Faith and Politics: ‘What’s Fair is Fair’ is not Fair Anymore by Randy S. Woodley

Ok, I have to admit I’m a history nerd. I read it, I watch it and I teach it professionally. Given the constant intersection of history and politics, I’m also quite interested in socio-political movements, trends and events. And I should say right up front, politically, I’m “all of the above”  on different issues, having voted on both sides and also for independents. But, in full disclosure, and this is a big ‘ol “but” for some of you; because of my experiences and my faith, at this time in my life I’m currently tracking with the Dems. I know, some folks coming from other places will chide me for this, but I’m pretty sure I’m old enough and mature enough in my faith to make up my own mind.

So what do I think about those of you who are rooting for those on the other side of the aisle, or even for those whose party doesn’t even get to sit near the aisle? I think that most of you are old enough, and mature enough in your faith to make up your mind as well. This is not really a post about conservative and progressive views on various issues. This is not even a post about which party is best for us at this time in our history–I’ve got my views–you’ve got yours–fine… This post is about how Christians have come to think about politics these days. Many people believe, (’cause I get the emails and comments all the time), that if a person makes a case for one side of an issue, they are  obligated to find fault with the other side. In other words, the issues are so politically charged these days that people won’t allow anyone to critique an issue without making the charge of partisanship. I do understand that almost every issue has partisan contexts, but please understand that sometimes the issue, is just the issue!

As followers of Jesus, we should not allow either party to dictate to us whether or not we can comment on an issue without it being considered partisan. We all sense the current political passion, things have gotten really crazy. I know both sides lie, both have their own problems, no one is perfect, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s politics. But, does that mean we don’t engage in one side of an issue just because it is currently “owned” by one party or the other? Can you imagine Jesus not addressing the resurrection because the Pharisees and Sadducees had different views on it? How about trying to imagine Charles Finney not preaching abolition in the pre-Civil War period? or Angelina Grimke keeping silent on the Women’s Movement? or Sojourner Truth staying clear of both issues because she might be accused of partisan politics? Can you imagine in an effort not to seem partisan, MLK Jr. not addressing poverty or racism just because one party might include these issues as a part of their platform and another might not? As followers of Jesus, we need to be aware of the political implications but not allow them to silence us.

Today, something quite historic has changed in politics. The Dems are pretty much the same group as always, confused part of the time, both on and off message at different times. But, the big change since around 2008 has surfaced from within the current group of Republicans. If you’ve been observant, you know that there is no place left for moderates in the GOP. I could name about 10 examples of this off the top of my head but I realize, I’d just get some of you really mad. But then lately, even fairly neutral studies are affirming the far right swing in the GOP. This current polarization in politics has not been as great since perhaps the Civil War. Personally, I don’t believe that it is good for the country. A terrible atmosphere of intolerance seems to be re-surfacing that is moving race relations and how we think about the poor back to the 50s or 60s.

Christians are supposed to be the peacemakers of the world. That can only happen by first facing hard realities. As followers of Jesus, we should be concerned, share our views and take action. As citizens, we should demand that our politicians talk about their differences and learn to compromise–that has been the reality of politics in this country since the first Continental Congress. So how do we interpret the reality of this great divide?

In a recent Op. Ed. appearing in the Washington Post, Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute brought this to our attention,

…political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP. If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not     happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.*

Now, what did they just say? They stated a simple fact that the GOP is moving to the right. Note, there are many long-time conservatives who would wholeheartedly agree–and they don’t like it. This is not necessarily a partisan issue, it’s just a matter of fact. I know someone will stop reading at this point and feel the need to tell me that the Democrats are just as bad-Please don’t! No need, I admit it. As I said earlier, they all lie, they are all both good and bad…but, the issue here is about the Republican Party’s swing to the right–stick with me for one more quote.

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.*

Did you see those words? “…a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.” Everyone wants to be fair, right? Especially Christians. We are so eager to be fair sometimes that we get confused about issues, historical movements and politics. We would like to think that when one side goes radical, both sides are equally radical but that is just not the reality of this season. Right now, history is taking place and it’s directly tied to politics. Whether or not you feel a swing to the far right is a good thing or perhaps you believe it is a bad thing, it is happening. This means that when we talk about issues, our tendency is going to be to speak from those polarized positions. This kind of debate almost always end up in a yelling match. Let’s not do that. Instead, lets look at the facts, and as hard as it is, let’s refrain from denigrating one another and commit to finding some compromises among ourselves. Who knows, maybe we can start a trend.

* http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/2012/04/27/gIQAxCVUlT_story_3.html

  • mike h

    Randy,
    I certainly agree that things are a bit skewed in the political arena. Especially, as you noted, we can’t even discuss issues without being pigeon-holed into some position for the sake of polemics. However, after checking out the article from the Post, I have another concern. That is, what is a legitimate position for the press to take? The article has, “We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
    Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?”

    This sounds a lot like allowing the so-called mainstream, (re. ‘neutral’?), press to make subjective judgments rather than report the facts. It’s not like on a blog like this where folks can try to interpret the facts one way or another. Yeah, they should inform people when things like filibusters and other legitimate political maneuvers are made. But, to make decisions about who’s telling the truth or holding hostages? Not sure how that would look in real life.

  • Mich

    What makes you think the main stream press is neutral?
    All I see is Dems and Republicans bickering over “ideological” issues, but in complete agreement over the economic policies of this country. Income inequality is at record levels, unemployment is destroying all generations, illegal home foreclosures evicting people across the country, and student debt relegates the best and brightest of the next generation to servitude. I don’t see either party addressing any of these issues despite the overwhelming cries of the majority of citizens: the system is broken and unresponsive.

  • Brian Gomes

    Is it possible that part of the divide in politics if biblical and secular. I know we have to be careful in our tendency to be legalistic as Christians, but it seems that the last quote is a bit odd. The polarization concerns me too. I see it in churches on all sorts of issues. Even a friendly coffee chat becomes a potential friend splitting occurrence these days. Perhaps we aren’t taking the reality that divisions are happening at an ever increasing rate and as believers we need to learn civility, but also realize that it could be a sign of the beginning of the end where strong stands need to be taken…just my two cents.

  • Nan Bush

    The subject of American exceptionalism came up recently in my Bible study group at church (Episcopal). Giving an example, one woman, a staunch supporter of Tea Party politics, mentioned that when her husband died last year, neighbors and friends went out of their way to be kind and helpful, which she attributed to their being American. When asked how she thought people might respond to death in a family in another country, she said she expected they would be less caring. Given this kind of understanding, how can we or the press even begin to get people to see how extreme our rightward political change really is?

  • Joseph Parish

    Randy, I couldn’t agree more! And that is coming from a person who voted almost straight Republican years ago. where is the voice of reason in the GOP?

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