Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Monday, February 28, 2005

Tax Thy Neighbor

One of the academic projects I’m working on is tracing the philosophical connections conservative politicians make with taxation policy. It’s been an interesting project, and I hope to actually finish it one day soon. Like most academic work, it will probably be dull and boring and make a really good cure for insomnia. However, it does contain some points that I’d like to highlight for you.
Although it doesn’t seem possible now, modern conservatism started out as a distinct minority. Early conservatives made strong ideological connections in their speeches. Later conservatives have done much less of the painting with broad strokes and much more of simply tying conservatism to lower taxes. Ideology was lost to simple political expediency. The reason for opposing taxes was lost and only the benefit of doing so was seen. Like an alcoholic reaching for another drink, the cure for whatever ails the economy lies in the next tax cut.
The problem lies in the ideological groundwork laid by conservative intellectuals. Conservatism is an ideology that conceives of man existing in a natural state of freedom. Every law or demand that is placed on man then becomes a theft of that freedom. Government must be strictly limited because man must be as free as possible, and that freedom includes the ability to spend every penny he makes in the way he sees fit. When government oversteps its bounds, it takes away a man’s freedom. When it has to pay for overstepping its bounds, it over-taxes a man and takes away even more of his freedom.
For something so simple, it has a sort of elegance to it. What you have is a built in reason to always attack government spending and taxation. There is no justification for taking a man’s freedom unless he has shown himself unable to control his own behavior. Thus, simple taxation at a rate that would pay the bills becomes an exercise in morally telling a man that he is not worth the money he earns.
The fly in the ointment is that a man outside of society is not really free. He is enslaved by his own needs and will spend all of his time attending to them. It is only when man joins man in society that specialization of labor occurs. Money is coined. This allows a man the ability to put a value to his skill and to his labor. That value allows him to accumulate money and to gain his freedom to do things other than meet his physical needs of existence.
Man depends upon man in such an intricate web that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you can make it on your own. Many of my friends in the country believe this. They could simply farm their land and live the good life for eternity. However, they have no means of producing their own electricity, natural gas, diesel, or even the most basic repair parts. The truth is that they depend on an extended community to provide them with essentials for their way of life.
John Donne said long ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Jesus, when asked to clarify exactly who was meant to be included in the “love thy neighbor as thyself” mantra answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The example of the neighbor was the Samaritan, who was of a race despised by the Jews. The lesson is clear. We are all neighbors. We are all one community. We do not exist individually, but together.
We hear a lot of noise from the right concerning the destruction of our culture. What is culture but a shared sense of community? What is more destructive of community than an overpowering drive for individuality? They are right that there is a rotten core to our culture these days. However, it comes from a flawed ideology that puts the individual above the concerns of society.
The demand for continually reducing taxes in a false demand for greater liberty is only a symptom. So is the false division between red states and blue states. History has shown that America is at its strongest when it pulls together. We are at our most generous when we work together. We are truly American only when we acknowledge our sense of community. In fact, the claim to be “an American people” is a statement of community.


As I watched the news this weekend, I thought I might like to say something about the BTK killer being arrested in Kansas. To be honest, I’m not sure where to begin wrapping my head around something like that. It’s just too big, too horrible, too sad.
I’ll say that I cannot imagine what the families of his victims have gone through, and I’m glad for their sake that he is off the streets. I hope they can find some sort of peace in knowing that others will not have to fear him. I hope the dead rest a bit easier.
I’m sure much will be made of the fact that the killer was a Boy Scout leader and a leader in his church. I’m not sure it is of any value other than to note that this man either had an exceptionally duplicitous nature or he was simply much better at fooling people than most.
I’ll keep this short and close by saying that our prayers will be with the families of the victims, and the family and neighbors of the killer, who must also feel a sense of confusion and betrayal beyond understanding.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

