Christian AND an Obama Supporter…

I don’t usually do political stuff on my blog. But I’ve had several people ask my why it is that I’m drawn to Barack Obama. I wanted to give a few sources that might perhaps explain why it is that I support him.

The first is a video of a talk in which Obama tries to deal with the role of religion and politics. It’s a very good message and I would challenge all of my conservative Christian brothers and sisters to listen to this talk and recognize him as a brother in Christ; not that you should automatically embrace his politics, but hopefully that you would approach him with grace.

Another is an article sent to me by my friend Todd. It is a short article by author Brian McLaren that helps draw out the big picture difference between McCain and Obama. I invite you to try and read it with an open mind as well. There are obviously other reasons why I support Barack Obama, but I’m hopeful that these will answer some of the questions that people have about my point of view. (he’s posted another entry as of today – go to his regular blog for updates. I think he’s writing many entries on this).

Overriding all of this is a belief that as a Christian I should have no other political allegiance other than to the pursuit of the kingdom of God. I should have no competing agenda save that of pursuit of justice and mercy. I have no moral high-ground from which to pontificate about politics, I have only the promise to live a faithful life, including those parts of my life which intersect with the political. I am not a conservative, but I am not a liberal either. I am a Christian. Therefore I must work alongside the conservatives when their agenda swims in concert with the kingdom of God as I understand it. When their agenda does not swim in concert with the kingdom of God, then I don’t work with them. The same goes for liberals and progressives.

That being said, the Barack video explains why I think he swims more closely in concert with the kingdom of God. The article by McLaren explains at least a bit about why I think that McCain does not.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05917441853062317185 Anthony

    Hi Tim,

    The video does show a different side of Obama. He’s obviously a bright man who has spent a lot of time thinking through things, which certainly puts him into the category of people I like to hang out with. My concern about his candidacy for president is that, as history has shown, the brightest and best thinkers don’t usually fair very well as U.S. Presidents. Jimmy Carter was very smart and known as a compassionate, Christian man, but struggled to make decisions that served the country well during the turmoil of the late 1970′s. Bill Clinton was as smart as they come, but squandered his presidency by failing to act boldly, following the early failure of his health care reform initiatives. Given the current economic crisis, as well as the dangerous state of foreign affairs that we are currently in, my fear is that an Obama presidency would resemble Carter’s, in that Russia and some of the Islamic radical groups would handcuff the Obama Administration, and leave the U.S. in a weakened state internationally. Obama has often expressed an unwillingness to use military force, and history has shown that nations like Russia and rogue terrorist groups are less than likely to respond to diplomatic efforts that don’t come backed with a strong military show of force. I like Obama personally, and could see him enjoy a long, successful career as a college professor, or maybe working for a think-tank. To me, the Presidency requires more than just brains and idealism. I think it is more important to be a decisive, organized person with demonstrated leadership abilities in pressure situations. Obama gives great, inspiring speeches, but I think he is just too deliberative to be an effective President.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Anthony, thanks for the post. I’m not sure I can go along with your logic, though. President Bush finished in the lowest quarter of his class at Yale. McCain finished 5th from the last in his class at the Academy. I’m not sure when it comes to the presidency of the United States that we want to make being a goof-off, taking the “low-road” a requirement.

    Do you really want to say that the president should be simple minded as a matter of course? Smart but not too smart? Streetsmart? Because a pretty good argument can be made that President Bush and Senator McCain both fit both fit those categories. Even if one rejects that idea, one has to agree that neither of them is what one would call “one of the great minds of their generation.” I think one would want the best and the brightest. I think we DO want the best minds of our generation and there is no doubt that any list of the great minds of his generation would include Barack Obama.

    This is one of my beefs with the American people right now. We need to engage our minds…we’ve got to get smart. I feel like we are content to be lovable morons and it is getting very dangerous. We mean well but we are not smart enough, well read enough, or engaged enough to see past the polarizing ideology and sound-bytes. So we swallow them whole without really considering the logical outcomes, without thinking for ourselves, without engaging the larger questions that frame the polarizing sound-bytes. And the current leadership, John McCain included, seems content to just manipulate the people in order to gain power. They are fine playing that game. But that game has us in economic collapse and destructive wars with no end in sight.

    Here’s an example: When the two candidates sat with Rick Warren, and the evangelicals heard him ask them, “when does life begin,” or “what do we do about evil,” McCain gave the sound-byte answer… “conception…defeat it.” Simple, raw, easy to get behind…but in my opinion it’s so overly simplistic so as to be misleading. Obama gave answers that were nuanced and well thought out. He broadened the first question to practical answers which transcend pro-life/choice. Can’t we work on what we can do right now in lowering the number of unwanted pregancies and thereby eliminating abortion. On the question of evil he eschewed the warrior mentality and talked about humility and responsible leadership. His answers broadened out the issue beyond the simple one word answer that can only polarize and paralyze, and he cast a vision for a new day in America when we would not allow the polarization to paralyze us but allow what unites us to be what we work on right now.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05917441853062317185 Anthony

    Tim,

    I didn't mean to suggest that high intelligence is not compatible with the Presidency, but rather that the position often is better served by someone who is gifted with the ability to make difficult decisions without hesitation and with little regard for the impact of their decisions on their political popularity. George Will and William F. Buckley, Jr. are(were) two of the greatest political thinkers of the last 50 years, but probably wouldn't have the personality needed to communicate their actions down to the 8th-grade level that most Americans currently think at. I wince every time I hear Bush speak publicly, and in this sense he's an embarrassment to Yale & Harvard where he was educated, but I suspect that his Presidency may be regarded more favorably 15 years from now. In fact, the first two years of the Bush Presidency were extremely successful, with education and tax reform, as well as a very successful response to 9/11 and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for Bush (and the country), the neo-cons convinced him to go into Iraq, and it's been all downhill for him from there.

    I personally like the idea of a cerebral individual occupying the White House for a change, but only if he also has the breadth of practical experience that will serve him well in a crisis. McCain is obviously not much of an improvement over Bush in terms of intellect, but Obama's lack of leadership experience is a bigger concern for me right now. The other thing that concerns me about Obama is his tendency to align himself with far-left, radical elements. I appreciate the strong desire that many in this country have to elect the nation's first black President, but I personally would rather have someone like Thomas Sowell serve this purpose.

    One more thing. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to join in on the many interesting discussions that you've had on your blog! I've enjoyed your web site (and your music) for a number of years now. I must say that although I truly have enjoyed the fruits of your musical talent over the years, I've always had an even greater appreciation for the deep, thought-provoking lyrics and blog discussions that you've generated!

    Anthony

  • gregg

    Tim,

    I read the McLaren article on your blog, and thought it was really good. Here are some of my favorite quotes from it:
    “The dualistic us-them mindset, I believe, is bogus and dangerous. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, ironically, the same narrative that drives ‘fundamentalist Islam,’ and so by following it, we will become more and more like those we call our enemies.”
    “While McCain’s narrative only offers enemies surrender and defeat, Obama’s offers them the possibility of reconciliation.”
    “On his (McCain’s) side, wars can be justified if ‘we’ launch them, but not if ‘they’ do. On this side, they are horrible and tragic no matter who launches them.”

    I like what you wrote in response to Anthony about Obama’s answers to questions being more nuanced and thought out versus McCain’s more simplistic and sometimes cliched answers. In Anthony’s comments he wrote: “McCain is obviously not much of an improvement over Bush in terms of intellect, but Obama’s lack of leadership experience is a bigger concern for me right now.” I guess I feel just the opposite. I feel any lack of experience on Obama’s part is more than compensated for by his intellect, wisdom and judgment. I feel safer and more secure with Obama’s leadership and character than McCain’s more zealous warrior personality.

