taking the words of Jesus seriously

Full disclosure:  I am 60, a white, male, evangelical minister working at a city rescue mission after 30 years in the pastorate, and a lifelong Republican moderate who has often split the ticket.

In the last three presidential elections I have voted for the Democratic candidate.  But I am not ready to identify as a Democrat.

I wrote about my distress with the right wing capture of my Republican party and the ugly and unfair demonization of President Obama these last four years by many Christians in the blog post “Fear and Loathing in Fundamentalist Land” (November 6, 2012).  One responder criticized me for being blind to the Democrats.

I am not, but I was focusing on the problems in my own backyard, as it were.

So why am I uncomfortable with the Democratic Party, even after supporting their candidate in three presidential campaigns?

I am not as cynical about politics and politicians as my eldest daughter is, but I have a healthy regard for the way politicians will try to say what different audiences want to hear and be all things to all people that they may win some votes from them.  Promises are made to get elected, and forgotten afterward.  To this extent, I do not want to get captured by any political party; I will not make any political party an idol.  It seems to me some Christians have, on both sides of the aisle.

All too often, our political choices are who’s the best of two bad options?  Or who has fewer faults than the other?  Who do I disagree with less?

This year, as four years ago, I clearly distrusted the Republican candidate more.

  • President Bush’s hubris was blinding at the end of his first term; he would not admit any error about Iraq.
  • Then John McCain made the astoundingly bad choice of Sarah Palin as vice president.
  • This time the spectacle of moderate Romney becoming Tea Party Romney, and then trying to be somewhat moderate Romney again in order to be elected was far too much for me.  Not to mention having as his running mate Congressman Ryan of the leadership which decided “we will oppose everything Obama proposes in order to get power again.”

So I trusted Mr. Obama somewhat more.  He has been effective on foreign policy by talking softly while still carrying a big stick.  The economy is mending, though too slowly.  And I hope his rhetoric about a balanced approach to debt reduction will be forthcoming.  But I do have reservations about him and his party.

I am deeply concerned about the increasingly secular bent under the Democratic big tent that frequently dismisses the concerns of conservative Christians and even religious beliefs altogether.  The brouhaha about removing “God” from the party platform and the deaf ear to religious exemptions about funding abortion and birth control in Catholic hospitals is cause for great concern.

I think our pluralistic society is actually a great strength, bringing new energy to our country.  As Christians, we have every right and responsibility to make our case in the public square of ideas and opinions.  But we won’t always prevail.  And we don’t have the right to impose our beliefs on others, nor they on us.  But not all ideas are compatible, even if we agree to disagree.  Christians, non-Christians and atheists can all work together for the common good…but only if we can agree on what the common good is.

Democrats are the pro-choice party, and I am concerned about the many Democrats who believe there should be no restrictions on abortion.

My faith and ethics say that Christians should have a completely pro-life bias.  Human life is sacred and the taking of human life should only be under the most extreme conditions.  We may defend ourselves, our loved ones, and the innocent.  Military actions should be a last resort and only for just reasons.  The death penalty as currently imposed in America has killed too many innocent people and should be stopped.

And abortion must not be used as birth control.

However, we are constantly faced with the hard choices of Christian virtues colliding.  Broken and dysfunctional families are a scourge on America, and God hates divorce.  But in this broken world there are biblical exceptions for divorce.  Yet we are called to support and encourage stable and loving marriages.

It is similar with abortion.  We have the rare cases of a mother’s life in jeopardy because of a pregnancy.  Which life takes precedence?  Can we legislate this?  I don’t believe we can.  A woman in Ireland, which does outlaw abortion, just died because she was not allowed an abortion and was too sick to travel to England.

And is the difficult choice to carry a baby conceived by rape or incest one that should be legislated either?  Certainly, there are moms and children from these situations entirely grateful for the life that was spared.  There are other women who courageously carry such a child to term in order to give the child away to someone who can love the child wholeheartedly.  We must do all we can to make these choices more feasible.  But there are women who cannot or will not do this, and can we legitimately take this most difficult and intimate life and death decision away from the individual?  Most Americans and most Christians believe this kind of terrible decision is between the woman and God.

And I am old enough to remember reading of cases of back alley abortions when all abortion was outlawed; botched abortions that destroyed women’s ability to conceive again or even killed her.  Do we want that again?  What is our ethical responsibility here?

But I cannot condone abortion for any reason without restriction.  Late term abortions, for instance, should be banned unless the mother’s life is truly in danger.  The Democratic party has been unable to concede even this much.

