Thursday, December 2, 2010

My God Says Vote Republicrat

Turn a television to Fox News or MSNBC and you will see pundits, commentators and “experts” pontificating on a range of topics from national defense to healthcare. Most Americans agree that the way in which the media handles such issues is frustrating and polarizing, but the fact of the matter is that they would not be able to sustain such an approach if people did not watch. As painful as it may be for each side to admit, both sides are guilty of using the same tactics and practices, albeit usually in support or denunciation of different political agendas. The right-wing nutjobs who call President Obama a socialist and terrorist are using the same approach as the left-wingers who called President Bush a Nazi and war criminal. Having voted for both men, I shudder to think what that makes me. Pol Pot reincarnate, perhaps? Joseph Stalin redux, maybe? God forbid someone find virtue in certain parts of two policies put forth by different political parties.

Unfortunately, the same behavior is now applied within the Christian community of the nation with people self-segregating themselves into like-minded enclaves impenetrable to countervailing notions and hostile toward differing viewpoints. To an extent, this has long been the case, particularly in America, which has never had an official national religion. American Christians have always aligned themselves with various denominational ideologies, be they Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian or otherwise.

For most of the nation’s history, it is safe to say that such denominational alliances shaped and informed their congregants’ religious and political views. Some placed greater emphasis on personal salvation and accountability, others on collective responsibility and social action. Still, without trying to gloss over the many accounts of intra-faith squabbling and subject legitimate accounts of unrest to the lovely patina of nostalgia, there was a separation of political belief and spiritual belief within individuals that allowed for someone to be both a Baptist and a Democrat, or a Republican and a Methodist.

What’s alarming about the state of both political and religious discourse today is that there is very little effort made to understand or accommodate the other side. And why should we? Forty years ago, an elected representative likely had to appease the interests of a very diverse constituency. There were very few homogeneous congressional districts throughout most of the country. A legislator could not risk alienating minorities because while they may not hold a majority of the votes in his district, they may have enough to swing it to his opponent in the next election.

Now, thanks to the short sighted belief that the only way to ensure adequate representation is to elect someone who looks just like you and thinks just like you and the subsequent redistricting, legislators are far more likely to represent a constituency that is so uniform in composition that he need not worry about offending a lesser yet still significant portion of his district. While this allows for largely black areas to elect a black man to Congress, they now only have one person looking out for their interests as opposed to several who could not neglect a vital portion of their electorate. In the democratic process of the legislature, this means that minority voices may be more apparent, but less effective.

The same is true of America’s churches as Americans have increasingly sought religious sanctuary among the like-minded. Don’t like the preacher telling you to be nice to the poor? No problem. There’s probably another church preaching a message that poverty is a course from God right around the corner. While this allows Christians to take comfort in knowing their own beliefs will be reassured for an hour each Sunday, it is wretchedly detrimental to the quality and content of religious discourse among the citizenry.

Another facet of this trend is the increasingly partisan character of these ever more political religious congregations. Sunday morning preaching is more and more taking on the character of the Gospel according to Reagan or to Roosevelt than to Christ. People seem to be shaping their spiritual beliefs to fit their political leanings rather than vice versa. So if you are politically liberal, you can find a church that condones homosexuality and defends abortion as a woman’s right to choose, while conservatives can attend one that teaches AIDS to be the righteous scourge on the wicked and that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. This is not a healthy atmosphere for fostering open and honest discussion.

Both sides are to blame for this stalemate. Conservatives can be blamed for putting too great an emphasis on homosexuality as the great damning offense and denouncing pro-life advocates as wicked while ignoring their responsibility to the poor and disenfranchised set forth throughout Scripture. Liberal advocacy for gay rights often takes on such an air of condescension that it neglects Scriptural precepts against homosexuality, as their defense of a woman’s “right” to choose rejects even the possibility that abortion is the ending of a potential life.

This results in a form of pendulum politics with the two sides alternating two-year policy binges while pitting Christian against Christian and church against church. It is true that MSNBC and Fox News over-emphasize the divisions between us, but as we increasingly divide ourselves along “fundamental” lines, the hyperbole of the punditry is gradually becoming more of a reality, with the American church at the vortex of the Zeitgeist.

The Christian moral imperative is to do good in the world, but not to the extent that it ignores sin. Social Justice is a derivative of Scripture but not the Gospel in totality. Ironically, the Christian church could learn a lesson from a French Atheist, Albert Camus. “What I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between two people who remain what they are and speak their minds.

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