Friends: this is a political post. In it, I am attempting to discuss real issues and to share a portion of my heart. It may be that we disagree on some of these things. If you don’t want to disagree with me, then don’t read it. If you’re nervous about a political conversation, then stop reading. If, however, you would like to engage in some conversation about what it means to seek to be a faithful Christian living in the USA in 2012, then here’s some of what I think. And then you can let me know some of what you think. And maybe we’ll help each other see some truth in a new light. Or maybe we’ll disagree. I hope that if that’s the case, we’re disagreeing on different ways of seeing things through the eyes of faith, rather than disagreeing on each other’s worth as human beings. I do not take the opportunity to write lightly, and am honored that you think enough of me to want to take a look – even if you wind up thinking that I am wrong.
I should note that unlike most posts this is NOT a sermon that I preached. These are thoughts that I had whilst sitting in my easy chair. If you were here, maybe we could talk them through. But I’m not preaching.
The other day at our church retreat, they put me in charge of the “mixers”. Games! I love to play games, and I love to get folks laughing and just enjoying time together. It was a great event. Mostly.
I thought it would be funny if I had games that were mildly politically inspired (soooo mad that I didn’t think of “Barack, Paper, Scissors”). One of the games involved “community organizing”, while the other required participants to wear “mitts”. Yep, I asked the folks to play “Hot Potato”. And, in an effort to get really old school, I actually baked the potatoes prior to the game. That way, they’d really be hot. Get it?
That game started out really, really fun – until one of the participants got a little overzealous and flung the toasty spud towards folk across the circle at a rather high rate of speed. Rather than step forward and corral the errant projectile, the three people in range all stepped back as if to say, “I know you didn’t mean that for me!” Without anyone to catch it, the potato landed on the floor – and because it was warm and soft and mushy, turned into a mashed potato. Not nearly as much fun, for the purposes of this game.
So you see what happened – those who were playing the game ended up doing so with such ferocity that the very object necessary for the game (the hot potato itself) was destroyed.
For some reason, I thought about that when I saw that Billy Graham, or more likely, some bright chap at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Inc., bought full-page newspaper ads urging Americans to “vote for biblical values on November 6”. Among those values the BGEA would like us to support with our ballots are the sanctity of life, the “biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman”, and support for the nation of Israel.
I intend to vote with a particular eye towards the sanctity of life. And, at the risk of making this a hot potato that could result in a lot of scalding goop all over me, I’m going to share that with any who are still reading.
A recent study at Washington University in St. Louis demonstrated that access to quality insurance, including long-acting birth control methods that are often deemed “too expensive” for the poor, reduced the rate of unplanned pregnancies by a huge margin. In fact, the abortion rate amongst study participants was 62% – 78% lower than the national average. Yet many candidates who proudly call themselves “pro-life” are opposed to providing this sort of coverage – even when it shows incredible promise in the area of reducing abortions.
Another area where the sanctity of life is almost never mentioned is in any discussion about the proliferation of firearms in the US. Since 1933, when we started keeping records of gun deaths, more than 1.7 million Americans have been killed by gunshots. Between 1979 and 1997, more Americans died as a result of gunfire than were killed in battle in all the wars we’ve fought in since the Revolution (more than 650,000). The gun lobby has convinced us that having guns makes us safe – yet that illusion of safety has created a thirst for power and control that has become idolatrous. Former NRA Executive Warren Cassidy did his best to give the idols of power and deadly force what they most need, a claim of divine status. He said “you would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you approached us as if you are approaching one of the great religions of the world” (see America And Its Guns: A Theological Expose). Yet not many candidates have any meaningful ideas about how to reduce the number of people who die so tragically.
This has nothing to do with “the right to bear arms”. It has everything to do with a cadre of people who have convinced us that we live in a terror-filled world and the only way to deal with that is to buy more and better guns. In fact, the Obama presidency has been a cash windfall for the gun industry – sales are up from 40% – 86% for gun manufacturers, and the NRA has more cash on hand than at any time since 2004. As a person committed to the Prince of Peace, the thirst for firearms and the power that they promise makes me very, very sad. In an average year, 3285 American children are killed by guns. If they were being targeted by terrorists, or by a foreign power, or by some religious group – we’d be up in arms (pun intended). Yet we refuse to make meaningful progress in eliminating the trafficking of illegal guns.
Another issue that has a deep connection with the “sanctity of life” is the US budget. Do the candidates you support seek to craft budgets that are sensitive to those who are most at risk from poverty, hunger, and lack of medical care? Or are they more interested in promising an increasingly large piece of the pie to those who are already secure? Are they in favor of budgets that recognize the challenges facing the millions at risk for malnutrition, or poor education, or inadequate housing or infrastructure? Or do the budgets that your candidates intend to craft favor increasing the proportion spent on weaponry and defense (even though the US spends more money for military purposes than do the next thirteen countries in the world combined!)?
And speaking of the military, are Christians in the US likely to support the candidate(s) who are more, or less, likely to involve us in another foreign war? Do we really want to be a part of an Empire that rains death from faceless drones in the sky and sacrifices its brightest and best young people to the idol of cheap oil, to say nothing of the climate of rage and terror that these behaviors so often inspire in the nations upon which we wage war? Do we want to take our gifted and intelligent youth and put them in situations where we train them to kill in lands far from home?
I am well aware that people of faith will disagree on many of these issues. That’s fine. But please, please, please, Billy Graham – do not suppose that there is only one vote that could be considered “biblical.” I am not sure we’ll vote the same way – but as I consider the One whom we both have pledged to serve, I can do no other than to think that my ballot is an opportunity to challenge the idols of our time (power, money, security, nationalism). I remember the path of the One who was willing to walk through, rather than around, Samaria.
It’s a hot potato, all right. Let’s hope that as we throw these issues around, we don’t wind up smearing scalding goop all over each other while losing sight of the main thing: living as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, and trusting his call to serve the last, the lost, the least, and the little.