Introduction: Wherein I introduce the basic philosophy behind my Christian beliefs and a broad overview as to why I believe liberal ideals best support them.
On the Issues: Wherein I break down some common points of contention between the Religious Right and the Liberal Left, and examine why I believe the Left to be more often doing God's work.
- Economics - Positioning the government as an agent to keep reign on the greed of man.
- Socialism - Supporting the poor and weak among us as Christian work, whether through the Church or through the State.
- Abortion - Addressing the root causes of abortion rates rather than focusing on the symptom.
- LGBTQ - The injunctions against homosexuality in historical context, and the stable LGBTQ household as a modern phenomenon.
- Science - Seeking to understand God's world through testing, data, and the reason He granted us.
Conclusion: Wherein I reiterate the points above, especially those of: helping the poor, curbing greed, and avoiding the temptation to police morality.
Post-Script: Wherein I briefly address the single-issue voter regarding abortion and Hillary vs. Trump.
Below I will attempt to explain my reasoning behind being a Christian liberal by briefly breaking down some of the major issues. I concede in advance that my arguments are those of a layman, neither a member of any clergy nor a statesman nor a professor of any of the following topics, and that they will therefore not be ironclad. They are also subject to change and evolve over time, as any thinking person's convictions should do. However, as a person of conscience, good faith, and education, these are the conclusions I have so far reached.
The basic underlying principle is this: The government was designed as a tool for us, the people; and as God's people, we have an obligation to use it, and not to fear it. However, rather than using it to police the morality of those outside the Church, it is far better that we should use it to advance His principles of fairness, justice, and love. With this in mind, I believe the so-called "Religious Right" is often exactly backwards in its approach to government.
Any generalizations made below not cover every Christian, or every Christian body or organization. However, many Christians have been told there is one "Christian answer" to these problems, and as such they require address in generalized terms.
Finally, I speak as a Protestant, not as a Catholic, and as such my convictions stem not from anything said by the Pope or Catholic decree, but from my Baptist theological roots, my study of the Bible, and my own relationship with God.
On the Issue of Economics
It is a recognized Christian tenet that the heart of man is intrinsically corrupt, and the flesh seeks pleasure, glory, and power. Only God working in us can change that by gradually returning us to the template of the First Man, who had no inherent sin.
Our nation's founding fathers build into our government checks and balances because they recognized this very fact. They designed the government to check itself by understanding the sinful motivations all men and women struggle (or do not) to overcome. By playing these motivations against each other, they created a system that largely prevents overreach and protects the people it was created to serve. It is far from perfect, as no man-made institution can be, and all things tend toward destruction; but it is, at least, a good effort with over 200 years of success.
In the private sector, corporations are, in fact, systems within themselves. At their core, they are designed to earn money, and nothing more. There's nothing wrong with that; it's simply their function. Each one is different, formed by a few individuals and with varying levels of social awareness towards the common good; but none are formed with the express intent of creating "a more perfect union" in which the protection of civil liberties and the promotion of the well-being of the nation are the primary goals. They are designed, as systems, to earn money; it is their very function, as it should be, and to expect more from such a system is to misunderstand its very reason for existence.
As far as the individuals running these corporations: It constantly surprises me when well-meaning Christians defend rich, secular men as good, trustworthy, and working for the good of others unless specifically proven otherwise. I am not saying rich people are especially evil, but rather that they are no less evil than the rest of us. They are certainly no less evil than the politicians. So why do we trust them, as they pour not hundreds or thousands but millions of dollars into shaping our government's laws and our people's world-views?
Unlike our government, capitalism relies on a single check or balance: That of the consumer's wallet. It was not crafted, not refined, not formed carefully with an eye toward the sinful nature of man. Collusions can be made easily to form monopolies and force the consumer's hand; short-term profits often outweigh the vagaries of protecting the consumer for their future patronage. To be sure, capitalism is the best economic system we have, but expecting it to regulate itself laissez fair is naive and ignores the basic theological tenet of the depravity of man. With these points in mind, it seems logical and prudent to me to use the institute of government to curtail the institute of the corporation and ensure its actions do not harm society.
On the Issue of Social Programs
To address our duty to help the poor:
Jesus made plain his feelings about helping the poor and needy among us. When he said to feed the poor, he didn't say, "as long as they earn it." When he said to care for widows, he didn't say, "as long as she's a good woman." He never instructed us to judge the worthiness of the needy, only to help them. In fact, Scripture often reminds us that none of us deserve the love or mercy or care of God, if our works and our hearts are to be judged. Is God being an enabler when He forgives us over and over again of our sins? Paul addresses this directly when he talks of the folly of sinning more "so grace might increase." I look at this passage not only from the sinner's perspective, but from the saint's; as we try to mimic and mirror our God, we should not withhold our charity from people because they might choose to take advantage of it.