When City Mouse Hates Country Mouse

I just received my new copy of the Policy Studies Journal. Normally, I flip through it once and throw it in the circular file to join that mountain of garbage being shipped west to fill up the former coalmines of West Virginia. Today, however, my eye caught the last entry on the table of contents – “Jesus Loves Me, But He Can’t Stand You”.
It made me wish that I’d come up with the title enough to actually read the article. It’s actually just a reply from Kenneth Meier and Hop Sing Sabatier to their critics (elite academians do this in public letters to each other). It seems that Meier and Sabatier published an article citing country music as a prime generator of public policy ideas. It wasn’t the fact that the researchers found a rather odd place to study public policy that the critics objected to – it was the fact that they looked for it in country music.
There are two things I’d like to discuss about this article. The first is the idea of popular media giving rise to policy ideas, but that deserves its own post. The second, and the one I’ll actually talk about in this post, is the ongoing derision that anything associated with country/redneck/down-home/backwoods/rural life is, by default, less intellectual and inferior. It’s a type of prejudice that is actually not only alive and well, but seems to be pushed by both sides as the way things should be.
On the one hand, we have President George W. Bush pushing his image as a rural-style average man. Everything from his manner of speaking to his use of vacation time to clear brush on his Texas ranch portray him as a man who has simple tastes. I’ve never met the man, so I can’t say that this is a false impression. Actually, it doesn’t even matter. He is no less the President if he pitches horseshoes or hunts foxes, if he eats hamburger or foie gras.
But, it does matter, because there is no successful politician in the country that leaves any aspect of their public image to chance these days. The President pursues his image as a country-man because it suits his electorate as well as his personal taste. On the campaign trail, he often appeared in jeans or casual slacks with his tie pulled down and his sleeves rolled up. If there had been any indication that this had hurt his support, I’m sure he would have switched quickly back into the custom made suits he wears in Washington. The same is true for his manner of speech, even if some snobs sneer at his pronunciation of “nuke-you-ler”.
Think back to John Kerry’s public persona during the campaign and you find a total lack of anything remotely considered “rural”. Again, this is probably as much a function of the man’s character as it is of the management of his image to fit his supporters. This is true despite the fact that the Kerry family actually owns rural property in Montana and regularly spends time far away from the glare of city lights. The attempt to portray him as a backwoodsman in his brief hunting trip in Virginia was simply too much of a set-up to be natural. Because no part of the image fit with that event, both sides saw it as pandering for votes.
It is a prejudice that separates blue states and red states, and it serves no one. Having lived in both city and country, I can testify that both sides have valid views and equally valid, if sometimes contradictory, sets of wisdom. It can be boiled down into that part of the American spirit that was captured in the relentless push to the west – rugged individuals taming the lawless countryside through perseverance and force of will.
However, it was not only rugged individuals that settled the west – it was a sense of community. In my family, the tradition used to be that after a marriage both sides of the new family would spend the day building a house for the new couple. This tradition died out because it was simply impossible to accomplish once the free land was all gone. Anyone who has spent much time in a small farming community will have at least one story about how the whole county turned out to help bring in the crop of a sick friend.
There will always be a tension between the individual and the community. If the community gets too great a hold over the individual, creativity is stifled and people suffer. If the individual gains too great a hold over the community, then the aggregate good cannot be determined and everyone suffers. When a correct balance is struck, then everyone can move forward and improve their life without anyone getting left behind through lack of opportunity.
For such a balance to be found, however, it is necessary for both sides to understand that the other is badly needed. A farmer can no more dictate policy for New York City than a Manhattanite can tell what is best for a cotton field. Liberals spent much of the last forty years pushing for the recognition that diversity of race, religion, and gender equality grants greater strength. It’s time they realized that the same is true for valid differences in the choice of lifestyle and place.

Friday, February 25, 2005

What's a Liberal Anyway?

