Archive for November, 2008

Reconciliation

Monday, November 17th, 2008

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matt 5: 21-24

Jesus was a radical thinker. He confronted the conservative fundamentalism of his time with some very difficult concepts. One of the most difficult concepts for the Jews to accept was reconciliation. They believed that God was vengeful and visited His wrath on sinners in the form of illness, poverty, and misfortune. So it was easy for the Jews to identify sinners and they treated them accordingly.

Jesus rejected that way of thinking. He taught that we are all God’s children. We all need saving, and it was God’s job to judge, not ours. In fact, withholding judgment isn’t nearly enough, we have to figure out how to love everyone – particularly those that we feel were sinners. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is saying that if any of us are guilty of harboring ANY unkind thoughts about our brother, we are in MORE spiritual danger than murderers.

In other words, as He did through out this chapter, He is expanding the definition of what it means to be a disciple. It’s not enough to just follow the commandments. We have to love our brothers, even if we think they are murderers. That love by the way goes way beyond the simplistic “I love the man but hate the act”. Later in this same chapter He says we have to “walk” with them until we understand them. We have to embrace them, even when we think they have injured us. We have to trust them even when we feel they have stolen from us. In fact, it is so important that we sincerely resolve any differences with our brothers, that we should make that a higher priority than going to church and asking for our own forgiveness.

This is radical thinking that I don’t see many Christians practicing today.

Here’s just one example.

I’ve been corresponding with a handful of different people who felt that a vote for Obama was immoral because President-elect Obama is Pro-Choice. The news last week carried a piece about a Catholic priest in South Carolina who went so far as to suggest that a vote for Obama was a sinful act. As a result, those who committed that act needed to confess that sin before they could receive communion.

This may seem well beyond the pale for many, but I can confirm that there are some who feel that our country is going to suffer the wrath of God because of our failure to elect a Pro-Life Presidential candidate.

I’ve already posted a couple of things on abortion. I won’t repeat those posts here, but just provide a summary and link if anyone wants to do any more research.

http://www.blogsmonroe.com/christianpolitics/category/abortion/

Good ideas bad results – Practical ways to reduce the number of abortions
Eternal Life – Practical reasons why “life begins at conception” doesn’t work
Unto Us a Child is Born – God respects choice
Greater Good – Which is worse, abortion or sin

What I did want to spend some time on is this question of Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice as a political issue.

First a quick summary of the issues.

Pro-Life folks feel that there is Biblical evidence that life begins at conception, so abortion is the equivalent to murder. As a result, they feel it should be treated as murder by our legal system.

Pro-Choice folks are more concerned about the rights of women and the control that women should have over their own bodies.

Roe v. Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from enacting legislation prohibiting abortion.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey is the 1992 Supreme Court decision where the court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade using the principle of stare decisis. Essentially, when something has been law for a long time and has become part of the fabric of society, it is beyond the scope of the courts to change it.

The bottom line is that the past thirty years have polarized the voting public and made a lot of money for politicians on both sides of the issue.

So let’s dig a little deeper into the claim that a a vote for a Pro-life candidate is a moral issue.

First an easy one. If a Pro-Life stance is just a moral litmus test of the character of candidates, I suggest that it is faulty because there have been plenty of Pro-life senators and congressmen over the past eight years who fell far short of the mark as ethical lawmakers. So there it has to be more than that.

If it’s not just a moral litmus test and Pro-Life supporters are looking for real practical change, then shouldn’t those candidates who deliver real change be the ones who earn their vote regardless of whether or not they pass the litmus test?

In other words, since it is unlikely that Roe v. Wade is going to get overturned anytime soon, and the longer it stands the more difficult it will be to overturn, then shouldn’t Pro-Life voters be demanding more substantive practical progress in reducing the number of abortions from their candidates?

Well as you might imagine, I’ve done a little research on the subject. Here are the statistics (abortions per 1000 women of child bearing age) for the last couple Presidents through 2005.

Reagan –  29.28 – 27.37
Bush I –     27.37 – 25.89
Clinton –    25.89 – 21.30
Bush II –     21.30 – 19.41

What is interesting is that the President who had the most dramatic affect on reducing the number of abortions was the only one of the bunch who was Pro-Choice – Bill Clinton.

Here’s the bottom line from what I have learned so far from those single issue Pro-Life voters. They are unconcerned about whether or not the person they voted for actually does anything substantive to change the status quo. They view their vote as a moral imperative that goes beyond any practical measure. They feel that when they vote Pro-Life, they are voting Pro-God.

My concern, at this particular point is time, is that we don’t have the luxury of this sort of debate anymore. We can’t have folks sitting on the sidelines self-righteously predicting God’s wrath for our moral weakness. Our country is in tough shape. Right after 9-11, a call went out to the American people and they responded as one, even though a lot of us thought the wrong person with questionable morals was in the White House then too.

