(written upon the eve of the 2004 election..so much of it is still relevant.)
Too often in this country, partisans from the left and the right stand at either side of the political aisle throwing stones in the form of verbal barbs and insults. Meanwhile, most Americans sit in the middle, tuning into the cacophony of cable news networks and political parties. Fed up, most Americans subsequently tune out and go on with their lives. Every four years however, a renewed interest in politics arises from the brute force of the Presidential campaign. This year, as in 2000, the United States appears from the polls to be divided into political poles. At the risk of being one of those partisans, I write to reach out to my brother and sister Christians who consider themselves conservative and evangelical.
Christians of different political persuasions infrequently dialogue with each other. We self-separate on Sundays finding our ways to churches that support our political beliefs. I am a progressive Christian. My dad and stepmother are evangelical conservative Christians and both deeply involved with their church in Indiana. My best friend from high school works for an evangelical minister in Florida. One of my best friends in Philadelphia is a conservative African-American minister. While we disagree on some issues, I believe the values that bind me together with my conservative Christian family and friends are greater than our disagreements. I reach out, in this spirit of brotherly love that Jesus Christ taught, to open a discussion by presenting my passionately-held beliefs about the current political climate.
As a progressive Christian, I believe Jesus is a radical force for change who transcends time and geography. On his time on the planet he spent his time amongst the common people, healing the sick, preaching to the poor, and challenging the wealthy and powerful. He blessed the peacemakers, eschewed violence and allowed himself to be subjected to torture and crucifixion as an ultimate example and sacrifice for all of us.
Somehow this message has been twisted in the current US political climate. Somehow, government and society turning their back on the poor is okay. Somehow making war pre-emptively has become synonymous with Christian behavior. Jesus challenges us , challenges the assumptions we now have in the United Sates.
Our current President was asked during the 2000 election who his hero was. His Answer: Jesus Christ. It is no secret that George W. Bush is overwhelmingly supported by evangelical Christians. The support is baffling give the fact the administration's policies are so incongruent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Poverty and Wealth
Jesus saves his harshest criticism for the rich. The gates of heaven are like a mustard seed to a rich man. To the rich man who seeks to follow him, he goes so far as to recommend giving up all his wealth. These demands of the wealthy are often ignored in our churches (a truely ironic twist given the fact that God has blessed this country as the richest country in history.) So many of our churches, and this criticism is not just limited to conservative churches, fail to deliver this pointed message of Jesus to their congregants who live in relative comfort when compared to the millions of poor in this country and billions around the world.
Despite proclamations of compassion, the current administration has not acted in concert with the teachings of Jesus in this respect. The number of poor has increased every year, totaling over a million more poor in this country over the last three years. Our international aid is paltry when compared with the hundreds of billions we spend on warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, two tax cuts allowed the wealthy to gain even more wealth as inequality between the rich and the rest of us is greater than at any point in the last fifty years.
Likewise, the number of uninsured has increased by 5 million over the last 3 years, and many more working Americans worry about the rising costs of their own premiums as employers past more of the costs onto their workers. In the richest country in the world, I believe its Jesus's call to heal the sick, to eliminate poverty, and to live his message of love, not just through our own personal philanthropy, but also the actions of our government. A government that operates under Jesus's principles would not provide tax cuts to the rich, but rather would seek an ending to homelessness and poverty, while ensuring health care for all. George W. Bush has done little or nothing on these issues. Jesus demands more.
War and Violence
September 11th forever changed the world and made all Americans take heed to the threat of terrorism. At a large Florida evangelical church in December of 2001, the minister looked backed on the year saying, "Thank God we have a Texas sheriff as President of the United States." This call for vengeance is not rooted in the teachings of Jesus. He was adamant about non-violence. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer up your other cheek. The early Christians were courageous not due to their valor on the battlefield, but rather their ability to endure violence and die for their beliefs at the hands of Roman persecution. What lessons can we draw from the early questions? Certainly some degree of self-defense has been justified in the Christian theology, but how could we ever as Christians justify the notion of preemptively striking a country that has never attacked us, nor even had the capability of doing so if it wanted to attack us. Conservative and progressive Christians are perhaps most divided on this issue. And as a progressive Christian, I must pose the question to my conservative brothers and sisters: what justification do we have in killing thousands of innocents to topple a government that had not attacked us? How do you justify your support for war given Jesus demand for nonviolence?
I understand that many conservative Christians vote for the administration due to Bush's stance on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Christians can disagree, as there is little guidance provided in the Gospel on such issues. We have no record of Jesus commenting on gay marriage or when life begins. If we are going to base our political views on his words, let's look at what he spent most of his time teaching his followers. Let's address the wealthy and powerful and let them know that they must give more of their wealth up for the betterment of society. Let's address the needs of the poor in this country and around the world. Let's ensure that no one goes without healthcare in this country. Let's not spout hate and venom across this political divide, but rather work together to do the work that Jesus has commanded us to do.
#ReligiousRight #christianity #war #peace #inequality #poverty #wealth