If you are still worried that the family on food stamps will simply accept the handout and continue to live in squalor rather than bettering themselves, I have two things to say to you. First, that while there will always be some who feel no sense of personal pride or motivation, the majority of people don't need fear of dying of hunger or living on the street to prompt them to better themselves. In fact, such fear is more likely to trap a person than motivate them, as becoming truly financially successful requires taking risks, something someone barely surviving is unlikely to do. Second, I say that you're looking at the wrong heart. It isn't our job to judge who is worthy of God's love, either in the general sense or the tangible. Our responsibility is to care for them the best we're able, and leave the rest to Him.
To address the government's role in helping the poor:
I've heard often that even if we accept our duty to help the poor, it shouldn't be the government's right to force us to help them, but rather the conscience of the Church that reaches out. This argument is flawed on two counts.
First, it assumes that the government is entirely outside the reach or influence of the Church conscience. Our government is, at its core, a people's government, controlled by the governed (the effectiveness of this fact is debatable and outside the scope of this discussion, but it cannot be denied that by design, citizens play an active role in forming and passing laws and electing officials to represent our beliefs). That means it is controlled and directed in part by the people of the Church. If we pass laws to help the poor, it is therefore not be the government forcing us, but ourselves making ourselves accountable to follow through on a Scriptural mandate.
Second, this argument is predicated on the idea that the Church can handle the issue of poverty without government backing. Far reaching systems and laws are unnecessary because God's people should step up and care for the issue themselves, of their own consciences. If this were true, if the Church can truly handle the massive socio-economic issues of poverty and homelessness, then such things would have been wiped out centuries ago.
My conscience tells me that we should stop quibbling over who gets the crown for helping the poor among us, the Church or the State, and start accepting that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, in the end, whether the Church solves the homelessness problem all by itself, or whether it uses the government systems to solve it. It doesn't matter whether our tithes or our taxes help our neighbor, so long as he is helped.
To address the issue of the failed socialist State:
I say all this with the caveat that all things must have a line, a stopping point, to prevent the slippery slope from becoming a reality. We should not, of course, become a full socialist State, as that has already been shown to fail, for reasons of the inherent sin of humankind. People should always feel that their earnings are their own. Redistribution of wealth should not go beyond pooling some of our resources to provide basic necessities. But when a massive shanty town squats just one block away from the most expensive hotels in Honolulu, one of our most popular tourist locations; when I walk through the capitol of our country and see people sleeping in garbage bags on the street; when people die of treatable diseases, or go into lifelong debt for a single hospital visit; when these things are accepted normal parts of American life, something isn't working, and that means something needs to change.
If the people of God would stop fighting our government's attempts to help our poor, we could focus instead on making sure those attempts were equitable, productive, and properly respectful of the individual's rights, while working out our mandate to care for and love our neighbors.
On the Issue of Abortion
On this extremely controversial topic, I believe the Church is in the right in its intent but wrong in its execution. Scientifically, we cannot know when life begins, as we do not understand either consciousness or the soul. Therefore, how can we in good conscience end a life as it is formed, except in the most extreme of cases?
The problem here is that the Church is so focused on the symptom of abortion that it vehemently ignores its causes. Unwanted pregnancies are caused by people engaging in sex with poor sexual education, difficulty or shame in procuring contraception, and the perpetuation of a culture that glorifies masculinity to its breaking point (see "rape culture").
Statistically, abortion rates are actually lowered not by shaming and criminalizing women who seek them, but instead by educating them on preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. When sexual education is prioritized and contraception is made readily available, fewer abortions take place, while they increase when we simply admonish people to abstain from sex.
From a Biblical perspective, it would be ideal for people to avoid extramarital sex entirely, but the issue here is not the personal sin of extramarital sex. One cannot and should not expect people outside the Faith to follow the tenants of faith. The goal is to prevent lives from being ended as they are formed, not to police personal lifestyle choices of those outside the Church. The latter must come from inside a changed heart and cannot be regulated, nor should it be. To prevent abortion, we must take our hands off the sins of our neighbors and instead use the tools at hand that have been shown to work: comprehensive education, effective contraception, and safe, easy access to both.
On the Issue of LGBTQ
My basic belief is this: God cares more that we love than how or whom we love. Right now, the love often displayed by unsaved LGBTQ shines brightly against a contrast of hate, fear, and discrimination from many within the Church.
On the Old Testament Law
Most Christians understand that Old Testament rules (those written before the time of Christ) no longer apply to Believers, otherwise we would need to follow such absurdities as avoiding blended fabrics, not to mention tattoos, pork, and shellfish, and we would be obligated to perform blood sacrifices to atone for our sins, along with a myriad of other rules, rites, and rituals. I therefore dismiss outright any claims against homosexuality based on Old Testament law to move on to more relevant arguments.
