Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Falling on the Sword

I don't normally get overtly political here, and I promise I won't do it again for a long time, but I have to say that the developments of the past month or so have left me cautiously optimistic. For the first time in 32 years there appears to be no presidential candidate (who has a chance of winning; sorry, Mike Huckabee) whose policies align closely with the religious right.

James Dobson, who focuses on a lot more than the family these days, has already stated that he cannot, in good conscience, vote for John McCain. That echoes views previously stated by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. And that leaves, well, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as the choices, doesn't it? You think the good Dr. Dobson will be pulling the lever for Clinton or Obama? Me either. So what's an upstanding conservative to do? In ancient times, when faced with a similar predicament, vanquished leaders would fall on their own swords. I wonder what the modern-day equivalent might be?

It was a bad marriage all along, so I can't pretend that I'm disappointed. The unholy alliance between evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party caused massive damage to the reputation of the Christian Church. Nowadays when someone asks me, "Are you a Christian?" I am forced to equivocate. "Yes, I am," I tell them, "but not in the way the term is commonly understood in 21st century American culture. I don't care about the color of my state on an election-night map. I'm the kind of Christian who just wants to follow Jesus."

Make no mistake. I surely believe that following Jesus has social and political implications. But those implications cross party lines, and more frequently than not have absolutely nothing to do with party lines. It is the great religious tragedy of the last quarter century that those distinctions have been lost, and that evangelical Christianity has been equated in the public mind with a particular brand of political activism that is narrowly focused on issues such as abortion and gay rights. In contrast, I would like to think of myself as pro-life, even after kids are born.

And so in November I will vote for a candidate who will offer an imperfect solution to complex issues, and who will not be God's President. And I will rejoice because, for once, and perhaps for all time, the stranglehold has been broken. Maybe, just maybe, we Christians will figure out that looking to any political party to embody God's will is as much an idolotrous stance as worshipping a golden calf. And maybe, just maybe, we will be willing to serve in the prophetic role to which we have been called; standing apart from political systems, and working toward a social agenda that values loving and serving people -- individuals unborn and aged and everywhere in between -- as the means by which the Kingdom of God might be advanced.

36 comments:

John McCollum said...

So you're voting for Ron Paul? Wha?

Andy Whitman said...

John, actually I'll be voting for Ru Paul.

Joel said...

Amen.

Julana said...

You're invited--

Obama Organizational Meeting in Columbus
Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 189 Labor Hall
1250 Kinnear Road
Columbus, OH
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
7:00 p.m.

Karen said...

YES.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to say more, but I can't stop laughing at the Ru Paul comment.

Jeney (friend of Karen's)

woodsmeister said...

A drag queen probably couldn't do worse than our current administration. And we'd finally have a president who looked fabulous all the time. You might be onto something, Andy.

The Guy You Thought Was Rude said...

Well said.

jackscrow said...

John beat me to it.

I've got a bumper sticker for you, Andy, since it seems that Ron Paul is drawing down.

I'll be voting for Fred Eaglesmith for President of the United States. I believe he's already President of Canada and the rumor is he works cheap.

True, he'll be taking a lot of vacation days, just like 43, but he'll be busy making good music.

He'll solve our commuter problem too. I hope everybody likes trains.

John McCollum said...

Andy,

I do think you're onto something. I'd prefer bizarre and inappropriate displays of mock femininity over bizarre and inappropriate displays of mock masculinity any day.

cnb said...

Andy, you know as well as anyone that the reason that Christians find themselves supporting the Republican party is not that they love big business and hate poor people. Good grief. It's that the Democratic party, by its indefatigable defense of the slaughter of the innocents, drove them out.

The line about being pro-life "even after the kids are born" is grotesque. There's a yawning chasm of difference in moral gravity between denying somebody welfare and killing them. This is precisely the reason why a good many people vote Republican even while holding their noses; they simply cannot, in conscience, cast their vote in the other direction. It ought not to be that way, but it won't change until the Democratic party changes.

Of course, I'm a Canadian, so I'll not be voting at all. I'm glad about that, because the pickings -- on both sides of the ideological divide -- are pretty slim this time around.

Andy Whitman said...

Craig, of course you're entitled to your opinions. I understand where you're coming from. They're the same arguments I've heard for decades. I just don't believe them. But that's not meant as a negative reflection toward you. Plenty of wonderful, thinking people disagree with me.

