God at the Convention
At the Republican and Democratic conventions, both parties invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan to deliver the closing benediction. It was an unsurprising move for the RNC, but for the DNC, the invitation was like asking the president of PETA to preside over the ribbon-cutting of a new fur coat factory.
As the man some people call “America’s Pope,” Cardinal Dolan is staunchly opposed to abortion and same-sex “marriage”—causes that the Democrats have made defining policies for the Party. Predictably, the Cardinal’s prayer, which included clear pro-life and pro-natural marriage messages, received resounding “Amens” at the RNC, with a much more tepid response at the DNC.
Both conventions also made a point to “put” God in their platforms. Notably, the Dems put Him in only after taking Him out, and amid howls of protest by the rank-and-file for His modest re-insertion.
Speakers from both parties closed their remarks with divine codas, such as “Providence is with us,” “God bless you,” or “God bless our nation,” as if there were nothing about their party, their platform, or “their” nation for which God should not bestow favor.
But let’s be clear: “God” is either a Person who informs priorities, policies, and practices, or a three-letter filler in our airways and print. Considering the warning in the Decalogue against using the Lord’s name in vain, enthusiasts of both parties would be wise to be more thoughtful about their God-talk.
The kerfuffle over “God” in DNC platform became red meat for conservatives. Right-leaning bloggers, as if reporting on an “open mic” moment in the divine throne room, circulated a picture of Jesus framed with the slogan: “Before Bill Clinton crows, the Democrats will deny me three times.” The post elicited a number of comments expressing wonder at how any Christian could be a Democrat. I’ve personally known people who have emphatically stated that a person can’t be a Democrat and a Christian.
Such sentiments ignore the fact that there are Democrats (albeit few, and getting fewer) who are fiscally liberal but socially conservative, like the Democrats for Life. They are not unlike the remnant of faithful Christians (also few and getting fewer) in the Episcopal Church who choose to remain as flickers of light in an institution darkened by apostasy.
At the same time, there are Republicans who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal—the former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is both pro-choice and pro-gay “marriage,” comes to mind—making it clear that political affiliation alone is no litmus for who is “in” and who is “out” of God’s favor.
And conservatives are not alone in fancying themselves as God’s proxy in partisan politics.
Duty to the poor
Liberals, imagining themselves tapped into the political leanings of the Godhead, have circulated their depiction of Jesus on the blogs, with a child on His lap and framed with this message:
“It’s ironic because the biggest enemy of the Republicans isn’t Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, it’s THIS MAN. . . . He said heal the sick, feed the hungry care for the weakest among us, and always pray in private.”
Or, putting it more candidly, “Jesus is against them (and for us) because we care for the poor and they don’t.”
In their moral calculus, the needs of the needy override every other issue. And that makes the real irony of the post, given their party’s unqualified support for abortion, the child sitting on Jesus’s lap.
But the truth is, the GOP doesn’t care any less about the poor than does the Democratic party. In fact, it could be argued that Republicans have a higher view of the disadvantaged. The difference in the parties is their disagreement over whom the primary duty to the poor belongs and how that duty is to be exercised.
Democrats believe that the State should be the primary provider of compassion services. To be fair, state-run programs have benefited many individuals who either can’t work or who need temporary assistance. But they have also created a permanent underclass with the aid of bureaucrats, misery merchants, and career politicians who secure influence and power by keeping the downtrodden in their back pocket.
For their part, Republicans do not deny a role for government, especially in the case of severe (by natural disaster) or widespread (e.g., The Great Depression) need. But they believe that care for the needy is best handled at the local level by individuals and “mediating” institutions like churches, faith-based charities, civic groups, and other volunteer associations. They reject programs that encourage a culture of idleness and dependence, in favor of those that help the able-bodied poor become employable and self-reliant so that they can have the dignity of earning a living and providing for their families.
Our giving patterns
It bears mentioning that when Jesus taught about care for the least and last, he wasn’t speaking to Roman consuls about the state’s public duty; He was speaking to individuals about their personal duty. In that light, our national giving patterns might surprise those who uncritically assume that the Democratic party is the Party of Compassion.
The non-partisan Chronicle of Philanthropy, reports that “red states are more generous than blue states.” According to their latest data, the top eight (and 14 of the top 20) most generous states are red, whereas, the bottom seven (and 14 of the bottom 20) are blue. What’s more, many of the most generous states are among the poorest states, while many of the least generous are among the richest.
This is not hard to understand. Once personal duty is usurped by the collective and enforced (rather than voluntary) through the power of taxation, it is easy for the individual to deem his burden fulfilled, then feel justified brushing off personal appeals in Scrooge-like fashion: “Aren’t the food stamp and child support programs operational? Medicaid is in full vigor, I trust.”
And yet we can all point to individual Democrats who outgive their Republican counterparts, as well as individual Republicans who make Scrooge look like a profligate do-gooder.
Hopefully, this underscores the recklessness of claiming God’s favor on folks of a particular brand. For God does not judge us by whether we are liberal or conservative, or whether our team colors or red or blue, but whether our team captain is Him, and how faithful we are to His playbook. It is there, in His Word, that if we turn to policies rather than partisans, we can know something about God’s views.
As revealed in Scripture, man is a special creation with the moral standing of free will. Thus, policies that most directly uphold the sanctity of human life and religious freedom are preeminent over all others. That doesn’t mean that national debt, environmental protection, and balanced budgets don’t have moral value; they do. Rather, it means that:
In the coming weeks, we’re sure to hear partisans in both camps suggest that theirs is the party of God, or that you can’t be Christian unless you support health care reforms, traditional marriage, affordable housing, reproductive justice, environmental controls, or balanced budgets. But, while each of these issues has a moral component, they do not have equal moral weight.
Instead, the moral significance of any social policy is determined by how profoundly it values and upholds our natural rights—that is, universal liberties that are not granted by the State but derived from God. Those include, foremost, the right to life, and the rights of free speech, thought, conscience, and religious expression.
Image courtesy of Clerical Whispers.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.