On the New Testament Letters
As for the New Testament, most of the Church's objection comes from a single line by Paul, in which he lists "homosexuality" among a long list of sins. There are problems with pinning sweeping judgement on that one word, however, and most of them stem from cultural and historical context.
The idea of a loving, stable, homosexual relationship at that time was not only unheard of, it was also probably a bad and a rather selfish idea. The "nuclear family" as we know it was a socio-economic necessity, leading to heirs, holdings, and social stability rooted in the underpinnings of the society of the time.
The only type of homosexuality Paul would have known of would have been promiscuous and often tied to pagan ritual. It must be remembered that his word was not the English word "homosexual"; rather, it would have been a Greek word describing that specific form of sin that he knew.
The Church has long since accepted that slavery is wrong, despite Paul instructing slaves to obey their masters. We agree that women don't have to "cover their heads" and that they're allowed to ask questions of clergy directly instead of going through their husbands. We recognize these admonitions in their cultural context, as Paul ensuring that new Christians of his day didn't foment anarchy and sully the spread of the gospel. I believe the admonition against homosexuality (and by extension, other forms of sexual and genderqueer orientation) was similarly culturally based. As a culture, we have continued to grow and improve; it's no longer necessary for the Church to police this aspect of the individual's life.
On the Church and the Government's Role
Regardless of whether one accepts the ideas I put forth above, I believe it is unequivocally not the duty of the Church to force the government to police the love lives of its citizens. As I stated in a previous section, one cannot expect those outside the faith to follow the tenets of the Church. So long as clergy are not required to sanctify a marriage under God or perform some other explicitly religious function, the legal rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage as a legal institution are not the concern of the Church. Fighting against those legal rights only serves to oppress an already marginalized group in our society and further alienate them from the love of God.
On the Issue of Science, God, and Politicians
Science and God are not at odds. Science is simply a tool, a system of tests and checks with which we can use our God-given reason to understand the world. As with our government, the Scientific Method has inherent checks and balances, including reproducibility and peer review, to ensure that what is recognized as "fact" is as truthful as possible. It is concerned only with quantifying the natural world, and is constantly under revision as new tools, methods, and datum come to light.
The idea that the entire scientific community is bought by special interests is untenable, because this community is world-wide, and continually being challenged by new data, new tests, and new people. American politicians, on the other hand, are known and recorded to be funded and hassled by wealthy businessmen, corporations (thanks to corporate donations recently being ruled as free speech), and lobbyist groups backed by millions of dollars to promote some particular agenda, regardless of the truth. Yet somehow, many place their trust in the debunking of science by politicians; where scientists have spent their lives devoted to researching an issue and a politician simply wants to be reelected.
We should be critical, but we should not fear science, nor dismiss its finds outright. God created a beautiful, logical world and gave us the reason and desire to understand it.
In sum, it is my firm belief that in these things Religious Right is fighting the wrong battles. On the issue of economics, it is so focused on protecting the individual's wealth and freedom that it has forgotten he is but a sinner, and that our government is designed to be a tool which can curtail his sinful nature when it harms overall economic prosperity. On the issue of social programs, it has become sidetracked with who is deserving of aid and who gives it, rather than ensuring such aid is given at all. On abortion, it is so concerned with preventing sexual sin it is unwilling to see what is truly effective at prevention. On LGBTQ, it is enmired in a cultural norm of the past to the detriment of a downtrodden group in our present. And in science, it is so distrustful of the unknown that it refuses to accept anything new.
The Religious Right acts often from a place of fear and a desire to control the morality of the nation as a whole. As a Church, we should not focus on futile efforts to prevent the personal sins of the unsaved; we should rather be focused on extending aid and love, and leave the policing of the heart to God.
Post-Script: On Hillary v Trump
I know many Christians are torn on the issue of Hillary or Trump due to the single, important issue of abortion. No matter how horrible Trump appears, Hillary supports abortion, which to many Christians is nothing short of supporting the murder of helpless infants. Therefore, to support Hillary, or any Democrat, feels like an impossible option. But consider this: Hillary may be pro-choice, but she is also pro- birth control, education, and female reproductive health, all things which lower actual abortion rates. Trump, on the other hand, is the very personification of sexism, anti-intellectualism, and sexual predation in our culture. He plans to cut funding to the very things Hillary supports. So while he will do his best to criminalize the act of abortion, he will no address its cause and is in fact likely to lead to higher rates of unwanted pregnancies and their termination, whether by legal or by dangerous, self-inflicted means.
No matter what the outcome, God is big enough to work through, in, around, or in spite of our President. But the people of God should seek to elect the person who best reflects His values and is most likely to work to see them acted out. I cannot believe that is Trump, no matter how he or his cabinet spout the rhetoric of religion.