Ah, the elections are over.  Some people are happy, some are not.  I, for one, am happy — not because the people I voted for got elected (they didn’t), but that we will not be subjected to the petty, spiteful, disrespectful, spurious, un-true/half-true, patronizing, attacking ads anymore.  I cannot remember in recent years so many ads that both attacked the opponent AND insulted my intelligence.  It was as if the candidates and their public relations handlers counted on the ignorance and gullibility of the viewing audience.  “So-and-so has been in office the past two years — therefore he/she is responsible for all that happened.”  Please tell me that no one actually confuses correlative reality with causal fact.  I have often been hired to mediate disputes that got worse after I arrived.  No one was ever silly enough to blame me for the escalated tension.  People elected just two years ago inherited an incredible mess.  There is no way they should shoulder the blame — either for the mess or for not cleaning up in two years what took over ten years to create.

Ah, but this is human nature (fallen human nature, but human nature nonetheless).  How many times in our churches do we encounter a problem decades in the making that we lay at the current pastor’s feet?  How frequently do we allow bad behaviors to go unchecked for years, then act all surprised when problems pop up?  In a culture tolerant of anti-social behavior, we cannot be surprised when it permeates our churches as well.  Of course, we could do something about it… if we wanted to.  But we don’t seem to want to.  We are allowing the church and the whole Christian faith to be reinterpreted for us by popular culture and media pundits.  Case in point: socialism.

With growing amazement I followed the rhetoric about “socialist” government.  Someone, somewhere, sometime noted that egalitarian care for all is a tenet of socialism, so therefore any government involvement in “universal” anything must be socialist.  Someone, somewhere, sometime noted that care for the poor and marginalized is viewed as a moral imperative in socialism, so any focus on “immigration reform” that is framed in terms of justice or compassion must be socialist.  Socialism as a form of government is a complex and convoluted beast, and it defies simple acceptance or rejection; as a philosophy it becomes even more complex — especially for Christians.  Setting aside the politics and disallowing corrupted examples of bad socialist governments for a moment, Christians are faced with a disconcerting truth — regardless of what Glenn Beck might say to the contrary, there is a whole lot more socialism than capitalism in the gospels.  Social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus.  It gets even worse with Paul.

Once political parties usurp concepts and twist them for their own purposes, we get into some messy problems.  The teachings of Jesus really don’t belong to any “ism” and shame on us for allowing them to be mis-appropriated by a secular culture that doesn’t understand or respect them.  There has been virtually nothing “social” about any of the political discourse this season.  A misunderstanding and misapplication of “socialism” to our current situation doesn’t make the statements true.  (Swimming in a duck pond doesn’t automatically make you a duck; caring for the poor and marginalized doesn’t automatically make you a bleeding-heart liberal socialist… believe me; all my conservative friends working in homeless shelters and at soup kitchens HATE the assumption when it is made about them!)

We’re standing in a very dangerous place.  When we allow the secular culture to state that care for the poor, love of the stranger, responsibility for the widow and orphan, visiting the prisons, etc., are part of a negative agenda it spells trouble.  We cannot let being like Jesus and doing the will of God be reframed as a political agenda.  No more can we allow “values” to be ascribed to one political party over another.  Our political passions cannot overrule our common sense and our faith.  It breaks my heart that justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, economic equity, and basic sharing have all been stained by political posturing.

Socialist?  Not socialist?  Republican?  Democrat?  (Green?  Independent?  Sky-blue pink?)  None of this really matters if the only way we can relate is in a decidedly “anti-social” manner.  Unless our faith is great enough to allow us to set aside political differences, the healing work of Christ simply won’t happen.  I think of Paul’s statement in Ephesians that Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility, then I think of some very ugly disputes I have witnessed recently in our churches as well as in our political arenas.  Folks, we have to stop following along like sheep and start leading.  Just because the rest of the world gets mired in senseless debate doesn’t mean we have to.  Just because the rest of the world divides itself into self-righteous winners and losers doesn’t mean we have to.  Just because the rest of the world resorts to insult, disrespect, slander, half-truth, innuendo, intimidation, and violence doesn’t mean we have to.  No, we need to model a different way — a better way.  Some might try to label it (something like “socialism) as a way to dismiss it.  But saying something doesn’t automatically make it so.  What we need is to strive to be like Christ, together, and not be overly concerned what labels might be applied.  And maybe if we can begin to offer a better way, others might follow us for a change.

