strongly held beliefs and a close relationship with the One I identify as God. I perceive the core of the faith to be one of loving inclusion. I interpret and perceive God’s lure in my life but I know that I do not have the one right way to describe the mystical, spiritual realm. 

The theological problem with that Rick Perry ad?  It rejects the tenet of the One Body of Christ and separates us from others in the human family. 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13 NRSV 
(To read this biblical passage in context, click here.)

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