I am surrounded by people with very strong political beliefs, as are most people in the United States. I have friends with widely varying viewpoints, and I tend to hold my opinions close to the vest with all but my closest friends. There are family members I won’t discuss politics with, either because I might truly offend them or there’s just no point in any of us wasting our breath. I would guess that almost everyone who expresses their strongly held opinion to me thinks that I mostly agree with them.
Here’s the thing: I probably don’t. I am much more centrist and libertarian than most of the people I am around, meaning I didn’t think it was the end of the world when either W or Obama got elected, and I don’t believe either of them to be the second coming of Christ. I find that most political debates focus too narrowly along party lines, as does every important national discussion. There was a recent Huffington Post op-ed that described the role that faith plays in both major parties and how that same faith puts them at polar opposites. I can’t remember the author or the title now, but the gist of the piece was that Republicans get hung up on moral programs like the pro-life agenda while Democrats get hung up on social programs like healthcare or welfare. Both are acting on an extremely narrowly interpreted faith with no room for compromise.
In the last few weeks, the national conversation has focused on gun control. I think we’re having the wrong conversation. Guns, like money, have no moral value; they are neither good nor bad, and their influence is entirely based on the person holding them. Someone who is willing to shoot and kill another person will not be stopped by more gun control laws. If legislating morality were all it would take to make mankind better, we wouldn’t need police forces, and there wouldn’t be mass shootings. Here’s how the current conversation will go: “liberals” will argue that enough is enough, and we must ban guns altogether or restrict their sales and usage to such a degree that the average law-abiding citizen will never own a gun; “conservatives” will argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and mass shootings wouldn’t occur if more average law-abiding citizens were armed. No guns versus more guns. Which side is right? Neither one – they are both knee-jerk reactions to a horrible tragedy. Both sides will argue, fight dirty, and blame the other side. One side may even “win” by passing a new restrictive law or repealing an old restrictive law. The media will rehash every detail released and determine that mental illness is to blame, and dozens of people along the way missed vital clues that could have prevented the tragedy. Most of the mainstream media seems to have already decided that tighter gun laws would have prevented the Newtown tragedy.
All of the focus on gun control and mental illness are smoke and mirrors hiding the real and ugly problem our culture faces: we do not value life. We do not value individuals as unique creations of God, and until we do, no law in the world will stop another tragedy from happening. There is another op-ed that I read and greatly admired. If you haven’t seen the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” piece, Google it. The author is a mother of a teenage son who has an undetermined mental illness, and he has had violent outbursts that are increasingly harder to control. She has been seeking help, but the best suggestion given her by professional social workers and healthcare providers is to have her teenage son arrested so that he could be “in the system” and locked up or committed more easily. More horrifying than the professional suggestions to have the kid locked away were the comments from readers that her son SHOULD be locked away either in jail or a mental institution for life or medicated into oblivion. Most of the comments were rude beyond imagination. This woman was brave enough to share her story and to ask for help, for viable ways to treat her still developing teenage son either by correctly diagnosing and treating the problem or by assisting when he acts out. The public at large condemned her for advocating for her son and is willing to throw away a life that can be saved.
This is how we treat people asking for help, and then we blame the parents and anyone else in contact with a “problem child” when the child does something truly horrific. Why didn’t the parents see the signs? How could all of their teachers have missed the problem? We can’t have it both ways. Either we value each life and support those in need, or we deal with tragedy after tragedy. Either every life is valuable or none are.
The current political climate isn’t just a reflection of polar extremes in philosophies or theology – the hatred and vitriol apparent in virtually every debate demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect. There are at least three topics I avoid discussing with almost everyone because I can’t stand to hear either extreme side of the argument and because I know my opinions will not make anyone happy: healthcare, abortion, and gay marriage. As Christians, we are charged with loving one another and caring for the needs around us – to borrow from my pastor, we should be Jesus until he comes back. None of the extremes in any of these topics reflect the love of Christ.
How can anyone who thinks that the church’s job is to take care of those in need be violently opposed to a program to provide healthcare? From the other side of the argument, how can anyone who wants to accomplish such a noble task be so irresponsible that they would establish a program without reforming the system that is so bloated and corrupted that it caused most of the problem of unaffordable healthcare?
How can anyone who cares so much about being pro-life turn a blind eye to everything involved in a woman’s decision to have an abortion? Are you willing to provide childcare and post-natal support for as long as it takes for mother and child to live healthy lives? Are you willing to provide family counseling for families that are unwilling to allow adoption of the unplanned child and/or are unwilling to provide a loving and stable home situation for mother and baby? Are you willing to love the mother even if she chooses abortion? And if you have no qualms about abortion for any reason, how can you find such a waste of life acceptable in any but the most extreme situations? How does the use of abortion as a late form of birth control demonstrate anything except extreme disregard for human life and a fundamental lack of respect?
How can any Christian look me in the eye and say with a straight face that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage? I think the divorce rate among churched straight couples makes that a moot point. This argument garners about as much sympathy from me as the “Keep Christ in Christmas” hullabaloo. No law or government on earth can remove Christ from Christmas if you believe in Jesus as the savior, just as no law or government on earth can destroy the sanctity of a marriage commitment made before God.
What do we gain by constantly shouting out the extremes? I can tell you what we lose. We lose relationship, dialogue, and respect for one another. What do we lose by actually listening to one another without trying change the other party? What do we lose by occasionally compromising with the other side (a la healthcare) or by admitting we don’t really have all the answers?
If you are a careful reader, you’ll realize that I still haven’t really shared my personal view of any of the topics I presented as problematic; you may even think I’m dodging, and I guess I am to some extent. I’ll happily discuss anything I believe with anyone who is open to honest and respectful conversation. I freely admit that I have no simple answers to any of the national debates, but most of the simple answers involve the same hateful and uncompromising sound bytes that form both major party platforms. At some point, we have to learn to respect each other – to respect and love each individual life for what it is – or we will face more national tragedies, more unresolvable fiscal cliffs, and even more polarization. If you tend towards either extreme conservatism or extreme liberalism, take a long and hard look at how you react to the other side – if it’s automatic outrage or condemnation based on faith, consider that the other side feels the same way about you, and you both believe you’re doing what Jesus would do. It’s possible both sides are wrong and neither side truly represents what Jesus would do.