I spoke briefly with my brother in Kansas City about my new blog and he asked me for a working definition of “liberal”. Like many words nowadays, it is tossed around without much thought of what it means. Too often, it means “someone I don’t agree with” and is equated with socialism.
Liberalism, as a political ideology, is based on a belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, the autonomy of the individual, and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties – at least according to Merriam-Webster. There is also a spiritual component, generally rooted in Protestantism that emphasizes intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity. Neither of these is really of use, unless you really just want to sound like an obnoxious prig.
When I speak of being a liberal, I speak of it in a political sense. It looks at everyone as being equal before the law – regardless of sex, color of skin, ethic origin, or pretty much anything else. It defends this equality as the basis of individual freedom and moves to ensure this status is preserved, or at very least is maintained as a goal worthy of progress towards. When possible, it is done through the simple respect of one individual towards another. When conditions merit, it condones collective action through peaceable means to bring about civil change.
Collective action means democratic government as well as civic organizations. A democratic government is the acting representative of the individual voters and is a legitimate vehicle of action for efforts aimed at greater equality. It sees individual rights as bearing individual responsibilities and governmental action is a legitimate response to widespread or dangerous irresponsibility.
It is not a collectivist ideology that defines equality as meaning that everyone has exactly the same amount of everything. Communities are made of individuals of varying levels of wealth, education, and various other characteristics. Honoring the communal attachments does not mean that these characteristics must be left behind – as a collectivist ideology would hold. In fact, community honors diversity and seeks to find similarities among the differences that can more firmly bind us together as a people. “Equality before law” and “equality” are not the same thing. “Equality before law” only seeks to give everyone the same opportunities and allows individuals among the community to make choices according to the dictates of their conscience and to live with the consequences of those decisions – good, bad, or indifferent.
While liberalism recognizes and honors the individual, it does not worship individualism. No man lives in a vacuum and each of us in effected by the decisions made by those around us. We each have a right to speak towards others’ actions only to the extent to which they impact our individual lives. We may not approve of someone else’s actions, but until they threaten our own livelihood we have no right to compel them to behave differently. Even in those cases where individuality does need to be over-ridden, it should be done only so much as to rectify the adverse effect to others.
Liberalism means that government exists as the congregate will of the people, and that it has only as much power to accomplish those tasks given to it by the people. The object of government is to preserve the liberty by promoting equality before the law. This balances the individual with the community, providing maximum freedom for all without oppression of any. Government is not the enemy of the people, but the aggregate expression of the people’s desires.
These are broad concepts. Part of the reason for this blog, and the dialogue I hope to be a part of, is to agree on broad concepts that can then be whittled down to individual cases and issues. The broad strokes here are open for re-direction and discussion. Liberalism is a living, evolving concept and it must remain so. If it becomes closed off, then it will enslave us and forget that ideologies are derived for the benefit of people and not people who are derived to fit ideologies.

Marriage is Religious Oppression

Next month, my wife and I will celebrate the second anniversary of our government oppressing our right to participate in a rite of our faith. It just so happens that this coincides perfectly with the anniversary of our marriage. In fact, the two are intricately intertwined.
Merriam-Webster gives two basic definitions of the word “marriage”. One specifies that it is between opposite sexes and one states it can be like that, but with same sex couples. It is helpful, however, to remember that dictionaries are only catalogues of how language is used and, if misused long enough, the meaning of a word can change. This means that the fuss over whether it is rightfully only for heterosexuals or if it can be between a homosexual couple is in a state of flux. Where both definitions agree is that it is a legal state of existing in a consensual and contractual relationship.
In other words marriage is simply a legal contract joining individuals into one common legal household. While Rick Santorum may be right that this broad definition would open the door to a discussion on polygamy (you know, like the Mormons and the Biblical patriarchs), it definitely does not open the door to pedophilia or “man on dog”. The fact that the Honorable Senator from Pennsylvania even pulled those comments out of his mind tells a lot about the way he views the world. Children and animals are not able to enter legal contracts because they are not able to give full consent. Therefore, the conversation comes to an abrupt halt with the reactionary rhetoric.
Legal contracts are governed by the state – meaning the government. In general, our forefathers thought it best that local issues be controlled by local governments and only severe, national issues that could not be handled adequately by the states would be kicked up to the federal level. In other words, they thought that local governments could probably figure out who should be allowed to legally set up a household. The flurry of anti-gay marriage proposals would seem to find their faith ill-placed.
This country was founded upon the idea of maximizing liberty. If this is in anyway construed to mean something other than being able to legally establish a unified household with whomever consents to doing so with you, then it is a tangled and arbitrary attack on liberty. Gay marriage advocates are right to point out that similar laws forbidding white women from marrying black men or Christians from marrying Catholics or Jews have long been stricken down – and rightfully so. Any definition of justice entails equal respect under the law – no less for a Jew, a black man, or a homosexual. Presumably, even if they are all the same person.
Holy Matrimony, on the other hand, is a Rite of the Christian Church. Every religion has its own matrimonial rites – and each religion is guaranteed the right to practice these Rites under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Christian matrimony has no standing above Hindu matrimony or Muslim matrimony or Wiccan matrimony. Although any of these religions might find something to protest about one or more of the others, they are all share the same protection and guarantee. The state is not to interfere with the pull of our souls and our hearts to our God (or gods).
Why then did I have to pay the City of Jersey City to get a marriage license before the Catholic priest could perform the Rite of Holy Matrimony in a Catholic church? The Catholic Church recognizes seven Sacraments, of which one is Holy Matrimony. The others are Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Last Rites, Holy Orders, and Confession. Why is it that the state has singled out one – Holy Matrimony – to blend into a quasi-legal standing? If the state is going to require that I register for Holy Matrimony, why can it not do the same for Baptism or Confession? Given the never-ending budget deficits that governments on all levels are facing, perhaps a fifteen dollar Baptism license would be a good thing to close the gap.
It is the insidious blending of church and state that the founders worked so hard to prevent. The reason for it was, and is simple – it destroys the focus of both institutions. The church should be busy caring for its members and those in the community who are sick, poor, and homeless. It should not be organizing protest over who can sign a legal document. The church is right to defend its ability to set membership guidelines and to self-determine who is able to participate in the Rites of the Church. It is wrong, however, to overstep its boundaries and attempt to enforce this in the legal sphere of the state.