I will say that the "slaughter of
the innocents" argument is a particular non-starter for me, though. The Republicans have held the nation's highest office for 20 of the past 28 years. How many innocents have been saved through their intervention? I'm looking for political leaders to actually do something rather than mouth all the correct-sounding slogans (and again, that sentiment cuts across parties). But the current abortion laws will not change in the U.S. until the majority of Americans want them to change. Right now that sentiment is not there, and until it is, it doesn't really matter which party holds the key to the executive mansion. There are other issues where the party in power does matter, and I'd rather focus on those.

John McCollum said...

Quoth Craig: "Andy, you know as well as anyone that the reason that Christians find themselves supporting the Republican party is not that they love big business and hate poor people. Good grief. It's that the Democratic party, by its indefatigable defense of the slaughter of the innocents, drove them out. "

--

Craig,

The religious right was created by Green v. Connally, not Roe v. Wade.

In other words, it wasn't abortion that caused "socially conservative Christians" to leave the Democratic Party. It was race. Specifically, it was Jimmy Carter's willingness to take on racist Christian schools like Bob Jones University and declare that any organization that discriminates based on race cannot be considered a charity under U.S. law.

No biggie, though. I don't know much about Canadian history, so we're even on this count.

cnb said...

Damn it, you have a point. Precious few innocents have been successfully defended by Republican politicians. The trouble is that there can be no political solution to this problem. Your Supreme Court has made sure of that.

Consequently, the fight has to take place at the level of the judiciary, and it is not true that the Republicans have done nothing on that front. They have brought legal challenges, and they have appointed judges who would, given the chance, return the question to the democratic process, where "what most Americans want" could matter. Whatever they have done will almost certainly be undone if the Democrats win, and this problem will drag on for another generation, so to speak.

Even so, you all are better off than we are. Up here we can't even get a single party to speak up in defense of the unborn. Trust me: talk, however cheap, is still not nothing.

just scott said...

well guys, you can always go third-party...and until we have a viable third-party...well, I'm just beating the horse into glue :)

Chris Johnson said...

Thoughtful information. (came over from karen via google reader). There was a fallacy that I read about over at "overcoming bias" that talked about the mixed bundle of goods and services.

my problem with the dems/socialism isn't one of intentions, it's one of execution. Government is an inheirent crutch in a sinful world...and it's going to get perverted 100% of the time; we have some corruption in America, but not when compared to other places--a government that wanted to redistribute wealth etc. etc. would have the same issues we enjoy now.

[to be clear I never ever voted for W, going libertarian in 2000 and 2004]

but i agree-big trick-o-the-devil was to associate Christ with the republicans, and to fire up the engine of self righteousness on the side of the republicans...to delude Xians into thinking that there's a moral obligation to vote gop.

Michael said...

good stuff andy!

John McCollum said...

"Government is an inheirent crutch in a sinful world...and it's going to get perverted 100% of the time;"

Hi, Chris.

I'd argue that you could remove the word "government" and insert any of the following:

-- Business
-- Democracy
-- Capitalism
-- Socialism
-- Monarchy
-- Dictatorship

So, not to say that you're wrong, just that "government" isn't inherently more prone to corruption than any other human institution.

Martin said...

There's a yawning chasm of difference in moral gravity between denying somebody welfare and killing them.
Really? According to Jesus, a person can be sent to hell for either one.

Petey said...

In the years between every presidential election i reconsider my decision not to vote, and just when i think i might change my mind the campaigns begin again and my original stance is further solidified.

i know i know. freedom, democracy, i'm lucky to live in the u.s., people in myanmar would kill to have a vote, blah blah blah.

i just can't bring myself to cast a ballot for the least of the evils.

sorry.

i realize that's not really a constructive addition to this conversation, but we live in a free country where any idiot gets their say, so...count me among the idiots.

or don't.

CarolN said...

Andy, you sound suspiciously like Jim Wallis' band of merry social justice advocates. I like his and your statement that being prolife extends beyond the womb--which for me includes things like capital punishment, unjust wars, and the unthinking oppression/murder of the poor by indirect means (environmental degradation, destructive government policies, multinational corporations' exploitation of cheap labor). I hope Barack Obama is prepared to solve all of these problems. Or maybe not...

Andy Whitman said...

Carol, I like Jim Wallis (and have for many years), but I'm not totally on board. In particular, I think he's fairly wishy-washy on the abortion issue. I understand that he stands in stark contrast to the religious right, for which I'm grateful. But on abortion he comes down firmly on both sides of the issue, thereby splitting his pants. I'd like to find someone who combines about 90 percent of Wallis's social justice issues with the abortion stance of the religious right (minus the invective, the histrionics, and the judgment). That, to me, would come close to a biblical view of social justice.

