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Political hypocrisy

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Recently, when I visited my grandma, she started talking politics—asking me if I’d been watching the conventions. Inwardly, I groaned. I did not want to have a political conversation with my grandma. I kept my comments general. When she said she thought it was going to be a dirty fight, I said it would be a close race and promptly tried to change the subject. I didn’t care to hear an explanation of what she meant by “dirty,” or who in particular that comment was aimed at.

Political conversation is dicey and dangerous. Defending one’s own party or dishing on the opponents of that party can bring out the worst in people. When it comes to politics, everybody wants his or her side to be right, and many will defend that side—even if it means creating excuses or making an issue out of something that would normally not matter. While I myself fall somewhere in the middle, I have friends who are very conservative and friends who are very liberal. Perhaps it’s because I respect and agree with each of them on different issues that I find political discussion to be rather awkward.

I’m skeptical of political rhetoric, and aware that what we see in the media is tainted—it’s only half the story, if that. Consequently, when someone starts bashing a candidate, I am most likely to look for the other side of the argument, or find a way to defend that candidate. This is particularly true when the attacks have nothing to do with beliefs or policy. I’m sorry, but word plays on Obama’s name, comparisons between Palin and Clinton’s looks, or jokes about McCain’s age are simply below the belt.

When it comes to true issues, I think it is important to remember that no source is truly unbiased. The lens through which we are invited to view a candidate, election, or issue will color the way we see that issue, and it is important to recognize that lens and do our best to see beyond it—to understand that there is another perspective, or way of seeing.

Politicians, and those well-versed in political discussion, are masters at angling the lens through which we view the issue. It is for this reason that I am wary of political rhetoric, and suspicious of what happens when we get too caught up either in the media, or in the desire to prove that our own party is right. Often, what happens is that we forget about the issues, we cling only to the facts that are convenient, and we begin attacking individuals.

A recent example of this arose in the days following McCain’s announcement that Sarah Palin would be his running mate. Listening to the media, it seemed as if Palin’s personal life carried more weight than her beliefs or experience. The attacks made against Palin were petty and childish, and I highly respect Obama’s clear response that families are off limits. This is not an attempt to endorse or belittle either candidate, but rather, to make a point about the way we often play information to our advantage. Liberals, who normally advocate for the equality of women, were quick to question Palin’s ability to run for office while parenting five children. A factor that would have been a point of pride in a liberal candidate became a potential weakness when it was on the wrong side of the ticket.

Liberals, however, have not been the only ones to show hypocrisy in recent days. Following the announcement that Palin’s unwed daughter Bristol is pregnant, liberals sat back waiting for conservatives to react with disgust. Yet, conservatives have not delivered. This, I was pleased to see. To me, the disgust came over the fact that this was even an issue—that the media would go so low as to continually plaster the story of that poor girl and her boyfriend all over the news. But as frustrated as I was with the media, I found another issue to be nearly as disturbing. Why did the media think this was news? Why did liberals expect a reaction? Could it be that in the past, issues of morality have led to a rise of judgment from conservative camps? I question conservative’s quick dismissal of this “immorality” for the same reason that I question the liberal’s hasty attack of Palin’s motherhood—it doesn’t seem to fit. As conservatives ask liberals how they would respond to Palin if she were on the other ticket, they should ask themselves the same thing. Would they have given grace so freely if they disagreed with Palin’s politics, and wanted her to look bad?

It’s easy to give grace when you already like a person. It’s harder to remove a lens of political hatred to recognize that perhaps the people on the other side aren’t all bad. Maybe they are mothers, working hard for women’s equality. Maybe they have families who face the same issues as everybody else, and simply need some grace. Maybe there’s more to the story.

I guess what I am tired of is the political games in which we forget what the real issues are, leave out inconvenient facts, and make excuses. I think it’s more important to show integrity than to do whatever it takes to make one’s own party look good. Endorse your candidate based on his or her strengths, and the issues that he or she stands for. Point out the weakness or inconsistencies in the opponents policies, but don’t twist the facts, play only the cards you want, or attack them based on matters completely unrelated to their ability to perform the job. Eventually, you’ll be revealed as a hypocrite, and you’ll end up looking childish.

For further reading on politics, I’ve posted an article I wrote for the SPU newspaper just under one year ago. It explains in further detail why it is time for Christians in particular to give up messy political games.

