I’m talking about politics as much as religion in this series. At least on the surface. Feel free to move along to something more innocuous (like dwarf bunnies) if you don’t want to enter this quagmire with me.
Tomorrow is July 4. In the United States of America, we celebrate it as Independence Day. So let’s wrap up this political blog series on who America was made to be.
A nation that supported the ideals like freedom and justice and growth.
Compromising for Freedom
The founding fathers were flawed, powerful, white men who held enough insight to recognize the need to protect certain ideals but who lacked enough character to project those same ideals consistently in their own lives.
Modern right-wing evangelicals would decry many of the founding fathers of our nation as heretics, blasphemers, and heathens. Modern left-wing Christians would decry their ubiquitous warmongering, slavery, genocide, and _______ism. Seriously. Fill in the blank, and you’ll find that kind of prejudice.
These were flawed, powerful, white men who held enough insight to recognize the need to protect certain ideals but who lacked enough character to project those same ideals consistently in their own lives.
These were men who saw the need to safeguard freedoms, to establish representation, and to deliberately set religion aside (having come from a theocratic/political quagmire) to work toward a common good.
But these were also men who enabled (and even institutionalized) exploitation and genocide on a level that makes modern Americans cringe. We seem to pretend our founding was a weird episode of the Twilight Zone where the US was founded on greed and power and not liberty lollipops and justice jewels.
These were imperfect men for their era. But they made some good calls. And while some of our founding documents sometimes reflect religious authorship, the laws of our country expressly separate the authors’ ideology from how they operate government.
Compromising for Justice
In 1787, a woman reportedly asked Benjamin Franklin a pertinent question as he left the final day of deliberation in the Constitutional Convention. “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic”, he famously replied, “if you can keep it.”
We often refer to ourselves as a democracy, but that is in error. We are a constitutional republic. However, the ideals representation and public votes were institutionalized into the Constitution. So while we’re not a democracy (there have been few of those throughout history), our republic is built around some of the ideals of democracy.
This prevents our populace (particularly the minority) from being perpetually held under the gun of public opinion. Mob rule is little more than a slow-moving anarchy.
When I search for “nut shot” on YouTube, I get over 1.3 million results. Let that sink in. Well over a million times, someone invested their time and energy into producing videos of men and boys taking hits to the junk. Of those videos, 28 have over one million views. The top video, Superman sending someone into the sun with a kick to the huevos, has over six million views.
And counting, now that you just checked it out yourself.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves now what most of us knew instinctively in high school: what’s popular isn’t always what’s best. Governing law can check and balance popular opinion.
Our founding fathers, for all their flawed personal character, unbiblical theology, and rampant racism, recognized this. But they also recognized the value of public participation. After all, they knew from firsthand experience that a populace that does not feel represented by the authority is apt to overthrow that authority.
Compromise for Growth
Our system of government is built to allow growth beyond the racist, misogynist, hypocritical roots of our country. We can be disturbed by the sins of our ancestors without being bound to repeat them.
Shamefully, the United States built an economy on slavery and acquired land through genocide. Our European apple did not fall far from the tree in that sense. Our history is rich with nonsense like the Three-Fifths Compromise and Manifest Destiny.
Yet today, people across all ethnicities, genders, and handicaps are on ever-more equal legal footing. Many subcultures lag behind, but each year we see more and more of the original ideals of our founding fathers expressed in some form, though they might not have foreseen the ways we’ve found to apply those ideals.
Our system of government is built to allow growth beyond the racist, misogynist, hypocritical roots of our country. We can be disturbed by the sins of our ancestors without being bound to repeat them. We can pursue peace, commerce, and relationship today with our fellow citizens like never before.
Considering our questionable history, that’s not bad.
This year, that’s what I’m celebrating. That we’re a country that can grow into something better.
No nation can be a Christian nation. To be Christlike is to support through relationships, individual attention, and unrelenting love. Not really the sort of thing we can reasonably ask from a government.
However, we live in a nation that can make progress.
