In Search of a Different Kind of Conservatism

It’s that time of year again.  Political season.  The airwaves and the web are alive with righteous indignation and mud-slinging and half-truths, twisted facts, and out-right lies.  In other words, it’s business as usual.

But for anyone who claims to be a Christian, it really shouldn’t be business as usual.  I don’t know how many memes I have received from friends who are Christian, bashing the President and anyone linked to the Democratic Party.  The conservative movement in America has co-opted the Christian community to serve as foot-soldiers in a culture war.  Make no mistake: the other side has its foot-soldiers, too.  But they typically aren’t spouting scripture while waving a political sign.

I am discouraged that so many people are taken in by so many conservative  political arguments.  I am discouraged to see churches with political signs in front of them.  That is a clear violation of the separation of Church and State, and could put that church in jeopardy of losing its tax-exempt status.

I have no problem with Christian people having political opinions.  I have no problem with them expressing them.  I do have a problem with politics being preached from pulpits, and people being castigated, even condemned for possessing views at variance with the views of a church, its leadership, or its minister.

When considering the role of the Christian in politics and government, there are two passages from the New Testament that immediately come to mind.  Peter wrote in I Peter 2.17, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  Having no emperor, we should honor the president, the duly elected head of state. That should immediately give one pause when considering passing on the latest internet meme that perpetuates some rumor about the president, his past, his perceived motives, or his perceived actions.  You cannot spread unsubstantiated rumors about the president with the same mouth that you use to praise God.

Paul wrote in Romans 13.1-7,

1  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  2  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  3  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  4  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

5  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  6  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  7  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

So, if we accept scriptures, we must accept that governments exist by the authority of God, and that authority must be respected and honored.  How can I click the share button on some meme that blasts the president, when I claim to be a servant of Christ?  I can’t see how we can justify it.

The government may be doing things of which we do not approve.  One party may support issues that we find either distasteful or even patently wrong—for conservatives, that translates into abortion and gay rights issues.  But I submit that both parties are guilty of these very kinds of things.  Using the right as an example (because I personally know far fewer Christians that move in left-wing circles) and in broad strokes, conservatives are opposed to raising the minimum wage to help lift people out of poverty.  They are opposed to environmental regulation which would cost money but build a more sustainable environment.  They oppose many health care initiatives.  They may oppose abortion, but in practically the same breath, fail to support many poor and disadvantaged children who have been born.

In short, they parrot the views of a group of very rich people who use people of good conscience and good will to advance their goals.  But when you step back and really observe what is going on, many of these so-called “conservative” initiatives are in direct violation of biblical principles, such as God’s own admonition in Isaiah 1.17, “…learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” The wise oracle in Proverbs 31.8,9 commends a ruler’s action on behalf of the poor and needy: “8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.  9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  When “conservative” programs favor business revenue over human survival and dignity, are they indeed defending the rights of the poor and needy?  Do they truly bring justice and correct oppression?

I am in no wise passing judgment on Christian people who hold to these conservative ideals.  In fact, if these values were not being manipulated by a shadowy power structure for what I perceive to be less than noble purposes, I could respect them more.

In fact, that used to be me. 

I listened to every whisper from the conservative rumor mills.  I believed a lot of lies.  And I am heartily sorry I did.

When I started seeing what the “conservative” agenda was all about, I could not make it jibe with what I was coming to see in scripture.  That “love they neighbor” thread is woven through it from first to last.  Those who claim to be Christians need to see that.  If we wore phylacteries like the Jews of old, we should load them with that thought and meditate on it.  I know all of the arguments about “teaching a man to fish.”  But opportunities rarely knock on inner city doors or Appalachian shacks, beckoning the poor to a path of success.  And yes, there are many examples of abuse of aid.  But legislating solely on the basis of abuse fails to account for and protect the most vulnerable among us: the children, the sick, and the elderly—the very ones mentioned as needing aid and protection in scripture.

At times, I think that some Christian people would like to see the rise of what would essentially be a Christian theocracy, where all legislation is viewed through the lens of the Bible.  However, to impose such would effectively remove free will, wouldn’t it?  A better solution would be for Christian people of good will to run for office and let their faith inform their actions, but not dictate them.

We should all open our eyes to the true nature of our government.  A recent study argues that we are not a representative democracy at all.  We are at best an oligarchy, where power rests with a few powerful entities in government, the military and the corporate world, as demonstrated by the tenor of legislation being tilted strongly in favor of industry, and not people.  At worst, we are a festering plutocracy being driven further into corruption by the very rich to feed their own coffers and consolidate their power.

We sing in that wonderful patriotic song, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. / And crown thy good with brotherhood /  from sea to shining sea.”  I really don’t think we mean it by the way we act.  God does not shed his grace on a nation run by the ultra-rich and power hungry who deny his fundamental principles of caring for others.  He shed his grace on a people with ideas and ideals of liberty and equality.  But we have fallen from that grace.  We have sold our birthright for a bowl of someone else’s broken dreams and tarnished promises.

That brotherhood of which we so often sing has not yet been achieved.  If we allow ourselves to be manipulated by either the extreme right or left, it never will be realized.  Real brotherhood can be found when we lay down our political ideologies and reach out our hands, not in repression, but in kindness.  It can be found when money is seen as a means to better society, not as an end in itself.  It will happen when we let our hearts speak, not our hate.

I am a Christian.  But I am not necessarily cut from the same cloth that so many others seem to be.  I trust God to direct the flow of history.  But he trusts me to do what I can to speak out for justice.  I cannot be true to my God and blindly support anything and everything that the “conservative” establishment pushes.  The same goes for the left.

Maybe that makes me a different kind of conservative, one who tries to conserve the principles of justice and mercy that God wanted of his people from the very beginning.

I am reminded of John Denver’s song, written in honor of Buckminster Fuller, titled “What One Man Can Do.”  In it, Denver says,

It’s hard to tell the truth

When no one wants to listen

When no one really cares

What’s going on

And it’s hard to stand alone

When you need someone beside you

Your spirit and your faith

They must be strong

 

What one man can do is dream

What one man can do is love

What one man can do is change the world

And make it young again

Here you see what one man can do  

Imagine what could happen if one man dreams of a better world, and that dream fills another man’s sail and propels him to dream an even greater dream, and then another.  What might happen if one woman standing up for change inspires another woman to rise up against injustice, and she stirs another woman to nobler thoughts and actions? Soon, the world may be filled with vision and hope that rises from people, from the mass of humanity, not the greed and power-lust of a small group whose idol is their wealth, whose god is themselves and  whose goal is to remake the world in their own twisted image.

I read the other day where a conservative radio talk show host has written a book warning of a second civil war in America.  As I read history, our nation may have been birthed in violence, but its promise was of peace.  The Union was threatened in the 1860’s when brother fought against brother in the bloodiest of conflicts, but I do not believe that has to be so again.  We have it in our power to consciously and conscientiously turn a putative civil war into a realized civil discourse.  We can start by turning off the divisive pundits and prophets and extreme ideologues and turning on our humanity. Tim Russert said, “The best exercise for the human heart is reaching down to lift someone else up.”  Tim Russert was a wise man.

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2 Responses to In Search of a Different Kind of Conservatism

  1. Dawn Tucker says:

    Amen!

  2. Pingback: A Pause to Reflect on Reaching 100 Posts | the trail is the thing

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