Installment I can be found here.
It’s Sunday, time for another sermon on the Religious wrong and Social Responsibility. I’ll start with a question, what is a social conservative?
Classical conservatism is an ancient philosophy that advances tradition above other values such as reason, equality, justice or egalitarianism as the foundation for governing human societies. Conservatism, while ancient, was probably first formalized by Edmond Burke (1729-1797), in Reflections on the Revolution in France, in response to the 18th century Enlightenment in general and the French Revolution in particular. Burke argued that traditions such as family, church and state draw on the wisdom of generations while reason is untested by time or may mask the prejudice of its proponents.
Conservatives do not oppose change per se, but prefer organic change to radical or revolutionary change. Burke strongly supported the American Revolution, but vigorously opposed the French Revolution which were pretty much contemporary events. It is important to note that conservatism is neither right wing nor left wing and does not favour one tradition above another. Lenin was a revolutionary, Stalin a conservative and Gorbachev a reformer, but all were Communists. Conservativism then is ideologically ambivalent; supportive of entrenched power, regardless of who wields it.
It is not surprising then that modern conservatism’s connection to the traditions of family, church and state is attractive to many modern day Christians. But is this the place, philosophically and politically where the church rightly and morally belongs? The answer to that depends on the extent to which the traditions of family, church and state support true Christian values.
Clearly there is some overlap between Christian values and what American conservatives call family values, but there are just as obviously some huge disconnects. A so called “culture of life” that protects a fetus and a catatonic soccer mom, but justifies the execution of criminals and the torture of prisoners is not even internally consistent let alone consistent with Christian values. Economic policies which under the guise of fiscal restraint, slash programs (head start, Medicaid etc.) designed to ease the burden of the poor to pay for an unjust foreign war and tax cuts for the wealthy are likewise morally deficient. How this is rationalized in light of the preponderance of Christian teaching on social responsibility defies not only reason, but tradition as well.
As I am writing this, I am listening to a Christian radio station, and have just heard back to back to advertisements which cause me to shake my head. Focus on the Family, an organization that is currently fighting against a public health program to immunize young women against human papilloma virus, the leading cause of cervical cancer, says that “Loving your neighbour is easy – just give to our ____ fund …” while a Bellingham, Washington “ministry” provides a shelter exclusively for “whole families (defined as those having both a mother and father) in need” – I guess single parents and non-traditional families in need should look elsewhere. Is this not sick and wrong?
Does anyone other than me not see a major disconnect between this and the values exemplified by Christ? Are the poor, meek, humble, righteous and poor in spirit no longer blessed? How is this consistent with Proverbs 14:31 which says “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”
It is also, sadly, increasingly difficult to separate the community of faith from the community of wealth, power and privilege. The parallels between the self righteous religious rulers our Lord called vipers and hypocrites and the religious right of our time are deniable only to those willing to suspend reason. Jesus offered grace and forgiveness to sinners and outcasts and reserved his wrath for the self righteous and corruptors, selling religion (sacrifices) and sitting in smug judgement of the poor, sick and disadvantaged. So why does His church expend such energies condemning sinners and praising the ruling establishment that exists on the backs of the poor.
The golden rule has become “Those with the gold make the rules”, and sweat equity now means “your sweat, my equity.” The poor have been deceived. Freedom without options, a vote without a voice and free speech when “they” own the channels are not currency neither will they provide sustenance. All the while a church, addicted to wealth, gives without sacrifice, ministers to those it deems worthy of its offerings, and seeks God’s blessing. God does not bless this.
They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways. The church asks “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
God through Hs prophet Isaiah answers “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 2,3,6-7).