    I’ve also been thinking about the Republicans’ new call to arms: “Country First!” What is “country” anyway? Isn’t it the people? There is a tendency to talk of country and patriotism as abstract principles, but isn’t it all about the people, the citizens. I think that’s the point Obama tried to make with the lapel pin. Patriotism is more than a symbol; it’s helping people, doing something concrete to make our nation better. I just feel like the Republicans are gung-ho for these abstract notions of loving country and being patriotic rather than seeking justice and compassion. Our country is our people. You can’t separate them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Gregg,

    I appreciate your comments. I am obsessed with theology – it’s how I enter the world – so it’s no surprise that I would feel this way. But, I think that the future of God is now coming to us in ways which have out-distanced the typical enlightenment, conquest and control narratives. I think God is coming to us now in the post-liberal, or in those who have learned to see through the narrative of “Country First,” as a way to manipulate people in order to have control over them. As a Christian, we know that Jesus usurps those alternative allegiances. In our day and time, with nuclear technology, biological and chemical weapons, as well as ballistic missiles and global terrorism as effective delivery mechanism, I think that aggressive strategies are more dangerous than ever.

    Last night I was watching a report of Jewish voters in Florida & how upset they were for Obama saying we should dialogue with Iran in order to deal with their pursuit of nuclear weapons. The us/them mentality forces a false dichotomy on us that, to me at least, is offensive and dangerous. I feel like Obama is the first post-liberal presidential candidate. He’s the first one that feels a part of the human family first, then the American family. I know that some people will see that as an incredibly dangerous thing. They trot out emails about him being a "muslim" and try to cast doubt on his sincerity. But I think the "Human First" instead of "Country First" is the true Christian response, and I think it is the only responsible way forward that won’t lead to more war and death.

  • http://www.red-guitar.com Dan Swanson

    If someone wants to vote for Obama because of the specifics of his policy initiatives or because of his persistent opposition to Iraq then so be it. Personally i am divided on Iraq but disagree with his policy initiatives. Im happy to spend all day discussing and debating the best paths to solve our national problems and/or the role of government in doing so.

    But to label Obama a post partisan “Human First” candidate because of his words while ignoring his actions and political past is as naive as the people floating rumors that he is a Muslim. Neither of them are true.

    For all his words, Obama has proven himself to be a completely ordinary left leaning politician. He has used the same political tricks as any other politician to get elected. He has never taken on his party in any meaningful way. He has voted the party line more often than McCain. He has no significant legislation. He talks of our failings in helping the least of these but his own charitable donations are paltry. He talks of being “our brother’s keeper” while his brother lives in a shack in Africa. He says we need equal pay for women yet pays his female staffers less than his male staffers. He has run campaign ads that are outright deceitful with quotes so out of context they may as well be made up. He is less than forthright about his past associations with questionable characters and far left leaning organizations. He claims we must reduce abortions but wants to roll back such common sense restrictions like parental notification. And on and on.

    I don’t think he is any more sincere or insincere than John McCain, but I also don’t believe he is any more transformative. All of this drivel about Obama and a new narrative is a convenient way to gloss over the facts of his record and give his ordinary policy initiatives some sort of transcendent weight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I disagree. I get that you think I’m naïve or that my opinions on Obama are drivel and constitute an attempt to gloss over the facts of his record. I’m not surprised.

    But, I would argue that a significant portion of Obama’s narrative contradicts your entire argument. First, he was poor for most of his childhood. Then he left a high paying job to live among the poor and trying to help them get a leg up. Just those two things along make it unworkable to characterize his ideas empty rhetoric or somehow talking a good game but not following through with it. Those things are talk or spin, that’s what he did. Sure, McCain’s narrative is compelling as well – being a POW was no picnic – but there is a stark contrast in narratives there. Obama’s is the narrative of community service, living among and helping the poor. McCain’s is the narrative of conflict, militarism and nationalism.

    Narratives are important. They offer a different perspective on how to judge candidates. One important part of Obama’s narrative that doesn’t get much attention is his time at University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Those 12 years in the academy came at a time when universities and professional schools had fully jettisoned the narrative of enlightenment modernity and begun to lean into new post-liberal narratives. As a part of the faculty, Obama was being formed by the post-liberal narrative for 12 years. The post-liberal ideal is the “human first” narrative. That’s not just a made up story. Again, just like growing up poor and becoming a community organizer, this is simply his life story.

    You make a fair point that it is easy to look at his record and say that he’s a typical liberal. But his record is what it is because he was forced to play by the old rules of the game; rules which were shaped in a the narrative of a highly polarized liberal democracy in the midst of a contrived culture war. When he says he’s running for change I believe he means he means he wants to change the game. He’s not comparing players, although in elections you obviously have to do that to get elected, he’s saying he wants to change the way the game is played.

    Of course his record looks liberal! The only choices he could make were to vote liberal or vote conservative. But what the post-liberal narrative offers a whole new game; one not characterized by culture wars but in appeals to what is good about human nature and what can unite us instead of dividing us. This change is coming for America, like it or not. If not with Obama now, it will come with the next younger politician raised and educated in a post-enlightenment narrative.

    My guess is that you feel more affinity with McCain’s narrative. It’s easy to see why. We’re here in Middle America. We’re under threat from global terrorism. Our values are under attack. America is becoming increasingly diversified. Financial markets are collapsing. White male Christians are losing power bit by bit. The family is struggling with high divorce rates. Social issues such as gay marriage and abortion can easily rile everyone up in that old narrative. When someone like McCain comes along as says that he can take the fight to those enemies we have been taught to fear, protect our way of life, fight for the old narrative, and play the us/them game, I get why that appeals to some people. But it doesn’t appeal to me.

    I feel like I’m learning, especially through a serious study of theology and the bible, how to escape those constrictive ideologies and am learning how to see the world in a different way. The old narrative of conquest, control, militarism, nationalism –those sorts of stories – they promised to make us safe and happy. But they’ve failed. The old narratives have not made us safe and happy.

    One last thing…transformation comes from vision and leadership. The vision that McCain provides comes from an old script…I’ve seen that movie so many times – it’s a tired script. I want a new script. I think Obama has it. I think he is going to be an extraordinary leader. I get why people are afraid of him. People are afraid of change. But I think it’s time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15065500839727028064 NJ

    “But what the post-liberal narrative offers a whole new game; one not characterized by culture wars but in appeals to what is good about human nature and what can unite us instead of dividing us. This change is coming for America, like it or not. If not with Obama now, it will come with the next younger politician raised and educated in a post-enlightenment narrative.”

    I agree Tim. America is changing. On so many fronts. And America has to change. The American way of life is unsustainable and immoral. We pray to the market while our families burn. Please Christ, overturn the tables once more. Derail the bailout.

    The Christian Way demands that our allegiance and love flow first to God, then other humans — Our families, our neighbors, our enemies. This stands in stark contrast to the American way. And it should. God is not an American, as David Bowie sang.

    And whether McCain or Obama is elected, he will be forced to reconcile with the great changes happening even as I type. The beauty of Democracy is that the will of the people presides. And the people are changing as oil disappears, health care becomes a luxury, and crime begins to leak outwardly from our abandoned urban cores. And on and on. McObama is going to have to change or the American people will revolt. Or at least throw him out of the White House. It is time for a new way.

    And we cannot forget that God is moving. Nothing can stand in God’s way. God’s will be done. On earth, as in heaven. Our faith tells us that God is moving us to a better state. A state where love reigns and violence is and death are defeated. It sounds like a liberal fantasy. But it is happening. If you don’t like it, get a new faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    It’s ironic that you use words like unsustainable and immoral. I’ve been marveling at how often I’m hearing words like ethics, morality, sustainability, and especially the concept of the “common good” discussed in mainstream media the past few days. It seems as though the current financial crisis has served to get everyone talking about the compromises we’ve made as a people. We’ve made greed a virtue. We’ve ceded the “common good” to those who seek profit and power above basic human decency. I think people have begun to realize this and that the net result will be very positive for our nation. Could it be we’ll learn how to not live beyond our means? Could it be we’ll learn to talk about virtue in important ways that have been missing from our public discourse for far too long? Could it be we’ll care for each other and God’s good creation first, then worry about ourselves? Could it be that we’ll begin to see the “bottom line” in broader ways in terms of social and environmental impact, not just economic? I hope so.

    I’ve long felt that the rising tide of care for neighbor and really all of creation is central to what God is doing in the world. “See I am making all things new” Jesus said, a phrase which may prove more difficult to grapple with than traditional images of wrath and judgment. It is not easy to be “new creation.” It is not easy to live into the coming kingdom. You are certainly right – the kingdom of God advances. But in the words of the immortan Rich Mullins, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    We can’t pick and choose Obama’s narrative.
    Obama was born poor and worked as a community organizer. He also has not enacted any meaningful change as a politician. Once he became rich he didn’t give back to the poor. All are parts of his narrative and life story. How can you just throw those parts out? What good is a narrative without corresponding actions to validate the words? Narrative is important and precisely because of that i look at both his words and his actions.

