Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Moral Selectivity

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.

10 Comments:

At December 01, 2004 9:25 AM, Blogger Jenn said...

Great insight, David! I heartily agree with your viewpoint. To be completely honest, I had never really thought about it till now. I towed the "party" line and thought only of the immorality of the other camp, hardly imaging that as a republican, I support capitalism and all the immorality that goes with it (or even drives it).
Great post!

 
At December 01, 2004 8:24 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jenn. I too used to tow the party line even to the point of unnecessarily alienating some people. How can I be more like the tax collector is what I should be asking myself.

As to capitalism, it is a tough one. I am alarmed to see the Republican Party aligning itself with Big Business interests. Big Business to me is just slightly less undesirable than Big Government. Pat Buchanan has a lot of interesting things to say about that. It's too bad that he has a racist reputation, which I think is really unfortunate.

 
At December 02, 2004 7:28 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

David,

I hope you don't mind, but I drifted on over to your blog by following the link for this post that you left on Stephanie's It's the End of the World... blog.

I love this post. Understand, however, that I am a non-religious homosexual, so of course your views regarding a "gay agenda" don't sit terribly well with me. But this is America, and we're a land of diverse opinions, so live and let live.

At any rate, the thesis of your post is what I really appreciate. As a gay man, I feel constantly under attack in this country, and while I'm open to others having different viewpoints than my own, what absolutely galls me is when they use a religious text such as The Bible for the source of their views yet, as you say, selectively condemn.

I would think that a super-majority of Americans probably view divorce as a bad thing. The Bible certainly didn't have very good things to say about it. Yet there is no pressing amendment to ban divorce. This, of course, is because even though most folks believe divorce to be a bad thing (or an sad event), they can't be 100% certain that it might not crop up in their lives at some point. Whereas most people are faily certain what sexuality they are, and as homosexuals are a small minority, then the condemnation can run rampant.

At least, that's how I view it.

Thank you for letting me babble away in your comments section. We may not agree on certain issues, but it's refreshing to hear a religious conservative take exception to the current moral selectivity that permeates many of today's moral arguments.

Thank you, and take care.

 
At December 02, 2004 8:07 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

Matt,

You made my day! Thank you so much for your kind words.

What you say about divorce is absolutely true. It has done FAR MORE damage to our family structure than gays will ever have. It's not even close, but yet the evangelical community goes after the gay community with a vengeance. Did you know that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians is slightly higher than that of the general population?

Thank you again.

 
At December 02, 2004 12:34 PM, Blogger Ontario Emperor said...

I got here via Estephania, and believe that many religious people are being lured into silly secular political games, forgetting that Christ spans all people, Jew or Greek, Republican or Democrat, Constitution or Green.

There's also another thing that is of no concern to non-Christians (or other non-believers), but is of a concern to me - namely, that people who are doing things for religious reasons often end up allying with people that do not share their faith, and then get more caught up in the cause than in the dictates of their god.

I'll name two examples. Take your average "moral majority"-type group, which judges all politicians by their important issues -- abortion, gay marriage, and school vouchers. If you look at the membership of such a group, you may find a number of Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians in the group. In accordance with Christian teaching (I am the Way), the beliefs of these people are flawed. Now I have no problem in taking political action with non-Christians, but I do this with the understanding that any "moral majority" movement is of extremely miniscule importance compared to my salvation. In other words, don't skip Bible study to attend a political rally.

Now let's look at the other side of the political spectrum and take your average "moral" group which focuses on ITS main issues -- free health care for illegal aliens, a reduction in the U.S. defense budget, and higher taxes for millionaires. Again, any Christian moved by his/her faith to join this group will be aligned with Unitarians, Buddhists, New Agers, and who knows what else, and again may get caught up in the cause while ignoring the dictates of God.

I spent the month of November ruminating on issues of faith and politics. Three examples:

http://oemperor.blogspot.com/2004/11/lets-use-loaded-word-crusade.htmlhttp://oemperor.blogspot.com/2004/11/dean-kerry-bush-and-religion-from-mara.htmlhttp://oemperor.blogspot.com/2004/11/meanwhile-christian-palestinians.html

 
At December 03, 2004 12:11 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Hey Dave, You have some great, well-reasoned arguments. I mean, I know that you and I don't come down on the same side all the time (sort of the nature of the game, I guess), but I like that we can both express our views and still be friends. Also, I like that you have tried to do something very hard: to look objectively at both sides of the issue. When I was in speech, we were told that the best way to defend 'your side' of an argument was to be able to effectively defend 'the other side'. Nice job!

 
At December 17, 2004 8:07 PM, Blogger Jenny said...

Dave, I'm sorry that I haven't seen this post sooner. It is very thought provoking! As I continue to mature and grow older and learn to think and look critically at our world and society, I wonder why we let these issues sneak into politics.

See, I guess I am learning/observing that economics is probably the most important thing when talking about governments, nations, etc. And I guess as I realize more and more how everything sorta boils down to economics, why are we letting these other issues become a HUGE deal in comparison to the actual credentials/experience that is needed for a president? It just doesn't make sense to me.

 
At May 21, 2005 6:54 PM, Blogger Max said...

David,

Great thoughts on issues that effect us all on both sides of the border. Things aren't much different up here in Canada.

I've actually had this very subject on my mind lately and picked this post to read because of the title. I wasn't disappointed.

I believe that people matter most. Christ continually showed us this in the people he chose to spend time with and the various characters highlighted in accounts in the first four books of the New Testament. He was definetly politically incorrect. He offended those in power and befriended all who were on the fringes of acceptability.

I continually reflect on my interactions with the people I meet and try to see each one as Jesus might have. He managed to cut to the very core of each person he met. He knew what drove them and found a way to challenge them to consider their relationship with their Creator. I know I still have a long way to go.

It has to stop being about who is right.

It must become all about the fact that each person matters. Every person has great value and can be redeemed. This is, after all, why Christ came.

 
At August 01, 2005 12:00 PM, Blogger Sharp said...

Thanks, David. You so hit the nail on the head. And it's great to know there's at least one other person who feels just as frustrated with fellow evangelicals. I have a related opinion about Christians and social policy at my blog: http://carryabigstick.blogspot.com/2005/07/jesus-and-gop.html

 
At November 05, 2005 7:43 PM, Blogger A thinker said...

You are so right on, David. Couldn't have put it better. . .

 

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