Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Category: Religion (page 1 of 2)

How GOP conned Evangelicals

Daily Planet, 6/2016

My mother wasn’t known for surprises.   She lived on a straight line that went back to her South Georgia roots. But, oh my, did she spring one on us in the fall of 1980.

That year iIt was Carter versus Reagan, and we were all Carter people. My father was an old-time Roosevelt Democrat, and Jimmy is a distant cousin.

So Mom’s bomb at Sunday dinner shook things up.

“John says Ronald Reagan is God’s man,” she blurted into a pause in the conversation. “In his sermon he said this election is spiritual warfare.”

John was her pastor. We all knew him. My father called him a hustler, and maybe he was. He sure hustled Mom.

Looking back, we had no idea, sitting around that Sunday dinner table, that we were witnessing the beginning of something totally new in American politics. Millions of Christian soldiers were marching as to war on the side of the Republican Party.

This new phenomenon didn’t just happen by chance, though. Right-wing Republicans had coveted conservative evangelicals for years – their huge numbers, their zeal, their fundraising and direct mail capability.

Then in the spring of 1979, in a famous meeting in the coffee shop of the Lynchburg Holiday Inn, Jerry Falwell met with Paul Weyrich, founder of the pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulation Heritage Foundation – and conservative evangelicals became Republicans. Falwell had originally said his flock wouldn’t accept religion mixed with politics, but Weyrich presented him with a poll that showed his flock definitely WOULD buy in.

That meeting marks the beginning of the “Christian Right” and the Moral Majority (Weyrich suggested the name) – and also marks the enlistment of Jerry Falwell as an activist in the Republican Party.   Falwell worked coast to coast for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

It was a marriage made in heaven, so to speak. The Weyrich right-wing faction was a clear minority in the Republican Party at the time.   Richard Nixon had been an economic moderate and accepted much of the New Deal and Great Society.

In Falwell, Weyrich found a partner already prepared. Falwell had been influenced by theologian Francis Schaeffer, who taught about America returning to its Christian roots, back to the way we were, as he saw it, back before “pluralistic secularism” (Schaeffer’s expression).  Falwell had held a series of “I Love America” rallies in 1976, mixing patriotism and “social concerns,” especially speaking against abortion and women’s liberation. Weyrich’s proposal gave him just the vehicle he wanted.

In reality, right-wing Republicans had no interest in evangelical issues. But in the Moral Majority, they had the foot soldiers to take over the Republican Party. And very soon, from precinct caucuses to state conventions, they did.

It goes without saying that the social changes that evangelicals want will never happen. The real power elites in the Republican Party – the super-rich and corporations and now Donald Trump – only give lip service. But the anti-tax, anti-regulation changes these elites want CAN happen. They just need the NUMBERS that evangelicals bring, voters ready to march.

So today we see ordinary working people out campaigning for Republican policies that are totally against their own personal well-being.

Rip Van Winkle would listen to a political discussion between conservative evangelicals in a restaurant, and he’d join them and say: “Let me get this straight. Y’all believe socialism is ‘godless’? My friends, it’s the capitalists who are paying y’all the minimum and not offering healthcare – so they can make more profit! And y’all are on the side of these greedy jerks?   Excuse me, folks, but that’s dopey.”

Why would working people back a party that favors big business and cuts budgets for education, that can help their children get ahead?

Why? To be blunt, they’ve been had, duped and hoodwinked. And worse, the scam is brought to them by people they trust.

A friend once said to me: “If I don’t follow what my pastor says, I’ll have to follow somebody else, won’t I?” To which I responded: “I guess so, Tom – unless of course you want to be responsible for your own beliefs and actions.”

 

 

 

 

GOP Christians with power

Daily Planet, 5/2016

An obscure Republican Congressman from Michigan wrote something truly remarkable:

“The Christian who enters politics must do so with the aim of achieving political justice. He does this by subjecting his own personal ambition and desires to the scrutiny of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. And as God gives the grace to do so, he learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own. In so doing, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love.”

Paul Brentwood Henry served four terms and was elected to a fifth term when he died in 1993.   He was a solid evangelical conservative. His congressional district included super-conservative Grand Rapids.

What did Henry write here? He verbalized an attitude, didn’t he – a magnificent outlook on power. It’s almost like he’s saying: The more power Christians gain, the more they should be servants of the people.