43 replies

  1. Jeff:

    Now I’m confused.

    What lines have I drawn? Please be specific, citing words that I have used.

    What side have I chosen? Please be specific, citing words that I have used.

    What finger have I pointed at whom? Please be specific, citing words that I have used.
    Admittedly, there is a fine line between “finger pointing” and presenting an opposing viewpoint in a discussion where hypocrisy is alleged. I really don’t want to come off as “finger pointing,” but I can understand how someone can come to that conclusion. I’ve really tried (obviously unsuccessfully) to not come off as a heckler. I’ll try harder.

    I believe that I have merely stated that I completely agree with Dan’s point, but am concerned with the manner that he has communicated it (of which I cited examples from the article), a manner in which I believe is reasonable to understand how some could interpret as partisanship debate, as opposed to spiritually lead dialogue about complex/controversial political issues.

    I apologize to you and/or anyone else if I have offended you, as it was not my intent to do so. I sincerely believe that Dan’s article delivers an important message, but from my world view (which I do not claim to be right, nor accurate, it is simply my world view) is hypocritical in its delivery.

    You stated that you were confused by my original comments. In good faith, I attempted to clarify my points for you and others, hoping that you may gain understanding (not necessarily agreement, but understanding) of how the language in the article (not the point of the article) could be interpreted or misinterpreted by some people, even though they agree with the premise. If that has not occurred, then I am willing to continue to try, but your last post comes off as cynical and somewhat mean-spirited. Was that your intention? If so, I’ll move on, considering that my contributions to this discussion may be moving people away from the very thing that I believe Dan is attempting to circumvent.

    • You have been very cordial with all your comments. You have nothing to apologize for. Best regards and may you all who have participated in this discuss always,
      Rest In Him,

      • P.S. It’s good to know that your annual conference has one as well spoken as yourself to serve as a delegate. I’m sure that you’re a tremendous asset to your congregation as you seem to be an excellent voice of reason. Perhaps, someday we local pastors will not have to resign our voice in our annual conferences when as members we follow God’s call enter ministry.

  2. David: You need to reread the article. It states very clearly that all parties have been culpable, that this cannot be laid at one sides feet, that everyone has to take responsibility. The bias isn’t that there aren’t sides, but that only being willing to see one side and accuse the other side of bias is. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the author is left-leaning — he says it all the time. Praising someone for “revealing the author’s left-sided bias” is like congratulating someone for uncovering that Jesus was a Jew. Good work. What burns me up is that you act like you are speaking for more than just your own tiny, narrow perspective. I, personally, am a died-in-the-wool Republican and I am very proud of it. I have never voted for anyone but Republicans. I also am in health care and I believe it is a basic human right to access to affordable coverage. When small-minded people reframe this position as political it makes me very angry, and when people label me a liberal I want to scream. Health care for all (and believe me, I think what we have come up with is far from perfect) is not about politics. It isn’t socialism, it is basic human decency. It isn’t a liberal plot. It is paying attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It isn’t a topic for debate. It is basic human values — do you love your neighbor or not. This is the kind of discussion we can no longer have in this country because everything bogs down in politics and senseless debate — which is the point of this article. You aren’t pointing out the problem; you are the problem, and you are EXACTLY the people that make this article necessary.