For what it's worth, Rich Nathan, pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, delivered an excellent and well-reasoned response to Wallis when the two "debated" (there really wasn't much debate; they mostly agreed with one another) here in Columbus a couple years ago. Wallis gets it about 90 percent right. I thought Rich had it about 99.9 percent right. I can send you that article if you're interested.

CarolN said...

Andy,
Splitting his pants-ha! Actually, I couldn't agree with you more about the abortion issue. I went to Jim's debate downtown with that guy from the church near Lancaster...a controversial right-winger. And I liked most of what Jim said, but the waffling on abortion really bothers me. And I did hear from many people that his discussion with Rich a few days later was excellent. I'd enjoy seeing the article if you want to send it my way. Let me know if you need my e-mail address.

e said...

This is such a good comment thread. I hope it doesn't die!

Speaking of die, I'm not going to believe that the good ol' Moral Religious Majority Right is willing to keel over just because social conservativism isn't the strong suit of McCain.

As John already pointed out, the MM/RR has historically been more about running from/segregating off the "other" than about including the least/last/lost. I think that's the only way you can explain the overwhelming silence on issues like the death penalty, gun control, SCHIP, child labor/sex trafficing, etc., on the part of the MM/RR.

As long as huge budgets for "national security," immigration "reform," and "fiscal conservativism" continue to be revered by neocons--the very same neocons who call their evangelical constituency crazy and defend corrupt con-artists like Abramhoff and DeLay--the MM/RR won't give up the ghost.

There's too much worldly power at stake for them to call it quits.

Andy Whitman said...

Carol, I just remembered that I've previously posted Rich's comments on my blog. They're right here: http://andywhitman.blogspot.com/search?q=Rich+Nathan

Brother-in-law Bill said...

I wasn't going to comment, seeing as most of the commentors seem to have the same left/liberal bias, but I couldn't help but notice, Andy, that the alliance between evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party is "unholy," but, on the other hand, you're a fan of Jim Wallis.

As a former subscriber to Sojourners, I eventually tired of Jim Wallis' "unholy" marriage of evangelical Christianity and liberal Democratic Party politics. In my humble opinion, Jim and others like him bring the same fundamentalist absolutism to liberalism that Jerry and Pat bring to conservatism.

Let me be clear: I am not a fan of Jerry and Pat and their followers. Truth is, neither liberalism nor conservatism deserve a holy tag. At their best, both bring up uncomfortable truths for the other to confront. I applaud liberals for raising issues of compassion. I applaud conservatives for raising practical issues like how are we going to pay for all the things liberals want to do. I'm glad liberals are opposed to war. I'm glad that conservatives have an appreciation for national security.

Neither philosophy has a lock on Christianity.

Look forward to seeing you Monday.

gordon Brew said...

I wish a song could be president!

d&a said...

[Andy] I would like to think of myself as pro-life, even after kids are born.

AMEN. Nuff' said.

[Andy] ...the current abortion laws will not change in the U.S. until the majority of Americans want them to change. Right now that sentiment is not there, and until it is, it doesn't really matter which party holds the key to the executive mansion. There are other issues where the party in power does matter, and I'd rather focus on those.

AMEN. Health care, education, the economy will get great places to start.

[John] The religious right was created by Green v. Connally, not Roe v. Wade.

AMEN. Thank you John.

---

Politics is easy, you just vote for the candidate who looks most like Jesus.

Andy Whitman said...

I appreciate all the comments. This has been a good discussion.

d&a wrote:

"Politics is easy, you just vote for the candidate who looks most like Jesus."

Sure. I wish it was that simple. For the most part, I've tried to vote for the candidates who look the least like Satan. I really don't look to politicians of any stripe to embody Christian ideals. And it seems to me that the Church has gotten into some major difficulties in the past quarter century when it has done that.

Bill, I was waiting for your response. :-)

And I basically agree with you. The inherent tension between conservative and liberal tendencies is needed. And neither side represents Christianity. As I've noted, I like Jim Wallis better than, say, Jerry Falwell, but I don't look to either man as having all the answers, and I really do have problems with some of Wallis's positions.