Jesus taught his disciples (Luke 22:26):   “The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”

As a member of Congress, Henry had real political power. And yet he writes about subjecting personal ambition and desire to the needs of others.   He even calls it sacrificial love.

It goes without saying that this philosophy should guide all politicians, Christian or not – humbly, diligently accepting as one’s life priority the needs of one’s neighbor. After all, the citizen legislator is literally representing his neighbors.

Conveniently for this discussion, we have a large group of Christians with political power right here in North Carolina: the majority Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly. They certainly make much of their faith, and they certainly have power.

How are they doing?

I’ve heard Raleigh Republicans called hypocrites and “pseudo-Christians.” Maybe that’s because for their five years in power, they haven’t done anything that could remotely be called selfless service to the people.

They took power in 2010 through a vicious, rotten campaign of character assassinations, and they’ve consistently followed that model ever since.

Their methods?

Deception. Right after taking power in 2011, they staged hearings around the state to get citizen input on redistricting.  But what do you know, that was precisely the time when their computers were slicing up counties and precincts to create districts that ensure huge Republican majorities. There was no debate and no explanations. Election outcomes are now automatic – so citizen neighbors’ votes are meaningless.

Lying. I’ll choose two from a five-year stream of lies. Claiming “voter fraud,” Republicans enacted a sweeping “election reform” package in 2013.  It was, plain to the naked eye, designed to suppress Democrat voting. In fact, studies have shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Investigations found 31 cases of voter impersonation in a billion votes cast.

The now-famous House Bill 2 gave Republicans a grand stage for lying. The whole idea, plain again, is to stir up evangelical voters ahead of November’s general election by squelching the growing gay rights movement. The“men in women’s locker rooms” allegation is a duh-level disguise. Those of you who are familiar with HB2, get a pad and count the lies in this interview with Dan Bishop, one of the GOP sponsors of HB2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJsOT53Atdo&feature=youtu.be.

Most Democrats in the General Assembly are Christians, too, of course, but they don’t parade their faith like Republicans do, and they don’t have power. They don’t have opportunity to demonstrate Paul Henry’s principle of of selfless service.  Not yet anyway.

Wouldn’t you love to see the 2016 Democratic campaign strategy sound like Paul Henry wrote it? Maybe something like:

“We come to you as humble servants with only one goal: to make your life better. We’re not seeking power. We’re politicians, but we promise never to show it.”

I’m realistic enough to think it could happen.

Creed for (Democrat!) politicians

Citizen-Times, 1/2016

An obscure Republican Congressman from Michigan wrote something truly remarkable:

“The Christian who enters politics must do so with the aim of achieving political justice. He does this by subjecting his own personal ambition and desires to the scrutiny of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. And as God gives the grace to do so, he learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own. In so doing, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love.”

Paul Brentwood Henry served four terms and was elected to a fifth term when he died in 1993.   He was a solid evangelical conservative. His congressional district included super-conservative Grand Rapids.

His philosophy was a reasonable fit to his time.   Republicans and Democrats still came together to work on the country’s problems. There was a spirit of good will.

Henry died exactly as Rush Limbaugh waddled on the scene, preaching a belligerent doctrine of “conservative” non-cooperation with “moderate” Republicans and Democrats. Republicans converted.

In the mid-term landslide of 1994, 70+ freshmen Republicans were elected, almost all of them Limbaugh-style inflexible partisans. They voted Limbaugh an honorary member of their freshmen caucus.

Ever since then, Republicans have followed Limbaugh’s creed. They’ve turned the old-time spirit of service and cooperation into all-out, no-prisoners ideological warfare. Congress doesn’t function.

This new Republicanism invaded N.C. in 2010.   In Raleigh, people who for decades had begged majority Democrats for more bipartisan cooperation were cackling and drooling with power. They were free to impose their low-minded ideology on us like the Taliban had done in Afghanistan.

Paul Henry said, “As God gives the grace to do so, [the Christian politician] learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own.”

Can it be said, by any stretch, that diminishing our public schools is serving a neighbor’s need? Or denying 500,000 citizens Medicaid out of hate – yes, hate – for Barack Obama? Or redistricting so that voting is predetermined and meaningless? Or rewriting voting rules to inconvenience citizen groups who vote Democrat?