    The implied argument is that Obama is just working undercover and will spring a new politics on us once elected President. As you mention, he has played the game because he had to. Why on earth would we think he will change now? Palin is a candidate in this very race that proves it doesn’t have to work that way. She directly took on her political patron and won based on doing what was right.

    I don’t really align with either of the narratives – they are both just life stories of two flawed human beings – neither more or less important than mine or yours. I don’t see an “us” with a “them” attacking “our” values – i see Satan planting the seeds and being content to sit back and watch us hack away at ourselves. I know rich people who are the most generous and loving people on earth and i know poor people who are obsessed with self no matter what love and generosity they are shown. And I know rich and poor where that is flipped. I am a reluctant McCain supporter based on policy alone ( and becoming more reluctant every day ). I follow the “one true” narrative that Nate lays out, but don’t think that Obama is any closer to it than McCain. I disagree with many on how to best solve the issues but we agree were we want to get to ( generally ).

    I see Obama and his “rich beating us down” ( my paraphrase ) rhetoric as divisive as McCain’s “Islamic terrorists wanting to kill us” rhetoric. The difference is that Obama is being propped up as some kind of political savior by many in the Christian community and fear it takes us as far away from Christs vision as McCain does – good intentions and all.

    For the record – i thought McClaren’s posts were drivel – but as Nate knows i tend towards blustery words especially with my best of friends. I believe it you take his thinking to the logical conclusion then there is no point in country or force which I don’t think is Christ’s intention. He tries to gloss it over with “surely Obama believes in a strong national defense” to which i say why does it matter? If we as humans get to pick and choose when we use deadly force, who gets to be the moderator of right and wrong? Obama wants to continue fighting and killing in Afghanistan ( precisely because thats where the “they” in McCains narrative currently are ) – is that any more justifiable than Iraq? Why? In who’s judgement? Who is the spokesman for God? Is Obama closer to God than George Bush? Than you or me? Do we decide by a majority vote? What is the line someone has to cross when we are allowed to open fire?

    Alright – im out – enjoying the converstaion too much but need to get some work done.

    Dan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Dan,

    I appreciate your thoughts.

    You are really on Obama about not being generous. I looked it up. He gave away almost a quarter of a million dollars in 2007. I know the Times did an article trying to make it look seedy on his part – saying he only started giving after he knew he was running for president. It seems like he's finally gotten his act together on charitable giving. I'm not cynical about him, though, so I'm happy that he's giving, even if he comes late to it. I like that he can still change and grow. It doesn't all happen at once, maybe this is the first time he's really been challenged on it? At least he responded well.

    Here's the article I'm talking about:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/us/politics/26taxes.html?ex=1364270400&en;=94c02b1ee84232ea&ei;=5124&partner;=permalink&exprod;=permalink

    I would certainly dispute that the logical conclusion of McLaren's point of view negates the need for "country." It's not that the need to country goes away. It's that allegiance to God usurps all other allengiances.

    As far as the violence question goes, it's the same way. The question of violence is different for a nation than it is for the people of God. The people of God should be committed to peace/non-violence no matter what. Our nation is not a "Christian" nation so it does not have those commitments. However, when our nation is at its best it cooperates with God's mission of peace. That's what McLaren is saying.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Yeah – im glad Obama has come around and is giving more and I applaud him for it. Obviously his charitable donations for the last couple years surpass my entire income so if there was a charity olympics i would lose. I won’t and have not speculated on what caused his change of heart because i have no way of knowing without asking him myself. I am perfectly comfortable assuming the best and that he decided he wasn’t giving enough. I bring up this point only as an illustration – its just one of many of the disconnects between his words and actions. That $240,000 is on earnings of $4.2 million which comes in at 5.7%. Coming from a politician that claims the rich don’t pay enough and wants to tax the rich to give more to the non rich – i cry foul.

    Does that not have a ring of hypocrisy to you?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Certainly it does, and I see your point. But this is the nature of public life now & one of the reasons to be cynical. If you probe my every wrinkle of life you are going to find me a terrible hypocrite as well. That’s why I pay so much attention to narrative and a little less attention to the generalized notion of “record.” Record is one of the more overblown stats in politics. You have to realize what’s going on behind the scenes. Here’s an example.

    My father in law is a Senator in Kansas. As a republican, he comes down on the wrong side of the pro-choice/pro-life debates for the conservatives taste. The conservatives are always looking for wedge issues to attack him with. So every time they know there is a bill going through the Senate that he is going to vote against, be it higher taxes, or limits on business, the conservatives attach an abortion amendment. No matter what the bill is primarily, as long as he’s going to vote “no” they’ll put an abortion amendment on it.

    Their goal is that at the end of the session, they’ll have forced him into voting against pro-life legislation a bunch of times and they can publicize it in order to distort his "record." So if the vote is not going to be close and the legislation will fail anyway, he will abstain from the vote so that they can’t count him voting against their amendment. You know what they did? They sent out direct mail to his constituents accusing him of never being “present” when the legislature is in session, even though he never missed a single day of debate or committee proceedings.

    That’s the reason Illinois state legislature has the voting option “present” and that is the exact same reason why Barack Obama used it so much – very same issues, very same tactics. But the conservatives were building a case against him in his “record” that they could use against him later. That’s the politics of the "record." There is so much political swindling going on, so many amendments and so much just political wrangling going on that it’s really hard to be a good Senator and vote your conscience, and that’s just in the state of Kansas. Think how much more difficult it would be in Illinois?

    Politics is dirty, man. Just because there are stats on somebody’s record, doesn’t mean you really know what they think, or what they would do in office. You have to review every single case to really know their record because their opponents are working hard to build a record for them that they can distort and use against them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Well perhaps we have hit the point of contention at which point the only resolution will be with those padded sumo costumes or maybe a guitar solo shootout ( which i am pretty sure i would lose ) – you are willing to give the benefit of the doubt that someone’s narrative has as a unique power to shape them and overrides even actions that seem counter to it, and i say show me the money. Is that fair?

    Point 2 is that we see Obama’s narrative differently. I think the narrative being presented is just a selective reading of the most flattering part of the whole by picking his early years and community work and glossing over his political career as a pragmatist knowing when to pick his spots, while on the flip side i think McCain is being given the opposite treatment by picking only the POW/military aspect and ignoring his last 30 years of work in Congress where he has been willing to go against his party to do what he thinks is right. Up until this election at which point parties rally round the flag, McCain was one of the most hated by his own party( with guys like Limbaugh the most vocal critics ) themselves and the darling of the left because of it. They loved him on the Daily Show. It was precisely because he would go against Bush and the party . I think McCain-Feingold sucks – but he did it because he believed in it – and made alot of Republicans angry to this day.

    To your points specificially – i understand politics are dirty – i know exactly the manuevering that is used to get people to vote present,for,or against and why. I know present votes are used for political cover – both “good” and “bad”. But at some point you have to show me something, anything that shows you are who you say you are. McCain and Palin have shown you don’t have to roll over every single time. Im sure you you have read about the highly publicized exchange between Obama and McCain on promises kept/broken/altered of bipartisan ethics reform, or Obama saying “it gives me pause” to a reporter as Daley’s appointees were being sent to jail and then calling back a few hours later to even tone that down or getting his opponents thrown off the ballot on technicalities in his first campaign or sending 30 lawyers to Alaska to dig up dirt on Palin or running ads linking McCain to brazenly out of context quotes from Rush Limbaugh or any other numbers of things that we could go tit for tat on all day long.

    After a while if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    On your first point I'm with you, except for the guitar solos…I can't solo worth a crap!

    On the second point I wouldn't argue any differently than I have already…it's the dirty political game he's obliged to play if he wants to get elected & it's not his true colors. Both sides do it and it can't be what you make your decision on precisely because both sides do it. It reminds me of the line from "Primary Colors" that went something like, "You think Abraham Lincoln didn't become a whore before he became president?" The things you point out are common to both sides. Even McCains choice of a VP doesn't fit his true colors. You think he doesn't despise her in private? I'd bet anythin he does. It's just what he has to do to be elected. Maybe it has always been that way.

