Saturday, March 21, 2009

A message to my conservative friends

Those of you who subscribe to a conservative ideological agenda and have tangled with me over the years probably consider me unnecessarily argumentative and unwilling to back down. I'm sure you look at me funny and think, "How can someone who calls himself a Christian believe what he does? Doesn't he believe in Christian unity? Doesn't he understand that we're only fighting for Biblical values?"

Well, there's a specific reason why I get in people's faces. Aside from my basic disagreements with the conservative agenda, mentioned elsewhere on this blog, there's another issue: My upbringing -- more specifically, my earthly father.

You see, I was raised by a man with no real moral center and who believed that life was about meeting his needs, refusing to deal with folks wouldn't feed his ego and convinced he was always right. Deeply resentful toward people whom he feel wronged him, he subscribed to the wisdom of the world, that you should make as much money as you can as soon as you can regardless of any calling or spiritual commitment and whom you hurt in the process -- in short, he was, in practice, a Marxist who subscribed to the Machiavellian principle "the ends justify the means." When I first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a pre-teen it was certainly a distinctive message from what I was hearing at home. And when I did respond just before graduating from high school nearly 30 years ago, it was for that reason: I wanted something different from what I realized was the nonsense I grew up with.

Less than a year later I saw my first deviation -- the following January, while a student at Georgia Tech, in an independent evangelical church in an Atlanta suburb I attended with other students. The pastor before then had been recuperating from major surgery and had been out of the pulpit for several months; when he returned he started preaching conservative politics from the pulpit, especially against the Soviet Union, and punctuating each point with Hebrews 12:29, "[F]or our 'God is a consuming fire.'" At that time the church publicized an anti-Equal Rights Amendment rally (I was an ERA supporter) and improperly endorsed then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan (consider when this was and who was in office at the time). My spirit became uneasy because this didn't sound like the Christ I had pledged to follow, but it would take just one visit to a downtown church just off campus, where I ended up staying, to understand just what the problem was.

You see, there was no love in the first church -- for Christ, people or God's creation. It was all about fear about losing privileges, power, position -- the very opposite of Jesus' good news to me. And looking back now, the second church was warm and nurturing, while the first church was kind of cold. Just like my household.

Dad also had considerable racial resentment as well; I can't tell you how many times he used to refer to the "white man" -- of course, in a negative fashion -- which also began to turn me off. Granted, there were historical injustices perpetrated on African-Americans and I would later learn the specifics; however, growing up I had become an admirer of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- whom Dad didn't care for -- who decided to choose a different path, and I later became an early advocate of racial reconciliation in the evangelical church. (Oh, those two churches in Atlanta were white.)

That said, I would eventually learn that the ideological right has had its own issues with race and racism that it has never faced. In an interview with the New Yorker, Pat Buchanan, than an aide to President Nixon (whose whole political career was based on resentment), related a 1971 memo in which he recommended, among other things, that "bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country ... We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention" because doing so could help to "cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

Reagan, however, would bring that to a whole new level, as he would ride some of those anti-black resentments all the way to the White House. Indifferent to the civil-rights movement and dismissive of King, during his 1976 campaign he referred to "welfare queens driving Cadillacs" and kicked off his 1980 campaign in Neshoba County, Miss., near where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, stating that he favored "states' rights" (read: "I would have opposed desegregation"). In fact, his "big government" shtick actually had a racist tinge to it, as guess who was perceived as benefiting from it? That pandering to racists might explain his endorsement from a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, saying that "the Republican platform could have been written by a Klansman." That's why I'm not a Republican.

But I digress. Anyway, in August of 1983 Mom, fed up with Dad's tyranny and fatigued by fruitless attempts to change the situation, decided to leave the marriage. Dad tried desperately to get her back but wouldn't change his outlook or way of dealing with things, so Mom filed for divorce, which was finalized in January of 1985. (She would later marry a more solid, stable man I referred to in another entry.) But even then he refused to humble himself and admit his failings; he remained resentful toward her to his death in 1993 from complications of his alcoholism.

What's the conservative analogy? Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

According to David Brock's book "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," conservative activists went so far as to file suit in Federal court in Little Rock, Ark. in 1992 to have Clinton removed from the ballot -- because they knew he would probably win. And all during his presidency the political right, especially its media, hounded him, sabotaging his program and spreading unsubstantiated rumors about his corruption. Eight years later, after having failed to knock off Bill, they decided they needed to sabotage his wife, Sen. Hillary, then the junior U.S. senator from New York, on her road to the White House; a number of folks I talked to said that they would cross over to the Democratic primary to support Obama to keep her out. It never occurred to them that Obama would himself become a viable candidate.

There's a saying, however, that "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Two years ago the Washington Times published a story with the false assertion that Obama had attended a radical Muslim seminary in Indonesia, and a number of people also filed suit to have Obama removed because of questions about his citizenship -- again, because they knew he could win. It was the political equivalent of getting back at a rival for "stealing his girl" -- never mind that she willingly left with him.

And there's still considerable resentment over Obama's victory -- I chided a man at dinner a couple of months ago for blaming the media for trashing vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the campaign; he became angry when I told him that she didn't need their help. There's also a Facebook group called "Nobama in '12" -- they're not even going to give him a chance?

One more personal note: Just weeks before my parents split I read the wedding announcement of a woman I had desired in high school. That situation, of which I'll spare you the details, was quite acrimonious to say the least, and for quite some time I blamed her for that.

But after Mom left the LORD spoke to me, saying, "Consider your part." You see, He showed me that the dynamics between her and me were similar to my parents' marriage, which I already knew why had failed. Also reeling from the trauma of flunking out of school for the second time, I went into counseling, began attending 12-step recovery programs and fell in with a group of people who helped me get back on my feet. After years of healing I extended her an olive branch and we later apologized to each other; we're still in touch even though we'll never be close friends. (I can honestly say I harbor no bitterness toward her today.)

You see, it was through that experience that God revealed to me the depth of my sin. Because I had already believed in Jesus Christ I knew intellectually that it was already forgiven; that said, sin was still affecting my life in ways I wasn't aware of at the time. Because I've worked through all that in my own life, I see that in others.

My situation reminds me of a rumor I heard about one of my favorite music groups -- I don't know for sure this is true, so I won't identify it -- that had fired a talented newer member for being high on stage. Members of this band, like many others, had previously abused drugs and alcohol but eventually came to their senses and were not about to tolerate something like that again in their presence. In the same way, having dealt with my own issues, I recognize hatred, resentment and bigotry when I see it. So if you want to be that way ... don't do it around me.

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