Christians and Political Manipulation

Graham and Boula

Many Egyptians these days shed no tears over the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in them an unhealthy and manipulative merging of religion and politics. But religion, politics, and manipulation are known the world over. First take a look at this excerpt from Christianity Today, describing two evangelical leaders during the Jimmy Carter presidency:

Balmer also describes Jerry Falwell’s mendacity and Billy Graham’s duplicity as they worked to bring Carter’s presidency to an end. Falwell brazenly lied in his report that Carter had told a group of evangelical leaders he supported gay rights. Eleven days after telling the Reagan campaign that he wanted to “help short of [a] public endorsement,” Graham reassured a Carter liaison that he was “staying out of it.”

I hate to think these descriptions are true, but perhaps this only shows we are quick to believe the worst of the other while doubting it for our own kind. The anecdotes are from a new biography of Carter, so I can only assume, perhaps wrongly, it was well researched.

But no research is needed to see the all-but manipulations of Bishop Boula of the Orthodox Church. Even here my ‘all-but’ exposes my will to disbelieve, but how can you doubt when his efforts are admitted? Here is a translation of his recent comments on Egyptian television, translated by Middle East Monitor (video included):

Bishop Paula (Boula): How do I estimate it? Let me tell you what I would do for instance in Tanta. I come to each one of the churches. Let’s assume that in this particular church there are six priests. We divide it into six squares and each priest is put in charge of one square and that would be the region he is responsible for. We tell the priest: father, you are in charge of this region. How many homes are there within it? I want to appoint one young man for each group of thirty homes to prompt them and make sure to bring out those who have not yet come out. The young man who is in charge of the thirty houses would submit a report about each of these houses, one by one. In this way, we would know who went out and who did not. We call the father in charge by phone and he goes and knocks on the door. So, we have extremely accurate information about the ratio of those who went out and those who did not.

Presenter: I am saying this to you but it might be possible that those who hear us might take to mean something else. Was the Church playing politics?

Bishop Paula: No, no. Look. The Church is playing patriotism.

Presenter: It plays patriotism?

Bishop Paula: It has a patriotic role. The Church has always been a patriotic church. And in this particular time it should have a strong patriotic role. The patriotic role is the prompting role. And to be telling the truth, it includes, if possible, unifying opinions through persuasion as to who is the best (candidate).

If not for that last statement, the ‘all-but’ could remain. It is, perhaps, patriotic to stimulate and even ensure the voting of the flock. Christians should be good citizens; the church should help them know how to engage their civic responsibility.

But could he not help himself? Did the Christian in him demand he reveal the full truth? Did his pro-Sisi/anti-Muslim Brotherhood giddiness expose it? Is he just proud of himself and the monumental task he organized? Bishop Boula invited me into a meeting once during parliamentary elections in 2011. I saw his efforts then, but did not notice any ‘persuasion’. Of course, that was just one session.

But, oh, this is fuel for the Egyptian political fire, and it is well deserved. Pope Tawadros, do you have a comment given your insistence of church neutrality? I wrote you an ‘all-but’ interpretation in that article. Has Bishop Boula made me a liar?

A worthy question also for the Muslim Brotherhood, for Jerry Falwell, and for Billy Graham. May God honor you all for the good you sought within your best interpretations. May he hold you all accountable for the means by which you pursued it.

And may be be merciful to us all for our many manipulations, both great and small. We self-justify far too easily.

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