My mother was a faithful Christian. She also was a devout Democrat.
I thought about her as I read an article by Jim Galloway in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a new effort to recruit Christians for an effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Why shouldn’t Christians, of all people, be working to make the world a more peaceful place?
As the Two Futures Project, the group organizing this campaign, says on its Web site: “We believe that we face two futures and one choice: a world without nuclear weapons or a world ruined by them.”
That group, which is closely aligned with Ted Turner and Sam Nunn’s Nuclear Threat Initiative, is headed by a Baptist minister in Nashville, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. It is not partisan in a political way. Both Democrats and Republicans are involved.
But the issue is one that we’ve become accustomed to seeing Christians shun as too liberal or left wing. With some exceptions, evangelical Christians in recent years have chosen to align themselves with the politics of the right.
That tendency is probably not going away any time soon, but the fact that we’re beginning to see some chinks in the iron-clad bond between evangelicals and the right wing is a good sign.
My mother would have thought so, anyway. Her faith and her politics were closely intertwined but the combination led her to some very different conclusions from those we hear about so often today.
She believed deeply in the key New Testament commandments: Christians were supposed to love God, and they were supposed to love their neighbors as themselves. She embraced the turn-the-other-cheek philosophy of the Sermon on the Mount. And, while she would not have gone quite so far as putting Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the same plane as the Trinity, she would have come darned close. She was a Democrat, she told me over and over, because Democrats cared more about the poor and did more to help them.
Yes, I know some Republicans also care about poverty — and are, in fact, quite generous in giving to worthy charities that address those issues — but differ with Democratic views on the role of government. I respect the views of those people.
But the point is, for my mother, Democrats more often supported ideas that struck her as key to Christian principles than did Republicans: issues of hunger and poverty, racial inequality and war and peace.
She, like many people, Christian or not, might have felt conflicted about some of the social and moral issues that come up in political life. But her faith was never an excuse for intolerance. Instead, it required her to be tolerant and to embrace and attempt to understand and empathize with diverse views.
None of this is meant to say that my mother was perfect. But she was compassionate, a compassion that was at the heart of her religion — and that informed her politics.
Far from all evangelical Christians would be swayed by mom’s views. And I am definitely not suggesting that all of them should be Democrats; the Republican Party certainly needs some compassionate voices, too. But it does seem that self-professed Christians should be looking for ways to pave paths to understanding with any and all people of good will and good intentions.
They should also be looking for ways to be forces for good. Why shouldn’t Christians, whose religion was founded by someone who healed the sick, be in the forefront of the healthcare debate? For that matter, why shouldn’t they be speaking out on global warming or seeking solutions to the growing inequality between rich and poor?
The nuclear disarmament campaign is a hopeful sign. Let’s hope more signs emerge.
Jim Galloway’s AJC story: http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/05/11/polinsider051109.html
The Two Futures Project: http://twofuturesproject.org
Nuclear Threat Initiative: http://www.nti.org/index.php
The importance of the Sermon on the Mount in shaping Barack Obama: http://www.reporternews.com/news/2009/apr/23/obama-finds-sermon-on-the-mount-elevates/