The other day I was contacted by religion journalist Daniel Burke with a question I never expected to be asked, “Is skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee sacrilegious?” The query emerges, of course, from the controversy, first reported by Politico, of a group of United States congressmen drinking and partying at the lake where Jesus walked on water and on the shores of which he carried out much of his ministry. According to reports, one Member of Congress stripped down to nothing and dived in. This journalist wondered whether conservative Christians would be offended by this, as an act of sacrilege at a holy site.
As I told him, conservative Christians, obviously, aren’t for getting naked in public and drunk anywhere.
That said, I don’t think there’s anything here to be outraged about, as some sort of act of desecration. It was, to be sure, immature and stupid. The case could be made that this behavior on a junket is not a good use of the taxpayers’ money or a congressman’s time. Fair enough.
But I don’t see any intent here to desecrate some sort of holy place or to defame anybody’s religious beliefs. Such things have happened, of course. We ought to be outraged when an anti-Semite scrawls a swastika on a synagogue or when activists stomp on the Eucharistic host in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. These are intentional acts of sacrilege. This isn’t.
Would conservative Protestants and Catholics be more offended if the naked politicians were liberal Democrats? I hope not.
There are real and present threats to religious liberty out there, in the United States and around the world. We ought not to be outraged for the sake of outrage, as though we were some interest group practicing identity politics. Instead, we ought to stand firm against real incursions on religious liberty, for anybody and not just for ourselves.
And, of course, let’s stay sober and keep our clothes on.