    Truth is that I could support McCain if he was running against another enlightenment-narrative democrat. But I'm hoping for a change of narrative from the "country first" narrative that McCain lives in, to the "human first" narrative which I believe Obama lives in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    As a latecomer to the conversation I need to I will have to read through the conversation, before I respond…

    But for now I can say this:

    I come from a totally different angle – as a Christian. Obama is not bad for an American politician, but I don’t put hope in American politics much these days. I see governments ordained by God, yet fallen; they are evil, but used by God to restrain more evil (analogous to the way in which God used Pharaoh’s hardened heart for the good). But this means I think it would be insane to vote for McCain! I mean this not in an insulting manner, but in a psychological sense: our culture is too deceived to recognize the plain fact that Republicans help the rich more than the poor, period. They help corporations, they bow down to the market, and they advertise this by saying they want to lower taxes. This is simply axiomatic of their identity. Speaking as a Christian, I do not think it is the governments job to care for the poor (necessarily), but it is the ordained duty of governments to restrain evil, and that is exactly the opposite of the Republican party’s economic doctrine. The only evil they want to restrain is that of the infinite and invisible enemy – “the terrorist!” (i.e. especially including those who challenge our global capitalism by attacking our trade centers).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Thomas,

    Do you have some examples specifically of how “Republicans help the rich more than the poor, period.”
    I don’t find such blanket statements all that useful to the discussion yet i hear them all the time.

    Dan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    I just posted a table from US Census data on poverty during the last three administrations. It’s pretty telling.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Where’s the nuance and careful analysis when you need it.

    I didn’t know we had such a handle on what works in solving poverty, but i can plainly see from that chart that if we simply elect a Democrat then poverty will go down.

    The problem is I am also realizing that if Obama wins I will no longer be able to have any more children because i charted # of kids born to my wife against party of the President and it was flatlined under Clinton but shot up under Bush. ( It was flat under Bush Sr too … but since i didn’t want anyone to get confused i just threw that data point out ).

    On the other hand, I charted my business growth in the same way and it has grown steadily under Bush.

    And to confuse me even more … if you chart “terrorist success in destroying the World Trade Center” – its 0/1 under Clinton and 1/1 under Bush – with 0/0 under Bush Sr. Thats not a good trend .. since it would indicate it will be destroyed twice in 1 try under the next president. OR is it once in 2 tries? Oh wait … its already destroyed so im not sure how that figures into it. So its really all very confusing.

    hmmm .. i just did some more research on statistics and learned there is something called correlation and it is different than causation? Apparently they aren’t really used much anymore, so I’m thinking the need for such primitive techniques must have gone the way of income verification for a mortgage.

    Im no Republican cheerleader, they have lived up to their fiscally conservative principles for about the first 4 years of the Republican revolution and then steadily trampled them underfoot. But i also am tired of the Republicans are evil corporate automatons and Democrats love kids and rainbows line of argument. The rich and corporations already pay plenty of tax in this country – to the point of covering the income tax for the 40% of Americans who don’t have to pay a dime. We are moving closer and closer to a system where over 50% of the population will have no effective stake in it – how is that good in any stretch of the imagination? Curses on them for their “hard work” and “innovation” and “successful business plans” and “jobs”. Disgusting they are.
    We in the middle class need our 2 car garage and 2000 square feet and 100 cable channels and guaranteed employment with a short commute and complete coverage for treating that knee injury i sustained playing pickup at the gym. Man we have it bad – not a penny left to help the poor ( because if i had it i would help – really i would – and i will when i get that raise .. i promise )- and its all the Republicans fault because they are busy sipping Mai Tais in an offshore tax haven while giving tax cuts to companies that promise they will only create jobs in China ( or Texas if they just can’t find a way to do it China ). Meanwhile the Democrats ( bless their hearts ) just gave the each of teenage kids across the street their very own home mortgage because apparently they are “hardworking kids just trying to get a leg up”.

    Ok – so its a little over the top – but then again so am I.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    As if it wasn’t infinitely clear ( or at least by reading between the lines? ) … what i was trying to say in my last post was:

    Which of our policies and laws specifically have reduced poverty?

    What changes in the world might have led to changes in our economy and by extension poverty?

    Are our economic problems reflections of our politics or are they reflections of us?

    Are they self inflicted or out of our control?

    Why is the bailout needed? What happens if there is no bailout?

    What caused the mortgage bubble?

    Why won’t either candidate balance the budget in day one? day 100? day 1000?

    Why can’t we attack our national debt?

    I thought it was clear … but maybe it was unclear to some.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Don’t sell yourself short as a republican cheerleader, Dan. You are doing fine!

    Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? Seriously, that’s all you got?

    Why is it that when faced with the data which clearly shows republicans are bad on the poverty issue, they never have a better argument than “no we’re not.” You could try “liar, liar, pants on fire…”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Cum hoc ergo propter hoc – i must admit I had to look that one up. My Latin is not so hot.

    I missed the compelling evidence.

    A Democrat and a Republican congress managed to not deficit spend in a booming 90′s economy fueled by technological innovation and debt. It burst before Clinton left office and Bush was left holding the bag.

    What policy change caused the numbers to switch?

    And where are those numbers from anyway?

    If someone can show me what we did to reduce poverty and how we can do it again – i would most likely embrace it fully. But alas – saying “vote for a Democrat” isn’t quite enough for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Just because you don’t want to see the data, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’m still waiting on you to defend the republican record on poverty. It’s easy to defend the Democrat record. Poverty goes down when they are in control.

    Your argument in regards to Bush is just factually incorrect. You can’t revise history. The fact is that Bush started out with an incredible budget surplus and was terrible on the economy and poverty for his entire first term. Here are the numbers:

    In census numbers from 2003 the number of people living in poverty in America had risen every single year since Bush took office. In 2003 the number of people living in poverty had risen by 4.33% compared to the previous administration. The median household income dropped by 1.15%. The number of long-term unemployed had nearly doubled to 1.5 million people. Bush started his first term with a projected 5.6 million dollar budget surplus. By the end of the first term we were running huge deficits. The Bush tax cuts from his first term gave people who earned over a million dollars a year $50,000+ tax cut, but only about a $50 dollar cut for those living below the poverty line.

    The numbers through the year 2003 were:
    - National debt reduction had gone from a 3.89% percent reduction under Clinton to a to a 1% increase in Bush’s first term…a number that has continued to rise. (Congressional Budget Office report, Jan. 2004)
    - Jobs had dropped from 2.38% growth under the previous administration to a net decrease of .17%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers)
    - Jobs with good wages had been up 4.7% under Clinton and were down 1% under Bush. (BLS occupational statistics)
    - The GDP was down from 2.42% to 1.62% (Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers)
    - Per Capita GDP had dropped from 2.42% to 1.62% (U.S. Census Bureau)

    All of those numbers are from the first term – prior to any charges of a democrat controlled legislature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Am I in a twilight zone. When Obama can’t say when life begins its thoughtful and nuanced.

    But when i say that correlating the party of the president and poverty over 16 years in a $14 TRILLION economy is a useless oversimplification – i have somehow presented an untenable position?

    I can look at the numbers all day long but without accounting for what actually is happening in the world they are just points on a chart.

    Ive clarified the apparent rules allowed in the analysis:

    1. The president alone takes full credit for the economy – the Congress that actually makes law is irrelevant – the people that create businesses and actually make up the economy are irrelevant – behavior of 270 million people is not important.

    2. $14 Trillian dollar economies react instantaneously

    3. Periods of apparently positive economic indicators can never themselves be in any way the cause of late negative indicators – so treat it as a closed system when convenient

    This helps us understand the important “No Hangover Rule” of economic analysis:
    As long as the Old President leaves office before he passes out completely drunk – he can only be remembered for the “awesome party” while the New President must take the blame for the hangover.

    See the current mortgage crisis as a perfect time to apply this rule.

