As the party conventions begin here in the USA, it's time to open the gates to a little bit of political dialogue (I hope) in order to get all of us thinking and praying about how our faith convictions apply to our civic responsibilities.
This election year, more than any since the days of Jimmy Carter, people of faith are divided and undecided regarding their vote. The marriage between Republicans and Evangelicals has been annulled. There are many reasons for this, including some large theological shifts in the emerging church (which I’ll hope to address later), and a sense of betrayal on the part many who feel that the promises of limited government and ‘compassionate conservatism’ turned out to be hollow words, as expansive executive powers, spiraling national debt, curtailing of health care benefits to children, and unilateral military actions became the voice that drowned out campaign promises.
As each of us pray, ponder, and share together regarding the vitally important subject of how our faith intersects with both our politics and our nationalism, we should be wary of presumptions that any party is wholly ‘consistent’ or wholly ‘Christian’. For now, let’s consider the consistency piece for a moment:
I’ve always found it intriguing that my friends on the right are so deeply opposed to ‘government intrusion’ and ‘government control’. They want their private rights as individuals to, among other things, buy assault rifles and drive cars that get 4 miles to the gallon. They resist government intrusion at the corporate level as well, preferring to self-govern business practices, including everything from waste disposal to whether the CEO can make 800 times the wage of the entry level worker or not, and whether that entry level worker should be given a living wage and access to health care since one visit to emergency room can cost more than 2 months salary for him/her. ‘Hands off’ is the cry. ‘Let the market forces determine what’s right.’
But then, in a stunning reversal of philosophy, this same party moves into the most private corners of people’s lives, regulating who can marry and what woman can do with the fetus in their womb. “The judgment of the people is not be trusted” they say as they push for legislation in these matters. “Abortion is a moral issue” they say as they try to find judges to move the supreme court in a pro-life direction (ironically, this comes from the party who often accuses their friends to the left of using the judicial branch to change laws rather than uphold them). The same party that calls for economic libertarianism, is quick to appeal to the need for government control in these personal matters because ‘the moral fiber of the nation is at stake.’
Yes. I tend to agree with my friends on the right that the moral fiber of the nation is at stake, and that the judgment of the people is not to be trusted – but not just in these personal matters. Isn’t the moral fiber of the nation also at stake if 47 million Americans are at risk of losing all their assets with a single health care crisis (and that’s just the number of uninsured – the fact is that those of us who have insurance are increasingly at risk as well due to eroding benefits and escalating costs)? This too is a moral issue. Is the fact that people in service industries, (people upon which most of us reading this depend for access to daily necessities) are being squeezed out of the range of ‘living wage’ due to both inflation, economic downturns, and corporate greed, not a moral issue? Are our dependence on foreign oil, easy access to assault rifles, corporate environmental degradation, and the irresponsible business practices of the banking industry and big oil not moral issues too?
The same critique exists, of course, for my friends on the left, who so clearly call for regulations and laws to protect ‘the common good’ from the evils of unregulated corporate greed, but who are suddenly libertarians in all matters at home. “What I do with my body is nobody’s business but my own” etc. etc.
Why would either party call for liberty in one area of life (private or public) and government control in another, claiming that humanity isn’t to be trusted? The right legislates ‘morality’ and lets the economy and environment run on the good will of the people. The left legislates the economy and environment and calls for libertarianism in the private lives of people. Of course, I’m generalizing here and the conversation is actually more complex than this, but still, these are the tendencies. Who’s correct?
If we go back to the founding fathers, we discover an inherent mistrust in humans with power, rooted, I believe, in a basic understanding of our nature as fallen creatures. Thus were the three branches of government designed to provide a mutuality of checks and balances. What was unforeseen at the time was the rise of global corporations to places of prominence even greater than the government. I wonder how our founding fathers would have reacted to companies whose annual income exceeds that most countries? I have a feeling they would have put cautions in place to prevent the abuse of power there, just as in the other branches of government. And of course, as a country becomes increasingly pluralistic, its ‘private’ values also must come under increasing scrutiny. Do immigrants from strong patriarchal cultures have the ‘private’ right to keep their daughters home from school, preventing them from learning to read? If I’m to have liberty at home, can I have two wives, or six, or ten? Can I beat my children if they’re disobedient? Here too, it seems that some protocol and basic values need to be articulated as a means of saying, “We the people… believe….”
So you tell me – what’s to be legislated and what’s to be left alone? How you answer that question will, no doubt become a huge determinant in how you vote this fall. But please don’t tell me that either party is consistent in applying their principles, because they’re not. That’s why I’m independent.