Sunday, November 18, 2012

Polarization and Christianity

I recently read an article that discussed the political polarization of America. The author cited an anecdote about a man who had a flat tire and another man stopped to help change the tire, but after it was done, the good Samaritan stated, "'If I'd known you were Obama people I wouldn't have stopped." Seriously? I have a cousin who was actually proud of herself when she posted on Facebook that she had stopped for gasoline but due to some problem with the pumps she had to go inside to pay for her purchase. Half-way across the parking lot, she turned around and got back in her vehicle and drove off without getting fuel because the station had an "Obama/Biden 2012" sticker on their front window.

In the 1970's fewer than 5% of people polled cared what a prospective son or daughter-in-law's political party affiliation was; today that group is nearly half of those surveyed. People will like everything about another person they meet but will refuse to establish a friendship with them simply because they find out that person is a card carrying member of the opposing political party. Is this what our founding fathers envisioned for this country when they established this democratic republic? I highly doubt that would be the case, if we could go back in time and question them about it. In fact, our first President, in his farewell address upon leaving the Presidency, spent several minutes talking about the downfall of society if the country allowed political parties to become the norm. He even predicted the downfall of our society because of the polarization caused by party politics.

In the 236 years this nation has been in existence, we've always had ways of separating ourselves; landowners versus non-landowners, slaveholders versus abolitionists, yankees versus rebels, religious versus non-believers, protestant versus catholic, white versus native, white versus Asian, white versus black, east coast versus west coast and the list goes on. Today, however, it seems the only real division between us falls into the category of Republican versus Democrat.

Congress is more polarized than any time since the end of the Civil War. We're seeing a downward spiral that began when the Democrats became "the party of civil rights" and the Republicans "the party of the religious right." I've actually heard people say they wouldn't vote for a Democrat because they only vote for Christians, implying no Christian could ever be a registered Democrat and no Democrat could ever be a true Christian.

What does all this truly mean, though? Are we truly fighting one another based on political differences or is there an underlying shift in the ideology of individuals and political parties which is underscoring the great divide? Many in the Republican party (read: the religious right) balk at the idea that it's the Democratic party that is for civil rights. They believe themselves to be just as pro-civil rights as the Democrats, except when it comes to equal rights for all people regardless of gender, skin color, nation of origin, religious affiliation and, of course, sexual orientation. Many believe the Constitution of the United States only applies to native born, heterosexual Christians. If someone is not white, Christian, Republican, they honestly and truly believe the Constitution and Bill of Rights doe not apply to them.

As always, my question goes back to what would Jesus do? What did Jesus teach us regarding this subject? Jesus taught us that we are to love all people. There were no caveats to His command to love everyone. We cannot exclude someone from our love because they're not a white, straight, Christian, employed Republican. And I simply cannot find a place in scripture, much less those scriptures in red, where we are taught or even given permission to discriminate against someone who isn't like us or doesn't believe exactly the way we believe. No basis is given for writing laws that outlaw the behaviors we don't agree with or excluding those who don't share our ideology from participating in the civil liberties we enjoy. Truth be told, Jesus more or less tells us that we shouldn't write laws to ban such because He came to free us from the law by giving us grace and mercy; a new covenant purchased by His blood because we couldn't live up to the standards of the law. Doesn't matter whether it's codified as the Law of Moses or the Law of the United States of America. Law is law!

Oh yes, I mustn't forget the old mantra that justifies judgment and discrimination: love the sinner, hate the sin. Malarkey! It is rare that I hear this excuse from someone who is truly showing the love of Christ toward their fellow man without exception. They have somehow convinced themselves that they can love someone while stripping that person of rights and freedoms or banning that person from exercising the free will God gave them. That's right, people, God gave each and every one of us free will to do exactly what we choose to do, to live exactly how we choose to live and be a part of whichever political party or religion we choose to be part of. Even if it's not the one we think they should be involved with.

What Jesus did tell us is that if we honestly believe we have shared the truth with someone and they refuse to hear what we have to say, we are to shake the very dust off our sandals and walk away, leaving that person to do what they choose. It doesn't say we are to write laws preventing them from doing what they choose. And it doesn't say we can't have anything to do with them, whatsoever. If you choose to not associate with them, fine. But, how will they ever see you living the life of Christ if you don't?

Now, there are certain laws that we have in this country, and in any civilized society, that must stand. Anything that constitutes usurping the free will of another person is forbidden. Or doing anything that would harm someone who is not able to make a free choice is forbidden. So please don't try to tell me that I'm advocating allowing child molestation or beastiality or what-not. A child or an animal doesn't have free will or the ability to consent. That makes doing anything with them a crime as well as a sin.

But, the truth is, by completely polarizing ourselves from those who are choosing a different political party and accusing them of not loving this country or calling them names or judging them as sinners is not following the teachings and commandments of Christ. Yes, we all have the freedom to not patronize businesses for any reason whatsoever, including because they have a political poster in their window for candidates we don't support. But helping someone in need? Nowhere are we given permission to pass that person by! In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us we are especially directed to help that person or people.