Why don’t we say that charity and love are Christian issue?

In this elec­tion, reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tives were able to craft a mes­sage mak­ing same-sex mar­riages look like an afront to apple pie and base­ball and of course peo­ple vot­ed against it. What if we could have some­how framed this elec­tion with the details of human suf­fer­ing that these laws sug­gest?
Now avail­able for the fash­ion­able Bush-era bumper. Pro­ceeds go to sup­port the Non​vi​o​lence​.org web­sites:
  


My pre­dictable post-election essay is over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org, “Four More Years”. Aside from the pol­i­tics, I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed how the elec­tion was final­ly framed in terms of “moral issues” and how this mea­sure­ment some­how trans­lat­ed to sup­port for Pres­i­dent Bush.
Friends and oth­er lefty Chris­tians need to take the “moral and faith issues” ques­tion as per­son­al and cor­po­rate queries. (As usu­al Beppe­blog has a good post about this, “Tough num­bers for a fag like me…”:http://beppeblog.blogspot.com/2004/11/tough-numbers-for-fags-like-me.html). If some­one had come up to me after I vot­ed yes­ter­day and asked me what I thought was the most impor­tant issue in this elec­tion, I would have replied “the war”:http://www.nonviolence.org/articles/cat_iraq_antiwar.php. The answer would mask the fact that for me war is a moral issue defined by a deep pas­sion­ate faith (a deep pas­sion­ate Chris­t­ian faith). It’s too easy for me to talk around my faith though, and to frame the debate in sec­u­lar lan­guage. I tell myself I’m being more inclu­sive when I use prag­mat­ic ratio­nales, but in real­i­ty I’m hid­ing from my lis­ten­ers my true under­stand­ing of Christ’s work in the world and our role in His covenant.
A major­i­ty of vot­ers are sus­pi­cious of us East Coast lib­er­als and they should be. I just talked to a Friend buy­ing a book for a Bush sup­port­er who, she explained, “doesn’t under­stand the com­plex­i­ty of life.” Talk about judge­men­tal! Would you sup­port some­one who thought you were a idiot if you didn’t sup­port Ker­ry? The Democ­rats are start­ing to look at the turn-off of this form of elit­ism; from today’s _New York Times_ (of course, here _I_ am, quot­ing from the offi­cial pub­li­ca­tion of élite Amer­i­ca):
bq. “Bill Clin­ton and Jim­my Carter got elect­ed because they were com­fort­able with their faith,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rahm Emanuel of Illi­nois, a for­mer Clin­ton aide. “What hap­pened was that a part of the elec­torate came open to what Clin­ton and Carter had to say on every­thing else – health care, the envi­ron­ment, what­ev­er – because they were very com­fort­able that Clin­ton and Carter did not dis­tain the way these peo­ple lived their lives, but respect­ed them.”
He added: “We need a nom­i­nee and a par­ty that is com­fort­able with faith and val­ues. And if we have one, then all the hard work we’ve done on Social Secu­ri­ty or America’s place in the world or col­lege edu­ca­tion can be heard. But peo­ple aren’t going to hear what we say until they know that we don’t approach them as Mar­garet Mead would an anthro­po­log­i­cal exper­i­ment.”
h3. War and tol­er­ance as moral issues
Why am I not more explic­it about my faith and my pol­i­tics? Why don’t I say that I vot­ed against Bush because I ques­tion his moral judge­ment and his faith? Why don’t I say that war is a Chris­t­ian issue and that all Chris­tians should be against war? Why don’t I say that char­i­ty and love is a Chris­t­ian issue and that all Chris­tians should hon­or lov­ing same-sex rela­tion­ships?
The Reveal­er has an arti­cle called Gay Mar­riage, GOP secret weapon. The author recent­ly wrote a book about reli­gion in Amer­i­ca and con­clud­ed that the “great­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor of Amer­i­can belief is anti-homosexuality.” But here’s a telling obser­va­tion from his inter­views of Chris­tians:
bq.. Most of these peo­ple are sur­pris­ing­ly abstract in their think­ing. There may be a cer­tain disin­gen­u­ous­ness to the pop­u­lar anti-homosexuality mantra, “hate the sin, love the sin­ner,” but near­ly every­one we met real­ly did dis­tin­guish their hatred of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty from their deal­ings with homo­sex­u­als.