    4. No external events are allowed into the discussion ( major terrorist attacks, technological innovations, energy prices, changes in economies in the rest of the world, federal reserve policy )

    5. Political affiliation of the President ( not the laws or policies ) is of utmost important – if confused by rules 1 to 4 – this rules can be used by itself. Example usage:

    Overthinker: “But china and india’s economies have really been growing and increasing world demand for oil? I think we need oil to run alot of our industry … could that increase in energy prices affect our economy and thereby affect jobs and thereby have something to do with poverty?”
    Realist: “Is the President a Democrat?”
    Overthinker: “Yes”
    Realist: “Then poverty will go down”
    Overthinker: “That doesn’t seem like much of an explanation – i really think energy prices might be important”
    Realist:”No – they are not”

    Seriously? This is how we are deciding to analyze

    So yeah – i guess when i apply those rules i have no choice to vote for Obama.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hyperbole gets you nowhere. Still waiting for you defend the republicans on poverty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Clinton came into office at the end of a recession.
    Oil was cheap.
    The cold war has just ended and global confidence was high.
    The fed had a handle on inflation.
    The economy started to take off with out anything to do with government policy.
    Jobs were created.
    taxes were increased in 93
    Progress that had started was slowed slightly
    taxes were brought back down in 97
    The boom accelerated
    lower capital gains and exciting technology kicked off piles of venture spending
    A new pile of information technology enhanced productivity and created new economic activity.
    More money was made and more taxes were paid.
    Poverty went down.
    Budgets were balanced.
    irrational exuberance started to kick in
    stock prices soared above valuations
    returns on stocks didn’t end up matching the sky high expectations
    capital started to be blocked
    the economy started to look like it was going to receded
    9/11 happened and took a possibly mild recession and exaggerated it
    jobs were lost
    tax revenues went down
    poverty went up

    And that my friends is what we call cause and effect.

    Are you really going to vote for a party because poverty levels went down 3% the last time they had a much more centrist president in office without worrying about why?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    Dan and Tim.

    I apologize for being absent form the conversation since my initial comment. I think Tim has been doing just fine though.

    Dan, what you simply don’t understand and/or refuse to see is that fiscal conservatives subscribe in theory to certain ideas, regardless of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness in practice, and these theories are biased toward the rich. (put this thought on hold for a second…)

    I understand the difference between correlation and causation, and want to keep this at the forefront. I think sociology is a total ruse, and that the only way to approach this is through narration, rather than defining predictable, universal social and economic laws. We ought always to be careful in pointing to historical causation, but you don’t even need to look at Republican practice alone, but at their intentions.

    Capitalism is incoherent, and leads to consumer capitalism, which is our current slavery. Any politics which promotes consumer capitalism is simply on the side of the rich, under the illusion that through trickle-down it will help the poor- at least those who are hard working and not lazy.

    Read Adam Smith’s and Charles Stewart’s apologies for capitalism; read John Milbank (for a critique of capitalism). There is nothing to hide about the theological roots of our economy, though people often want to deny their theological roots. And these roots are heretical, subscribing to damnable doctrines. They set out to justify an economy whereby self-interest is a virtue – that is their wording – where greed is institutionalized – which is my re-narration of their wording.

    Heck, read Friedman and Hayek, the two biggest contemporary apologists of free-market capitalism. They truly discern that success in the capitalist market has more to do with luck than hard work, and conclude that no capitalist deserves what they obtain, but since no one else deserves it either, they get to keep it. To do otherwise is to interfere with their “freedom.” What is more, for them, is that there is no moral obligation at all! This is the economics the fiscal conservatives subscribe to.

    So when I say “Republicans help the rich more than the poor, period,” we could go about endless debate concerning causality, or simply look at their intentions, at their economic theory which informs their practice. Obviously they would never see what they are doing as simply helping the rich – they would instead argue that a strong [capitalist, free market] economy will help the poor. They think they are helping everyone. But if one can show that this economics is not for the poor (which they will never concede), then we have to reconsider things.

    But I will add something concerning their practice: Cheney’s program. I have no time to go into much detail, but his exclusive energy summit – inviting those whom he wants, but not making it public, therefore giving energy contracts to select companies; and his illegally staying on Halliburton’s payroll while in office (!), and giving them insane contracts for the Iraq war…these are what Republicans busy themselves with.

    A good article that deals with some of the themes I brought up is this: http://www.jesusradicals.com/library/milbank/terror.html

    Also, on the note, as a Christian, that capitalism, even if it were effective in helping the poor, would yet be damnable (from a Christian view), can be found here:http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=55

    One final note: I do not think poverty will simply go down if you vote for Obama. But voting for the status quo as embodied in McCain (in many ways, but not all; I do not intend to demonize him) will ensure that you help resist the overturning of social structures that make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Thomas,

    Thanks for your critique. I was really interested in the point you made about the theological roots of the capitalistic system. More should be said about that. I think the marriage between the Christian Right and the republican party is based on false theological presuppositions. I agree that it’s hard to reconcile any way that, as a Christian, 3rd stage consumer campitalism can be justified side by side with something so definitive for the people of God as sabbath law.

    Dan,

    Of course that’s not the reason I’m voting for Obama. Remember all of the early posts in this string where I talked about narrative – that’s my primary reason. Not to minimize the poverty thing – I’ll vote for anybody if I think that will effectively care for the poor.

    As far as issues go, as a Christian, I think it is unseemly to assert that individual rights and economic prosperity should trump caring for the poor on our list of concerns.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00956440143192393295 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Tim,

    As always you’ve generated a good conversation. Dan, you’ve been giving a thoughtful and insightful response. Tim, you’re dodging too many of Dan’s good questions, especially when you try to tie the GOP to increases in poverty rates.

    1. McLaren’s article – He’s painted too simple of a picture. If McCain is limited to a good versus evil narrative how does that man come back to his captors in Vietnam and participate in the reconciliation process? I don’t think McCain’s captors have begged for forgiveness and conceded that they never should have fought the war and US democracy is the only way to go (i.e. so now they are on the good guy’s team). I can’t believe a theologian is going to say that someone’s philosophy, positions and politics are merely a result of his narrative/environment and they can’t grow beyond those environmental factors. McCain’s response to the Vietnamese debunks McLaren’s position that he only has a g vs. e narrative.

    2. Obama’s speech – I accepted your request to listen to the speech and I am only more firm in my opinions that Obama is a poor choice for president. There are multiple comments that I take issue with. I will focus on one. His comments on the separation of church and state are categorically wrong. I don’t believe there is a single conservative evangelical person in the current church vs. state argument that wants to support a tax funded national religion. Not even Pat Robertson is taking that position. His characterizations of those of us on the other side of this argument are not “fair minded words.”

    3. As far as GOP positions and helping the poor – how about school vouchers? I also think it is very important to talk about individual responsibility. The Democrats’ welfare programs destroyed the family structure in the African American community and the adverse impact will be felt for generations. Obama proposes nothing different than what his predecessors have offered, more handouts and more social programs. If he did have something new to say, then that would be worth listening to.

    Todd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    Tim and friends,

    I wrote a paper this past year concerning the Christian/theological roots of capitalism, and it can be found here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfknzft4_1w8sk2rd3&hl;=en

    It is interesting that you [Tim] point to Sabbath. I agree completely in bringing this in to the conversation. In fact, the biggest critique in my review of Hauerwas's book on the university is that he lacks an account of the time of sabbath as a resistance to capitalism (at least in that book).

    Todd, I think you are correct to bring reconciliation in to this as well (you do with McCain/Vietnam). But it should be also tied with your statement:
    "The Democrats’ welfare programs destroyed the family structure in the African American community and the adverse impact will be felt for generations."

    There is truth here, but very partial truth compared to the fact that Europeans transplanted them here from Africa via slavery. And this still has not been reconciled! While not avoiding "individual responsibility," we need to deal with the sins of our forefathers.

    Thanks for the conversation folks,

    Thomas

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Sorry I’ve been absent from the discussion awhile. Thanks for posting Todd. I really respect your ideas – and they way you challenge my assumptions; also the way you tell me when you think I’m out to lunch! It’s healthy for me.

    I think that you are right that sometimes somebody’s actions will usurp their narrative framework. I think that I always hope for that, at least for myself if not for public officials. But, would you agree that overall McCain seems to want to promote a “country first” narrative? It seems that way to me. It’s that narrative which seems incompatible with allegiance only to God. God first. Although I applaud is forgiveness with the Vietnamese, I don’t see it so much as evidence that he has changed his overall narrative.

