If you don’t mind, I’d like to take off my conservative Republican hat to talk as a Christian member of the Gustavus community. Some people seem to get the impression that socially conservative Republicans think they are the only “true” Christians, but as a social conservative, I think there are many liberal Democrat Christians who care for others and follow Jesus’ teachings much better than I do. It is my belief that God has given us all many values and virtues that guide our thoughts and actions, but as imperfect human beings, we all struggle to prioritize those values the way God intends.
Take the hot button issue of abortion, for example. A lot of social conservatives like me believe life begins at conception and God would want us to protect that life in all circumstances. Others believe that life begins later and God would want us to give women the choice of what works best for them and their life situation. One side thinks they are showing God’s love to children; the other side thinks they are showing God’s love to women. Which side is behaving the way Jesus would want? I believe that is the right question to ask, but only God really knows what’s best. We should never shut people out from Christianity because they have a different way of living out their Christian faith.
The justification for the war in Iraq is another difficult issue where I believe devout Christians can disagree. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died during the fighting, and many cannot believe that God would want us to kill any of his beloved children. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein’s regime killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and constantly threatened the safety and stability of other nations in the Middle East. Will God forgive us for stopping what we believed to be a greater evil? As individuals and as a nation, we are constantly confronted with complicated decisions that force us to prioritize our values and we pray that those affected by our choices and God can forgive us when we make the wrong choice.
Our shared Christian values and virtues also shape how we view everyday things like taxes. A fiscal conservative believes that low taxes across the board encourage innovation and hard work while growing the American economy so that all citizens can have a growing piece of a growing pie. Raising taxes on wealthy Americans and redistributing this wealth to the poor by way of welfare checks and other benefits is seen by some on the liberal side as a way to create greater equality in our society. Equality, hard work, and reduced poverty are things we all work for in our society, but we have different views on how those things are best achieved. Do we have to belittle others views as out-of-touch or cold hearted in order to strengthen our own view? I think God calls us to be better than that.
One of the main reasons I believe our country has become so polarized and partisan is that we have stopped believing the people on the other side of every issue have the brains to know what’s best or the heart to do what’s right. Recording artist Kanye West said during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” This was his conclusion after the slow and often ineffective recovery effort in New Orleans and the surrounding area. President Bush and many other government officials on all levels failed to effectively handle this tragedy, but I am not cynical enough to believe that any of them were not emotionally hurt by the devastation that took place. Good people with good intentions make mistakes.
Atheists, agnostics, and people of all religions have a place in this conversation on values as well, but as a Christian, I can really only speak from the perspective of my own belief system. That being said, I believe all belief systems have shared values that guide them in their day to day lives. We all want good to prosper in our society even if we disagree on its source.
“This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17) Jesus did not tell us to squabble over each other’s faults or to disassociate ourselves with those with whom we don’t agree. The Christian faith is about bringing in all who want to search for greater understanding of God. We should never let our political or ideological differences distract us from treating each other with the love and respect that God calls us to give. Can I get an “Amen!”?