Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who is my neighbor?

In the last several weeks, I've had conversations with fellow followers of Christ who are a little bemused/conflicted by the idea that I am a liberal democrat. For some, my stance on certain seminal issues is hard to reconcile for people who I know and respect, and though I believe there are many hidden liberals out there within the ranks of evangelicals (whom I definitely align myself with), I also think the world is more complicated than some within the faith might see it.  So I've been thinking hard about this, particularly about the central issue on which right-wing, evangelical conservatives focus.  I'm talking, of course, about abortion.  I also have a friend who, while respecting our new President-elect and even hoping for his victory in many ways, couldn't bring himself to vote for a man who believes the choice to have or not have a baby should be a private matter between a woman, a man and their clergy, rather than a decision to murder. And I totally get why he voted as he did, even though I didn't. 

And yes, I've wrestled long and hard with this life-and-death matter.  In the darkest hours of the night I wondered how I could really cast my own ballot for someone I disagreed with so ardently about the Right to Life.  But I also couldn't vote for the one with whom I agreed on this but disagreed in practically every other way. And, like a friend told me earlier this fall, to cast one's vote on one issue alone is a little myopic, given the state of the world.

What I've realized is that for many of us the labels liberal and conservative don't quite fit.  See, as I've often said (even here), I'm pro-life in every guise.  I fundamentally believe that life begins when God begins the process at conception and that it ends when He sovereignly ends it.  So I am pro-life but also anti-death penalty.  I am opposed to euthanasia and also anti-war. Honestly, I don't understand the idea that we fight to the save the babies merely to send them to die across in foxholes eighteen years later. I believe that though, as a friend told me, Jesus said there would always be wars and rumors of war, we should not allow that to be an excuse to wage one.  Though Jesus says, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword," this is counter-balanced by His words, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives."  Ultimately, I don't quite understand how a disciple of Christ can easily participate in a war, particularly as part of the nation who has propagated that war.  It's one thing to defend one's home against aggression, quite the opposite to begin the conflict.

And I am anti-stem cell research with the conservatives and a  bonafide tree-hugger with the liberals.  I believe in the freedom granted to bear arms in the constitution but also long for stricter gun-control.  I would love to see prayer allowed in public schools, but understand and accept the constitutional separation between church and state.  I believe that marriage is a Sacrament given by God, intended to be between a man and a woman, but believe that as God loves us all equally, so we should love and extend legal rights to all people, regardless of sexual orientation.  I believe any (and every) kind of sex outside of marriage is sin, whether that means homosexual or heterosexual sex, but have also become convinced that the bent toward homosexuality is somehow written in the chromosomes, not simply a choice (I mean, seriously, why would a person would choose to live a life that has so much pain in it?). 

So what do all these divergent beliefs mean, in terms of the labels we give ourselves and others?  Though I consistently call myself a liberal, I think that I am actually other.  I am a citizen of heaven first, one who desires (but, of course, isn't always successful) to look at this world through the lens of the Kingdom.  It is not for me to follow a party-line just for the sake of it.  For those of us in Christ's body, it's imperative, I think, that we allow His ethics to form us.  The  platform of any political party must be scrutinized by His command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And who is our neighbor?  It's the one who carries guns in his pick-up, and the one who has had an abortion.  It's the Marine who fights across the world, and the homosexual who lives next door.  It's the guard on death row who will preside over an execution and the prisoner who has done the atrocity to put him in the hangman's noose.  It's the African American who will govern our country and the bigot dressed in a white hood, shouting slurs at people of color.  And who falls outside of the label 'your neighbor'? Name me one person on this earth who wasn't created in the Image of God, and that is the only one.

"...our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.  Next to the blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses."  CS Lewis, Weight of Glory

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