    On your second point, I took Obama’s comments to mean that he thought that it was important for people of faith to become more involved in political discourse, especially those who might feel a little weird about having Falwell and Robertson speak for them. I just thought that was commendable. I do like that possibility.

    On your third point about School vouchers, I like school vouchers. I think we should really experiment with them. I’m pro-life as well. I have many beefs with the democrat party. I would like to hear more about why you think democrat welfare programs destroyed the family structure in the African American community. I’ve always felt like welfare was at least an attempt to care for the poor. I know stories of American life before welfare; poor houses, homelessness…not so nice.

    Like I said very early on in this discussion, my focus is that I’m struggling to have no political allegiance other than the pursuit of the kingdom of God. So far, I think the main thing this thread has reminded me is that although I feel more comfortable with Barack Obama, my allegiance is neither to him nor the democrat party.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    After finally reading through the comments once again, I want to pick up Dan’s question about Obama and Afghanistan: I think it would be no more justifiable than Iraq, at least for Christians. I think Obama changed his tone earlier this year with Afghanistan to alleviate the fears of Americans, and I paradoxically hope he is being deceitful about this (though then I am disappointed in him for “playing the game”). He has at points come dangerously close to his rivals here.

    Anyway, Thanks for good conversation Tim. At the end of the day, however, I think Christians need to think about something far more radical than voting at this point (this is not to say that you have said that voting is the key of Christian social action).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Thomas,

    Great point about Obama’s rhetoric on Afghanistan. I was uncomfortable with the way he talked about that in the debates. It sounded like he just needed to rattle the saber. It makes me think of another line from Primary Colors. The campaign manager was explaining that he was working for the candidate because he and the candidate both cared about the same things. But, the candidate would lie about them in order to get elected. The campaign manager had previously worked for a representative who really didn’t care – didn’t believe he could really change anything – he liked to fight the good fight, lose, and become a martyr. The campaign manager said in the choice between those two he would take the liar.

    Is this the reality of American politics? I think it is. Barack is doing it with Afghanistan. McCain is doing it, too, with his selection of Sarah Palin.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    Tim,

    good point with Palin. I think it is a double deception though: people think McCain is not so bad if he picks a woman for a running mate, but if my friend David from Alaska is right in all he tells me about her history as their governor, she is actually worse than McCain.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00956440143192393295 The Reluctant Pontificator

    Tim,

    There are two quick references that I would cite to support my point. The first is a statement from the Heritage Foundation citing the impact of the welfare reform program passed in 1994 which was created by Newt the gang, vetoed by Clinton until finally he signed off on it. The statements on rates of out of wedlock births alone are pretty staggering. It does a good job of showing how GOP ideals helped decrease the poverty rates. Go to http://www.heritage.org/research/welfare/tst071906a.cfm

    I would also direct you to the Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky. The primary point of his book is how welfare destroyed charitable giving by American individuals. You’ve said that writing a check is the way too many people get rid of their guilty feelings toward the poor, then what is relying on a government backed wealth redistribution plan? The moment we turn people into things, turn them into something less than an individual, then we act in direct contrast to how Jesus told us how to behave towards one another. Olasky has a basic concept – welfare destroys the human element of charity. It turns the poor into statistics and programs, not individuals that intersect with our lives on a regular basis.

    http://www.amazon.com/Tragedy-American-Compassion-Marvin-Olasky/dp/1433501104/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s;=books&qid;=1222774677&sr;=8-1

    I have to reiterate Dan’s comments about the inability to separate prior actions and narrative. If our story is being formed by our daily actions how can you divorce someone’s prior actions from their narrative?

    I also believe your “America First” comments miss McCain’s point. The history and image that the McCain campaign is trying to create is that McCain is a non-partisan politician not tied to what is best for his party and their power structure, but what is best for the American community. Would you have a problem with saying, my family first in contrast to humans first? Would you have a problem with a pastor who says that as far as my job is concerned I put the church first ahead of my own career as a teacher, author and public figure? The America first statement is no different and I think you are twisting the meaning of the statement.

    Todd

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Todd,

    Great post. I read that article. You are certainly right that totally relying on a government program to take care of the poor is not a legitimate Christian response. One cannot cede responsibility saying “I pay taxes so the government will take care of the poor.” One also cannot simply assume that welfare is the best way to help the poor. Although, I do think there is a difference, I’m sure you agree, between welfare dependence and legitimate need for welfare. But I don’t think any one is against the legit need.

    I know that you can make a case that welfare reform, and thereby the Republican Party, has done a lot for the poor. But, as always there is always another side to the story. Here’s an article that sort of explains the myths of welfare reform.

    http://www.foodfirst.org/node/185

    I’m not sure I buy all that they are saying either, but it’s interesting to read these two accounts side by side. They sort of debunk some of the major indicators that the article you cited, like declining welfare case loads. Essentially it has taken people off the government’s dole but they are still the working poor, living at or near the poverty line – still impoverished in many ways. After reading the two articles together it sort of seems like a mixed bag to me. I’m more inclined to think poverty is extremely linked to the economy – I guess we’re going to learn a lot about that in the coming months.

    I get what you are saying about the “America first” thing, I was always hearing it a different way and I can see how it can be taken the way you are saying. I’ll have to think about that some.

    BTW, on a mostly unrelated point. I’m sitting here looking out my office window watching a red-tailed hawk hunt. He’s been sitting on the light post since I got here around dawn. Just sitting there, watching the field, totally beautiful. Every once in awhile he’ll dive down after something. Just now he dove down and got a mouse or something and is sitting here eating it…nasty, but cool. No welfare needed for this bird. He’s out there getting it done!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    Todd,

    re: “Olasky has a basic concept – welfare destroys the human element of charity.”

    I am not really sure what this could mean: in action? As a feeling/emotion? In result?

    Capitalism intentionally destroys the human element of charity. Economic-Political theorists Adam Smith and Sir James Stewart banish charity from the economy, for giving excess to the poor destroys the power of the market, subverting its regularity of supply and demand. For them, surplus ought to be reinvested in future industry.

    Seriously, there is a whole tradition of “political economy” which tried to excise charity from regular economic practice, in the name of Christianity. You have evangelical preachers such as Thomas Chalmers (and 18th-19th c. Scottish evangelical) promoting “evangelical virtues”, especially emphasizing 3: hard work, saving, and sexual self-control.

    Here he is the inheritor of the Scottish defense of capitalist political economy, especially that of David Hume (atheist philosopher, etc.). Hume argued for sexual purity on the basis of economic gain (for the whole economy, not individuals)! He did not give a rip about scriptural commands, etc.

    Hume also banishes charity, because it is too much a “miracle,” which he cannot stand – you cannot have these interruptions of regular laws of nature!- he needs something more regular for economics.

    So you have evangelicals such as Chalmers preaching evangelical virtues of hard work, saving (and reinvestment can follow this), and sexual self-control, which on the surface appear innocent enough, until you see that they are part of an economic scheme which also banishes charity – you know, for the good of the poor (they need to work hard, for their own good)…

    And evangelicals in America are to some extent inheritors of this tradition. It is no coincidence that sexual sin is the worst of all for evangelicals, and that they tend toward conservative, free market [capitalist], economics.

    So, whether or not welfare destroys charity, it surely does not set out to in the way in which justification of free market capitalism does.

    I doubt that much of this is conscious in most evangelical minds in our culture, yet one must understand that the current construal of evangelical ethics/morals/politics is not immediately lifted from scripture, but has been mediated by such influences as modern capitalist political economy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    So, I forgot to say, I would neither advocate welfare reform in either direction, but a renewal of Christian moral thought, which would include a condemnation of our current system.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03390910934154428602 Thomas Bridges

    And if I came across combative, Todd, I apologize. You may be bringing some interesting arguments, such as Olasky’s, which I have not yet read and given full consideration.

    Nevertheless, I think conversations such as this need to look behind the current debates, via history, to discern the subtext. The priority of American conservative economics is to keep the market running, and I cannot help but suspect that arguments like Olasky’s are apologies for the current economic system.

