An Evangelical friend of mine remarked recently that he supported the Republicans because the Democrats' stands on abortion didn't make Christians feel "welcome."
I think this is wrong on many levels-- morally, politically, practically, theologically.
First, there's a serious problem with Christianity attempting to ally itself with any single political party. C.S. Lewis's "Meditation on the Third Commandment" is required reading, or re-reading, here. No worldly organization shares all the aims and values of the church, and all will provide aims of their own which at best are not part of Christianity and at worst are opposed to it.
Lewis's ideal is still relevant: Christians can be most effective if they are a noisy faction in each party, one to which secular leaders must pay heed. The alternative is that a minority of Christians who find a particular party congenial hew to its party line, while claiming to speak for the faith as a whole.
This is the position we find ourselves in in this country.
The response, I suppose, will be that abortion is a crucial issue that doesn't admit of compromise. This sounds noble and uncompromising; in fact, I maintain, it is foolish and deeply compromised.
How can we be single-issue partisans, when God is not a single-issue deity? There are many commandments, and much as we'd like to, we can't edit them down to two.
Of course, it could be argued that the Bible has done this for us; but all has not been boiled down to abortion. That alarming passage, Matthew 25:31-46, seems to reduce all judgment to whether or not we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, invited in the stranger, and visited the prisoner.
How in God's name should one then devote oneself to a party which aims to abandon the poor to their poverty, cut school lunch programs, cut foreign aid, keep out immigrants, deny government assistance to legal and tax-paying immigrants, cut medical aid to the poor and the sick, and put more people in prison than any other industrial democracy?
This is why I say the pro-life activist who gets into bed with the Republicans is compromised. He thinks he has stood firm on abortion (we'll get back to that), but he has completely compromised on justice.
A similar terrible irony faces us on homosexuality, another hot button of the right. 'Sodomy' is generally taken as referring to homosexual sex; but what in fact was the sin of Sodom?
Ezekiel 16:49: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy."
That should make any Evangelical think twice (and more) before joining the party of the rich.
It's foolish, as well, to trust the Republicans. Why's that?
Millions of Americans have been enchanted by what the Republicans say. Have they really not noticed that what they do is completely different?
They talk up "family values," media violence, reduced government, lower taxes, abortion, prayer in schools. Even those who agree with this agenda (and don't feel the lack, for instance, of feeding the poor and clothing the naked) would do well to look at what the Republican Congress has actually spent its time on:
What happened to media violence, family values, and all that? What does it take to demonstrate that when they say that they'll get to all that later, it means they don't intend to do it at all? That they bought Evangelicals' votes with pie-in-the-sky promises they couldn't fulfil if they wanted to?
Is it reasonable to try to legislate "family values" at all?
You don't get "family values" from the President or, God help you, from Congress. You get them from your family, or from your friends. If Christians want to live lives with exemplary family values, no one's stopping them.
Some conservatives have begun mumbling that the whole idea of separating church and state was a mistake, some sort of atheist plot to keep the state hostile to God. Such people should get out their history books again. Reading up on the anti-ecclesiastical feelings of many of the country's founders would be a good start. The Salem witch hunts would be another informative topic for study.
It shouldn't be necessary to remind Christians of the suffering caused to so many people (Christians, Jews, and others) by national churches attempting to make everybody follow some particular brand of orthodoxy. It's one of the greatest shames of Christianity, and we shouldn't be in a hurry to repeat it.
Do Evangelicals really want Congress to pass laws telling TV stations what to broadcast, parents how to raise their children, schools what to teach?
If that isn't what they want, why do they support politicans who pretend that "family values" are the problems that they're going to do something about?
If that is what they want, God help them, they should at least ask themselves this: What happens if you get your wish-- then lose the next election, and the Other Side gets to use all that power you gave them?
If you want to influence the culture of this country-- and you're welcome to try-- then don't ask Newt Gingrich to do it; encourage Christians to enter the arts instead.
Let's take a closer look at abortion.
Christians are widely believed to be, on this issue, hypocritical fanatics. (The portrait of "Ramón", the simple-minded fundamentalist in Katha Pollitt's Reasonable Creatures, is a good example of how they're perceived.) Christians may be inclined to dismiss the opinions of infidels, but this may not be wise. There's some idea, for instance, of setting an example and sharing the good news. This is harder to do when one comes off as a hate-filled crank.
