It has been nearly a month since the conclusion of one of the most contentious presidential elections in history. According to conventional wisdom, the razor thin close race tipped in favor of George W. Bush largely thanks to so-called "values voters."
One of the main themes besides the big issues of the day such as Iraq and the economy that has deeply divided the electorate is what many refer to as the "culture war", a term used to define the deep chasm between the two camps with diametrically opposed views on issues with strong moral overtones.
I generally tend to line up with my fellow evangelical Christians behind conservative politicians who have strong views against abortion and the agenda promoted by gay lobby groups. One pastor once lamented that "if God does not judge America for her sins, He will owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah!"
But upon closely examining the range of issues put forth by my fellow evangelical Christians over the years, I've come to be rather intrigued and disillusioned by a certain disturbing pattern I see in what and how we promote them. For example, the two most prominent issues showcased in the pamphlets from the Traditional Values Coalition and the Christian Coalition are abortion and homosexuality.
Why do those two issues in particular eclipse almost all others whenever conservative Christians talk of morals? They are certainly not the two most dominant topics in the Bible and America is plagued with a lot more moral problems than those two.
Then there is another pattern in American politics that has also mystified me. The media may lead you to believe, with the accusations of eroding the separation of church and state, that only conservative Christians (read the Religious Right) promote political issues with strong moral overtones.
That is simply not true. Christians with liberal leanings are traditionally almost as active in politics as conservative Christians are. A case in point: Jesse Jackson, who regularly invokes God and the Bible to promote the politics of demand supposedly for the poor and racial justice, is an icon of the Democratic Party. One cannot run for office as a Democrat without paying homage to Mr. Jackson. Throughout the 60's, political activists affiliated with mainline denominations stormed into Washington to actively advocate Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," setting off in motion an unprecedented expansion of the welfare state.
So why are Christians who claim to believe in the same Savior and the Bible polarized into two diametrically opposed camps?
The answer to the question began to emerge from Jerry Falwell's infamous statement made only two days after 9/11.
"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen"
The timing of his statement was distasteful, but what particularly perturbed me was his shameless selectivity. Why did he call out just "the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, and the gays"? Strangely omitted were transgressions often associated with people with conservative leanings: materialism, greed, racism, disregard for the poor, to name a few.
Then we have Jesse Jackson and Co. who regularly rant about racism, bigotry and homophobia while entirely ignoring the massacre of innocents and the gay agenda.
What is clear is that each side has cherrypicked a set of "favorite" moral issues not necessarily based on conviction, but rather on convenience.
Racism for example, is a very comfortable and convenient issue for Jesse Jackson to rant against since he and most of his followers see themselves as victims of racism, and seldom as perpetrators (one popular belief from the Left tells us that racism is exclusively a "white problem." This has to be one of most ethically and morally bankrupt notions ever to pervade our nation.)
But to Jerry Falwell and to evangelical Christians, racism is a rather uncomfortable topic of discussion. Sadly, most in the Evangelical community were either silent or, in Mr. Falwell's case, actively fought to maintain the status quo during the height of the civil rights movement in the 60's. And very rarely do my fellow evangelical Christians most of whom lead very comfortable lives in suburbs discuss the plight of the poor, even though for every Bible verse condemning homosexuality, there are probably dozens advocating justice for the poor.
One of my favorite parables told by Jesus involves two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
As a public service to those of you who slept through Sunday School, the Pharisees were members of an elite religious sect known for their strict adherence to the code of conduct spelled out in the Mosaic Law. They were widely regarded as the epitome of religious righteousness and scholastic prestige.
Jesus was unimpressed.
And that is an understatement of historic proportions as evident in his blistering public tirades ("brood of vipers," "hypocrites," "children of the devil") and countless testy and acrimonious exchanges. Jesus' audacity to be unimpressed and his unrelenting defiance eventually culminated in his death on the cross orchestrated by the Pharisees in the commission of the most heinous crime in history.
Hence no love was lost when Jesus used the Pharisee as the villian in the parable according to which, the Pharisee, wallowing in self-righteousness and piety prayed the following prayer.
"God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector"
Similar Rhetoric can be heard from all across the spectrum today.
From the Right, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: feminists, homosexuals, abortionists, ACLU members, secularists, evolutionists ...
And from the Left: "God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: racists, war mongers, greedy capitalists, polluters, homophobes, bigots..
But the tax collector, the parable says, 'would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."'
The story ends with a stunning conclusion:
I tell you, this man, rather than the other went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.God, have mercy on us, sinners.