    Peace,

    Thomas

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14577192429618221591 Loren

    Hey Tim,
    I agree the Republican track record on poverty and helping the poor is embarrassing and atrocious. There is no other way of looking at it. I have a question for you beyond that topic. Do you have any absolutes or non negotiables when deciding on who to vote for? If you do, does abortion qualify as a non negotiable item? Also, do you think Christians can be for abortion?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632153347046833262 todd

    Hi Loren,
    I think people on both sides of the life/choice issue want to reduce the number of abortions but differ on how to go about it. The disagreement has mostly been over whether or not abortion should be criminalized. Worldwide studies show that criminalization does not effectively reduce abortion numbers, but making adoption more accessible, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and providing economic assistance to mothers does. The Democratic party added new language to their platform along these lines and Obama mentioned it in the last Presidential debate. My hope is that this can open the door for bipartisan cooperation on abortion reduction.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Good questions…I think I’d answer this way. I have but one absolute; the pursuit of the kingdom. I have no political allegiance above the kingdom of God. That is my stance as a Christian.

    Many Christians seem to think voting Republican is the only proper response if you are “pro-life.” This seems overly simplistic to me. Single issue voting never works, it’s all too complicated. First of all, pro-life should mean much more than the desire to overturn Roe v. Wade. Pro-life should produce a desire to end the death penalty, war, disease, and poverty – not to mention nuclear proliferation and environmental concerns which threaten all life. So, the pro-life stance should concern more than just one issue.

    Secondly, abortion is a human tragedy. The question is, how it should be addressed.

    The republican strategy is simple: make it difficult or illegal. There is something to be said for that. However, that tack cannot succeed. Here’s why. The polarized pro-life/pro-choice debate is at a stalemate. Neither side has a real advantage and the debate is stagnant. So the pro-life side cannot currently win the rhetorical debate. Then there is the law: Roe v. Wade. Neither candidate can do anything to change Roe v. Wade. Even if McCain were elected and every single seat became vacant on the U.S. Supreme Court, there would be no way he could confirm enough pro-life justices to overturn Roe – the D’s have the House and Senate. The only way to do it would be to have a filibuster-proof majority in both chambers. Even then, I think there would be such civil unrest over the issue – a ton of violence – it just will not happen. Roe will not soon be overturned. That being the case, the issue is really a pragmatic one: how to lower the number of abortions through other tactics not related to Roe.

    That is the democrat strategy. Lower the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thereby abortions, via other more practical and realistic means. One significant approach would be poverty. Abortion is always tied to poverty. Poverty was down under Clinton, so were abortions. Poverty is up under Bush, so are abortions. If we want to do something right now to lower the number of abortions (being that the pro-life/choice debate is at a stalemate and Roe cannot be over turned) it seems appropriate to try and work against poverty as a way to lower the number of abortions.

    Abortion is also a way for societies to mask the problems facing women in the midst of a crisis pregnancy. I’m looking for a creative response…more adoptions, more counseling, more involvement of the church with those in crisis and those who have already had abortions. What if we all adopted a baby and paid for the mother’s medical bills and then helped her with school or job training so that it didn’t happen again? What if we all surrounded those who just had an abortion and tried to help change her life in a way that would mean it never happens again? What if somebody found a way to have the conversation in ways unrelated to the polarizing pro-life/choice rhetoric? I’m looking for a creative response.

    If you notice what Obama says whenever abortion comes up – he starts talking about how to reduce unwanted pregnancies and working to reduce poverty. He talks about the need for a creative response that gets us out of the stalemate. I think voting for Obama is the most realistic pro-life approach available to us as voters.

    On your last question, I can’t imagine why anyone would be “for” abortion, Christian or not. That just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s terrible. I see women who struggle with the scars all the time. Whatever you think about when life begins, abortion causes incredible emotional damage to the mother. It’s awful – we need to work on it as a people. But I’m not convinced that one side is any better than the other on abortion in American politics. Both seem pretty dug in on the issue. As I said at the outset, my agenda is only the pursuit of the kingdom of God. As such, my concern is how to actually lower the number of abortions that occur. Obama seems to at least be reaching for a way to transcend the mud and mire to address some of the core issues. He obviously cares about poverty. He’s got enough rhetorical ability that he might even be able to change the debate – take it to a different place that’s not so polarized. Even if I were a single issue voter, that issue being abortion, it seems like voting for Obama might actually accomplish something in terms of kingdom impact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05917441853062317185 Anthony

    Interesting comments. I have been staunchly against abortion under any circumstances for a long time, on the basis that it is equivalent to the murder of an innocent human being. That being said, I have voted for pro-choice candidates in the past. The reason for this apparent contradiction is that, practically speaking, I don’t believe we will ever see Roe v. Wade reversed, so I’ve chosen not to be a single-issue voter with respect to my abortion position. I don’t believe that opposing abortion while supporting capital punishment is a contradiction in the use of the pro-life position, in that, unborn babies who are to be aborted are completely innocent of any wrong-doing, whereas condemned criminals have been judged by the state and therefore declared guilty and deserving of the death sentence. The Bible and Orthodox Christianity have clearly given the state the authority to punish criminals with death, as well as to wage just wars, but I don’t believe that the authority to kill the innocent for convenience was ever given.

    With respect to the discussion of the “government’s” role in ending poverty, I’d like to share the contents of a recent email that I received from Reformed Theologian R.C Sproul, Jr. I’m still digesting some of his comments, but I’ll share it to see if anyone has any thoughts on what he says. Here it is:

    Back on the Road to Serfdom

    R.C. Sproul Jr.

    It’s déjà vu all over again, as the evangelical church lurches toward big government. I’m old enough to remember the heyday of evangelical lefties like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Ron Sider back in the early 1980’s. Sider wrote a book that caught the church’s eye entitled Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, wherein he argued that more socialism is a good and biblical goal. To say that it suffered from bad exegesis is to unfairly stain the word exegesis. Dr. Gary North then encouraged a very young and wooly David Chilton to respond in print. Chilton’s book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, point by point sliced and diced Sider’s work with all the precision of the sword of the Lord. Chilton not only dusted off the spot on which Sider had stood, he dusted off the dust as well.

    Chilton’s book was a life-changer for me. When it was released I had a nascent interest in Reformed theology, and a budding fascination with free-market economics. This one book combined both together with a rhetorical panache that would inspire a young man who would one day write sentences containing the phrase rhetorical panache.

    The Christian socialist argues this sloppily. Premise A is the Bible encourages us to care for the poor. True enough. Premise B is that transfer programs, wherein the government taxes some people so as to be able to write checks or provide non-sword bearing services, is caring for poor people. This premise, tragically, is false. One ought to reject the welfare state in the end not because it takes money of our pockets, but because in writing the checks the state is actually hurting those it pretends to help. But, just for the sake of the argument, let’s grant this premise. The conclusion then is that Christians ought to support government transfer programs.

    To find the mistake, let’s make a substitution or two in our premises and see if it still adds up. Premise A encourages us to forgive one another, to exercise grace toward each other. Anyone what to dispute that? Premise B is that setting prisoners free, or better yet, never locking them up is forgiving and gracious. The conclusion then is that the government ought to forgive criminals, and send none of them to prison. Right? Right?

    Christians fall into socialism because they are unable or unwilling to note the simple distinction between the calling of the state with the calling of the individual, or the calling of the church. Let’s try some more. Premise A is that it is good for the Christian to evangelize the lost. Premise B is that Program EE, wherein the state sends paid employees from door to door asking people what they would say to God if they were to die tonight and God were to ask them why He should let them into heaven is evangelizing the lost. The conclusion is then that the state ought to be running an evangelism program. Or another. Premise A is that husbands have conjugal responsibilities to their wives. Premise B is that some husbands fail to fulfill those responsibilities. The conclusion is that the government ought to establish the Department of Conjugal Responsibilities and put men on the payroll to do the job.

    The state is not the individual. Nor is it the church. It is organized force. This concept isn’t an extremist libertarian one. It is a Pauline one. God gave the state the calling of the sword, to punish evildoers. He did not give them the power of the butter knife, whereby it might hand out peanut butter and cheese to the less fortunate. It is foolish and wrong for the government to be about the business of helping the poor. It is foolish and wrong to support candidates who promise to do so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Anthony,

    I couldn’t disagree more with Sproul’s take. Also, the heyday for Wallis and Sider is now! He’s clearly conflating the Christian faith and liberal democracy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    What people apparently want to believe about Barack Obama:
    “Obama seems to at least be reaching for a way to transcend the mud and mire to address some of the core issues.”

