So, I know that I am probably a little late to respond to this article. I read it last week when I saw it posted on a friends Facebook page. Something about it did not seem right. So I decided to take some time and give the article some thought. I think that I understand what struck me wrong about the article. I find two aspects of this article infuriating. #1) Someone made the author feel like they needed to write this article, and #2) the author is guilty of much of the same rhetoric that she accuses the opposite side of promoting. It is not explicit but it is there. So, let us take a look at this article a little further.
This article is by Ellen Painter Dollar and can be found over at Patheos. It is entitled “Why I Am A Christian Democrat”. She begins the article by expressing the “story” behind the article. Her friend’s husband, who teaches at a conservative, Christian university, came under fire after co-authoring an article explaining why they would not vote for Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, this is all too common of an occurrence. So often, we try to see into the veracity of someone’s faith by something as simplistic as how they cast their votes at the ballot box. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. We live in an imperfect world and, thus, there is no such thing as a perfect political system, party, or candidate. Different people vote different ways for different reasons. To automatically condemn the strength or sincerity of someone’s faith due to a political allegiance is ridiculous. So, Dollar continues on with an outline of points as to why she is a Democrat. Let’s look at her points and evaluate their logic. I am not discussing the merits of her political association, but the logic she uses to defend them.
I am a Democrat because, in many churches (including mine), being a Christian Democrat is not an oxymoron. None of us practice a pure faith. Our faith is always influenced by both the Christian and wider cultures in which we live. I have spent my whole life worshipping in churches that lean left, where being a Christian and a Democrat is neither remarkable nor unusual. But conservative evangelicals, and to some extent the media, continue to put forth the fallacy that a “Christian” voter is a conservative evangelical voter, equating the evangelical subculture with the wider church. Underlying this fallacy is an assumption that anyone who fails to see a straight line connecting their faith tenets to the Republican party platform must have an insubstantial, lip-service faith corrupted by cultural influences. This assumption is dangerous, but mostly, it’s just wrong.
I would agree with her bold statement. Being a Christian Democrat is NOT an oxymoron. However, I would say that her first assertion is a little backwards. I would argue that when we allow the culture to influence our faith, we usually get into trouble. However, I think it is impossible for our faith not to influence our political affiliation and view of economic, social, and political issues. Our faith is found in Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our faith is grounded in the truths of Scripture and God’s revelation Jesus that does not change. These things affect how we evaluate policies and candidates. I think it is wrong how the “evangelical right” have made voting for certain candidates a matter of doctrine. However, as a conservative Christian, I find many policies and tenants of the Democratic party to be against my faith and beliefs. However, if individual Democrats have other issues that take more of a priority than the discrepancies I see, that is their choice as a Christian voter. However, let us not forget that this does not mean that Republicans cannot be Christians either. She did not say this, but there is a certain anti-right tone to this paragraph.
I am a Democrat because I understand that theological conservatism and political conservatism are two different things. I am theologically conservative, meaning that I believe all that stuff in the Nicene Creed about the virgin birth and the resurrection. Especially the resurrection. But theological conservatism and political/social conservatism are entirely different things. Jesus was not conservative or liberal, and the idea that Jesus would identify wholly with either of our political parties is ludicrous. But Jesus was radical. Jesus turned the values of his world and ours (giving priority to the pursuit of wealth and comfort, might makes right, individual success over the common good) upside down. I am not radical enough for Jesus (most of us, regardless of party affiliation, aren’t), and I certainly don’t think the Democratic Party platform is radical enough for Jesus. But as a follower of the incarnate God who put the last first, whose ministry focused on those on the margins of his culture, I align myself with the political party that most consistently puts the interests of marginalized Americans on their national agenda.
To be honest, this paragraph is where I lost my mind a little. I had to clean up a little blood on my computer after it shot out of my eyes. The reason I reacted so vehemently against it is because it is an argument I am really tired of hearing because it misses the point. I am glad that Dollar believes in the “stuff” in the Nicene Creed like the “virgin birth”, and “the resurrection”. It is a shame that she seems to miss the point of the rest of Scripture. Jesus was radical. You know why? It was NOT because He paid attention to the margins of society, to teach against the pursuit of wealth and comfort, to teach against “might makes right”, or to teach against individual success over the common good. JESUS WAS RADICAL BECAUSE HE CAME TO DIE FOR SINNERS!!!! He came to die for the sins of the whole world. This means that He cared about everyone in culture. He did not emphasize compassion for the poor. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures are full of Jesus showing love and compassion for the rich and wealthy as well as the “margins of society. Jesus came for sinners. Just so you know, that is everyone. To equate a theological conservatism with political conservatism is an error. However, I do not think that conservative theology is antithetical social conservatism for the reasons that I addressed in the previous paragraph.