Paul Henry knew how to apply his faith to a politician’s life. Most Raleigh Republicans govern like mean little Limbaughs.

We’ve endured a long, painful swing of the pendulum, haven’t we? We yearn for the arc to swing toward fairness, truthfulness, openness, compassion and a spacious spirit. That’s why we’re Democrats, after all.

Wouldn’t you love to see the 2016 Democratic campaign sound like Paul Henry wrote it?

“We come to you as humble servants who want nothing but the privilege of making your life better. We’re not seeking power. Your felt needs drive our priorities. We’re politicians, but we’ll never show it. We pledge ourselves to this.”

Or something like that.

I’m realistic enough to think it could be.

Social conservatism isn’t really

Citizen-Times, 9/2005

[This is more negative than I’d rite today]

The 19th Amendment, the one that gave women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in June, 1919 and went out to the state legislatures for ratification. Fourteen months later enough states had voted yes, and it became part of the Constitution.

But along the way…Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland and Delaware voted no.  Let me repeat that:  these Southern states voted against giving women the right to vote. (North Carolina and Florida apparently didn’t vote on the amendment in this time period.)

Looking at the ratification map, I understood something that had always puzzled me about my Southern heritage:   social conservatism.  I understood that “social conservatism” isn’t conservatism at all.  It’s been mislabeled.

OK, their denying women the vote is, technically speaking, “conservative” – defined by Webster as “a disposition in politics to preserve what is established.” That’s certainly what was going on at the time, no matter how ignorant and ridiculous it looks with 85 years of hindsight.

The same can be said for social conservative opposition in the past to movies, modern dancing, card-playing, “bobbed” hair, Sunday retail, lipstick, women in “men’s clothes”…and integration of the races.

I know about this stuff. You see, I was raised conservative, but I got over it.   I went away as a missionary, experienced other cultures, and came to see my native culture more objectively.  I left my upbringing behind without understanding what makes it tick.

Now I think I do. I don’t think Southerners in 1919-20 really thought they’d win their fight against women voting.  Liberals were threatening to topple the world as it was supposed to be forever, changing the role of women.  So conservatives dug in.  This is a powerful clue toward understanding today’s social conservatism.

I think the word “conservative” should rightly apply only to political questions – limited government, interpretation of the Constitution, laissez-faire economics, that kind of thing.  There’s virtue here.  These positions are timeless – political conservatives in the 1940’s had the same beliefs that political conservatives have today — and their positions can be debated.

Social conservatism is another matter altogether. The philosophy that I grew up under, that is so visible and vocal today, is not timeless.  Social conservatives change their targets as American society leaves them behind.  They’ve stood, figuratively speaking, in one schoolhouse door after another.  The taboos I listed above (movies, etc.) were all hot conservative issues when I was a boy.

This approach to life should not be called “conservatism.” It should more properly be called “Drag-me-kicking-and-screaming-ism.”

And unlike political conservatism, socially conservative positions aren’t open to debate. They aren’t the product of weighing competing ideas in search of truth.  On the contrary, most social conservatives feel themselves engaged in spiritual warfare.  They anchor their social views in Scripture and fight for absolute right against absolute wrong.

This isn’t new. In the 19th century, Southern preachers found abundant support for slavery in the Bible — Ephesians 6:5, for example, where slaves are told to obey their masters as if they were obeying Christ.  (Interestingly, abolitionists argued more from the American principles of liberty and equality than from the Bible.)  Those opposing the vote for women might well have quoted First Timothy 2:11 (“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.”)   I remember the biblical arguments I heard as a kid in support of segregation.

We must fight evil in the world, yes – but true evil, not cultural disagreements. Actually, the Bible is far more urgent that we resist the evil influences of society on ourselves (Romans 12:1-2) – evils perhaps like the seduction of television and its advertising, excessive ambition and accumulating stuff — and that we influence the world for good (Matthew 5:16).  Correcting society scarcely shows up as a biblical blip.

Yankee Senator Rick Santorum is a Kick-and-scream-ist about working mothers: “…The purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home.”

What will be said 85 years from now about this and other battles that today’s social conservatives are waging – for example, opposition to evolution, homosexuality, stem cell research and the “morning after” pill? I think I know.  Don’t you?