    Barack Obama:
    “There will always be people, many of goodwill, who do not share my view on the issue of choice. On this fundamental issue, I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield.”

    He warned abortion supporters that the partial-birth abortion ban should not be construed as an isolated effort, saying it was wrong to presume the law was “not part of a concerted effort to roll back the hard-won rights of American women.”

    Obama said the decision had encouraged an Alabama lawmaker to introduce a measure to ban all abortions. “With one more vacancy on the Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a woman’s fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe versus Wade and that is what is at stake in this election,” Obama claimed.

    He says his daughters would be “punished with a baby”.

    He doesn’t want parental notification.

    He voted against the born alive protection act – despite his current protestations about roe v wade , at the time he had no such reservations and even the roe v wade argument has been shown to be false.

    He doesn’t even want to stop partial birth abortions.

    He tells Planned Parenthood “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,”

    How on earth can you convince yourself that this is someone who is transcending anything on abortion?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    Meanwhile, John McCain has actually adopted a child. Where is all the reliance on narrative when you really need it?

    Dan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Dan,

    It seems a little out of bounds to say, “He doesn’t even want to stop partial birth abortions,” doesn’t it? That’s terribly misleading seeing as how he’s on the record against them and has supported legislation along those lines. A reasonably intelligent person can see through that sort of rhetoric.

    But, you didn’t engage my point. The polarizing pro-life/choice debate is going nowhere. Roe v. Wade is going nowhere. The way we are fighting abortion does not work. I don’t know what you are interested in, but I want the number of abortions to go down because I think it is a horrific thing. Obama is openly committed to finding ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to reduce poverty. That can work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    1. Partial Birth
    Granted, I was riled up. His position on late-term/partial birth abortions is “its appropriate for a state to limit … accounting for health of the mother”. I don’t know what “its appropriate”. Its very different than “I oppose”. Meanwhile, he has voted against bans and denounced the Supreme Court decision upholding them. I call that being for it.

    2. Roe v Wade
    a. The election has not yet happened and a Democratic super majority is not guaranteed
    b. Even if a super majority happened, there would be a high likelihood that it would flip in 2 years. This almost always happens in the midterm election and I think it will be a lock once the public sees what a super majority ( or either party ) means.
    c. We are most likely one justice away from overturning – with Obama making the next selection it will swing back out of reach for quite some time.

    Todd – if your still checking in, where do you find the statistics that criminalization has no effect on abortion rates? I find it hard to believe that would be the case in the United States so i would be interested to consult them.

    3. Poverty and abortion
    What are your sources for abortion rates and poverty rates in the US? I would be interested to see them as well. I have downloaded the report that the Matthew 25 Network cites extensively but haven’t yet gotten to reading it.

    But equally applicable to the point, I don’t think that Obama’s policies will have a significatn effect on poverty – and consequently on levels of abortion. He highlights the programs on his site here: http://www.barackobama.com/issues/poverty/
    They fall into a few categories:
    1. create jobs / access jobs / train for jobs
    2. direct pay ( entitlement ) programs ( EIC / tax relief / mandated sick days / affordable housing )
    3. fuzzy – the ones with lots of statements like “work with .. to indentify and address” and “They will improve rural schools and attract more doctors to rural areas”

    Meanwhile, he will be droppoing the hammer on the job creating sectors of the economy with tax increases from every possible angle. While I normally don’t think the president does much to affect the economy – the level of drastic tax increases he proposes will if nothing else stunt recovery and slow the economy and increase poverty.

    The greater point is that Obama ,first and foremost, is loyal to abortion whenever/however/whoever. He has made that perfectly clear. His strategies have nothing to do with working with organizations that want to end abortion and everything to do with groups that want to see them more firmly entrenched. There is nothing creative about them. There is a “Pregnant Women Support Act” bill brought forward by “Democrats for Life” as an example of the types of creative solutions you mention that could be passed in a Democratic Congress. It provides the very type of supports for pregnant women you want. But Obama opposes it because it has a parental consent provision and extends health benefits to the unborn child – the types of things he can’t have because of the chance of undermining Roe. Creativity? Bipartisanship? If given a choice between saving an unborn baby and strengthening the right to abort – he will always side with the latter. I hear Obama quickly switch to “how can we reduce abortions” .. but frankly i don’t think he really cares all that much about the unborn. As is often the case with him, his actions scream louder than his words.

    The argument that he wants to reduce abortions is demonstrably false. Two examples are his desire to provide federal funding for abortions and pledge to pass the Freedom of Choice Act. NARAL itself says the lack of federal funding is preventing abortions. The Freedom of Choice Act will rollback virtually every state limitation or policy on abortion – policices which are right now reducing the number of abortions in this country. He has stated he would not continue to federally fund crisis pregnancy centers. Meanwhile he wants to get rid of conscience protections for our friends in medicine who don’t want to take part in peforming abortions.

    You can read more on the flurry of facts here:
    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/viewarticle.php?selectedarticle=2008.10.14_George_Robert_Obama%27s%20Abortion%20Extremism_.xml

    What world do you want to live in if your teenage daughter or the girlfriend of your teenage son gets pregnant? The one where Obama has cleared the way to viewing an unborn baby as just another inconvenience, a “punishment” that can be easily taken care of on the state’s dime without your parents needing to be bothered? Or one where that life is cherished and ending it is not even considered an option?

    I am with you on the solutions – every one of the things that you propose we can do is right on and i will indict myself for not doing enough yet. So lets get started on them. But lets not delude ourselves that somehow Obama shares the respect for unborn life that we do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03476196346943998020 Dan

    One more thought and some stats I found:

    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2008/09/18/Report_Trends_Women_Obtaining_Abortions.pdf

    They don’t show the rates broken down by economic class but the overall rates have been declining since 1989 and are the lower since 1974 which is different than your assertion that they have gone down under Clinton then up under Bush.

    With all this discussion about poverty and abortion, there are still plenty that occur in the population above the poverty line ( 1 out of 5 based on the assertion that its 4 times higher under the poverty line ). What effect will there be on the numbers after firmly legitimizing and normalizing abortion as Obama plans to do? Surely it will make them go up?

    Dan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Here’s an interesting article that I ran accross today:

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/10/can-democrats-reduce-abortion.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632153347046833262 todd

    This article discusses the effect of criminalization based on a study by the World Health Organization: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/world/12abortion.html?_r=2&oref;=slogin&oref;=slogin

    And this one by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good details the impact of social and economic support:
    http://www.catholicsinalliance.org/files/CACG_Final.pdf

    This page on the Matthew 25 website has a good summary of both legal and economic impacts:
    http://prolifeproobama.com/plpo_abortionfacts.htm

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12576219821923941369 nick

    hey guys–I’ve been enjoying the back-and-forth on these issues, I wanted to let you know that I voted early in Johnson County, it was easy and it took a burden off of my heart and spirit as we enter into this last week of election-mania.

    I was intrigued by this statement from the Matthew 25 website (from the anti-McCain part of their platform).

    –(assuming roe v. wade is overturned and abortion law is thrown back to the states), “If states with more than 45% ‘pro-life’ sentiment chose to outlaw abortion, this would only impact 16 states accounting for 10% of abortions nationwide, or less than 100,000 abortions a year.”

    I’m not sure why 100,000 fewer abortions is an insignificant number to these folks. That is roughly the size of the population of Lawrence, KS that is allowed to live each year instead of being “chosen” not to live by their parents.

    And then there’s this from the Matthew 25 site (on the pro-Obama part of the platform):

    –”Economic assistance to low income families is correlated with a 20% lower abortion rate. Across the entire United States, this translates into 200,000 fewer abortions.”

    Now we’re getting somewhere! If Roe v. Wade is overturned and this economic assistance is made available (might our churches be better than the federal government at offering this assistance?) we will have 300,000 more children in our country each year. If they all live in red states because California and New York won’t ban or restrict abortion, so be it.


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