Reclaim the Moral High Ground
by James Kroeger
November 6, 2004
Mark Schmitt has made
some noise posing this question on his blog: "...why it is that
the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time
ever, virtually no element of social justice?"
I would suggest that
the “current flourishing” has lacked a social justice element
because it has been largely driven by individuals---like Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson---who have strongly identified with the
Republican Party’s economic agenda. In other words,
Christianity---in the hands of Republicans---has developed a “moral
focus” that selectively ignores the teachings of Jesus that they
find...well, a bit unwelcome.
After all, Jesus urged
his followers to not concern themselves with their wealth
(“...sell all you have...”) and to be wimps when confronting
bullies. Republicans find themselves not wanting to follow
such teachings because they sense that obeying them could end up
threatening their privileged positions in society. So they've
tended to focus attention on moral “issues” that do not threaten
their economic circumstances in any way, like abortion and
homosexuality. Republican strategists who have felt some
identification with Christianity have simply recognized the
political value of repeatedly focusing the electorate's attention on
two key moral issues that Jesus never said anything about.
The time has come for
Democrats to put Republican Christians on the defensive. The
first thing we need to do is accuse them of wrongly suggesting that
Jesus would be a Republican if he were a United States citizen
today, instead of a Democrat. It is easy to point to specific
teachings by Jesus that would clearly define him as a Bleeding-Heart
Liberal. Indeed, most Republicans would be quick to describe
him as "far to the left" of the majority of Democrats. Did he
not teach his followers to give freely of their possessions to
others, and to respond to any attack by an enemy from another
country with acts of loving kindness? Can there be any doubt
that Arnold Schwarzenegger would call him a "Girly Man?"
When the arguments
start, Democrats need to point out that it is only logical for us to
conclude that Jesus told us which moral issues were the most
important to him by the amount of time he spent commenting on
them. Which moral issues did he emphasize the most?
Two Jesus Concerns stand out before all others. One thing he
repeatedly stressed to his followers was that it was important for
them to be willing to deny themselves materially if
that was what was required in order to obtain the benefit of others.
The other sin that he repeatedly complained about was the one
that the Pharisees were identified with most often: hypocritical
moral posturing by those who never missed an opportunity to point
out the sins of others. Both are sins that largely define the
modern Republican politician.
We need to
repeatedly point out that neither abortion nor homosexuality were
addressed by Jesus. Does that omission mean that neither of
those practices is wrong? Of course not. But it does strongly
suggest that even
if it seems obvious to us that Jesus thought homosexuality and
abortion were sinful practices he clearly did not perceive them to be
as alarming as the other imperfections he saw within human
souls (mentioned above) that he did comment on repeatedly.
did think that
abortion and homosexuality were more serious “moral crimes”
than failing to love your enemy or indulging in false piety, then why did he not mention them when he had the
opportunity? If one examines
closely the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, there is
no evidence that he believed abortion & homosexuality were more
offensive than the failure of rich men to deny themselves for the
benefit of others or praying in public like the Pharisees. Democrats are clearly justified in
believing that they have a stronger claim to a true identification
with Jesus than Republicans do.
If they were to do
this, Democrats would immediately put Republican Christians on the
defensive. Whenever they try to defend themselves from the charge of
hypocrisy, all Democrats need to do is ask them why it is that they
can’t follow Jesus’ teaching re: social justice? Why is it
that they are concerning themselves with the motes they see in the
eyes of others when they have beams in their own?
Is it because they
like to willfully ignore Jesus’ teachings? We need to start
publicly pressuring Republican Christians to agree with us that
Jesus’ specific teachings on moral issues should be taken more
seriously than any advice on other moral topics that followers
(Paul) or predecessors (Old Testament prophets) might have expressed
at other times.
If we do this in good
faith, we will be able to bleed away some of the support that
Republican Christians have enjoyed because we will have made it safe
for many devout followers to see that one can be a Good Christian
and also a Good Democrat at the same time. After all, Jesus
was just such a man.
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