The number of abortions that still occur in America is abominable.  And while I believe exceptions for abortion should be allowed in this fallen world, I want to see much more done to encourage adoption alternatives, and responsible sexual behavior.  Too many in the Democratic Party seem ambivalent to the sexual free-for-all in society today and its corollary of abortion if birth control fails.

Regarding homosexuality, Christians have struggled with these issues from the beginning of the church.  At that time homosexuality was tolerated by the culture.  Later it was not.  Then homosexual behavior was eventually made illegal in America for a time; and later those laws were overturned.  Now there is a societal outcry for full equal rights for gay couples.  The Democrats support this; most Republicans do not when it comes to redefining marriage.

I do not believe the bible condones homosexual behavior.  That is my Christian stance.  But we are called to love all people, witness to the love of God in Christ and encourage positive change in whomever we come in contact with.  Loving those who disagree with us, while debating public policy that directly affects lives is our difficult challenge.

How do we witness to people of different religious beliefs?  Not by restricting their civil rights; not in America.

The vast majority of homosexuals believe they are born that way (whether or not that is always the case).  And changing sexual identity and orientation is so hugely difficult the psychological establishment has given up on it and condemns such efforts (even if someone wants to try).

In such a social and political climate what is our ethical duty?  I think it is to witness to the life-changing love of Christ, encourage people to consider Christ, and promote the best Christian values we can.  In this case, that would mean faithful, monogamous long-term relationships for those who are not celibate (the exact same value we encourage for heterosexuals, by the way, and with underwhelming success).

It is the right thing to safeguard people’s civil rights.  Yet while I would prefer safeguarding their civil rights through civil unions, most homosexuals do not; they want the full status of marriage.  Here I find myself not quite Democrat nor Republican.

Indeed I often find myself in disagreement with both parties, wishing there was a viable third way.

On economic issues, I am conservative.  I do not like much debt either personally or as a country.  We must stop deficit spending and get our fiscal house in order and stop spending more than we are taking in.  Of course, this is acknowledged by nearly everyone.  The main disagreement is how to do this now.

My wife works in state government and one of our best friends in county government.  I work at a rescue mission.  I know about government waste, red tape and over-regulation.  I know about people in real need and people who take advantage.  To be sure, there is way too much waste and too many people who feel entitled.  Yet most of us agree we need social safety nets, even as we try to keep these programs as streamlined and effective as possible.

I know the effectiveness of non-governmental groups.  But private charitable organizations don’t have the resources to meet all the needs.  “Running government like a business” (as some argue) doesn’t make sense when businesses are primarily concerned with profits rather than human welfare or safety.  We need both governmental and charitable groups working together to meet the needs.

Democrats have a big responsibility and opportunity today.

  • As the party of “big government” it has the greatest power to find the waste and trim it.
  • It is the Democrat’s opportunity to make sure we have good and effective regulations, not simply more of them.
  • It is their opportunity to make relatively modest but necessary changes in Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security to keep them solvent.  And if it does this successfully, it will also take away one of the Republican bragging rights just as it did for foreign policy.

But can the Democratic Party do this?  Or is it really too beholden to its special interest groups?  For instance, facing a large deficit, our New York State Governor had to reach across party lines to the Republican controlled state senate to push through education and spending reforms opposed by a variety of union interests and many in his own party.

Will this happen on the national front?  Will Democratic leadership truly reach out to whatever Republicans will dialog with them and forge new creative compromises?  Will they have the courage to go against some interests in their own party?

I am concerned that they will not.

Both parties are addicted to corporate money.  Neither party is willing to challenge the idea that what is good for big business is good for America.  It wasn’t true in the gilded age and it isn’t true now in our new gilded age.

Democrats have done next to nothing to challenge the corrupt culture of Wall Street. President Obama even chose Wall Street insiders for his major economic advisors (wolves guarding the hen house). Two books I hope will be widely read are:  Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else,  by Chrystia Freeland; and The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted by Mike Lofgren.

These are a few of my concerns that prevent me from calling myself a Democrat.  In this polarized political scene we find ourselves, I pray the nation can forge a new consensus that will unite us in a common vision for the public good.

But is there political leadership in either party that can do this?  We need some courageous political leaders.  Are they out there?  I do not know.  Only God does.

Tom McCrossan is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church of America, serving in special ministry as an Assistant Chaplain at a local rescue mission. His grandfather was a minister first in the Methodist and then in the Presbyterian Church. His uncle served at the Victory Service Club of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. He is married with three grown children and lives in Schenectady, NY.

Photo Credit: A BCD Creative / Shutterstock.com

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