    • Thanks, Karen. Like you, most of my Republican friends (mainly church people, since that’s who I work with) find themselves with a foot in two worlds. Living the gospel with integrity isn’t a political decision for most of them, but a spiritual one. It breaks their hearts when their faith is usurped for political purposes and their commitments to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the prisoner, and care for the sick and marginalized is disrespectfully reduced to an “ism.” The tragedy of the political and media agendas that tied narrowly-defined faith and values to one particular party is that it pretends a very complex reality is simple “either/or.” We are lulled into simplistic thinking that ALL Republicans think one way or that ALL Democrats behave another. The labels get us nowhere. I don’t tend to vote party, but platform, and because of my background in Economics, I am generally more swayed by the integrity of eceonomic policy more than foreign and domestic policy. Sound economics impresses me everytime, and sadly we haven’t seen sound economic thinking from any party for quite some time. Bottom line: be who you are, and when you feel you are living out the gospel with integrity, don’t worry about what others say. At the end of the day you can hold your head up and say, “I’m not liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. I’m just a faithful child of God!”

  3. Overlooking the obtuse responses of just a couple readers, this is an excellent insight. People do have opinions. People do disagree. People are passionate about their politics. And people have forgotten the art of civil communication. I have seen virtually no articles that place responsibility at everyone’s feet equally. You are offering something very rare here. Ironically, you are being attacked and defended by people identifying themselves with with Republican right. Why the defensiveness? You have a clear liberal asking for reconciliation and rising above differences, so instead of responding to the invitation you try to discredit him by labeling him left-leaning. You question his motives — projecting your own? Step back and see what others are seeing. Bobby, David, you really are proving his point more fully each time you speak.

    • Once again, I thank you for your support. However, also once again, I note the gauntlet being thrown down, the challenging tone, the scoring of points. I hear that Bob and David have very different opinions than I do and that because they perceive a bias, it closes down their ability to enter open conversation. Whether this bias is on my side or theirs is the open question, and the one that seems to spark the response that they are “proving my point for me.” However, both men are entitled to their feelings and opinions. My point is that we have to transcend these differences and work harder at overcoming the very real conflicting points of view, but when people can’t, I understand that as well. They keep coming back (now to defend themselves, which is too bad) and staying in the conversation, which I find to be the most hopeful thing of all.

    • It is difficult for many Christians in general to be caught between three opposing forces:
      1) scripture that commands us to care for the least of these,
      2) political principles that reject government solutions, and
      3) economic facts showing that the most effective, efficient, and tried-and-true solutions to universal care involve government.

      You cannot hold all three to be true.

    • You are correct, Dan’s point has been proven repeatedly throughout this discussion, and likewise, the discussion has been rich with irony.

      If my comments have been uncivil, I apologize. Please (really) cite words that I have used that are uncivil, so that I can understand where I am doing harm in my communication.

      A person’s political preference does not do them credit or discredit them, it’s not a factor to determine right or wrong. My central point (again) with Dan’s article is in how he communicated a message that I completely agree with. Unfortunately, there is no mention (other than by myself) of our mutual agreements within the discussion.
      I simply felt that the language used in communicating the message was divisive, based upon my worldview.

      It is also unfortunate that people come to the conclusion that if one does not conclude that the best way to solve the problems of our society is their way, that the opposition is feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etc., rather than the method in doing so.

      I am looking in the mirror when I make may statements, to see how my comments may apply to myself. Dan has attempted to have others recognize that what they are saying (and how they are saying it) is contributing to the problem. I try to be careful with my choice of words. As we all know, words can cut deep, which brings me back to the point I’ve raised about the article.

      I’m not sure if progress is being made here or not. What do you think Dan?

  4. If health care or any thing else for that matter is a basic right then it also means that someone somewhere is obligated to provide it. If this obligation is forced upon us via taxation or then it becomes subject to debate. All public expenditures are debateable since we do not live in a dictatorship. Debate is essential not senseless.
    If we have to threaten people to live out the gospel of Jesus are we really living out the gospel of Jesus?

  5. Two Questions:

    If I believe in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the prisoner, and caring for the sick by means of only government solutions, does that equate to me living out the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    If I believe in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the prisoner, and caring for the sick by means other than government solutions, does that equate to me not living out the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    • Mr. Lindsey,
      You have added much to this discussion into which you were invited. The few comments that I have made have been supportive of the points you have made. We both agree with the author’s basic point, but disagree with with the tone in which he framed it. You spelled this out in very respectful and detailed terms in an earlier post. It seems that some are offended that others would agree with you that the author’s debatable assertions in the his first few paragraphs undermine the point that we agree with him about. That is, his opinions were alienating. However, I’ve quickly learned that respectful disagree with the author cannot be tolerated in this forum. Therefore, I am bowing out of this “discussion,” since real dialogue isn’t wanted here. This is a waste of time!