How do I know? Because many, if not most, thought that Peter and I were a gay cou­ple, by virtue of the facts that we�re writ­ers and had come from New York City. We�re nei­ther a cou­ple, nor gay, but there nev­er seemed to be a polite way to say that, so we didn�t, and still some of the great homosexual-haters of Amer­i­ca wel­comed us into their homes and their church­es and their tem­ples.
p. This does mean the laws are abstract and we shouldn’t wor­ry. I’m sure there were plen­ty of Ger­mans in the 1920s who could work them­selves into a lath­er against Jews but be good friends with actu­al Jews. This sort of casu­al big­otry grows can­cer­ous when gov­ern­ment gets involved. When Hitler took pow­er it was all too easy for them to pre­tend that the obvi­ous wasn’t hap­pen­ing.
In this elec­tion, reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tives were able to craft a mes­sage mak­ing same-sex mar­riages look like an afront to apple pie and base­ball and of course peo­ple vot­ed against it. What if we could have some­how framed this elec­tion with the details of human suf­fer­ing that these laws sug­gest?
The most strik­ing moment of all three debates came when the top lieu­tenant of the most loyalty-obsessed admin­is­tra­tion in mod­ern his­to­ry said he dis­agreed with his pres­i­dent on the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment on mar­riage. Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney has a les­bian daugh­ter and that expe­ri­ence forced him to see the human con­se­quence of these otherwise-abstract laws. Both Cheney and his debate oppo­nent “John Edwards are Unit­ed Methodists”:http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week745/news.html. What if Edwards had bro­ken the debate rules, walked over to Cheney and asked that they use his nine­ty sec­ond response time as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to offer up a joint prayer on love and char­i­ty? They could have held hands (gasp!) and could have turned the issue around right then. What good is faith if we don’t wit­ness to it when it counts?
h3. Else­where on the Net
* “Gary Hart: Why the Per­son­al Shouldn’t be Political”:http://nytimes.com/2004/11/08/opinion/08hart.html
Who would have thought that the Howard Dean of the 1980s would be so inci­sive about the issues of reli­gion? I didn’t real­ize how reli­gious a man he is and he explains why: “As a can­di­date for pub­lic office, I chose not to place my beliefs in the cen­ter of my appeal for sup­port because I am also a Jef­fer­son­ian; that is to say, I believe that one’s reli­gious beliefs — though they will and should affect one’s out­look on pub­lic pol­i­cy and life — are per­son­al and that Amer­i­ca is a sec­u­lar, not a theo­crat­ic, repub­lic.… Dec­la­ra­tions of “faith” are abstrac­tions that per­mit both vot­ers and can­di­dates to fill in the blanks with their own reli­gious beliefs. There are two dan­gers here. One is the merg­ing of church and state. The oth­er is rank hypocrisy.” Found via “The Revealer”:http://www.therevealer.org/
* “Beppeblogs’s roundup of post-election talk”:http://beppeblog.blogspot.com/2004/11/inspiration-about-elections-beyond.html
* “Omri Elisha: God Save the Queen”:http://www.therevealer.org/archives/main_story_001162.php
An expla­na­tion of Chris­t­ian Evan­gel­i­cal appeal of Bush, and why for them qual­i­fi­ca­tions aren’t as impor­tant as faith­ful­ness (a prin­ci­ple any Quak­er should agree with). “The Esther sto­ry, and that pas­sage in par­tic­u­lar, is read by evan­gel­i­cals as a sign of the individual�s role in God�s sov­er­eign designs for human his­to­ry. They see it not as a sto­ry of hero­ism, but of instru­men­tal­ism; Esther is a vehi­cle, a tool. Mordecai�s state­ment (�Per­haps you have come to roy­al dig­ni­ty for just such a time as this�) sounds like grandeur, but for evan­gel­i­cals it is read as a rad­i­cal call to self-abnegation.” These are Quak­er themes too, and there are pos­si­bil­i­ties for “Lib­er­al Quak­ers and Evan­gel­i­cals to con­nect on these issus”:http://www.nonviolence.org/Quaker/emerging_church.php.
* The Friends Com­mit­tee on Nation­al Leg­is­la­tion has issued a “Minute on Moral Values”:http://www.fcnl.org/legpolcy/moral_109th_printer.htm. It’s kind of the pre­dictable press release you might expect but it’s good to see them weigh in.

