Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Some thoughts about JP's e-mail

Recent Page 132 reader JP has e-mailed me some thoughts and questions about the role of politics and Christianity. With his permission, I've decided to discuss them publicly via the blog. Constructive comments are welcome in the margins. JP's e-mail is in orange. My responses in black.

I've been tuning into your blog and have been enjoying it. In fact, yours is the first one that I've read more than once. Every other one I've seen reads like Rush Limbaugh on crack (or Al Franken). This weekend I read your explanation of the title and I'm with you on the ridiculousness of assuming that Republican = Christian or vice versa. But as someone who used to be much more tuned in to and interested in politics than I am now (I just got fed up), I've got some observations. You come across as thoughtful and well informed, so I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks JP, I appreciate that. We try very hard on Page 132 to be thoughtful and well-informed. I'm glad you like you it. Please feel free to contribute on any post by making comments in the margins.

1. There may be those that truly believe that the Republican Party is Christian by nature and that the Democratic Party is not. However, I don't believe that most people (or most Christians for that matter) hold that belief, because the truth is that neither party is overtly Christian. I don't believe that most Christians vote Republican because they believe Karl Rove is a Christian. I don't think that most Christians think twice about Karl Rove's faith or salvation. In fact, the Democratic Party's base social beliefs of helping the poor hold much closer to Christ's values than the Republican core virtues of self-reliance and independence. Most Christians vote Republican because the Republican Party (regardless of motive) still attempts to cater to the Christian voter while the Democratic Party has completely abandoned it. I have no illusions about whether or not the Republican leadership is qualified for service as clergy. But I know for a fact that Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Barak Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, (go ahead and insert a prominent Democrat) is so far off the Christian radar that there is no chance of my beliefs being represented legislatively by a Democratically controlled government.

I certainly agree with your analysis of the 'Evangelical voter', but I don't agree with your final analysis. As I've said before Christians can agree about principles, but disagree about the appropriate policy on how to deal with it. It is certainly true that people on the left feel much more comfortable with a private exercise of faith while those on the right want a more public profession of faith. However, one must ask why that is. Some folks on the left are truly scared of faith. They don't understand it so they want it banned. Those might be folks like Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. However, other folks on the left (like yours truly) feel that the only way to ensure freedom of religion is keep the public square free of religious directives and dictats. I would argue that John Edwards, Barak Obama and Bill Clinton fit into that category.

2. While professed Democratic morals may be more in line with Christ's, they are diametrically opposed to Christ's in their application. There is no place for Christ's church in the Democratic Party, because the Bible preaches reliance on God and identifying yourself with Christ. This flies in the face of the Democratic application of the separation of church and state as well as the Democratic Party's reliance on government above all else. Based on legislation and support, it seems clear that given a blank check, the Democratic Party would confine the Christian church to relative obscurity to be properly dusted off at weddings, Christmas, Easter (you can't include swearing in ceremonies anymore) and other socially accepted times as long as these events don't offend some miniscule minority opinion. (I’m not saying that Republicans are any more pious, but it is less a matter of Party policy to keep their faith in the background.) At the same time, the belief seems to be that the Democratic Church of Present Day saints, better known as the American congress and/or the Supreme Court and/or the United Nations, would finally be able to accomplish what conservatives and the Christian church have kept them from doing: the proper redistribution of wealth, equality for all, salvation of the environment, and the realization of the almighty power of human wisdom. In the Democratic Party’s mind's eye, these things are only possible through the competent application of governmental policy and bureaucracy. Churches cannot be trusted with that kind of power, that's what politicians are for.

Where to begin on this? There is no place for Christ's church in the Democratic Party? The Old Man is gonna be pissed! As are millions of African-Americans and Hispanics who go to church several times a week and vote for Democratic candidates. As far as the Democratic Party reliance on government above all else, I'd argue that is a hyperbole. If you won't give me that, then you'll have to acknowledge that the Republican Party puts a reliance on self above all else, making self-reliance and independence the crucial aspect of one's behavior. Of course, that coarse selfishness also has no place in the Gospel.

The Democratic Party values 'justice for all' and feels the government is the vehicle to deliver it. It distrusts Business and the Church to deliver because they have historically been poor at doing so. If you think about the Southern Baptist's and their racist views on segregation during the 1960s, Democrats aren't too off-base for thinking the way they do. Unfettered capitalists rarely figure justice into the bottom line.

It is certainly true that the Democratic Party would prefer that religious observance be kept private and out of the public sphere. Like above, that is because their are two factions inside the party. Regardless, both factions know the power of government to force homogenization upon its citizenry. Out of respect for the many difference between and inside faiths, Democrats are much more comfortable with the conversation happening inside the living room and not in the public square.

I don't really understand the last part, but if you are arguing that Democrats inherently like bigger bureaucracies, then you don't have your facts straight. Under Clinton, the federal government shrunk in both budget and manpower. Under Bush, it has been the complete opposite. However, Democrats are more comfortable with legislation and regulation to ensure justice for all. And yes, churches can't be trusted with power. Power is the realm of politicians. History has never shown a time when the church was able to handle political power well. Both the Church and the government suffered. So for the sake of both institutions, they should be kept separate.

