In my other life as a newspaper reporter, one of my coolest assignments was going to Denver for a week to cover the Democratic National Convention for the Rocky Mountain News (R.I.P.) in 2008. I mainly live-blogged and tweeted, but I got a couple of print bylines, which was cool, and covered some protests, which was fun. The first event I covered was the first event of the convention, an interfaith prayer gathering, the first ever event at a Democratic convention designed for people of faith.
One of the speakers there changed my view of politics and religion.
Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, expressed his frustration with the Democratic Party for its support of abortion. Quoting from my own blog post about his remarks:
Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, called on presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to “follow through on his promise … to reduce the number of abortions” while stopping just short of criticizing the Democratic Party for its support of the practice.
“Surely we cannot be pleased with … millions of terminated pregnancies,” Blake said to applause from the nearly full Wells Fargo Theater. “Something within us must be calling for a better way. If we do not resist at this point, at what point will we resist?”
Democrats must know about the “moral and spirtual pain so many of us feel because of this disregard for the lives of the unborn,” Blake said.
In a speech focusing on society’s responsibility to its children, Blake first focused on the plight of the inner-city poor as a human rights responsibility before calling abortion a practice “that conflicts with our position and our responsibility … to human rights itself.”
Powerful words. Amos-like, even, as he starts with something his party would support, protecting the rights of children, then moves into condemnation of the party’s stance on abortion.
But Blake didn’t just criticize the Democrats.
“Others loudly proclaim their advocacy for the unborn, but they refuse to recognize their responsibility and the responsibility of our nation to those who have been born. They are presently and historically silent, if not indifferent, to the suffering of our inner cities.”
I turned in my paper on Amos yesterday. The assignment was to do an exegesis of an assigned chapter in Amos, then follow that up with an analysis of one or more ethical issues raised by the chapter. I was assigned Amos 7, which actually doesn’t have much in the way of direct ethical condemnation. It contains three visions and a confrontation between the prophet and Amaziah, the high priest of Bethel.
But that confrontation is telling, as in it, Amaziah tells Amos to go back to Judah and prophesy there because Bethel is “the king’s holy place and the king’s royal house.” Amos has presumably spent a year or more criticizing the religious and economic power structures of Israel because of their disregard for and exploitation of the poor, and all Amaziah can say is that he can’t preach there; it’s the king’s place. It’s a sign of how corrupt and self-serving the power centers of Israel’s life had become. They existed to perpetuate the self-comfort of themselves and those like them and evinced no concern whatsoever for the lower classes who suffered under their rule.
Applying that for today, we as Christians are powerful people. We live in a nation where 80 percent of the citizens claim the name of Christ. We are from the moment we turn 18 considered members of the government, whether we want to be or not. Even if we decide not to participate in politics, we are in fact making a political decision that will affect other people and the results of which I believe we will be held accountable.
And we have used that power. The church has done a very effective job holding the Democratic Party accountable for its abandonment of the powerless in the womb. Perhaps too effective. Because, along with oversimplifying a complex and delicate issue, we have become so enmeshed with the Republican Party that we appear to have adjusted our theology to match that party’s political platform – as if Jesus had campaigned against gay marriage and advocated low taxes and deregulation, even if the deregulation protects the poor from the powerful and the taxes fund programs to help children eat.
I can’t help but think of a pair of proposals that have received the blessing of the Republican Party – the Paul Ryan budget, which passed the U.S. House, and the tax plan proposed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney. They both essentially call for the same toxic blend of policies:
- Increasing military spending
- Tax cuts for the wealthy
- Reducing the deficit
There’s nothing wrong with any of these in isolation, depending on the circumstances and proposed results. Combined, however, they mean essentially this: More money for weapons and the wealthy and less for the poor. It is no less a redistribution of wealth than that proposed by Democrats who argue for increasing taxes on the rich – but in this case, they propose redistributing wealth from the bottom 80 percent of the population to the top 20 percent.
My professor in this Amos and Ethics class has said several times: “Budgets are moral documents.”
If that’s the case, and I think that’s right, these documents are immoral, and we as Christians should have a difficult time supporting the politicians who propose them and the parties that support them.
There’s another aspect to this, as well. By my recollection, there are only two of the 535 members of Congress who do not claim the Bible as a holy book – one is an atheist, and one is a Muslim, whose own holy book says similar things about helping the poor. That means there are 533 (or thereabouts) self-proclaimed Christians, of which a majority of them voted for the Paul Ryan budget. Worse, Ryan himself has used his Christian faith to advocate for his budget, which takes money and resources from the poor and gives them to people who look just like him.
Amaziah would be proud, but I have a hard time thinking Jesus is.