My personal evolution to become part of The Christian Left — or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Practice the Golden Rule”
So Roger, you're on the "Left". Let me guess, you're a dyed-in-the-wool raving liberal '60s hippie?
I consider myself a member of The Christian Left (both generally, and with this organization) too, and while of course there's always a lot more complexity and nuance on both ends of the spectrum than labels like "right" or "left" might paint it, there are clear distinctions too.
I know of plenty of sincere Christians, including some ministers, who align very strongly with the values of love, compassion, and mercy that The Christian Left champions — and in the case of the ministers I'm thinking of, who have also taken a vocal stand against the "religious Right" — yet who also may either draw the line at some other social issues (abortion and same-sex relationships seem to be the Big Two bogeymen, usually), or maybe have a different approach to some things (say, healthcare) than others do on the political "Left". And they might also be uncomfortable with identifying themselves with the term "Christian Left". (Part of that also stems from the social and political baggage, as some see it anyway, that comes with the catchall term "left", which I trust open dialogue will clear up in time.)
And of course, there are those on the "Right" too, who don't march in quite the lockstep on every issue that a lot of public voices might give the impression they do. I grew up religiously and politically conservative — though, this was in the 1960s and '70s, before "the Right" began its headlong lunge toward ever-further-right polarization and hardcore ideology — and it was exactly over the Right's growing "hardcore-ism" in the 1980s (both politically and religiously) that I began standing more and more at arms' length from what called itself "conservative", and not keeping in step with them.
Eventually (in the early '90s), I found myself at a wonderful church, whose pastor was one of those I mentioned earlier, who took an outspoken stance against the religious Right (which was his background, as well — and he's the son of a prominent pastor who heads a large, conservative denomination), although at the same time he was one of those who wouldn't consider himself on the "Left". He just didn't see that the Christian "Right" was actually following Jesus, whom they said they wanted to follow — not when you compare their acts, words, and attitudes to his, anyway.
Yeah, all that's interesting, but The Christian Left takes on a bunch of political issues, like public healthcare, that the Bible never talks about, right?
Finally, the protracted national debate over healthcare a few years ago shocked me as I listened to the ever-more-openly callous position that both the political and religious Right dug into, and it forced me back to review the abundant biblical passages (I've been a 35-year Bible student, and went through an excellent, conservative graduate theology school) concerning care for the poor, ill, or oppressed.
To my real dismay, I found that for decades I had practiced denial ignoring the very obvious stance of the Bible: that it IS very much part of government's responsibilities to care for the poor and needy (as it is also everyone's responsibility to help, of course); I had simply always believed what I'd been told in my youth, that "the Bible's commands to help the poor are directed at individuals or the church, not at the government" (and, trusting those who taught me that, I never questioned it). Jeremiah 22 and the first half of Proverbs 31 are but two of very many passages that bluntly state government's responsibility to help the poor.
The answer was so clear as to make me ashamed that I'd denied it for so long: it is absolutely part of government's direct job to care for the poor (including, in this case, those who can't afford healthcare for themselves or their families), for the direct reason that the Golden Rule is a responsibility for all people to practice toward all others, and of course every act or policy of government is not only enacted by people, but has real effects on the real lives of other real people.
That, if anyone asks, is the central reason that governments are NOT exempt from responsibility to practice the Golden Rule ("In everything, do for others what you would want them to do for you", Mt 7.12 and Lk 6.31). Government "of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE [and an observer who heard Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address noted that he emphasized the word "people" all three times]" — remember that? There's no abstraction in government: whatever government does has direct impact, sooner or later, on people, an impact that people in government are accountable to take thought for, "in everything".
That sounds very ethical and idealistic, and all. But what about being "fiscally responsible"?
"Fiscal responsibility" or "accountability"? Fine; as long as consideration for the direct and immediate impact on people is put first. Will a "fiscal accountability" measure first have a direct impact of threatening more people's livelihoods, homes, ability to feed their families, to afford healthcare, to keep from getting ill or dying sooner? Then that gets taken care of first — that's where "responsibility" should show up first, as care for people. The nation is "we the people", not "we the financial bottom line" (which is what emphasis on putting "fiscal accountability" first ends up making it into).
Long-term impact is vital too, of course; but trumpeting a policy's alleged long-term impact, when the immediate impact is real hardship and agony for people, ends up valuing natural selection (as even some conservative voices are now saying openly: "These are tough choices, and some will suffer, but ...") over genuine care for people. "We the people", by the way, implies a concern for one another, to stand together as one, not an Ayn Randian, pseudo-Darwinian national policy of "survival of the fittest".
Care for the poor, the sick, the needy? Yes: that's a responsibility for people in government to extend to ALL the people in the nation they serve. There's no excuse to skirt around that.
But, that means taxes! I don't want the government taking my money ...
And since, in a free country, We the People ARE the government, and our taxes are our contributions to a pool of funds to be used for the common good (contrary to a lot of conservative objections, taxes are not "the government taking" anything, which is the most common right-wing canard to dodge that) — then for example when it comes to an issue like healthcare, the only clear solution is for our (democratically agreed-on) taxes to support a program of national healthcare, the public healthcare that other developed and prosperous nations provide to all their citizens (and, of course, to add or expand other social safety nets besides healthcare). I appreciate the view of my friends in Canada, who are (rightly) appalled at the callous selfishness they see in America, and whose typical view on healthcare is, "We see our taxes as our gift to one another, to help one another out." That, if you ask me, sounds a lot more like what a "Christian nation" would be (since there are a lot of people on the Right who insist that's what America is or is supposed to be). "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fufill the law of Christ [his command, "Love one another, just as I have loved you", Jn 13.34]" (Gal 6.2).
So have I gone through my own evolution to become part of The Christian Left? You bet I have. Now I'm joining with thousands of others (as of this writing, The Christian Left on Facebook counts more than 26,000 members) to call the Christian Right, Middle, or Anywhere Else, to just do what they say they want to do: follow Jesus.
Love one another. The Golden Rule. Carry each other's burdens. The "least of these".
Oh yes, and speaking of his views on the poor and needy, those who say they want to follow him might keep this in mind: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or needing clothes, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'" (Mt 25.44-45).
People matter. Our care for them, for the "least", for those who cannot provide for themselves, matters. If we want to live in a society where we believe "We the People" are what comes first — and if those who say they want to follow Jesus care about actually having the same care for others that he does (let's hope they do) — then the values of The Christian Left (which, we are glad and privileged to find, are also held by very many of our friends there who are NOT Christian, or not religious at all!) are values that our whole society should be sharing.
"We the People": the Golden Rule, not survival of the fittest.
Article by featured blogger Roger Smith, who also blogs at Roger's Shrubbery
About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.