Having said that, I would still maintain that the inherent idealism in many of Wallis's positions (care for the poor, opposition to war) comes closer to a biblical model than the utilitarian pragmatism of many conservatives. Again, I realize that it's easy to say that we should care for the poor, and that there should be no war. It is another matter entirely to work out how that should be accomplished. I get that. But it seems to me that the Church has surrendered its idealism at great cost, and I, for one, would welcome a concerted effort on the part of Christians who firmly believe that we should do silly, unpragmatic things like feed starving people and Just Say No to things like bombing our enemies. It's that idealistic streak in me that sometimes (and I would like to think thankfully) still sometimes gets the upper hand.

I just don't see Jesus as a utilitarian pragmatist. He would have made a lousy CEO (in spite of the laughable attempts of some churches to shoehorn him into that role). He left the 99 sheep to search for the one that was lost, an incredibly inefficient practice that no business leader could possibly countenance. See, I had the same issues in that blasted MBA program I was in. I don't always know how the principles behind my idealism should be implemented in practical ways. That's why good, fiscally responsible conservatives are helpful, and needed. But I do find it ironic that "God's party," as the Republican party has been styled by some segments of the Church over the past thirty years, has consistently ignored the ideals that Jesus taught quite clearly. Of course, the same can be said about the Democrats, particularly on the issue of abortion. But nobody ever claimed that the Democrats were God's party, either (and honestly, I don't think that's what Wallis is proclaiming). I just find it encouraging that we're again approaching a level playing field, where neither "team" can (or should) claim God's special allegiance.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

With regard to Jim Wallis, in my opinion, Jim is a liberal/socialist who became a fundamentalist. Therefore, his way is the only way, and just as most fundamentalists will look at your views on abortion, etc., before they decide you are authentically Christian, Jim will look at your views on economics and national security (he's a 100% pacifist, as I recall) before he decides whether you're authentically Christian. And take out all the God talk, and he sounds like most other liberals/socialists.

The problem I have with the "Godly" positions that liberals adopt is this: "how" is seldom mentioned, or if it is, the solution is simplistic and does not consider the possibility that there may be negative consequences. Maybe it's my occupation that has colored my views, but I have a job where I get to worry about the "how." Point is, if hunger and poverty and war were easy to eliminate, don't you think we would have done it already? That's not to say that we shouldn't try with all our might to alleviate it, but wouldn't it be nice if we could all put away our partisanship and actually brainstorm how to alleviate these things in a way that minimizes the negative consequences? For example, it's easy to say, "raise taxes," but if the result is a recession or worse, there will be less available to help the poor and the hungry. And we've been throwing money at these problems for decades. A little more thought and creativity is in order. Another example: Nearly everyone in the Congress, including Democrats, thought the Iraq war was a good idea. Now, it's obvious that the idea had not been thought through. So, now nearly every Democrat thinks we should just leave. Does anyone actually believe that this has been thought through?

Most of us would applaud making homeownership more available for low income folks. Habitat for Humanity does a great job at accomplishing this. Making a bunch of subprime loans and sharing the risk with a bunch of other people accomplishes the same thing on a larger scale, and some smart folks like Paulson and Bernanke are doing their best to prevent this from deep-sixing the entire world economy.

In my opinion, Wallis is a finger pointer who fails the test of coming up with realistic "hows." If that makes me a "utilitarian pragmatist," then I plead guilty. However, I will not accept that I am any less concerned about the problems Wallis is concerned about, nor any less Christian. We should all have ideals that line up with Jesus.' Let's just do the hard work involved with proper execution.

Andy Whitman said...

Bill, fundamentalism, regardless of the variety, is almost always a bad idea. And yes, labeling someone as "not a Christian" because of their political affiliation is certainly a bad idea. If Wallis states these things (I don't know), then he's guilty of stating a very bad idea.

And, for what it's worth, the lack of the "how" solutions is what gives me pause about some of our current presidential candidates. I listen to Barack Obama, who is most certainly inspiring, and think "Yeah, sounds good, but how?" I'm not sure how anyone could really be opposed to the ideas that Obama espouses. Who doesn't want justice and equality for all citizens? Yeah, but how?

The tensions will never go away. In all likelihood, if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I'll vote him. That's because I'd rather vote for somebody whose ideals I support rather than someone who has a well thought out policy which doesn't support what I believe. But I won't be entirely comfortable with the choice. Those "how" questions are good ones. I'm glad you think in those terms. We need people (and presidents) to think in those terms.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

I wrote another long comment, but I couldn't get it published. I kept clicking "publish my comment" and nothing happened. Then I got kicked out, and when I finally returned, it was gone.