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Written by liferenewed

September 7, 2008 at 12:41 am

Posted in Politics

God’s politics: it’s time for Christians to quit the political games

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I wrote this article for SPU’s newspaper in Fall 2007

The words written in red, white and blue pop out from the bumper-sticker attached to a nearby office door. Surrounded by bright stars and bold stripes they announce, “God is not a Republican.” The small letters bellow them require a closer look, but reveal the punch line, “or a Democrat.”

Recently, a teenage girl, who will turn 18 just before the 2008 presidential elections, asked her father what he considers himself—a Republican or a Democrat. His response was simply, “I am a Christian.”

Many SPU students are in the same place as this young girl. For the first time, they will be making serious political decisions. The pressure can be overwhelming. Those who don’t give into complacency often default to the political party of their parents, or that which seems to have the most popularity. But if this is all their vote is based on, one must ask if they really know why they are voting one way or the other.

If God had a political party, deciding which candidate to vote for would be a much simpler process. Yet, as the bumper sticker notes, he does not. Christians are left to sort through the confusion on their own.

Many have not done a very good job. In her book Jesus Rode a Donkey, published in 2006, theologian Linda Seger made this observation on the division of our nation: “This is not just a division of Democrats versus Republicans. This is a division of Christians versus everybody else, and Christians versus other Christians” (Source: Seger, Jesus Rode a Donkey, p.2).

Dr. Davis, chair of the SPU Political Science department and former Chairmen of the King County Republican party, said, “I don’t know any who would feel confident saying that their party is a divine institution.”

And he’s probably right. Most would back down before actually articulating such a claim. Yet, this is often how Christian voters act.

Church leaders and politicians alike are guilty of trying to mix God and politics. “I wonder if recently we haven’t had too many political partisans going to church for a religious experience, and too many churches supporting a social agenda,” said Davis.

Barak Obama, a candidate running for the Democratic Presidential ticket, recently told church members that faith in God, “Propels me to do what I do” and that, “God is with us, and wants us to do the right thing” (Source: msnbc.com).

Sincere or not, Obama’s statement reveals why politicians feel the need to seek “a religious experience.” Christians want to vote for someone that they feel God favors. Christians also want a candidate that stands for the issues that they feel are God’s concerns.

“There are issues that have moved the church to get involved politically,” said Davis. As Davis sees it, these are the issues of life and death. Issues such as slavery, abortion, and assisted suicide cannot be ignored because, “Christians are called to justice.”

Yet, this can be dangerous. As the abortion issue demonstrated, political involvement on the part of Churches can confine God to a political party.

When the abortion issue entered the platform in the 1970’s some Christians felt so strongly that God was pro-life, that they felt they ad to associate themselves and God with the Republican party.

This left Christian Democrats feeling as if they needed to defend their Christianity in light of their political affiliation. The result is now an ugly political version of Children picking teams on the playground screaming, “I had God on my party first.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for the confusion surrounding God and politics. Likewise, church leaders and politicians are guilty of dragging God into their political agendas. As a result of this carelessness, political divisions have seeped into the church, causing hatred, misunderstandings, and confusion.

Christians shouldn’t let political parties divide the Church. There is enough that does that already. Dr. Davis recognizes that political parties are a compromise. However, maybe this is better than battling to get God in our political corner. Not everyone in the Church will completely agree on every political issue. But maybe that is okay.

It seems that there are more important things. This is what the early Church had to learn: some differences are too petty to make issue over. Ephesians offers a great reminder of this: “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” (Ephesians 2:19). Gentiles, Jews, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—all are part of God’s family. And God’s family is not a political party.

When asked what Christians should look to as they make voting decisions, Dr. Davis pondered awhile before replying. “Begin from the premise: every individual is of equal moral worth.” According to Davis, this is the best place to start. From there, it is our Christian duty to support political issues that protect human rights.

Politics should be about the issues and the principles, not the political party. It seems it is time that Christians vote based on issues and not parties.

It is time that the Christian community admit it has been playing childish political games. This is not an attack on Democrats or Republicans, but a wake up-call to the Christian community to truly live and vote as the body of Christ.

It seems that the answer lies in the man’s reply to his teen-age daughter. Christians need to identify themselves foremost as Christians and vote, not a Republicans or Democrats, but as citizens of God’s family—as people concerned primarily with basic human rights.

Written by liferenewed

September 6, 2008 at 12:43 am

Posted in Christianity, Politics