Join the Choir

The guff over Sponge-Bob Square-Pants (or Limp-Dick Gay-Pants, as his counter-culture fans may soon begin calling him) reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from, of all people, Barry Goldwater. On the occasion when Jerry Falwell called for “All good Christians to fight the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court”, Mr. Conservative replied, “All good Christians should line up to kick Jerry Falwell square in the ass.”
Like many things (but not the winnable nuclear war thing) I find myself in agreement with Barry Goldwater (wait – let me take my “liberal” card out of my pocket) on this. Beyond the sheer pleasure of abusing Falwell, the truth of the matter is that the comical pursuit of all gay-related material is really a very sad statement about Christianity in general. Actually, it’s a comment about the politicized church, but the two are intertwined.
The problem is that Falwell, like James Dobson and the others in that bunch, is fully earnest in his efforts. Because they are so earnest, they chased away dissenting voices from the church decades ago. This has created a politicized church that is badly tilted toward ultra-conservatism and without any means of righting itself.
Well, so what. That’s the church they wanted and the church they worked hard to create. Let them have it and be damned with them. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. After all, one of the reasons I left the church was because of nonsense like this. The problem is that the church won’t leave me.
When I tell people I am a Christian, these are the images that swim into their consciousness. Falwell’s teary confession of enjoying a few good whores by saying, “I have sinned against you” and Swaggart’s air conditioned dog house and Oral Roberts saying, “God will take me home if I don’t raise eight million dollars” are now appended by doddering men who are so homophobic they have to attack cartoons. It’s demeaning to the faith, and by association, anyone who claims to be a believer.
When people say, “Power corrupts” they generally think of evil Senators and bureaucrats conspiring to deprive people of their freedom in some dark room. They forget that preacher and pastors have power, too. Whereas our government was set up to foil the human nature to grab for power, the church is set up to actually reward such actions and funnel those who are successful to the top. A pastor or preacher already has some credibility on understanding Holy Scripture better than the average person – it is only a step away from denouncing everything from fornication to CoCo Puffs as evil.
Most organized churches have some hierarchy for keeping maverick preachers and pastors in line. However, most are also closed to the public. As the ongoing debacle of deviant priests in the Catholic Church shows, such secrecy is a breeding ground for corruption. Good religion, like good government, takes place under the watchful eye of those most intimately effected by the decisions being made.
The problem is that liberal Christians have no real voice to denounce the penny-ante theatrical stunts of the religious right. When we collectively decided to hold our tongue and remain neutral in the ongoing culture wars, we gave up our ability to shape the discussion. Democracy only works if we participate, and we are called by ideology and theology to be immersed in the reality of the world around us.
Moses was called by God, even though he stuttered badly. We don’t need a perfect speaker, just a sincere one. We need someone with the pride to call upon a long history of liberal Christianity to galvanize action in our communities and our world, but with the humility to stand forward and admit openly when he or she has been wrong. Feet of clay are only shameful when they are wrapped in gold and silver.
I’ve already begun linking to other blogs written by liberal Christians. There are enough voices out there to have a sizable choir. However, no one wants to hear each member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing a hundred different songs simultaneously. We need someone to lead the choir. We need someone to stand before us and call out page and verse and unite us so that our mighty voice can raise sweet psalms for the edification of man and the glory of God.
The floor stands open. Nominations are being taken.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

What Kind of Man is a Liberal Christian?

