President Obama at the National Prayer BreakfastAs a Jew in the pew for the last two decades, I think I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of what being “Christian” means. Most of that experience has been gained in the midst of a particular group of Christians who believe that their actions, the way they live their lives, speak much louder than any words. But it is also a church where the pastors follow the lectionary most Sundays, meaning that those gathered are hearing exactly the same scripture readings from the Bible that most other Christians are hearing on those same Sundays. Frankly, from my two decades of listening to those passages, the message is pretty clear to this possibly distant relative of a nice Jewish boy from Nazareth. To be a Christian means that you are called to follow “the way” that Jesus lived. Feed the poor, clothe the naked, love thy neighbor…. and they’ll know you are Christian by your love by your love.

I’m still quite comfortable identifying myself as a Jew having never quite made the leap to the part about Jesus being the son of God or the Messiah. And don’t even get me started on the whole blood atonement argument. But by what stretch of the imagination, or hubris, can candidates running against President Obama question whether or not he is Christian? He showed them his birth certificate to prove he was an American. What does he need to show now, his Baptism photos?

My husband and I have been blessed to be part of the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto for 23 years. I’m a “friend” and he’s a member. Up until recently, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) did not allow openly GLBTQ folks to be ordained as Deacons, Elders or Ministers of the Word and Sacrament. People’s “identity” or sexual orientation trumped everything else about them in the minds of many. But the PCUSA, like the United Church of Christ (UCC), the denomination to which the President belongs, have abandoned that discriminatory stance. Each denomination has its own unique ordination vows and processes for becoming members but the basics are simple… be baptized, affirm your belief in Jesus, and promise to do your best to follow his way and you are a Christian. Only God can judge whether or not you live up to what you say, but again, if I’ve been following correctly, there’s something called “Grace” that actions or thoughts can’t earn. It is simply a gift that God gave to all of us.

I found it offensive when people questioned whether Mitt Romney was “a Christian” and I find it equally offensive to hear people question whether President Obama is a Christian. Are we on the road to the White House or the road to Capernaum? Don’t these people realize the foolishness of arguing about which of them is the greatest (Christian) as they try to grab the firstest seat in the world? Hopefully these candidates all have their bibles handy and can take a quick look at the gospel of Mark (chapter 9 if they don’t have time to read the whole thing) and do a little Jesus-way-following as they move forward on the road to the Republican nomination. And if they happen to run across someone suffering along the way, they might want to stop and do what they can to help that person, even if they do think there’s a good enough “safety net” out there for the least of these. Because the person they meet along the way, who is hungry, and whom they feed might just be familiar with a Christian teaching known as Matthew 25.

Americans will be watching as they travel that road, and they’ll know whether or not they are worthy of leading this country by their love, by their love. We will know if they are worthy by their love.

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