And that is no small thing.
Can We Compromise, Too?
That raises the question of where to steer this ship as we progress. The recent few decades of “progress” is considered anything but by much of the evangelical culture. They would have us return to our “Christian roots”.
Abortion, same-sex marriage, and drugs must all be stamped out, you see. To do otherwise is to deny God’s plan for humanity.
There’s a problem, though, and you’ve heard it many times: You can’t legislate morality.
I’ve mentioned Greg Boyd many times on this site, and I’ve referred to his book “The Myth of a Christian Nation” a few times. Like many aspects of his writing, I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but he raises some really valid points. Consider this:
Do you trust threats, judgment, shame, or social pressure
(even in church!) to change people, or do you trust the Holy Spirit
working in the people’s hearts and using Christlike acts of love
to bring about change?
If you’re really interested in making the United States a Christian nation, will changing the laws accomplish that goal? If law alone worked, why was Jesus needed at all? We had a perfectly good set of laws already in the Old Testament, passed down from God Himself.
Law does not change the heart. Boyd put it pretty succinctly:
“Laws … control behavior but cannot change hearts.”
Even the Apostle Paul noted the limitations of our “morality” on non-believers: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”
Moving Past Labels
This is where we get back to our original discussion in this series. What actually works?
Well, for starters, nothing we’ve tried so far.
Right now, the United States is as polarized as I’ve ever seen it. Our voices aren’t being heard. I suspect it’s because we’re all shouting too much to do much listening.
Questions for the Right
So let me ask some questions of the conservative, right-wing, evangelical:
- If I suggest that a same-sex couple can be legally considered married but not biblically considered married, have I compromised my faith?
- If I recognize that our justice system is better than it once was but could still have pockets of institutionalized racism, have I compromised my faith?
- If I think that guns are potentially dangerous tools that could be better regulated without infringing on the second amendment, have I compromised my faith?
- If I believe that women who have had or are considering an abortion should be loved as aggressively as their unborn child, have I compromised my faith?
Surely you can recognize that I can legitimately consider other ideas without being disqualified as a Christian. Jesus never said, “Thou shalt have assault rifles,” after all.
Is it, then, really a compromise to let the law of the land say something while the law of my heart says another?
Questions for the Left
Let me also ask some questions of the liberal, left-wing, progressive:
- If I have all the privilege of a Christian white male, have I compromised my humanity?
- If I consider the unborn child in a woman to be worth protecting if at all possible, have I compromised my humanity?
- If I once vehemently abhorred the legalization of gay marriage, held all the traditional misogyny I could muster, and missed the point of Black Lives Matter, and then changed, have I compromised my humanity?
- If I doubt our government’s ability to adequately handle something and vote against something on those grounds, have I compromised my humanity?
Surely I can have some of the hallmarks of your opposition (white male), with some of their ideals (pro-life), a lot of their background (from the South), and a non-Democrat voting record, and yet not actually be part of your opposition.
Be Like the Founding Fathers
Our founding fathers were flawed. Like, really flawed.
But guess what? So are we.
Our founding fathers had different ideas. Like, really different.
Our founding fathers wanted something better. Like, really better.
And they were willing to compromise to make that a reality.
Sound bites and echo chambers dominate our political landscape today. And evangelical culture is one of many echo chambers.
To the right: maybe it’s time we all start to compromise on the things that don’t matter so we don’t have to compromise on the things that do matter. Perhaps other people’s opinions aren’t actually a threat to your faith, even if they don’t remotely align with your own.
To the left: stop beating me up because I’m Christian, white, or male. More often than not, I’m your ally. And better, I live on the other side. Plus, I’ve got a track record of coming to see your point over time. I’m like exactly the kind of person you should be civil with.
To both of you: this us-vs-them tit-for-tat stuff has to stop. Don’t make me turn this car around… then no one will get fireworks or tacos. And I won’t get a margarita. And what kind of America is that?
Originally posted 2017-07-03 08:00:00.