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Left, Right & Christ: A Q and A with Harper and Innes

Why do Christians on opposite ends of the spectrum often use polarizing rhetoric that demonizes those who don't agree with them—even their fellow believers?

Harper: I think too often we emulate our culture rather than the person of Jesus. Our culture trains us to see our political "other" as "enemy" and to dehumanize them in order to defeat them. If we saw our political "other" as human—made in the image of God—then we would at the very least treat them with respect. And if we really believed in the possibility of redemption, we would not seek to destroy "the other", but rather to engage them as Jesus' engaged the Pharisees, the Centurion, and Pontius Pilate.

Innes: Part of it is the medium. I find that in radio interviews that we do, the setting—especially with the two of us together—virtually requires short bursts of rhetoric as opposed to patient and listening conversation. It's parry and thrust, or you get left behind and forgotten in the stream of talk. There is also a lot more media space and traffic than there was a generation ago, so people have to fight for attention, make a show of themselves. Flame-throwing rhetoric is a way of doing that. It's very tempting. I find myself doing it on occasion at WORLDmag.com, and my editor at times restrains me. I also see it in Lisa's columns. It's the flesh.

Tell us your positions on some of the issues you discuss in the book: poverty, same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, terrorism, health care, or the environment.

Harper:

  1. Capitalism and Poverty: Business is not the enemy. Poverty is. Poverty is not from God. There was no poverty in the garden. There will be no poverty in the end, when Jesus comes again.
    In God's economy, laws like the commandment to abide by Sabbath day, Sabbath year, and the Year of Jubilee protected the people from exploitation and entrenched generational cycles of poverty. These regulations also limited the capacity of businesses to grow to the point of empire.
    We don't live in a theocracy, but economists like Amartya Sen, author of Development as Freedom, and Aneel Karnani, the conservative economic strategist, agree: poverty in our world is a direct result of our chosen economic system—a system that trumpets de-regulation and allows the market free reign.
    In God's economy and in today's world, justice for all humanity requires appropriate limitation of liberty for business. It requires that we value people more than we value money.
  2. Same-Sex Marriage: I begin my chapter with two caveats: 1) This is not a discussion of whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong. 2) This is not a discussion of whether or not the church should marry gay people. In fact, the first amendment, which mandates that every American be free to exercise her or his conscience, provides protection for each church to be able to operate according to its governing body's own conscience.
    In the realm of the public square, the Christian question is simple. Gay people are human—made in the image of God. As such, they deserve all the same rights and protections that any human being is afforded under the law. If not, our society is making a legally established judgment about the basic quality of gay people's humanity.
    Our current system doesn't afford equal rights or protections. 1,138 rights and protections are conferred to U.S. citizens by the federal government upon marriage. In fact, the Supreme Court has already established the fundamental right of all citizens to marry. It is such a fundamental right that, mass murderers and serial rapists cannot be barred from marrying while still inside prison!
    If mass murders and serial rapists have the right to marry, then who am I to tell my friend Brian that he cannot?
  3. Abortion: If we really want to lessen the number of babies aborted every year, we must address the root cause of abortion. Poverty.
    In 2008 the proportion of abortion patients jumped by 60%. The abortion rate for poorer women was 3x that of better off women. We have had five Republican presidents and 3 Democratic presidents since Roe v. Wade was passed. Which president saw the steepest drop in abortion rates on his watch? President Clinton, because he poured money into programs that help women choose life.
    "In this 'culture war' everyone loses—especially the ones we claim to fight for—the unborn. My faith calls me to support the protection of all life, including the mothers', and to call for a consistent ethic of life, one that rejects all public policy that effectively breaks shalom by fracturing families and ending viable lives." (LRC, pg. 129)
  4. Immigration: God's first command to humans was "multiply and fill the earth." (Gen. 1:28) The ability to move freely between borders is a basic need of humanity established by God in the beginning. In fact, in cases where people migrate in order to save their own lives or livelihood, the right to migrate actually reinforces the right to life.
    Every nation has the right and responsibility to protect and monitor its borders. But the U.S. immigration system is broken. Our border is much more secure than it was in 2005, but still 200,000 undocumented people are crossing the border every year. We don't know who they are. We don't know their intents for us. We must fix our system.
    Yet, consider this: The question is not whether our system needs to be reformed. The question is how. Will we reform it in a way that runs counter to our values and the call of God to protect and cultivate the image of God in every person he created—counter to God's command not to oppress the immigrant?Or will be do the alternative?
    "The U.S. faces a choice as it considers how it will fix its broken immigration system in the 21st century. Will U.S. voters allow themselves to be led by firestorms fueled by recycled fears—fears of the other, fears of loss of money and control, fears that lead to race-based bullying? Or will they be led by faith—faith in our declared values, faith in our immigrant identity, faith in the God who identifies himself as the great protector?" (LRC, page 163)
  5. Terrorism: "War is not inevitable. We have choices. We can choose the licentiousness of war and terror or the disciplined power of law and the meek redemption of broken international relationships. War does not ultimately save us from evildoers; it transforms the principled into perpetrators. We must do everything in our power to find another way."
  6. Health Care: "If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we must be slaves to the God who protects and cultivates the lives of people made in his image....We must call for universal care that protects and cultivates the image of God in all of us."
  7. Environment: "In biblical terms, climate change is creation's testimony against humanity. We have failed to exercise God's kind of dominion over the rest of creation; we have ruled for our own benefit, and have exploited both humanity and land; we have hoarded and over-consumed resources. As result, shalom is shattered. Climate change is God's wake up call to humanity. Liberty is being abused, the image of God is being threatened, and God's creation is being twisted beyond recognition by our ungodly reign.
11/16/2011 5:00:00 AM