When I identify myself as a liberal Christian, I tend to get a lot of strange looks. It’s the sort of look everyone gave a friend not long ago when he drunkenly exclaimed, “My family’s inbred!” They want to ask questions, but they are a bit afraid of falling off the loony-edge.
Officially, I’m a member of the United Methodist Church, though I can’t really remember the last time I entered one. In my defense, the one just around the corner only has services in Korean. My language skills being what they are – well, to be honest, I like to sleep late on Sunday, too.
I’m the kind of Christian that most of the people I grew up with might not call a Christian at all. I like a cold beer and a nice glass of Scotch on ice. I occasionally smoke a pipe (tobacco only) or a cigar. If you hear me cussing, I’ll defend it by saying that I did spend eight years of my adult life as a sailor (there’s a reason for the stereotypes). As long as I have eyes, I’ll probably look at any pretty girl that walks by me. In other words, I’m the Christian your pastor probably warns you about.
I’m not perfect, and I never claimed to be. I surely have enough flaws (the list above is only the most public of my sins) to keep a confessor busy at least three days a week. But we aren’t called to be perfect. We are called to take up our cross and struggle on and stumble and bloody our knees and get back up again.
It isn’t an easy calling to be a Christian. It means you can never give up. It means that when the deepest darkest days of despair surround you, you cling to the single thin hope that Jesus was telling the truth when he said he would makes us the sons of the living God; that we are loved and he is with us always. It means knowing that you are called to struggle with all your might against everything the world can throw at you, knowing that you are hopelessly inept at fielding your calling, but trusting that somehow you will manage.
It means knowing that you are first and foremost part of the body of Christ. You are an inseparable part of a community united in the belief that a Mighty God rules and ultimately dispenses justice beyond our ability to understand. It is humbling. It is exalting. It is hard.
It is the understanding that I am only a small part of a greater community that puts me firmly in the camp of liberal ideology. It is community – not collectivity and not individuality– that anchors me in this world. I am an individual, yes, but I am an individual who is nothing without God and without the community He has provided. Yet, somehow, I am so vital a part of this community that even the slowly vanishing hairs of my head are numbered.
That sense of community makes me understand the need for Food Stamps and Aid to Needy Families. It forces me not to look away when I see homeless men and women huddled in the subway for warmth. It makes me realize that my grandmother and my mother are dependent on the meager Social Security check they receive and the same is true for millions of other mothers and grandmothers. It makes me hurt when I see the distant eyes of a man whose spirit is crushed by the grinding poverty of working today to pay yesterday’s rent.
A liberal theology of Christianity is one rooted in reality. Even Jesus himself told us that there will always be poor and we can’t pretend that there is an answer that will end poverty. But Christians are called out by their God to serve mankind and to render aid and comfort in times of need – without judgment or thought of reward. Liberals are called out by a shared ideology of community to stand for those who are least able to protect themselves. Oppression, by any other name, is still tyrannical. Both Christians and liberals are firmly set against oppression, in all its many forms.
There will be times when the secular liberal and the liberal Christian don’t agree. There will be times when the liberal Christian and the non-liberal Christian don’t agree. That is the nature of mankind and it simply can’t be helped. This does not mean that it isn’t worth struggling for understanding and consensus. In fact, it simply means that we must learn to exert leadership in the church and in the world.
A liberal Christian should not be a self-identification that is built on oxymoron. It should be a honest evaluation of the heart, mind, and soul and the effort to bring into alignment the best of what is desired in those dark secret places we show to no one. Although we may fail, it is a goal that is set for helping mankind realize its full potential on earth so that God and man may find glory and peace in our accomplishments. It is an outlook that isn’t afraid to look at the hard part of life or to enjoy the good parts.

