TheLiberalOC welcomes guest columns; as Orange County is home to a number of Republicans who wear Christianity on their sleeves yet support policies that would make their Savior shudder, we offer this column by Linda Seger, author of “Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats.”
What does it mean to be a Liberal
by Linda Seger, ThD
There is been a misperception for decades that Republicans somehow have the corner on values and religion. Those of us who call ourselves liberal and progressives are considered to somehow not fit within the fold of spirituality and Christianity. But Jesus and the prophets and many of the stories in the Bible talk to us about values which are clearly aligned with what we care about as liberals. There are thousands of verses that tell us we are to care for the poor and the needy and the oppressed and the outcast and the marginalized. If you read the Democratic platform and listen to Liberal candidates, you will keep hearing about their concerns for the working class and the middle class and the people who struggle with rent and food and health issues. It is liberals who care about the prisoners and the children in cages and LGBTQ citizens and are trying to right the wrongs that come with racism and sexism and ageism. Jesus constantly reached out to those who were marginalized and needed healing on all levels.
Jesus had a lot of trouble with the religious establishment of his day who followed the letter of the law but had no empathetic loving spirit behind it.
The prophets proclaimed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that a nation would be judged by how it does justice and show mercy. Many Republican Christians believe that religion is individual. They believe that individuals and churches should help others, but the government should stay out of the business of helping. Republicans tend to believe that government should be very limited although they also believe the government should interfere in the individual lives and limit birth control, abortion, and the rights of LGBTQ citizens. Many of us who are liberals consider that hypocritical. It makes little sense to us that the government is supposed to protect us, but not help others in ways that only governments can do. How many churches are providing rent and food stamps and Social Security and taking care of children’s health and people with disabilities and solving the problems of racism? There are problems that can only be solved on the national level and we are seeing over and over again the patchwork of so-called solutions to the coronavirus which are simply causing more illness and more deaths.
And we are seeing the harm the bad government policies can do when the government tries to disenfranchise citizens, and take away healthcare from those who are already struggling, and pollute our waters and our air, and kick out international students, and separate families, and spew hatred against anyone who is different – rather by race or political party or religion or culture. These are not policies that express basic human values.
As Liberals, we try to look the problem in the eye, and try to find solutions that make a better society for the future, and not just try to make America great by looking to a past of inequality. We try to be farsighted rather than nearsighted or pastsighted. We try to right the wrongs of society and come closer to the ideals of democracy which are also the ideals of almost all religions. In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), are filled with examples of how leaders and kings and rulers are to treat the disadvantaged. Above all, they are to care for the poor and needy and oppressed and try to equalize that which is unequal.
Our spirituality does not stop at the ballot box. Voting is how we show our values and how we expand our reach. We are not just trying to create better lives for us as individuals but we are trying to create a better society. We try to expand our empathy and understanding and think about our fellow citizens who may, or may not, be as fortunate as we are. What we want for ourselves, we also want to extend to others.
There is nothing more important in this election year than bringing those liberal values into our voting decisions. Our country is desperate for people in government who care, who are concerned, and who want a future of diversity and equality and respect.
Linda Seger is the author of Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats
Excerpt from her book
Jesus Rode a Donkey looks at the relationship between the Democratic party platform and Christianity and examines why many of us feel our faith and value system more closely aligns with the liberal/progressive viewpoint. A concept throughout the entire Bible asks us to care for our neighbor. But who is the neighbor?
Expanding our Neighborly View
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest of the Commandments, He said there were only two, which would encompass all others: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.”
But who is my neighbor? Jesus challenged us to expand our view of whom we are directed to care for. It is easy for us to be kind to the neighbor next door, the person we like – the one who goes to our church, who is of our own race, and even the same gender. Of course, that person is our neighbor, and as people in community, we should be neighborly toward each other.
In the Good Samaritan story, (Luke 10: 25-37), Jesus expanded our concept of our neighbor. Jesus deliberately chose as his main character a Samaritan, who was a member of one of the most hated cultures in biblical times. When a man had been robbed and left for dead on the side of the road, everyone walked by – the priest, the Levite, the people known as the “good religious people.” Who helped the wounded man? A Samaritan, who paid for the injured man’s healing and who showed himself to be the true neighbor.
Theologian Soren Kierkegaard says, “but the neighbor is – every man. A man is not thy neighbor because he differs from others, or because in his difference he in some way resembles them. A neighbor is the [one] who is like unto thee before God. And his likeness belongs to a man unconditionally.”
Who is your neighbor? Those whom you like and even those you don’t like. It is a radical gospel, and that is what Christianity is – simply radical! It stretches us, and asks us to think differently, to think against our human nature, which says “No way! That’s not what it means! I wouldn’t lift a finger to help that man!” We are asked to think of those we hate as our neighbors, and to set social policy that deals compassionately and justly with them.
That means we’re asked as a society to look out for the dispossessed and the needy, whoever they may be: the Muslim who has been jailed, perhaps for being at the wrong place at the wrong time; the terrorist – yes, even the terrorist who is being treated inhumanely, whether at Guantanamo or shot and bleeding on the street, or the victim of his own inhumane act; the homosexual who may be the victim of hate crimes; the hurt and the helpless; the person who can’t afford healthcare; the battered woman; the abortion doctor who is reviled and even shot at for doing a job that is legal in the United States. Make your list of the people you hate. Those are the people you’re asked to feed and clothe and to whom you are to show fair treatment, justice, and mercy.
These are the people we’re asked to help in our governmental policies as well. What we want for ourselves – compassion and rights – we must also allow and protect for others.
What Have We Done to Help the Poor?
We know what we are asked to do. How have we done as a nation? It depends on the year. The Democrats been known as the party that responds to the oppressed, and they have a good history of making social changes that helps the lower rungs of our society.
When our country was in the depths of the Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the New Deal, a set of social programs that addressed unemployment, unfair distribution of income, and corruption in government. It offered relief, recovery, and reform. People were put back to work, cleaning up the national parks, building barracks for the military, providing programs for scholars and artists. The Republicans criticized the government for interfering, but the Democrats realized that the system wasn’t working and needed help from the government.
During Roosevelt’s presidency, a number of bills were passed to try to fix the problems. In 1935, the Social Security Act was passed. Then the Labor Relations Act, which broke up monopolies, outlawed price-fixing, and gave labor the right to organize also became law. These rights had been taken away during previous Republican administrations and have been threatened currently by Republican governors and Republican members of Congress.
During Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, giving greater protection to those suffering from discrimination and racist policies. The Voting Rights Act also was passed, abolishing the poll tax, which interfered with the voting rights of the poor, particularly Blacks. Both of these laws have been challenged by a Republican Congress and by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. The Food Stamp Act was passed in 1964; the Economic Act of 1964 created the Community Action Program, Job Corps, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). The Social Security Act of 1965 created Medicare and Medicaid, two social services that have also been challenged by a Republican Congress and President Trump.
President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, restoring protection against pay discrimination. Obama also signed the Fair Pay Act of Congress in 2013 to prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on account of sex, race, or national origin. He tried to pass a number of bills that would help veterans and the unemployed, regulate the excesses of Wall Street, address gun violence, and end discrimination. Most were vetoed by a Republican Congress.
Martin Luther King Jr. said we can judge a nation not by how it coddles the rich, but by how it cares for the poor. Our country is definitely coddling the rich.