Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A new strategy to fight abortion

It appears that, at least for now but perhaps permanently, the fight to restrict legal abortion has finally been lost.  Many of us who want to see it banned once again pinned our hopes on a Republican winning the presidency and the Senate but saw them dashed earlier this month, with President Obama decisively winning another term and Democratic representation in the upper chamber increasing.

One thing that was clear to me years ago and I hope others eventually understand:  From the start we've pursued a flawed strategy, which will have to change if we're to make any headway.  Bottom line, today we need to be focused on a "consistent life" approach rather than just focus on ending legal abortion.

Our original mistake was to allow abortion to be deliberately uncoupled from issues of poverty, racism and other forms of social injustice when some of the organizations we supported adopted abortion as its primary moral crusade.  That had the effect of forcing people to choose between supporting candidates who were "pro-life" but failed to address those other issues, leading to massive internal conflict.  (It's how the overwhelmingly anti-abortion African-American community ends up voting much of the time for pro-choice political candidates, such as Barack Obama.)  That's why we end up being accused of "having a love affair with the fetus," as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said about two decades ago.

We also didn't focus very much, if at all, upon the bad relationships between men and women that cause unwanted pregnancy in the first place -- and I don't necessarily mean between a couple, either.  Probably most of the girls who get pregnant in the first place, as well as their mothers, have bad relationships with significant men, often their fathers, and are looking for warmth and nurturing.  What causes those?  Well, way too many factors to say.

Then you had the two Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate who made inappropriate comments about pregnancy and rape, one wrongly suggesting that a woman's body can shake that off and the other saying that pregnancy from rape "is a gift from God."  (On a theological level that may be true, but it's simply not kosher for a politician to say that.)  Both ended up being crushed at the polls after leading their respective races.

I think that, if the anti-abortion movement wants to be viable, it ought to leave the conservative movement and the Republican Party altogether.  Well, isn't the GOP the "party of life?"  Oh, no, it isn't.  Remember that the vast majority of registered Republicans, especially those who aren't Christians, couldn't care less.  (There's a reason you don't see the issue of abortion addressed in conservative secular media.)  Rather, the movement has used the issue to get our votes for the sake of its true agenda:  Political dominance by any means necessary.  But with the GOP on the ropes politically, it's taking us down with it.

Want to be truly "pro-life"?  Then show concern for the environment in which we will have to raise those children.  Air and water pollution, economic injustices, lack of social opportunity -- these things also affect the sanctity of human life.  If we do so we actually might convince others that abortion is indeed a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Misplaced worship

A video clip of a recent remark by actor Jamie Foxx referring to "our Lord and Savior Barack Obama" has been burning up Facebook, to predictable outrage from folks who didn't vote for him.  "He's not the savior of anything," they're sneering.  Of course not, and I don't think either Foxx or the audience who cheered that statement truly believes that, either.

Rather, I think that Foxx was trying to make a point -- recall that his adversaries spent the past four years trying to defeat him by whatever means they deemed necessary and in the process focusing on issues that had nothing to with governance.  And even now people are saying "I fear for my country ... " just because Obama was reelected earlier this month despite their aggressive campaign to keep him from a second term.

Foxx's point?  He was saying to the haters, "You ain't boss here."

Going deeper, too many of us Christians who lean conservative have convinced ourselves that adhering to that agenda was key to our nation's economic and spiritual prosperity when the Scripture doesn't even come close to saying that.  Worse, we have our own demigod, Ronald Reagan, to justify our nostalgia kick, never mind that he paid only lip service to the "culture war" and that his economic policies ultimately resulted in disaster.  Remember that he raised Federal taxes many times more often than he cut them, a sign that "supply-side economics" just didn't work, and -- horrors! -- even cut deals with Democrats.

To this day many Republicans say when they find themselves in a quandary, "What would Ronnie do?", never mind that it was Reagan himself, not the ideology he championed, that was popular.

But we also have become idolatrous in believing that the removal of the folks we consider God's "enemies" (read:  liberals and Democrats) would be efficacious to God's intent.  That we were unable to dislodge Obama and, before him, Bill Clinton from their places of power should give us pause.  But I doubt that it will.

And that's the message that Foxx was trying to deliver.  It's not that Jesus was on his side -- He wasn't on ours, either.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A call for repentance

The 2012 general election proved to be a disaster for Christian culture warriors.  Not only did President Obama, whom they bitterly opposed, win another term but Democrats also picked up seats in the U.S. Senate and -- more ominously -- voters in three more states approved referenda allowing same-gender matrimony.  As can be expected, some of them have called on the nation to repent.