When the Left Follows the Right

It was my moment of epiphany. I looked around the room at my colleagues and realized that they didn’t want the rational debate they so often claimed. They didn’t really care about maintaining dignity, either in themselves or in their opposition. They wanted to hate. They wanted to single out a group of people that were so different and so stubborn that they could heap every bad thing that mankind does to itself at their feet.
What was amazing was that this was a group of people that would have at least one person stand up and denounce the use of any racial epithet or the slightest hint of sexism in any way. Yet they were perfectly willing to sit and openly sneer and question, not just the intelligence, but the ability to have intelligence, of this group. And the whole reason for this hatred was that the group held legitimate opposing political views.
It was back in November, as the votes were still being tallied in Ohio, when I blew up at my fellow political scientists. How could this group – this self-described bastion of liberal thought – be so narrow-minded, short-sighted, and intolerant? How could they sit and speak of Christians as if they were somehow less worthy of respect and dignity for their beliefs than even an aborigine deep in the jungle? How could they make me feel so unwanted when I had fought so dearly for what had always been described as a common ideology?
Some were taken aback and lapsed into silence. Most looked around and blinked as they collected their thoughts. A few launched a counter-attack. How can anyone who claims to be an heir of the Enlightenment also claim to believe in creationism or the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection? Why should liberals learn to speak to Christians when Christians so obviously want to turn back the clock to the Dark Ages? What had Christians ever done that a liberal would want to associate him or her self with?
I felt not unlike I had through my earlier years when I attended church regularly. When I dared raise questions that threatened the rather small world-view held by the vocal few, suddenly my very existence was called into question. As I ran through the scene in my mind over the next few days, I began to understand a couple of currents in the modern political landscape. I began to understand how, and why, Democrats have consistently lost voters over the last thirty years.
In the early 1970s, the Silent Majority decided it wasn’t really silent and became the Moral Majority. The outright purpose of this group, and many knock-offs, was to simply build the political power of the religious right. The movement religious-ized the electorate and politicized the church. They began with the seemingly natural discussion of school prayer. When they moved on to abortion, it had already become commonplace to hear preachers giving what amounted to political action speeches.
The effect was to pull the faithful to the right. This was done simply by shouting down any and all opposition. Ask Jim Wallis if you don’t believe me – he was called many unchristian things for simply advocating the church keep its eyes on the church. Anyone who opposed the outspoken prophets of the right were either misled, or, increasingly, were not really Christian at all. They were separating the sheep from the goats, from their perspective. What they have really done is kill both the church and the electorate.
Over the last twenty years, the number of Americans attending Church weekly has fallen from around forty-nine percent to about half that number. If the body of the Church mirrors the conservative/liberal cleavage in society at large, then there’s a good chance that the missing half are the liberal Christians who got tired of being told they didn’t exist. If this is true, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be, then the polls that show so many people stay at home on election-day while those who attend church weekly overwhelmingly vote Republican are telling us something else, too. Those missing liberal Christians fell out of the electorate as well.
It isn’t difficult to understand why a liberal who felt so uneasy at Church that they dropped out of that body would also be a Christian who felt so uneasy around liberals that they simply dropped out of that body. Making a rough estimate of demographics, this gives us about ten of the electorate that should be liberal Christians – if only someone would make them feel welcomed.
Think that isn’t much? A ten percent swing in votes towards liberal candidates puts almost every Republican House seat in play. It puts the Senate solidly in Democratic hands. It reverses the Presidency of George W. Bush.
Sometimes not much can still be enough.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Reality in Abortion