Too bad. I though it was pretty good. It was more conciliatory. Don't know if you can retrieve it.

Ruben said...

John McCollum said:
"The religious right was created by Green v. Connally, not Roe v. Wade."

With all due respect, you're talking history here. In spite of how or why the Religious Right was formed, in the current politcal landscape the big reasons that Conservative Christians don't/won't vote Democrat are abortion and gay marriage/rights. Of course, supporting a candidate primarily because s/he opposes abortion causes one to lose perspective of other important issues, as does voting for a candidate primarily because s/he supports abortion.

jackscrow said:
"I'll be voting for Fred Eaglesmith for President of the United States."

:-) He's certainly a better musician than Mike Huckabee.

Brother-in-law Bill said:
"The problem I have with the "Godly" positions that liberals adopt is this: "how" is seldom mentioned...<snip>"

Well said.

ericpaddon said...

***The unholy alliance between evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party caused massive damage to the reputation of the Christian Church.***

I beg to differ. As a proud member of the Religious Right, I see this movement as the very thing that *enabled* those of socially conservative perspectives to find an outlet in the political arena that was otherwise denied them, and also rescued Chrisitianity from the far more odious damage caused by those who used Christianity for the purposes of advancing the Social Gospel rather than the Gospel of Christ. It frankly, strikes me as both amusing and hypocritical that those who are so critical of conservative Christians becoming politically active, never gave a darn about the negative impact on the Church or Christianity in general when we saw liberal activists unabashaedly use their titles of "Reverend" when they were marching against the Vietnam War. And when researching my dissertation on Dr. Graham's friendships with Presidents down through the decades, I was astounded by the level of attacks Graham came under from so many politically liberal Christians who considered it a moral failing of his not to have become an anti-war activist (as if somehow one could not be a "Christian" and support the Vietnam War, or try to take a position that publicly, tried to be neutral as Graham did). It was this kind of one-way-street activism that in part necessitated the need for a broad-based active conservative Christian movement to respond to the challenges that were created by both the social radicalism of the 1960s *and* the foreign policy issues of the time. For that, the emergence of the Religious Right was both necessary, and IMO welcome.

And those who say the Religious Right is blinded only by abortion and gay issues are themselves blind to the fact that (1) gay issues are becoming more prevalent in our society because of the increasingly obnoxious tilt of the radical gay movement AND the increased danger posed by activist judges shoving gay marriage down our throats by the same judicial fiat by which they concocted Roe vs. Wade out of thin air and (2) the Democratic party is a party beholden to the interests of promoting an extreme pro-abortion agenda, as witnesses by the despicable treatment of Federal judges nominated by conservatives and the fact that no one who is pro-life has any place in the Democratic party.

As for Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, the favorite darlings of the Evangelical left, I consider them no more than apologists for tired old socialist/liberal doctrines of no value whatsoever to the solutions we as Americans face in the decades to come.

ericpaddon said...

***The Republicans have held the nation's highest office for 20 of the past 28 years. How many innocents have been saved through their intervention?****

Plenty more than would have been saved if it had been Democrat presidents appointing more judicial activists who would not allow for any legislative restrictions on abortion, and plenty more of permissive use of taxpayer funds for abortion had we had Democrats rubberstamping a Democrat Congress's pro-abortion views all this time. The record is not what I would like to have seen, but I in part blame that for the fact that GOP presidents are increasingly hamstrung by their ability to appoint more judicial conservatives who would see Roe vs. Wade for the *bad law* that it is, because the Democratic party is like it or not, permanently beholden to the abortion lobby where any judicial nominee not liked by Kate Michelman will see his name dragged through the mud. All I have to do is cite the names of Robert Bork and a host of others to show how true that's become. So my easy retort to the premise of that question is, "When I consider the alternative, I feel fine."

paulf said...

Wow, one would think from listening to the christianist right that there is no more important issue to God than stopping abortion and bigotry against gays.

So how many times is abortion mentioned in the Bible? Hmm, not once.

Well, there is always the gay thing. Jesus denounced gays how many times? Well, not once. He did spend a lot of time talking about social justice and the poor.

Now to be sure, I don't think at all that God favord Democrats, or even that there is any relation between a book written 2,000+ years ago and what should be law today. But the idea that modern "Christians" or Republicans reflect anything to do with the historical Jesus is laughable.