P.S. Stephen Towe’s nostalgic commentary (AC-T, August 14), in which he blames “liberal forces” for changing his boyhood world of the 1970’s, is illustrative. Liberal forces change all societies, constantly.  I remember my mother decrying the “worldliness” of the 1950’s!

Phony Christian legislators

Daily Planet, 8/2015

“If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, we would rush to be saintly.  But since avarice, anger, pride and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, we must stand fast ourselves.” – Sir Thomas More in the play/movie, A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt (modernized)

Yes, he’s the same Thomas More who wrote Utopia in 1516. And yes, the Utopians in his novel did have some pretty quirky policies,like universal healthcare.  And other stuff like punishing adulterers with enslavement.

More was a “political philosopher,” not a dreamer.   He was Henry VIII’s right-hand man until he refused to support Henry’s divorce and his taking over as head of the English church. He was executed.

It could be said that all of us are political philosophers. We all have our own ideas about how government should work. For a moment now, I want to do a little dreaming of my own.

What if…what if voters scrutinized candidates like they were hiring a caretaker for their parents? What if the media sought out a character profile of candidates, not just the woooo scandalous stuff? What do their neighbors and employees say about them? Are they fair, generous, humble, slow to judgment, encouraging, flexible, forgiving? Or are they glad-handing frauds, who love power and thrive on confrontation? Do they hold grudges? Are they vengeful, arrogant, heartless, egocentric, quick to anger, self-serving?   And perhaps most important, are they skilled at deception?

Political philosophy aside now, I want to write as a patriot who loves his adopted state and hates what our General Assembly is doing to it.

I’m not talking about Republicans’ conservative political philosophy. No, I’m talking about their actions that show who they really are. And I’m expressing sadness at the short-sightedness of people who vote for them.

All over North Carolina, Republican candidates promised Evangelical Christian that they would fight against abortion and gay marriage. Pastors picked up the beat, and Evangelicals voted Republican with great zeal.

And once elected, Republicans did indeed pass laws restricting abortion and got a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. They did what they promised.

But then, just as the old saying goes, our conservative Christian Republican legislators gave in to the corrupting tug of absolute power.

To borrow from Winston Churchill: Never have so few lied so much to so many.

Let’s go back to the summer of 2013 for one example.   The 2012 election had increased GOP majorities in the General Assembly. Then in June, the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the federal Voting Rights Act so that prior federal approval wasn’t necessary any more.

Republicans acted right away, passing a Voting Reform Act that requires voter I.D., shortens early voting by a week, ends same-day registration, ends a successful high school voter registration program, gives polling observers more authority to intervene. The law was obviously designed to inconvenience Democratic constituencies.

So how did Republicans explain their legislation?   The law, they said, aims to end “rampant and widespread undetected voter fraud.” They really did say that. They’re good at cheating, bad at lying.

Colin Powell, speaking to the North Carolina CEO Forum, reacted like you probably did: “There is no voter fraud….How can it be [both] widespread and undetectable?”   He added: “I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it harder to vote.”

Indeed, investigation after investigation has found no significant voter fraud. Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State spent $150,000 and found nothing.  The Wall Street Journal told of one exhaustive study that found 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud in the U.S. since 2000, including 10 cases of voter impersonation.

The ideal state government doesn’t need more Christian lawmakers who will vote faithfully on social issues. We need people of real character, who don’t cheat in the electoral process, who tell the truth, who don’t yield to the temptations that come with power.

The Bible & social issues

Daily Planet, 4/2015

I have great respect for conservative Christians.

They live their faith every day. They obey Christ in providing for the poor. They’re generous with their time and money.

But they have a bad habit – a habit that’s hurting our state and our country in one area.

They use the Bible backwards.

It’s an old habit, actually. When I was a kid, I questioned Jim Crow segregation.   My mother answered from the Bible – Acts 17:26: “And hath made of one blood all nations… and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.”

Conservative Christians of that era wanted Jim Crow to be moral – so they found Scripture to “support” it. God, they reasoned, had set boundaries for all nations, and that meant races shouldn’t mix.

This is using the Bible backwards. We’re supposed to look to the Bible for guidance, not the other way around – scouring the Bible to justify what we want.

In the 1800s, all western countries had abolished slavery.   But the cotton economy of the South needed slaves.

