Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First cup—What I don’t understand….

As a personal rule, I don’t engage in political debate on Facebook. Not that I think it is wrong, but it simply isn’t viable: Hard to carry on a conversation that doesn’t end up in some kind of debate—and often with people you don’t even know and you wonder how in the world they ended up on your friends’ list. I don't mind if people know what I think on issues or who I’m voting for (Obama).

A few weeks ago I shared what I considered to be a clarifying chart on FB. Frankly, I was getting really tired of the lies that the Republicans are telling about the last four years—apparently believing that President Obama is the first president of the United States because everything that is wrong with the economy is, directly, personally his fault and, apparently, there were no problems before him. No wars. No defense spending. No rising oil prices. Everyone had a meaningful, personally fulfilling, and highly paid job. We lived in some sort of Garden of Eden, I guess. Who was that president before Obama and which party was in control of Congress? Hmmm.

So, I posted it and suddenly a chart about the job situation before and after Obama resulted in a debate about abortion and a variety of other women’s justice issues. I kept out of it because, well, the argument was beyond my sense of the kind of discourse that I think is reasonable on FB…. But things continue to spiral down and, honestly, I’m pretty disturbed by the language and attitudes of some of my friends. I get that this election matters—and I get that people who believe differently about important issues and offices can differ. But there is a “Christian” meanness that creeps in that has lead me to hide many of those comments because I just don’t want to be associated with them. Having comments on my FB pages that suggest that Obama is in some sense not Christian—maybe even anti-Christian—and that the Republican agenda is the Jesus agenda; well, I just can’t accept it. Meanness is not a Christian virtue, and confusing political agenda with Jesus’ message leads to such deep confusion among those in the “family” and watching the “family” seem simply (actually complicatedly) wrong.

I do not mean by that statement that I think my faith does not factor into my voting. Of course it does. To the best of my ability and understanding, I want my convictions about what it means to be a follower of Jesus to deeply, even primarily, influence how I mark my ballots. Honestly, to a large extent I am a registered Democrat because of my understanding of what Jesus teaches about how to follow him. But I do not confuse the two; neither do I conflate them. Neither do I think that America is about one religious perspective dominating all other perspectives—there’s something fundamentally un-American about that. I am never confused about the absolute difference between being a follower of Jesus and an American—Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not a worldly kingdom” and it is to his reign that I am bound. I am not confused about this.

But these are what I’m confused about:

Along with many of my friends, FB and otherwise, I am “pro-life.” What I mean by “pro-life,” however, is this: I am a pacifist; I stand against the death penalty; I believe schools should teach responsible sexual behavior even as they promote abstinence; I believe in providing universal health care for all persons so that all persons are able to lead healthy lives. I do not think you can be pro-life about only one thing and anti-life in others. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors—even when our neighbor is an enemy.

In addition, I don't believe that taking a stance for pro-life requires condemnation—especially mean spirited condemnation of those who believe differently. While I stand in one place in principle, I cannot make decisions that require everyone else to live by my principles—I am not they and I do not know their situation. In other words, my pro-life stance does not allow me to say that abortion is always wrong—nor can I insist that no one should ever be allowed to. Jesus entered into personal relationship with folks of every stripe and invited them to be better than they were; still does that. By drawing the kind of hard lines so many of us draw about acceptable and unacceptable behavior—how is that inviting people into relationship with Jesus?

I’m also confused about the health care debate. Anything that extends health coverage to the most people should not be a political debate; really, for anyone’s neediness to be devalued and ignored and not served seems to me be essentially not Christian. Even Jesus had to be corrected about this—by a woman seeking control over her own body. People in need are people in need (Jesus interrupted just about anything that he was doing to respond to need); to reduce human neediness to political agenda is wrong.

I’m also confused about the education debate. Anything that helps anyone grow in ability to live in this world in meaningful and skillful ways should not be the subject of political debate. We spend untold billions on death; we spend so little on helping people become better people. I do not mean to suggest that the solution to the crisis in public school education can be solved simply with more money. Frankly, I think much of the struggle in our public school system today is because Christians have abandoned them. What sense does it make to remove Christians from some of the neediest places on earth?

I’m also confused about the anger and meanness that flows through conversations about homosexuality. When Jesus told us to love our enemies and love the stranger and take care of our neighbor, I don’t think he was suggesting that we could somehow pick and choose. All persons are valuable. All persons are image bearers. All persons are loved by God. All. Other than the religious leaders of his day—the hard liners who were grateful that they were better than everyone else, especially women—Jesus had only acceptance and welcome and health, even (or especially) when it invited condemnation and accusation. How can we be otherwise—regardless of what we might believe about sexual identity and orientation.

I’m also confused about how we work so hard to exclude people from our country. I remember the day that I realized that on my father’s side of the family, I’m first generation American. My Dad was an immigrant. Actually, so was my Mom’s family, just more generations back. I think we allow our fears to dominate us and create these fences to protect ourselves, creating some sort of false security. Jesus invites us to consider our neighbor—and defines neighbor in the most inclusive terms. Recently in class we were talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan and thinking about the usual stuff. Then, inspiration struck, and I asked: what are we not told? What we are not told is who the man in the gutter is—we know nothing about him but the circumstances of his immediate situation. He is robbed, beaten, left for dead, and naked. He could be anyone, a student said; yes, I said: anyone. That’s pretty inclusive; not much basis there for excluding anyone from the definition of neighbor: the person in need.

Well, I’m sure this will create some kind of debate and that persons out there, even some of the ones who know me well, will dismiss this as Arthur’s usual weirdness. This is stuff, however, that will not leave me alone. I simply mean to invite my Christian friends to spend more time paying attention to Jesus, quit asking what he would do, start asking what he did do—and work really hard at adjusting your political agenda to be one that expresses what Christians say in church about our loving and forgiving and gracious God.

I know that won’t happen because many of you already think that’s what you are doing; so, my final request is this: please quit the meanness!


  1. thank you for this arthur -- i too am confused by the "Christian" response on some of these issues. i don't understand the rationale behind the meanness exhibited by people who claim to follow Jesus. we don't have to agree on everything, but we should be able to disagree without becoming hateful.

  2. I disagree with most of your arguments, but love the passion for Jesus. You're obviously a Thomas Friedman fan.