 I think that the situation is even more serious now. We all need to be in the same boat rowing in the same direction because our ship of state is perilously close to the falls. We don’t have time to argue about the details. On some things we are just going to have to agree to disagree at least until we are in a safer place. Hopefully, we CAN all agree that we care enough about each other to put aside partisanship, pick up an oar, and start rowing. 

The Unrighteous

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? “ II Cor 6:14

It has been a wonderful week in politics.

Our country in my opinion has done something remarkable.

Unfortunately, many of the Republicans are too busy eating each other to notice.

John McCain gave a very gracious concession speech. I’m inclined to also take him at his word, that he will be a great help to this new President and will put service to his country first. If he had chosen to run his campaign in the same way, the results might have been different.

The Republicans appear committed to the path of self-destruction in their zeal to blame this loss on anyone but themselves. Sarah Palin has been the focus through much of this week with some really horrendous things coming from cowardly anonymous sources. I was not a Palin fan, but she certainly doesn’t deserve the blame either.

The conservative wing of the party is claiming that the loss is because the party just wasn’t conservative enough. Perhaps a public stoning of a gay person might have given the party a better opportunity to separate the apostate moderates from the real conservatives.

The moderates look at what they thought was their party and don’t recognize any of the people or the policies.

All the while, everyone is claiming to be to true decedent of Ronald Reagan.

Then there is the specter of Joe Lieberman – the man without a party. The Democrats don’t need him anymore because they have a majority. They also don’t want him because he actively campaigned for John McCain. The Republicans are having a tough time welcoming back John McCain, much less Joe Lieberman. Poor Joe. But he is going to suffer the consequences of the choices that he has made which will make both Republicans and Democrats happy for different reasons.

While all this is going on, President-elect Obama is getting about the business of the country and enjoying the support of conservatives and liberals.

He needs that and our prayers.

 

Socialism

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Luke 18:22

In the last gasp of a desperate campaign, Senator McCain and Governor Palin have decided that their best strategy is to frighten the American voter by labeling their opponent a socialist. This was the result of a sound bite from a conversation that Senator Obama had with the now famous Joe Wurzelbacher. Joe asked Senator Obama to defend his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top tier of wage earners while preserving those cuts for the rest of the population. As part of that discussion Senator Obama said that he believed that taxing the wealthy who have seen their income grow over the last eight years in order to provide a break for everyone else who have seen their income shrink over the same period of time, is good economic policy. He use the phrase “spread the wealth around”. That has become the touchstone for this attack.

I think that there are a couple of ways to respond to this claim.

The first is to take Joe the Plumber head on. He appears to object to the concept of a progressive tax system – the more you make the more you get taxed. The usual conservative objection to a progressive tax system is that it punishes success, and as a result, discourages the effort to be successful. Using that logic, the Bush administration aggressively cut the tax rates of the most successful. Their expectation was that this would encourage the wealthy to make more of the sort of investments that made them successful in the first place which will result in growing the economy for everyone else. The problem is that it doesn’t work.

The facts support a much different picture. Democratic administrations where policies favor the middle class have historically done better for both the middle class and the wealthy than Republican administrations. This has held true for the past 80 years.

Economists explain this by pointing out that a robust middle class is the best driver of our economy. When the middle class is doing well, everyone does well. I heard it expressed by CEO Victor Hammel, “I would rather pay a little higher tax on a higher profit than a lower tax rate on lower profits.”

The second is to dive into this claim of socialism.

First a quick definition. Socialism is the opposite of capitalism. In a socialist society there is no private ownership. The government owns everything presumably for the benefit of the people. It’s that last part that gets people confused because Socialists talk a lot about the equitable distribution of wealth.

The McCain campaign has been tossing the word socialism around much in the same way that the Bush administration turned liberal into a dirty word. What bothers me about it is that it is hypocritical and cynical.

It is cynical because the Bush tax cut plan is set to expire on January 1, 2009 anyway. So how does refusing to renew a tax cut, that didn’t have the desired result anyway, somehow suddenly become a socialist act? Those tax cuts were scheduled to expire BECAUSE so many people (including John McCain) were skeptical of their promised effect. Even if this weren’t an election year, I suspect that the Bush administration would have had a difficult time getting them renewed.

What is hypocritical is that we HAVE in fact taken a huge step toward socialism with the various financial bailout plans which both John McCain and Barack Obama voted for. In this case the government has in effect nationalized portions of the financial system (any maybe soon the auto companies) for the benefit of the people.

Finally a moral argument.

No less an authority than Jesus suggested that one our our two great responsibilities was to love our brother. The love he proposed was not just a philosophical concept. He proposed a practical redistribution of wealth from those who had it to those who needed it. He said that this benefited, not only the receiver, but also the giver. Part of the benefit to the giver was the realization that wealth if anything was an impediment to salvation. A prime example was the rich man Jesus spoke of in the quote at the top of this post. When faced with the choice of salvation or wealth, he chose wealth. I wonder what those who are calling Senator Obama a socialist would do today if they were given the same choice by Jesus.  I hope they would chose more wisely than than the wealthy man.