Chances are, if you are an American, you have some political view of abortion. It may be informed by your understanding of fetal development, religious doctrine, or civil rights. It may be informed by none of the above. Chances are, though, you are pretty sure you are right and you can’t understand how a reasoning and moral person could take the opposing view. Abortion is the very definition of a divisive issue in America.
It’s also an issue where liberal Christians simply do not speak. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s I sat in various pews and heard unequivocally how evil abortion was. It was murder – end of discussion. Anyone who believed abortion should be allowed in any circumstance was dancing with the devil. After all, how can a Christian morally defend murder? How can a Christian see the intentional death of an innocent as anything but murder?
I didn’t have the knowledge or understanding to answer those questions back then. Trying to be a good Christian, I bowed my head and whispered a prayer for understanding. I looked out at a world where drug-addicted women gave birth to drug-addicted and horribly deformed babies and heard from my spiritual seniors that this was God’s punishment or that they simply had to accept the responsibility for their actions. Then I read about the incidence of babies along the Rio Grande Valley born with only a brain stem – dying from the moment they were born because their mothers were exposed to chemicals as they picked the fruit that I ate at my dinner table. Who was being punished for what here?
In my volunteer position at a child abuse prevention agency, I sat and listened to a woman tell me how her husband of fourteen years had impregnated their twelve year old daughter. As a conservative Catholic, the idea of abortion simply had never been discussed. When I brought it up, she looked through the open doorway to her daughter who might be a mother before she was a teen and refused to contemplate that sinful path. After they left the office I went down to the chapel downstairs and looked up at the cross over the altar. Where was the will of God in this?
A couple of months later I sat down with a woman who had been beaten with a hammer and gang-raped. She had missed her period twice and was sure that she was pregnant. This would be her second child in three years and the tips she made as a topless dancer just wouldn’t cover diapers and formula on top of the other living expenses she already couldn’t pay for. When you added the fact that she was prescribed lithium and periodically used both heroin and cocaine when her meds ran out and the chance for the baby being healthy were fairly short. Would Jesus simply have told her that she must take responsibility for her life?
I spent much time on my knees in prayer and in diligent study of the Bible in various translations to try and guide me through this moral minefield. I talked to my pastor, to my Sunday School teacher, to the old white-haired men who seemed so wise. No one could give a satisfactory answer to my questions. Time and again I heard, “The wisdom of God is beyond the understanding of man.”
I don’t doubt that this is true. God has a much better picture of what is going on that I do. However, my follow up question was always dismissed out of hand. “Is it possible that God allowed man to learn to perform an abortion to deal more humanely with such events?” No one could point to any passage in the Bible where abortion was dealt with directly. Eventually, I understood that the opposition to abortion was based less on Biblical understanding and more on taking a position and using the Bible as a crutch for defending it.
I don’t pretend to say that abortion is the answer to every unwanted pregnancy. However, I do believe that there are situations in which it can be both merciful and moral. If the Bible is to be of any use to Christians, it – all of it – must be applied with zeal to reality. We cannot simply pretend that everything always works out the way it should.
Shakespeare wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Christians should strive to make this untrue of our teachings. We should bravely face the injustice and incredible pain of the world. Our goal should always be to offer hope and alleviate pain and show other humans by our example what it means to be loved by Christ. If this is not what it means to be Christian, then we have fallen too far from where we should be.

Liberal and Christian? Get Real!

Well, Democrats have gotten the message, right? Barak Obama told us that blue states worship a mighty God and Hillary Clinton is attending prayer breakfasts and saying that we need to respect anti-abortion extremists and work to eliminate abortion, though maintain its legality. The would-be bastion of liberal-ness, Air America Radio, has even interviewed Jim Wallis – a liberal Evangelical Christian and author – on several programs. Any second now the stampede of Christians will overwhelm the secular left.
I’m not holding my breath for that. I have no doubt that Obama and Clinton are both being sincere in their remarks. I’m very sure that Jim Wallis means what he says. However, if talking to Christians means giving up what it means to be liberal, there will be no more converts than there have been through the years when being liberal meant giving up what it means to be Christian. In other words, until one can safely be Christian and liberal, there will be no Great Uniting of the left.
It’s probably wrong to look to political leaders to start a dialogue with liberal Christians. At least, it’s the wrong way to look if you are a liberal Christian looking for a political voice. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t wait until Lyndon Johnson saw the wisdom of equal rights before he began to speak. The Quakers of the 1860s didn’t wait for Lincoln to condemn slavery before they helped create the Underground Railroad. John Wesley didn’t wait for the Crown to call the Anglican Church back to basics. Jesus didn’t wait for the Romans to grant voting rights to the Jews before he delivered his message.
No, for a truly liberal theology of Christianity to find a voice, it must find its voice from the body of believers. Once that voice is found, and honed, and resonates with voters, then the politicians will be pay attention to it. Denouncing politicians for not hearing a whisper in the crowd is a bit like getting mad at a dog for scratching fleas. It’s just the nature of the animal. Politicians tend to gravitate to, and from, vocally significant influences. So liberal Christians, like myself, have no one to blame but themselves for being ignored.
This is partly why I am working on this blog. I don’t believe I am anywhere close to the caliber of leader that will be required to advance this cause, but I do believe it is a just cause. I believe I can help shape the discussion and, by giving voice to my concerns, I can give hope to others like myself who feel their light is hidden under a basket. Christians are called to be the salt of the earth, but salt on the shelf does not add any taste to the pot. Maybe my feeble efforts can push a few like-minded individuals into the soup, so to speak.
If so, then my voice can become one of a chorus. It can be a simple chorus where the idea of a liberal Christian is not a rude joke, but a loving reality. It can be a chorus where reality is addressed bravely, without cowardly retreat to hollow ideology or immoral sanctioning of anything that feels good at the moment. Perhaps it is a chorus that can make America once again a shining nation on the hill that reaches out to those below us with humility and honest affection rather than arrogance and a bullying nationalism.
There is no shortage of topics that cry out for justice under a liberal theology of Christianity. Poverty abounds and the forces of superstition have forced retreat upon the defenders of the Enlightenment. Honest people are left behind in the headlong crush of free trade and tax reform. People die of preventable diseases and malnutrition, are locked out in the street, and struggle just to be seen as human beings. This is right here in America!
I call on every believer to earnestly search their hearts, their Bibles, and their beliefs for reasons not to address these concerns. We should not let the five percent that we disagree upon prevent us from solving the ninety-five percent of problems we agree upon. We should embrace our brothers and sisters, even when they fall. No – especially when they fall. Ours should be the first hand reaching down and the last to let go.
This is, after all, what it means to be a Christian.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I'm starting this out for the simple reason that I have something to say and I want people to hear it. This is, after all, the entire reason the blog came into being. Hopefully, I will find an audience and not be speaking to open web-space.