They, however, forget one thing:  Judgment always begins with the household of God -- that is, with His Body, the church.  And before it calls on the nation to repent of its sins, it needs to get its own house in order.  It is my conviction that its failure to address its own sins at least indirectly caused the situation about which they're complaining today.

Let's go through the Ten Commandments to show you what I'm talking about.

1) "You shall have no other gods before Me."  But look at just how many folks have made politics into a god, with folks making statements that God would judge us because we didn't outlaw abortion or send gays back into the closet.  Anyway, there is one thing that God will judge us for -- and (surprise, surprise) it's not those big two.  (I'll get to that later.)

3)  "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God."  So how do we place His name on policies that He never endorsed, even implicitly?

7)  "You shall not steal."  That also includes hope for the poor, which I'll also deal with down the road.

9)  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  If you haven't heard, the gossip about President Obama counts as such.  No, he's not a Muslim or a socialist -- the true socialists will tell you that he's certainly not that -- and he was born in this country.

To their credit, the majority of evangelical churches keep their pulpits politics-free and are not participating in the hand-wringing I referred to earlier.  Now, this is not the same as avoiding political issues -- last month the pastor of my church preached a series on homosexuality -- but he never intended it to divide people in that way.  The problem with the culture war is that every victory represents gloating and every defeat means depression ("What's going to happen to us?"); however, that speaks to a lack of trust in God to preserve His people.

The primary criterion on which God does judge is -- wait for it -- how nations treat the powerless, and that's where the church has definitely fallen short.  For the past three decades many conservative Christians have pursued a corporate-friendly ideology that has had the effect of damaging the economic and political prospects of those of lesser means, never mind that the Old Testament prophets denounced unjust economic systems; I see nothing in the Bible that suggests that following Christ means that you have to oppose, say, labor unions.  Even with Sodom and Gomorrah, God took them out primarily because of how their citizens neglected the poor; the sexual perversion came out of that (Ezekiel 16-49 and 50).  And it seemed that Lot, nephew of Abraham, even moved there because he saw it as a place where he felt he could make money.

Going farther, while many of us actually talk about caring for them, the best thing that can be done for them is to give them the dignity, opportunity and power to make their own choices.  But that also includes voting, and it's an open secret that, over the past couple of years, Republican-dominated legislatures passed voter-ID laws (many struck down or, here in Pennsylvania, delayed) ostensibly to keep them from voting again for Obama -- and, perhaps more telling, against them (their often-transient lifestyles lead to the lack of ID).  However, I can't think of any Christian leader who spoke out against the true intent of such laws -- did they really believe the spin that they were needed to combat fraud (which in practice is virtually non-existent)?

Which leads to another issue:  Why aren't we concerned about the rights of others?  I still haven't forgotten that many of the opponents of the civil-rights movement were conservative Christians -- perhaps even then they feared the loss of their privileged status -- and the words of Martin Luther King Jr., in their proper context, would still convict them today.  They've over the years tried to sanitize him, his "I Have a Dream" speech supposedly declaring color-blindness when he meant nothing of the sort and insisting that he was a Republican partisan (not in 1964 he wasn't).

Bottom line, we in the church need to repent of one thing:  Selfishness based on idolatry.  We need to remember that whatever we have -- a house, a car, money in the bank, the social status that come from them etc. -- are but gifts from God and still belong to Him to be used for His purposes.  It seems to be that, for some of us, government exists only to protect "my status and my stuff," and that has to change before God can move the way we want Him to (and in the way He Himself desires).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 2012 general election: What really happened

I saw this coming, even if many other people didn't.

Despite polls showing a tightening race for president, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama ended up defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a fairly comfortable margin in the electoral and popular votes earlier this week. Pundits have been trying to analyze what happened: Demographic shifts and a superior organization benefiting Obama, for example, but those don't begin to explain what became a fairly easy victory in a race whose results were supposed to be determined by a weak economy and fiscal instability.

I offer another hypothesis, albeit one that may rankle some: The pro-Obama electorate didn't simply vote for him; it also voted against the conservatives who run the GOP. More to the point, it repudiated their class- and culture-war politics, their collective smugness and their Machiavellian tactics that have been their hallmark for the past two generations and especially their campaign against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. And given their reaction, they still don't get that they sowed the seeds of their own demise.