I am a Democrat because I daily appreciate the ways in which government improves individual lives and the common good. I harbor no illusions that our government is, or is likely to become, a paragon of efficiency, honesty, and effectiveness. But looked at through global and historical lenses, the extent to which our democratic (lower case “d”) government provides safety and opportunity to its citizens is remarkable. In much of the world, the government-funded resources available here (well-kept roads, food stamps, free public schools, unemployment insurance, relatively effective and non-corrupt law enforcement, etc.) simply don’t exist. Governments can do horrid things in the name of the common good, but our government often manages to do much of value for the common good. Today’s Democratic Party appears more willing than the Republican Party to believe that government has a responsibility to use its power for the common good, rather than leaving that good solely in the hands of a diverse (and divided) citizenry, or the free market.
Dollar has a few valid points in this section. The government does have a responsibility to provide safety and opportunity for its citizenry. However, to say that the Democratic party is more willing to do this than the Republicans is an over-generalization that, I am sorry to say, does not hold much statistical backing. Both parties care about providing opportunity and safety for the citizens, however, they have different ideologies on how to get there. I am discussing the merits of the differing ideologies. But to say that Republicans care less, or are less willing to believe that this is a function of the government, is like saying Democrats aren’t Christians. It is the same logical jump. It is a straw-man argument. It is weak.
I am a Democrat because I see a difference between “fairness” and “justice.” I was struck, in reading the comments to my colleague’s husband’s essay, by how many people called for “fair” economic policies. “Fair” appeared to mean that those who obtain much wealth are not asked to give a good chunk of it up to help those who have little. But in God’s math, we don’t always get what is fair or what we deserve by the world’s standards, either for our hard work (e.g., the parable of the day laborers, Matthew 20:1–16) or our sinfulness. God is not about fairness. God is about justice. God is about all people being treated with dignity as those made in God’s image, about extravagant generosity regardless of merit, about those stuck in bad luck or the consequences of bad decisions getting second (and third and fourth and seventy-seventh) chances, about everyone giving out of what they have so that all have what they need (e.g., the Loaves and Fishes, Matthew 14:13–21). It may be unfair for the very wealthy to be taxed at a higher rate than the middle class, but in God’s economy, it is just.
I am a Democrat because “Biblical” values are far from clear cut, so I focus on what Jesus chose to focus on in his earthly ministry. Jesus understood, I think, that our holy scriptures are not always consistent when it comes to details, even such important details as the character of God (Did the same God who called the little children to him really mastermind the murder of every first-born son of the Egyptians?*). So Jesus made it simple for us. Jesus said there are two things we must do: Love God. Love our neighbors as ourselves. To figure out in practical terms what it means to love God and others, we look to what Jesus did and said, searching for common threads. The most obvious common thread is that Jesus continually reached out and offered hospitality, healing, hope, and help to those who were poor, sick, powerless, or reviled.
Jesus’s continual emphasis on our duty toward the poor and marginalized is most beautifully and memorably expressed in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46). Jesus says, quite simply, that any time we offer concrete help to someone suffering from hunger or cold or imprisonment or sickness or lack of welcome, we are loving God. And Jesus doesn’t instruct us to first decide if those in need of a cloak or a drink of water deserve our help. Jesus doesn’t say we can first figure out whether it’s fair to ask me to give away my only cloak or offer a stranger a drink from the well I built with my own two hands, with my wealth, to nurture me and my family.
Time and time and time again, Jesus put caring for “the least of these” at the center of his ministry and his message. These days, neither party is doing a particularly good job of making the poor central to their message, preferring to focus instead on the middle class, who are more likely than the poor to vote. But when it comes time for me to color in a circle on my voting card, I’m going to choose the candidate whose party has shown, most recently via the adoption of universal health care, that it takes seriously our societal obligation to care for those who cannot, for whatever reason, care adequately for themselves.