      • David, Dan (and All):

        I’ve accepted that there is nothing that I can communicate within this discussion that will be received as anything but:

        “Uncivil”; “Attacking”; Being “obtuse”; That “I am the problem”; I’m “intolerant of opinions that do not support my own”; I’m “drawing lines, choosing sides, and pointing fingers”; I’m “only willing to see one side”; That anyone that agrees with me has a “tiny, narrow perspective”; That we are “small-minded”; and finally, being accused of not wanting to help those in need, and not “living out the gospel of Jesus Christ” because we do not agree with a particular approach to addressing basic human needs of others. These are incredible, breathtaking statements and accusations made by people of faith, within a discussion centered on a call to civil discourse in a Christian community.

        I am so sorry to anyone if I have made them feel the things that I have felt in the sting of some of these responses. I recognize now that my own initial response to the article may have been too hard hitting to be received by some. As I have opined my skepticism with Dan about his use of language in delivery, upon further review, I regret my own initial choice of words to make my point, so I take responsibility for what has occurred here.

        Dan’s article stated: “Just because the rest of the world resorts to insult, disrespect, slander, half-truth, innuendo, intimidation, and violence doesn’t mean we have to. No, we need to model a different way — a better way.”

        Being a new lay member of our church to Annual Conference for the past two years, I believed that our efforts focused on “Holy Conferencing” and “Community in Conversation” were genuine, and served as a model or framework for necessary, courageous conversation, as both of those experiences addressed the “how” we communicate as people of faith. With that in mind, unfortunately, no one seems to have heard my message about the “how” Dan’s article could come across to some. In my failure to convey this effectively, I fear that I have unintentionally lulled people into a form of secular-based journalistic combat, and truthfully, I am more than stunned by what has transpired here. Participation has been more difficult than I have been willing to admit thus far. I’ve learned a painful lesson, and therefore I submit.

        I go back to my original post regarding my communication with my pastor and my faith in the UMC. Issues related to politics (such as illustrated within this discussion) being but one of several reasons. If I am misguided in my thoughts, I pray that God will open my eyes to things that I cannot see as others do, or give me the strength to speak to the thoughts that He would have me convey, and that I live to fulfill whatever purpose he may have. I will continue to pray for us all, as I hope that you will all do for me.

        God’s blessings to everyone.

    • If I believe in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the prisoner, and caring for the sick by means of only government solutions, does that equate to me living out the gospel of Jesus Christ?

      No. But I have never met a single Christian who believes in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, etc. only through “government solutions.” Those who believe that government has a role to play or who regard the government as a valuable partner or resource almost without exception also see the value in private acts of charity and compassion. Most of the people I know who believe that the government can help meet these needs also invest their time, money, energy, and abilities into church ministries that reach out to persons that are vulnerable.

      No Christian should expect the government to do the work of the kingdom. And few (if any) do. But many Christians, who are also voters and citizens, would like their government’s policies to complement kingdom priorities.

  6. Time for the rubber to meet the road, and perhaps find another venue. Government at all levels will be doing less. Set aside any political or value judgment of that assertion. What more must the Body of Christ do? How can it be done with less, or no money? (Macroeconomicly speaking, I’ve always wrestled with “Where does money come from?”. Now I have to add “Where did the money go?”) It might be a blessing in disguise. Instead of throwing money at the education problem, for example, should we be throwing time, talent, love, and the Holy Spirit at it? The poor will always be with us, so eliminating poverty can’t be an answer. How do we eliminate the suffering poverty brings? How do we throw time, talent, love, and the Holy Spirit, and maybe non-monetary treasure, at the issues of shelter, food, clothing, health care, child care, and human dignity?

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