Message to Karl Rove: Rejection sucks, doesn't it?

The seeds of this Republican debacle actually trace back to the 2006 Republican meltdown, with the promised "quick war" in Iraq -- essentially being financed on credit -- that continued to drag on, the "jobless recovery" and the Jack Abramoff-fueled lobbying scandal causing voters even in the South to flee the Republican Party; yet the party brain-trust never noticed that a counter-revolution that would permanently threaten its power was already under way. Here in Pennsylvania, then auditor-general Bob Casey Jr., namesake son of a now-deceased former governor, was recruited to run against the extremely vulnerable incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum; Casey's campaign ads referred to excessive Federal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that Santorum supported and that drained the government of revenue. Casey, of course, won going away -- and an issue was born. (That helped indirectly to spawn last year's Occupy protests in major cities.)

Then you have the incessant attacks on the president -- that he wasn't a native-born American, that he was a Muslim or socialist, the photo-shopped photos of him and wife Michelle engaging in questionable public behavior; GOP politicians vowing that they intended to force him out of office; the complaints about his health-care bill; the twisting of his words in the movie "2016: Obama's America"; and so on. It became Clinton redux, only more open because their media apparatus had been exposed as fraudulent.

But don't forget Romney's words to some well-heeled donors about the 47 percent. The GOP-sponsored voter-ID laws passed in several states, supposedly to maintain "ballot security" but ostensibly to keep pro-Obama voters from the polls. (Thank you, Mike Turzai, for speaking the truth.) The destruction of ACORN, whose sin was registering people to vote. The attack on public-sector labor unions, especially in Wisconsin. All these had the cumulative effect of building a base of political progressives the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 1960s -- and it was ready to fight. That might be what the president was thinking when he uttered the words "Voting is the best revenge" to an Ohio audience.

Given the long-term ramifications of the elections, this might be the year that the conservative movement, with its inflexibility and unwillingness to talk or listen to anyone else outside its purview, begins to collapse. Many of its adherents still believe that maintaining a strong conservative message will eventually carry them to victory; however, most of Romney's opponents did and sank like a split-fingered fastball.  Add to this the reality that, if you take a strong stance on any issue, you also give the opportunity for folks to vote against you -- and you might lose.

Friday, November 2, 2012

THE most important election?

Earlier this week I became aware of an article written by a Louisiana pastor insisting that Tuesday's general election was the most important in American history. Similar to the thought process of a lot of other evangelicals, he wrote that God was primarily concerned about three things: Abortion, gay marriage and support for the state of Israel. And while I don't recall if he mentioned President Obama by name, the implication was clear: "God help us if he's reelected."

With all due respect to my brother down there, his screed is blasphemous. (And that's not an adjective that I choose lightly.) In referring to the same old cultural bugaboos, he ignores not only American history but also much of the teaching of the Word of God.

Let's take abortion first.  Most people don't realize that in this country abortion has generally been legal (in that laws restricting the practice originally didn't exist until the turn of the last century); however, according to the book "Blinded By Might:  Can the Religious Right Save America?", it was quite common, especially in major cities. However, such laws were enacted by that day's liberals, with considerable popular support, and had nothing to do with religion or faith.  Keep in mind that abortion was never directly addressed in Scripture, either.

We began losing the war against gay marriage about five years ago, with more and more people -- especially those younger than 30 -- becoming supportive of it, I submit in reaction to conservative evangelicals using the gay community as a political piƱata for the sake of fundraising.  Indeed, only half-a-dozen passages refer to homosexuality and all of those symptomatic of those who reject God.  As for Israel, not even God established that nation forever for its own sake; it still needed to obey Him.

If God does judge a nation on anything, it's treatment of the poor (read: socially, culturally and politically powerless) in society, with entire chapters, especially in the Old Testament, written on that subject. James 1:26 reads, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" -- and not simply as a diaconal issue, either. Yet few evangelicals even make that consideration, so fixated they seem to be with issues of power and convenience.

In addition, I remember 20 years ago when many Christians warned against a Clinton presidency, with Randall Terry's church in Binghamton, N.Y. improperly taking out about full-page advertisements in USA Today and the New York Times opposing him. In addition to flouting IRS rules about churches endorsing or opposing candidates, such demonstrated a lack of trust in God to preserve His people in an age that folks were "turning away from him."

And that represented the blasphemy I referred to earlier.  Because, in the end, God will always get His -- no matter who is president.