What’s Wrong with Christian Politics


Warning, the following post contains an image that may trouble some readers. If it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong with you.

This video captures pretty much everything that is wrong with Christian politics today. The hammer of the blacksmith pounds out important issues, issues that are surely on the mind of the woman marching toward the voting both (in a very small polling station): jobs, taxes, and energy (gas prices?). But then, with about as much subtlety as a California forest fire, the blacksmith urges us to commit those concerns to the flames. For Catholics (the target audience of this video), and by extension all Christians, this election is about three things: gay marriage, abortion, and “freedom.”

The problem with Christian politics is not a problem of values but definitions. I like freedom. But the video and I mean two different things by it. It references the  recent controversy over contraception, which suggests to me that its authors are liberals in the classical sense of the term. Classically, both Barack Obama and George W. Bush are liberals. It means you define freedom in a kind of negative way. It’s that old idea that I have the right to flail my arm about, so long as I don’t hit you in the face. Freedom is the absence of imposition without consent. King George can’t tax me without representation, and telling my church-affiliated hospital to make sure our female employees have access to contraception is an attack on my fundamental rights!

In Catholic social teaching, and the Christian tradition in general, freedom means something more positive and constructive. Our model of Christian freedom is Jesus Christ. It’s that whole idea that, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). That doesn’t mean that Jesus and King George cannot be in a room together. It means that we define freedom as love. The love the Spirit brings binds us together as the body of Christ. If one part suffers, we all suffer. If one part rejoices, we all rejoice (1 Cor. 12:26). Thus Christian freedom is responsibility, fairness, justice, and concern (so maybe from a Catholic perspective, making the pill accessible to every employee is the Christian thing to do).

When it comes to gay marriage and abortion, the video thinks of family and life too narrowly.

Let’s start with marriage. I have written in a couple of other places (here and here) that if Christians want to protect the family, then gays should be the least of our worries. Just ask any family that struggles with long-term unemployment or underemployment. Last time I checked, gay marriage wasn’t keeping healthy food from the table. Gay marriage wasn’t causing stressed out husbands and wives to fight with each other. Gay marriage wasn’t making parents too tired to play with their kids or to talk to each other at the end of a long day’s work.

Then there is life. The video’s author’s really should know better. For the Christian, life takes its meaning from the empty tomb. That means it is more than just existence. I think we should be pro-life in the richest sense of the term. Abortion rates have been declining since 1981. There have been some upticks here and there, but none of them have anything to do with the president (though they may have something to do with the economy). That should be our cue to start caring about life outside the womb, too (I know this is hardly an original argument, but I think it is one we still need to hear).

In the U.S., the life expectancy of the average black man is considerably shorter than that of the average white man, infant mortality rates are some of the highest in the industrialized world, and a lot of us still don’t think healthcare is a basic human right (the Pope does, by the way). Worse, many of my conservative sisters and brothers are very eager for war (in other places). They cheered while children burned in the streets of Iraq, and they cannot wait for us to do it again in Iran. These folks (who would not recognize irony if it exploded in their faces) have no business calling themselves pro-life.

For the Christian, life is more than a beating heart. It is fulness and hope. That means, this side of the kingdom, life issues, family issues, and job, tax, and energy issues are all part of the same continuum. They are connected! Do we really think that just because we vote for a Christian president (or a president who claims to be Christianish) that our nation will become more Christian? Were we asleep between the years 2000-2008? Or during the Middle Ages?

This video is right that how we vote matters. (Though I’ve got to say, I love the heavy dose of “Catholic guilt” it lays on the viewer – that God is peering over your shoulder in the ballot box – conveying the not-so-subtle message that if we vote for Barack Obama, we are going straight to hell.) How we vote is important, but if we want to vote our values, which I think we should do, then we need to remember that our values are not a means to our policies but the ends of our policies. And so we do need to think carefully about how we vote, and that might mean voting for a candidate who does not openly share our beliefs or even our priorities, but whose policies, we believe, will best contribute to the kind of society in which our priorities can be realized.


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