Thursday, January 13, 2005

let's be honest...

a.k.a The Jimmy Carter syndrome

A recent expose on the Presidency of Jimmy Carter reminds me that George W. Bush is not the first President to wear his evangelical faith "on his sleeve," nor the first to justify difficult and controversial decisions in religious terms.

Democrats love to hate our current President - vilifying him is not only en vogue, it's practically assumed among the people I meet in my new residence. Democratic Christians especially seem to bristle under the religious language regularly invoked by the administration and its well-meaning supporters. Yet this was something Jimmy Carter did at least as much as the current administration, if not more so.

Interestingly, these very same Christians will not hesitate to state their own politics in decidedly religious terms! I have heard several progressive evangelicals speak of Jimmy Carter as if he were the answer to merging Liberal politics and evangelical faith - this from a Presidency considered by politicans and historians (on all sides) to be an unmitigated failure.

This type of double-speak drives me crazy, and implies to me that Christians of both political stripes have a very nasty habit of deriving political views, and then bending religion to fit politics, and not the other way around. I'm sure that I am as guilty of this as the next person, and I don't see any easy way around it. But I am highly uncomfortable with the idea that I do this...perhaps a certain self-consciousness of this habit is a step in the right (though not perhaps liberal) direction.

I also sense a lot more venom from my Liberal colleagues, though this is perhaps to be expected given the resounding losses they recently suffered. Most Republicans I know consider Democrats to be simply misinformed - "if they only understood the way things really work they would realize that Liberal policies are ineffectual." My Democratic friends, meanwhile, quite literally assume that Republican leaders get up in the morning and plan ways of decisively ruining our country and stomping on anyone they can in the process. This "assumption divide" has big implications for the possibility of productive dialog across the political aisle.

Here are a few instances of President Bush's Christian faith affecting his politics in ways in positive ways I think are worth considering:
  • A commitment to human rights abroad - especially efforts to stop sex trafficking.
  • Strong support for fighting AIDS worldwide.
  • A practical committment to securing the rights of pre-born infants.
  • The desire to see religious liberties spread to areas of the world not currently experiencing such freedoms.
  • A belief that religious charities applying for social-service grants shouldn't be discriminated against simply because they are religious.
  • White House's support for a college student who was denied a state grant because he planned to major in theology (that could have been me!).
  • The Cleveland school-choice case, defending the rights of parents to choose which school their children attend with voucher support, whether religious or secular.
I don't know. It's not an easy issue no matter how you look at it. But at least think about it.
Grace & Peace...