Many Christian leaders, reacting as Southerners, defended slavery. Woodrow Wilson’s father (in my home town) owned slaves and was a secessionist. In 1845 (also in my home town) Baptists formed the Southern Baptist Convention, with slavery as the dividing issue.

They wanted slavery to be moral, and indeed, Scripture was on their side. The Apostle Paul wrote to Christian slaves in both the Ephesian and Colossian churches to obey their maters, and Ephesians 6:5 even adds: “as you would obey Christ.”

The temptation is great to start with what we want and work backwards to find support in the Bible. Those Southern Christians did that. It’s more difficult to be wise in applying Scripture to the issues of our time.   Those Southern Christians didn’t do that.

In First Timothy 2:9-15, Paul tells Christian women to dress simply, not braid their hair or wear jewelry, be submissive, even “shamefaced” and silent.

These teachings fit well in the First Century when they were written. They don’t fit well in our time. Nine percent of doctors were female in 1970. Today it’s 32%. The same is true in all areas of work. Today, few women think twice about jewelry and nice clothes.

Yes, the Bible is clear on drab clothes and silent women. But time changes attitudes. We may not like it that some parts of the Bible are no longer relevant to our time, but that’s how it is.

This brings us to homosexuality – a HUGE issue for our day. Pastors pound pulpits against homosexuality, and millions of people vote for candidates who oppose homosexuality. In many elections, their votes are decisive. And as a result, we have lawmakers who faithfully vote against homosexuality – but after that, wow!

They wander around Raleigh and Washington, saying and doing stupid things. And worse, they’re led around by people with non-Christian motives, people who want to make the rich and powerful richer and more powerful – totally against the teachers of Jesus – while they take away education and healthcare from the needy.

A spiritual issue has become very, very down-to-earth.

Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?   Absolutely.

Leviticus 18:22 is clear. And in First Corinthians 6:9, Paul includes “homosexuals” in a long list of people who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

But Leviticus 19, the next chapter, continues with another list – against spreading slander, perverting justice, seeking revenge, holding a grudge, getting tattoos. And Paul’s list of those not included in the Kingdom also includes the greedy, slanderers and crooked business people.

These are the issues we all face every day. Wouldn’t conservative Christians’ light shine brighter if they were known as anti-gossip, anti-revenge and pro-justice people instead of the anti-homosexual people?

Pastors face a great temptation. It is far easier to mobilize people against evil “out there” than against evil that’s close to home, like Paul’s “the greedy.”

And it’s easy to confront “now” issues, like the obnoxious “gay rights” movement.

That last one is, to me, particularly sad. The fact is, homosexuality won’t be a live issue in 20 years.  It’s a temporary issue. When Pew Research polled in 2001, “Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57% to 35% margin.” Last year, “a majority of Americans (52%) support same-sex marriage, compared with 40% who oppose it.” It will go the way of segregation and silent women.

I hope there’s some wisdom in what I’ve written here.

America and North Carolina need all the wisdom they can get.

 

Christian vs. Christian in politics

Daily Planet, 1/2015

This past Election Day, I was handing out sample ballots with Democratic candidates highlighted. One man refused my offer – but when he had passed me perhaps 15 feet, he turned around and raised one arm with forefinger pointing to the sky.

“God will judge you for what you’re doing,” he said.

I may have said something like, “Okaaay.”  He surprised me. After years of electioneering, this was my first condemnation for being a Democrat.

I don’t make light of this encounter. It was an isolated skirmish in a much bigger war – the civil war that’s raging today in North Carolina.

Ours is not a shooting war, like the big Civil War or the Patriot-Tory sub-war during the Revolution. Those were wars about pure politics: independence from England and independence from the United States.

Our civil war today is about righteousness.   Christian against Christian.

My Election Day finger-pointer belongs to those Christians who believe that homosexuality and abortion are the great sins of our time. They base that belief on the Ten Commandments, the Apostle Paul’s First Corinthians 6:10-11 and Leviticus 18 and 20. These Christians vote Republican. I’ll call them Red Christians.

On the other side, Blue Christians hold rallies called “Moral Mondays.” Their idea of morality is based in the many teachings of Jesus, such as Matthew 25:34-40, where we’re told to help and take care of the sick, the needy, even those in prison.

So why is this a civil war? Why isn’t it just a difference of opinion? After all, they share the same basic faith. Red pastors of course teach Jesus; Blue pastors teach Paul.