3. As ridiculous as it is to assume that Christian equals Republican, it is just as ridiculous to think that Karl Rove equals George Bush. Bush isn't perfect, but when I think of the alternatives (Gore or Kerry), I thank God that my President is currently George Bush. Both Democratic candidates would have been unmitigated disasters. Anyone who still believes that Gore and his policies could have successfully navigated this country through 9/11 and the economic meltdown of 2000 seriously has their heads up their... in the sand. If Gore had been a Republican, he would be relegated to lower status than Dan Quayle. He definitely would not be making movies. John Kerry was/is a joke. Does anyone really believe he is valuable in any way as a legislator? As a leader? The reason Bush won the election is less because of the Gay Marriage amendment and more because of Kerry's incompetence and the Democratic response to the amendment.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. To say that Gore would have been an unmitigated disaster, but somehow leave out George Bush's leadership in that same breath is outstanding. Gore was more hawkish than Bush and much more willing to use military force. Gore, like Bush, would have invaded Afghanistan. However, he would have probably done a better job nation building since he was for it and liked the idea. Bush only came around after the fact. I don't know exactly what effect the 2000-20002 economic downturn had to do with the president. However, I'll assume that you take the position that Gore would have raised taxes. Very unlikely since he was dealing was a strong Republican majority Congress. In addition to that, Gore's desire to deal with catastrophic climate change would have put America on a stronger footing toward getting off the foreign oil (and terrorist funding) addiction by pushing conservation and viable alternatives. George Bush is only getting around to acknowledging global warming in this State of the Union. Additionally, Gore probably wouldn't have invaded Iraq.

And I'll agree to the comments on Kerry. The moral of of 2004 was you can't beat something with nothing, even if that something isn't very good.

4. I promise that this is the last one – for now. The Democratic Party is a lost cause. It has become a fringe party. The best indication of this is the presidential candidates they prop up term after term. In a country where upwards of 80% of its citizens espouse to identify with the Christian faith, you'd think that political candidates would reflect this. When was the last time we saw a Democratic candidate that openly endorsed Christian values? Carter? Every candidate since then (Dukakis, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry) has obligatorily mentioned attending church, but at the same time has pandered to fringe groups who are militantly aligned against the Christian church. It is extremely telling that in almost 30 years, the Democratic Party could not find the conviction to support one candidate with Judeo-Christian beliefs. (In my opinion, Joseph Lieberman would have won the last election in a landslide. The problem is that Lieberman is too far right for the current Democratic Party. Even their poster-child, JFK, would have a difficult time qualifying as a Democrat today. Can you imagine a modern Democrat saying something like, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” That sounds like it is right out of the Republican handbook.)

Of course, I disagree that the Democratic Party is a lost cause and fringe party. The most recent elections show that not to be true. Democrats recaptured both the House and the Senate. They control 28 of the 50 governors' mansions. The Democratic Party controls 21 state legislatures compared to the Republican Party's 15. So it is false to say that people won't vote for Democrats.

Sure the Democratic Party's choices for President have been less than inspiring. However, that is a function of the primary season where candidates have to run to the extremes to get the nomination and then back to the middle during the general election. Democratic candidates have been unable to run to the middle after they've paid homage to the leftists in the party. Of course, when you represent change (as social liberals do) you've already started in a hole because people don't like change. So while it takes only a mediocre politician to promise more of the same, only a real talented politician can convince people they need change.

As per the JFK quote. That was 60 years ago and the world has changed. How about this one? Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan 1981. Can any Republican in 2007 really say that represents them? Absolutely not.

I may not like the Republican Party or all it stands for, but I would vote for a candidate that grudgingly incorporates Christian ideals over one that thumbs his/her nose at them any day.

I guess that depends on which ideals you feel are important and how much they actually do with them. Republicans had 12 years in power in the legislature. 28 out of the last 40 years in control of the executive branch. 9 of the 11 federal circuit courts are dominated by Republican nominees. The Supreme Court has 5 of the 9 judges appointed by Republicans. All that to say, Republicans can't claim they were powerless to stop the social issues they ran against. Abortion? No action. Gay marriage? No action. Intelligent Design/Creationism? No action. Prayer in school? No action.

The Republican Party uses Christians to gain power. So do you want to vote for someone that doesn't like your beliefs or someone that says he does, but by his actions doesn't?

Overall, neither party is sinless. Neither advocates or follows the teaching of Christ -those are too radical for any party. Christians can (and should) vote for the Republican Party, especially if the candidate is worthy. However, Christians can (and should) vote for the Democratic Party, especially if the candidate is worthy. Christians shouldn't sacrifice Jesus' teaching for political power. Neither side prospers. Elect able-bodied men and women, pray and love they neighbor are the key requirements to Christian political involvement.