Worse yet-- the infidels may be right. Many Christians are hypocrites on this issue.
Listen, I'm only a left-wing intellectual. Somebody Evangelicals respect more had an opinion on this, however. His words:
"The scribes and the Pharisees... say things, and do not do them. And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness!" [Matthew 23]
If Christians were known in this country for their work with the poor-- if their voice were loud on their behalf-- if white Christians crowded the ghetto to aid their black brothers and sisters-- if they offered help, food, medicine, clothes, and their very homes to the unwanted of the world-- if they fought against those who would make this country a playground for the rich...
...then they would be respected, as in fact people like Mother Theresa and Millard Fuller are respected. Instead, we have Christians who preach, against the Gospel, that earthly prosperity is a sign of God's favor (perhaps they admire Herod more than Jesus, then?), and actually make it a point of pride to be "single-issue voters."
Is the solution to the problem of abortion really re-criminalization? Is the idea really to put women in jail for it, and their doctors too? (What happens to the children they already have? Do they go to jail too?) Perhaps this could be combined with another hot issue in the Republican camp: capital punishment. If a woman has an abortion, let's kill her!
This is the 20th century AD, not BC. There is no excuse for looking at social problems with the narrowed eyes of the despot, who applies the law (or the executioner's ax) to solve every problem.
Why not do some research, find out why people have abortions, and work to make alternatives available? Christians don't seem to act as if this is really what they want. Why, for instance, are so many of them against the distribution of condoms, or research into birth control? If abortion is such a great evil, why do many Christians take action to ensure that uninformed teenagers have to face it?
There's a deeper hypocrisy here: the ugly truth is that Christians have abortions too. Criminalizing abortion would send quite a few Evangelicals to jail. The abortion rate among Roman Catholics, in fact, is higher than among Jews or Protestants.
It's even lower in Sweden-- godless hedonistic socialist Sweden. Anyone concerned with abortion should try to find out why. Could it have anything to do with the rampant sexual ignorance of Americans, which Christians scared to death of birth control and sex education help to foster?
It would be unpleasantly ironic if American Evangelicals, arriving at Peter's gate, are held to task for their role in creating a state where unprotected sex and poverty, and thus abortion, flourish.
I should say a word about the Democrats. I certainly don't find them to be saints-- I share Will Roger's opinion of them-- and I don't expect or want everybody to join them, or any one party.
However, one must be (here as in so many places) wary of Republican propaganda. Democrats are not the party of Satan. They aren't even the party of radicals. Those P.C., gay-promoting, Western Culture-deriding, media-élite-reading, socialist radicals may exist somewhere, but they certainly don't control the Democratic Party. The radicals that do exist, the people who read Noam Chomsky and listen to Sister Souljah, don't like Clinton any more than the Christian Right does. The Democrats are simply the more liberal of the two Business Parties in this country.
There's other reasons to be wary of Republican-speak. Limited government, for instance. Do people seriously believe that Republicans are going to reduce government intrusion? (While enforcing family values and patrolling the Internet for dirty words?)
The Republicans aren't going to reduce government, they're just going to redistribute it. Reagan and Bush passed up 12 opportunities to submit a balanced budget to Congress; and they ran up the biggest damn deficit in US history-- quadrupling the debt the "tax-and-spend Democrats" left them. Taking money out of Medicaid in order to pay for increased military spending, tobacco farming, more prisons, and misguided Wars on Drugs is not my idea of reducing government.
I don't mind honest libertarianism too much: a government that really governs least. I think it's mush-headed fantasy, but at least it's a consistent vision. But that's not what Gingrich & Co. are up to, and it's not what they're promising to their Christian Coalition buddies. If they did what they pretend they're going to do (reverse the influence of "liberal élites," impose family values, prosecute abortionists, legislate prayer in school, censor violence and sex in the movies, and persecute homosexuals), the size and intrusiveness of the government would have to be increased to totalitarian levels.
To summarize: An alliance with the Republicans is a big mistake. It destroys the credibility of the church; it associates Christians with a movement pursuing selfish and unjust ends; it won't do what Christians want and will do much that they will (or should) deplore. It has the potential to do much evil in the world, and blacken the name of Jesus with it.