Why? Because the two sides don’t just have competing ideas of sin and righteousness.   They take their views over into politics, where the stakes are nothing less than the future of North Carolina.

The core political issue is where the power of the state should be exercised. Should the state intervene on behalf of the poor, children and the mentally ill? Or should the state’s power be used against homosexuals and abortionists?

We’re not in a time of friendly difference of opinion and problem-solving. One side wins, and one side loses.

Civil wars are like that. In the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century, Establishment Catholics and Protestant Huguenots gushed blood for 25 years.   In the end, a half-million Huguenots left France.

In North Carolina, the sides are competing for the power to make their view of righteousness the law.

If Blue Christians get power, they enact legislation that favors the poor and children’s education (which they did until they lost power in 2011). If Red Christians win – and they have won three times in a row – they move to effectively close abortion clinics (which they’ve done) and ban gay marriage (which they’ve done).

The First Corinthians passage mentioned above gives perspective: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Red Christians would see the man-with-man part and want the state to act against homosexuals. I, as a Blue Christian, see “the greedy” and do not want the state to favor the rich and powerful, who back Republicans to gain tax benefits.

In North Carolina, it’s clear who’s winning. The massive Red Christian vote has joined with secular Republicans who ideologically favor big business, and budgets slap down the poor.

Quite literally, and not a pun, it’s a war for the soul of North Carolina.

I’m liberal like these guys

Daily Planet, 5/2014

I never called myself a “progressive.” It seems contrived by liberals to avoid being liberals.   I’ve been a “moderate” in recent years because liberals push private issues as fiercely as right-wingers push theirs.

But in fact, when I examine my deep beliefs, I’m definitely a liberal – in the historic sense.

I’m a liberal like Abraham Lincoln. I think if I had been around in the 1850s, living in the South, I’d have worked against the stupid idea of leaving the great United States over slavery. Maybe I’d even have ridden with WNC’s 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry in the Union Army.

I’m a liberal like Theodore Roosevelt. I’m with him in preserving wilderness for future generations and making selfish corporations think more of the public good.

I’m a liberal like Woodrow Wilson. I argue that America must lead the world – not like McCain interventionists want but as a shining lamp to the world for peace and humanity.

I’m a liberal like Franklin Roosevelt, who gave us Social Security, minimum wage, weekends and so much more. He was not content to watch working people and the elderly be treated with disrespect.

I’m a liberal like Woody Guthrie. I like to think I’d have joined with factory and field workers, singing myself hoarse on “You can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union!” As Woody said, “I made up songs telling what I thought was wrong and how to make it right.”   A man for today.

I’m a liberal like Harry Truman. He took on the corporate war profiteers, integrated the military – and turned back the tide of world Communism. He had a sense for what is right, and he did it, no matter what.

I’m a liberal like Earl Warren, the Eisenhower-appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court. He went individually to the justices and challenged each one to do the right thing on school integration. The decision was unanimous. He was a leader when leadership was needed.

I’m a liberal like Lyndon Johnson, who strong-armed the Civil Rights Act through Congress, even though he knew it would mean the South would be Republican for decades.

Don’t call me a bleeding-heart. That says I’m a sucker for a sob story.

I’m in the long tradition of liberalism, dating back to the Old Testament law and prophets, that says people should treat other people fairly and justly, honoring the poor. And I have no question that I’m on the right side.

And I don’t doubt that right will prevail. The rich and powerful control North Carolina now, but the people cannot be deceived for long. North Carolina’s government will side with working people over the privileged. We will take on our role once again as protectors of the earth. Our sick, elderly, children and mentally ill will be cared for. Elections will be fair once again. Our schools and teachers will have what they need to prepare our children.

Until then, we must work. This year we must work to elect candidates who favor people like us, not the rich and powerful.

Social conservatism is temporary

Daily Planet, 4/2014

The 19th Amendment, the one that gave women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in June, 1919 and went out to the state legislatures for ratification. Fourteen months later enough states had voted yes, and it became part of the Constitution.

But along the way…Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland and Delaware voted no.

Let me repeat that: these Southern states voted against giving women the right to vote.   (North Carolina apparently didn’t vote on the amendment in this time period.)