I put these two sections together, because I believe they go together. She is grossly misrepresenting Scripture and taking sections out of context. This becomes a problem when we start using “Jesus as a social worker” as the hermeneutic to interpreting His actions in the Gospels. The truth of the matter is that Jesus did not come to set forth economic justice, and thank God, he actually came to suffer injustice so that we don’t get our justice (what we deserve). He came to die an unjust death by bearing our sins on the cross. This was the reason Jesus came. John 20:30-31 states, “Jesus did many other miraculous things that are not recorded in this book. But these things are written so that you might believe that Jesus is Son of God and that by believing, you might have life in His name.” These things were not written so that you might do what is right for the poor. The misappropriation of the Matthew 25 verse is a prime example of what I am talking about. Do you remember that the sheep did not realize that they were helping Jesus? They probably didn’t even realize they were doing what they were doing for one another. Matthew 25 is about how Jesus comes back to show that when we live our lives in our Christian vocations, we serve others. When we serve others, we serve Christ. To give this verse socio-political implications, is to misrepresent the context of this verse. I am not saying that Christians are not supposed to help the poor and needy. We are. However, it is not the tenant of the Christian life as expressed by Dollar. The tenant of the Christian life is that Christ came to forgive us for all the times we have not done, acted, or behaved like we should according to the law of God.
I am a Democrat because adequately caring for the least of these requires some government support. Many Republican Christians argue that Jesus’s mandate to care for the “least of these” was meant for his followers, not for our governments. Let individuals and churches care for the poor, they say, and let the government perform a limited role, primarily in defense. Although I believe that all Christians and churches (including me and my church) could do much more for the poor and marginalized than we are doing, we are also limited to providing help within our cultural, societal, and governmental structures.
We can drive a sick, uninsured child to a hospital, but if a long hospitalization or surgery is required, that child’s parents will have to either scrape together thousands or dollars (and perhaps eventually lose their home or declare bankruptcy as a result) or hope that the hospital has charity funds available. We can help an immigrant learn English and a marketable skill, but if the law doesn’t offer him a reasonable avenue toward legal work status, we can’t help him get a job that will support a family. We can provide pregnancy counseling and baby supplies to a young unwed mother, but if that mother is unable to afford groceries, decent housing, quality daycare, and additional education for herself , she and her child will likely end up in unsafe housing, poorly nourished, un- or underemployed, and stuck in a cycle of poverty that isn’t just a problem for that family, but (in God’s economy) for all of us. Without government safety nets such as subsidized housing and daycare, food stamps, education grants, health insurance, and support for immigrants, private charity can only do so much to ease the burden of poverty.
Our government is far from perfect, but it is still, in my mind, the greatest example of the good that be done via a democratic government of, by, and for the people. As Christians, we have an obligation to care for all of God’s people—even when it doesn’t seem quite fair; even when poverty results from a toxic and convoluted mix of a sinful communal history, bad or nonexistent policies, and poor personal decisions; even when our initial efforts to fix a problem as big as our nation’s healthcare inequalities might be clumsy and in need of fine-tuning.
To put it simply, I am a Democrat because the Democratic Party is doing more than the Republican Party to care for the “least of these,” however imperfectly. And Jesus made it absolutely clear that caring for the least of these is central to our identity as his followers.
Ok… so there is a lot here that I disagree with. However, for the sake of my readers who have stood with me through this long post, I will try to make it short. According to Dollar, “the Democratic Party is doing more than the Republican Party to care for the ‘least of these,’ however imperfectly. And Jesus made it absolutely clear that caring for the least of these is central to our identity as his followers.” My head exploded again. To put it simply, and I am talking about the Democratic Party NOT individual Democrat voters, the Democrat party condones the killing of unborn children. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is made of such as these [little children]. I think the abortion issue should be and is the biggest hurdle when it comes to Democrat party and conservative Christendom. Is it an insurmountable chasm? Not for Dollar. But for her to chastise people who feel strongly about this issue, would be the same as others chastising her for not caring about this policy. They are false arguments.
Look. The point of this is to say that we cannot judge the faith of someone by their political allegiances. To say that one party is more “Biblical” than another is a false argument. The Bible is about our salvation. It is about how we do not stack up when confronted with the Law. However, Christ did it all for us. He has saved us. It impacts our life. We try to live as faithfully as possible. We seek forgiveness when we fall short. To politicize faith (either way) is truly detrimental and dangerous. What say you?