  • The Qui­etist

    Nazi hatred and “hygiene” extend­ed to homo­sex­u­als as well as Jews, the men­tal­ly ill/handicapped, Poles and Romany. Pre-war, urban Ger­many, was an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly homosexual-friendly envi­ron­ment. There was an active homo­sex­u­al rights move­ment so well orga­nized that the Nazis were able to use the organization’s own mem­ber lists to round-up homo­sex­u­als to be sent to concentration/death camps. Among oth­er things, Nazism was a right-wing, reac­tionary phe­nom­e­na intent on redress­ing and cor­rect­ing the per­ceived deca­dence of Ger­man soci­ety via a “return” to the val­ues of God, fam­i­ly and nation (the “volk”). It was anti-science (lead­ing sci­en­tists were “hollow-earthers”), magical-thinking and arch-militaristic. While I am not attempt­ing my own exact anal­o­gy here, I believe these things are impor­tant to remem­ber.

  • Inter­est­ing points. I sus­pect one rea­son politi­cians can cast anti-homosexuality as a moral issue more read­i­ly than oth­ers is that it’s always eas­i­er for peo­ple to con­demn some­thing they’ve nev­er done, or even been tempt­ed to do. Lots of peo­ple (includ­ing myself) have felt sym­pa­thet­ic towards the Iraq war at one point or anoth­er, and it’s rather dis­turb­ing to be told you com­mit­ted an evil for doing that.
    I’ve often heard that part of Pres. Bush’s appeal is his moral clar­i­ty — he casts things sim­ply in terms of right and wrong. I under­stand the hunger for moral clar­i­ty, but unfor­tu­nate­ly I think the con­verse is that peo­ple feel that any com­pli­cat­ed, ambigu­ous issue must not real­ly be a moral one.
    Iron­i­cal­ly, I think anoth­er rea­son this hap­pened was pre­cise­ly the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state itself. The con­cept of reli­gion as gov­ern­ing only your per­son­al behav­ior, com­part­men­tal­ized away from pub­lic life, has actu­al­ly been embraced by evan­gel­i­cals as much as any­body, with their empha­sis on Jesus as your “per­son­al sav­ior.” I think that’s why when they do leg­is­late their reli­gion with things like anti-gay laws, they usu­al­ly use defen­sive lan­guage: we’re defend­ing our mar­riages, defend­ing our chil­dren, etc. I think that lib­er­al Chris­tians have to ver­rry care­ful­ly delin­eate what aspects of moral­i­ty they’re will­ing to leg­is­late and why, because if there’s any­thing Amer­i­cans fear more than a gov­ern­ment with no moral­i­ty, it’s a gov­ern­ment with a strong moral­i­ty anti­thet­i­cal to their own. A lot of attempts I’ve seen at this have been mud­dled (e.g., Kerry’s posi­tion on abor­tion), which I think has only hurt the lib­er­al cause.

  • rod

    Hi, I am a first time vis­i­tor to your site – great job. I just want­ed to com­ment that I agree with the pre­vi­ous posts: the one demon­strat­ing the rise of NAZI­ism from the right and the oth­er point­ing out the mud­dled mes­sage of the left. What I think the key to this issue is real­iz­ing that our left/right polit­i­cal spec­trum is not lin­ear, but cir­cu­lar. Dehu­man­iz­ing, vio­lent, and destruc­tive regimes have arisen from both the left ant the right, and if you fol­low both direc­tions far enough they meet at tyran­ny. This was part of my prob­lem with John Ker­ry. He did not offer an alter­na­tive to Bush poli­cies only a vari­a­tion of degrees. Instead of uni­lat­er­al war, Ker­ry sug­gest­ed hunt­ing down and killing ter­ror­ists. I fail to see the real dif­fer­ence between these two strate­gies. Don’t take this as sup­port for Bush by any means – I only want to point out that nei­ther can­di­date is/was com­mit­ted to non­vi­o­lence as the only answer. My point is sim­ply that there exists a polit­i­cal spec­trum that orbits around a cen­ter of fear, divi­sion, vio­lence, and pow­er and only varies by degress. Where Chris­tians fail is that we try and place the gospel some­where on that con­tin­u­um, choos­ing left or right based on cer­tain issues or ideals both of which may be true to cer­tain aspects of the gospel, but may be defiecient to vary­ing degrees to oth­ers (hence Chris­tians that are pro-life while sup­port­ing the war). In real­i­ty I under­stand the gospel as “off the spec­trum” a com­plete­ly oth­er and dis­tinct view that declares “King­dom” val­ues and virtues. It is Christo-centric and is ground­ed on love, faith, hope, and peace. It is dynam­ic enough to be tol­er­ant, while at the same time avoid­ing dis­so­lu­tion into sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty or syn­chro­nism. This does not mean a retreat from the “real” world, but an engage­ment of the world as the body of Christ.

  • Here’s a sim­ple and elo­quent col­umn from Patrick Nugent at Friends The­o­log­i­cal Col­lege, Kaimosi, Kenya.
    Johan