Viewed 95 years later, these votes look ridiculous. But we shouldn’t just cluck our tongues and shake our heads. There’s a lesson here for our time. The lesson is about what has come to be called “social conservatism.”

Conservatism is part of our heritage as Southerners. And the votes against women’s suffrage were pure-and-simple conservative votes – in the dictionary sense: “a disposition in politics to preserve what is established.”

Preserving what is established implies that somebody wants to un-preserve what is established. That somebody are liberals.

I grew up in a conservative home in Georgia.  Preachers talked about “modernists.” The world around us was teeming with “liberal” ideas:   modern dancing, lipstick, movies, playing cards, women bobbing their hair and wearing men’s clothes.

The no votes on the 19th Amendment were driven by this same anti-liberal sentiment . The Bible is clear that Christian women are to be subservient to men. For example, First Corinthians 14:35: “If [women] will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

Did Southern conservatives think they would actually win their fight against women voting?   I don’t know. But I’m sure it didn’t matter. They had to dig in against liberals who were threatening to topple the world as it was supposed to be forever, changing the role of women.

Does anybody today feel that women shouldn’t vote? Not many.

This is a powerful clue for me in understanding today’s social conservatives. They fiercely oppose change that threatens their traditional ideas of right and wrong.   But over time, what was “wrong” is accepted.

For example, the Christian college I attended no longer forbids students’ going to movies or dancing, or female students’ wearing slacks.   Generations that came after me – most notably those that donate to the college – embraced change.

In the 19th century, Southern preachers found abundant support for slavery in the Bible – Ephesians 6:5, for example, where slaves are told to obey their masters as if they were obeying Christ. (Interestingly, abolitionists argued more from the American principles of liberty and equality than from the Bible.) I remember the biblical arguments I heard as a kid in support of segregation.

Nobody but kooks today think Negro slavery was appointed by God, and most Southerners now realize the evils of segregation.

So it will be with homosexuality.  As time passes now, and more and more gays come out of the closet, people will discover that they know homosexuals – people they love and respect. Opinions of church members will change, and the issue will pass.

Social issues are by their very nature temporary. Society changes over time until a new consensus is reached. And issues cease to be issues.

Why do I care what social conservatives think and do? My next column in this space will be about politics and social conservatism – how their bloc voting is impacting the future of us in North Carolina.

Who are we, really?

Not published

She knew me well enough to write my obituary.   That’s why her question was so strange:

“Who are you, really?” she asked over the rim of her coffee cup.

I was in my 40s, and nobody had ever asked me that before. She was my mentor in writing for money, a skilled interviewer. She let her question hang in my silence.

My mind went to who I am to my children, my parents, my wife, my clients and finally said, “I’m a lot of people.”

We all feel like that sometime, don’t we – like we’re a collection of roles? Our job is our identity, or we’re like T.S. Eliot’s “preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet.”   Hypocrisy sometimes, but more like mush.   We feel like down deep, behind the roles, nobody’s home. It’s not a happy feeling.

But my mentor was also wrong. She was thinking like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” We’re not snowballs rolling down a mountain, unable to change direction, ending up like we started, just more bloated.

I believe we all start out with the same core spirit, somehow made in the “image of God.” We’re in a body of flesh, so that spirit is overlaid with genetics.   Then we’re influenced further by life experiences, for good or bad or nothing. The sum total is “who I am” – right now.

The important thing we should keep in mind, I believe, is that we’re not stuck as one person, unchangeable, forever. The imprints of genetics and experiences aren’t decisive in who we are tomorrow.

Our church in Madison County maintains a “prison group”: inmates from Buncombe Correctional who are integrated into the life of the church.   We see change – in the inmates and in us. They experience belonging and love, and to us they contribute deep spiritual insights from their lives. We’re agents of change, but we’re learning that our ability to effect change in others is really very limited. In the end, they have to make the change decision themselves.

Actually that’s how it is for all of us. We choose daily. We can embrace the image of God within us, or not.

In the movie, “Treasure of Sierra Madre,” Curtin asks Dobbs: “What do you think about gold changing a man’s soul so that he ain’t the same kind of a guy?” Dobbs (Bogart): “I guess it depends on the man.”

This year we can start to be people who stand strong. We don’t have to be mush. We don’t have to be stuck in our past. We can change. We can be agents of positive change in others, too. Our spirits, after all, were created in the image of God.

 

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