In 1972, the first year I could vote, I proudly wore my McGovern for President T-shirt every where, even to the Well in Austin and the Morningstar Coffeehouse in San Marcos, two coffee houses where the Christian kids would hang out and evangelize to the generation of love.
The elders who ran the Well had no problems with the shirt, or at least they never expressed their concerns to me. On the other hand they also dealt with an international community of students at the University of Texas, an international community that included Israeli and Palestinian students, students from the liberal east and west (or so the mythology went) coasts, hippies, homeless veterans, hard core drug dealers and bikers.
The elders at Morningstar coffeehouse constantly suggested I leave the shirt at home because Christians don’t engage in politics. The college community they dealt with, I might add, consisted of primarily central and west Texas kids who grew up in farm communities and hippies rebelling against the farm communities they grew up in. In those days San Marcos was as much a farm community as a college community.
I would ask these elders if they intended to vote for Nixon. Not surprisingly, they were. I reminded them that voting was getting involved in politics too. They would laugh and tell me that voting wasn’t politics.
During the next forty years conservative Christians (and many of the charismatic students they embraced) evolved into the Moral Majority and then the Christian right. They no longer believed Christians didn’t get involved in politics. They now believe Christians have a responsibility to promote Christian values in the pursuit of governance.
Strangely, however, this agenda includes a number of platforms I find absent in the Gospels and New Testament. They want to eliminate taxation, even though Jesus clearly commanded us render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e., pay taxes). They want mandatory public prayer in schools, even though Jesus said the faithful shouldn’t pray in public make a display of piety. They want statues of the Ten Commandments in public places, even though Jesus spoke out against idolitry.
They want to teach creationism as a legitimate science even though Jesus showed no concern whatever for public education. They want to ban abortion even though the Bible explicitly forbids the sacrifice of living children but never mentions the rights of the unborn. They want to stop medical research and deny health insurance and health care to the poor even though Jesus made it clear that one of the missions of Christians is to heal the sick.1
They do, however, make the case that it isn’t government’s responsibility to provide for the poor. The responsibility falls to private citizens and the faithful. And I accept that principle. It isn’t government’s responsibility as a matter of pure principle. But when the government represents the people, and twenty percent of the people live in poverty (and many more close to it), that government has a responsibility to everyone’s welfare.
If we accept the belief that private citizens are responsible to the poor, needy and sick, we must also recognize that Jesus taught his followers they were the private citizens responsible for the poor, needy and sick. We can rightly expect the religious right to step up to the plate and provide those services out of their own pockets. If, in fact, they want to do as Jesus did.
So we should also expect that, instead of pouring millions into political campaigns to unseat the Democrats, members of the religious right would be inviting the homeless into their homes, feeding them and paying their medical bills. If not that, they should be spending those millions on homeless shelters, food lines and free health clinics.
For some reason that isn’t happening. Where are the Palin sponsored homeless shelters? Where are the Salvation Army centers funded by Rick Perry’s wealth? Where is Michelle Bachman’s campaign to raise funds for medical care or to build free clinics? Why is it that the only Republican to show any desire to provide for health care for the poor is Mormon?2
When I was still a member of the church that founded the Morningstar coffeehouse, they sponsored a revival a few weeks after a flood that ruined the homes of several of the poorer members. During the revival they asked for clothes and food for those displaced by the flood. But they also collected thousands to help the visiting evangelist buy a private jet.
Several of the elders made sure to let members know how much they raised for that jet, but never mentioned the clothes and food. I even asked why they couldn’t have taken ten percent of the money raised for the jet and given it to the displaced families. I was assured that God would take care of the needy; the evangelist couldn’t spread the gospel without that jet.
Jesus walked on foot to spread the gospel, and collected money and food for the poor and starving. In 1972 (and now) I think he would have at least settled for driving to make sure those in need were clothed, housed and fed. And whether or not he would have voted for Rick Perry, Jesus would have told Perry and Palin and Bachman and Romney to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.