Who am I? I'm just a simple guy with the ability to look at things in a slightly different way. I grew up in rural West Texas and Eastern New Mexico and saw absolutely no way to get ahead there, so I followed my father's footsteps and joined the Navy. Six years later, I drove back to Texas with my future wife and a head full of dreams. I found out that life has its own sense of humor. Better trained than almost anyone I came in contact with, I still couldn't get much better than minimum wage.

Although things turned out badly between me and my first wife, we had our good times. We lived in Corpus Christi and I fell in love with the Coastal Bend. I spent many wonderful hours with my brother, drinking beer and watching our fishing lines bob in the sun. Life, without any sense of humor, took both his wife and his five year old son and I feared that I would lose my brother, too. I still think it was close - probably closer than I want to know - but he's still with us and I'm glad of it.

We adopted two kids and I loved being a dad more than I ever loved anything I did. I put my education on hold and focused my efforts at getting two kids through school without drug problems or pregnancy. I'm happy to say they both made it and are able to take care of themselves, even if their father doesn't agree with everything they do. When I told my grandma about our decision to adoopt, she told me "Being a Daddy is the scariest thing you'll ever do - if you do it right. You'll never know if you did the right thing until long after it's too late to change." Like so many other things, she was 100% right.

We moved to Florida to be closer to my mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with cancer. She got better and we bought a house and then we got divorced. I managed to keep things going long enough to get the kids graduated from high school and myself graduated with a BA in Psychology. I tell people that a BA in Psychology is good for impressing your cousin when they look at your wall. Basically, I learned that psychologists learn to give people tests to determine their IQ and what ways they fail to deal with reality. In other words, they tell people if they are stupid or crazy. I decided I wanted to put that knowledge to use right away, so I applied to the University of Central Florida to study political science.

I finished my MA in Pol Sci (Public Policy tract) and fell in love again. I'm now remarried and living in New Jersey. I am continuing my studies in politics at the City University of New York and hope to someday be done with school. I'm still interested in public policy, particularly how political theory drives policy decisions.

I'm also learning to be at ease with my faith. I grew up in a Church of Christ, moderated as a teen to a Southern Baptist, then as an adult to a United Methodist. I'm also politically a liberal, and find no problem with stating that I am liberal because I am a Christian. I find it increasingly hard to stomach that Christianity is being used as a crutch for hate rhetoric and a restrictive government.

That brings me here. I don't have all the answers. I don't even know all the questions. I do know that a lie, if unopposed, becomes true by default. When I was seventeen, and did not yet know the full meaning of my words, I swore before the American flag and upon a Bible that I would defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I cannot turn my back on that promise.

So here I am.

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