Religious intolerance of Chin’s Christianity should be a step too far for Maine GOP

Ben Chin

Ben Chin

As a proud Jew, it feels a little odd to weigh in on comments about whether someone is a good Christian.

As a citizen who loves this country and state, and as a scholar who knows how bias has harmed others and how our Constitution’s very first amendment protects free expression of religion and prohibits any official church, it’s necessary to do so.

What Rep. Lockman has said and how the Maine GOP has provoked it and responded is appalling.

The other day Lockman went after Ben Chin, the top vote getter in the Lewiston mayoral primary, who will be in a competitive runoff with the incumbent mayor.

Based on his reading of a blog post put up by the Maine GOP selectively quoting a sermon Ben Chin gave in Lewiston’s Trinity Episcopal Church, Lockman called Chin “an anti-Christian bigot” and said “Chin hates America, hates Americans, and hates Christians.”

But, as noted by the Maine Beacon, “According to church regulations, the license Chin holds a from the Bishop of the Episcopal Discoese of Maine certifies that he is “trained, examined, and found competent in the Holy Scriptures, the [Book of Common Prayer] and The Hymnal, the conduct of public worship, use of the voice, church history, Christian ethics and moral theology, the church’s doctrine as set forth in the creeds and An Outline of the Faith, appropriate canons, pastoral care, and homiletics.” [source]

Take a moment to take this in.

Not that religious intolerance is ok when aimed at any religion, but it’s pretty stunning when it’s focused on a lay Episcopal leader. Twelve U.S. presidents, including, most recently, George H.W. Bush, belonged to the Episcopal Church. James Madison and George Washington were also Episcopals.

Evidently Rep. Lockman thinks he has the standing to judge whether someone who defines himself as a Christian is actually an “anti-Christian bigot.”

Moreover, Lockman does so based on a section from a sermon that person delivered that included some criticisms of the church.

There’s no evidence that Lockman read the whole sermon, but I have (and you can read it yourself here).

And though I am not a Christian, it is clearly a moving, nuanced statement that is grounded in biblical texts.

Chin preached about conscience and courage:

So if Mark intends us to experience the depraved moral complexities at play for Herod, then the next question is not “what’s the lesson?” but rather a much more practical “what do we do?”.

For when we find ourselves in moral dilemmas, we are not looking for a sermon so much as a solution. I’d say there are two common solutions for the problem of the murderous king: one religious and one political. In the religious solution, the king’s conscience is aroused and he turns to God, perhaps kneeling in prayer, confesses his sins, and pledges his life to Jesus. He rises born again. In other words, the religious solution to the depravity of kings is conversion.

In talking about his efforts to pass a bill that would enable more Mainers to get health care, Chin recounted how he prayed “before I talked to legislators who disagreed with our decision. I prayed before I talked to legislators who agreed with us. It did help me find peace. It did not give me certainty.”

Does this sound like someone who is an anti-Christian bigot? Of course not.

One wonders what Lockman and the Maine Republican Party which, to date has refused to condemn Lockman, and is attacking Chin while claiming they aren’t working with Chin’s opponent, would have said about Martin Luther King’s exhortations from a Birmingham jail.

King wrote:

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings.

Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?” [source]

Would Lockman and the Maine GOP presented the Rev. Dr. King as an “anti-Christian bigot”?

So what will the Maine GOP do now?

Last night Republican strategist Lance Dutson said he was “not endorsing [Chin’s] conclusions, but Chin’s sermons are intelligent examinations of the Christian conscience by a devout Christian.”

Moreover, said Dutson, what GOP leaders Rick Bennett and Jason Savage “have done here is one of the lowest things I’ve ever seen in politics, Maine or national. Depraved.”

Surely, given the proud history of the Maine Republican Party, Dutson is not alone.

The time is not too late for Lockman and his party leadership to do the right thing and call back the smears.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.