A Further Perspective

Amazing Gracelessness

Praise the Lord and pass the spending ammunition!

By 10.18.13

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That fraction of the federal government closed during the infamous shutdown is now back, so the angels in heaven can sing again.

Some U.S. House Republicans while in caucus during the shutdown reputedly sang "Amazing Grace," which a snarky media report condescendingly described for the uninformed as a "Christian hymn usually sung at funerals."

I've sung "Amazing Grace" probably hundreds of times in church across decades but only once at a funeral. Most Christians probably don't associate this hymn directly with death.

Certainly liberal church lobbyists did not when they sang it while visiting Congressional Republicans in protest during the shutdown. "Over 70 prominent religious leaders joined with locked-out federal workers in a pilgrimage, marched on key House GOP offices -- including Leadership -- and urged an immediate end to the government shutdown," gushed a news release from a liberal advocacy group. A video showed the colorfully adorned clerics, festooned in stoles and vestments for photo ops, striding through a congressional corridor lustily singing "Amazing Grace," clearly with no funeral in mind.

Note they were on "pilgrimage." For the Religious Left, there's no holier calling than protecting and ensuring a constantly growing federal regulatory and welfare, entitlement state. Of course, this shutdown, like others, didn't prevent federal entitlement checks from mailing. So presumably the "pilgrimage" was about opening FDA and federal monuments. Or to showcase just how silly conservatives are for their lack of faith in an unending federal cornucopia.

A more appropriate hymn for this "pilgrimage" might have been "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," with the "Thee" clearly Big Government in Washington.

As the earnest Religious Left news release carefully explained: "At each office, the group prayed for the Member to do what is right and vote to immediately end the shutdown with a clean and unconditional continuing resolution and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions." So evidently the Almighty wanted no conditions on additional spending and debt. Praise The Lord!

The news release continued: "During the Pilgrimage, faith leaders invited moderate Republicans to join them in challenging their colleagues who are putting political agendas ahead of the common good." After all, "an extreme faction of Congress is recklessly playing politics with the lives of countless Americans: seniors seeing 'Meals on Wheels' cut, pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans facing benefit cuts, and communities put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protection efforts."

How this group must have shouted "hallelujah!" when the less than 20 percent of government shut down finally reopened, once again opening up the heavenly floodgates of divine mercy. "Amazing Grace" indeed.

The singing pilgrims included officials of the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, the Quakers, National Council of Churches and even the Salvation Army, which should know better. Of course "Nuns on the Bus" chief Sister Simone Campbell was present. “It’s time for irresponsible factions in Congress to stop this reckless behavior and end this shutdown immediately,” she intoned, her bus full of activist nuns presumably double parked outside, gunning the engine, and ready for their next rally against Paul Ryan or whomever.

"The heart of the gospel and Catholic social teaching is the common good -- the way we care for one another," Sister Simone further explained to Huffington Post. "This is what government is about, the common good -- how we know and respond to one another. It is all about Jesus telling us to love one another."

Whether or not an unlimited federal regulatory, welfare entitlement state is the logical outcome of Jesus' love is surely debatable. Clerics are supposed to point to transcendent truths that call everyone to repentance and holiness, not crassly exploit church office for partisan jibes and demonstrations. Perhaps the marching, hymn singing religious lobbyists on "pilgrimage" could have more helpfully prayed for and encouraged all lawmakers toward common purpose instead of just targeting Republicans.

"Extremist" Republicans were distressed about Obamacare's implementation. Obamacare of course includes an unprecedented infringement on religious liberty by compelling purchase of contraceptives and abortifacients by even religious institutions not to mention individuals. These marching, singing Religious Left lobbyists, including even Sister Joan, are evidently unconcerned and in most cases actively supportive of this imposition against conscience. They accordingly reveal their true priorities. Big Government and its material benefits, plus its empowerment of a privileged few, are more important to them than the unseen but more important religious understanding of faith, morals, love, virtue, and redemption.

The temporary, partial government shutdown wasn't the fight between liberal angels and "extremist" conservatives that the striding Religious Left lobbyists simplistically portrayed. It was a debate over the meaning of a good society. Does all social good ultimately reflect off the unassailable power and control of government? Or is civil society, including religion, family, private business and charity, the ultimate guarantor of liberty, virtue, and prosperity?

Photo: Kate Beckinsale, singing "Amazing Grace," in Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco."

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.