Thursday, October 17, 2013

Liberal Christianity and Public Benefit Systems

An interesting debate seems to have been brought by those identifying as "Liberal Christians" and "Evangelical Christians."  Does the government have a role to play in caring for the sick, poor, and parentless?

It's an interesting theological question.  The Bible contains no real context exclusivity on this topic.  State-level socialism didn't really exist in Greece or in Rome.  Any hunger that was addressed was done by those who had surplus or by those who ran religious institutions.  It does not exclusively say nor does it explicitly prohibit or dictate the means in which charity must be delivered.  Programs like SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and other assorted public programs provide massive real-world benefits to those that would otherwise end up on the streets, starving, stealing, and hurting others to survive.  This is my professional quote of this segment:

"When one believes they cannot meet their basic needs within the confinements of their society, and by the rules it establishes regarding the procurement of those resources and needs, then that individual will seek those needs outside the system imposed upon them."

So, we as humans, being hierarchical beings, establish systems of order to work in.  We create mechanisms of efficiency to create a stable flow of order and productivity.  It is the very foundation of human civilization.  We establish food delivery systems to provide for the whole of society.  We create aqueducts to deliver fresh water to plants and animals in a farm setting.  We build dams to generate electricity.  We create systems of social order to create a society where humans can bring grievances and questions of justice against one another without violence, but under the rule of law.  We build corporations to deliver goods and services to a vast consumer public.  We build all these structures and systems of order to create efficiency and establish regularity.

Regularity is the key to creating a stable and sturdy ladder with which one climbs from the bottom to the top.  In areas where there are no profits to be made, government can establish that regularity and stability to ensure that those who are building or rebuilding their lives can work themselves to a state of self-sufficiency and become tax-paying, productive members of society.

Now, in regards to the Biblical case for Food Stamps, TANF, and other similar programs:

Christ, as part of his ministry routinely spoke about individual generosity.  He spoke often about the mandate that if you can give something of yourself, then you are giving to me.  That blessings come to those who give selflessly, anonymously, and privately, and without motive for any return or reward.  Give simply to give, and no other reason.  And I believe that philosophy 100%.  If/when I do give, I give anonymously...just as I do with prayer...anonymously.

But, let is also consider this:  We've established the religious mandate to care for the poor, sick, and parentless.  But what about government?  Why should it have a role?  What justifies it?  How about Romans 13?  Paul spoke in Romans 13 that if you are due to pay taxes, pay taxes, if Tribute, then tribute...if respect, then respect.  That leaders are established by God to do the Lord's work, and deliver justice to all.  That the leaders of government are held to account to be arbiters of justice to all people.  And that, yes, you should even fear your government (in the righteous respect context, not the Area 51 government taking my guns context).

I first want to dismiss a position that is often expressed.  That position is this: that state-imposed charity robs people of the blessings that come from charity.  This myth is often expressed to oppose state-run social services with the belief that there is a material loss caused by "The State" taxing it's citizens and redistributing it to those in need.  I would argue that those who are truly charitable will give as their heart leads them to give.  If you are justifying not giving just because the government taxes you...then I'd say you should re-examine your motives behind it.  Giving shouldn't be something you do only when you have excesses.  It should occur naturally from your relationship with Jesus.  As the spirit works in your life, you will feel the need and desire to give strictly for the reason of wanting to give.  The argument that social programs rob people of that opportunity is totally off the rails and is an excuse to argue against a systematically functional public policy that establishes people in workable and sustainable patterns of survival.  You as an individual are more than empowered and able to give to your local food bank, homeless shelter, or charity.  If you're blaming food stamps for your lack of generosity, then you're just plain not generous period.

Religious liberals, like myself argue that having a solely religious justification for public policy is not enough.  That there must exist in any government policy a real world, measurable, scientific reason for any said policy to exist.  Religious liberals would dismiss the assertion that "God told me to do this or to sign that" in regards any government policy.  When any politician of any faith agrees or disagrees to a policy, that politician must have a rational and material reason that can be argued and debated in order for that position to be viewed as a valid position.  Simply to hedge on faith serves no purpose and is fundamentally poor governance.

It is not wrong is to have religious conviction that reinforces your political views, but with that influence, you must have real, present, physical, provable evidence to demonstrate the issue can be argued with more than just religion.  For example, if conservatives argue that food stamps are state-imposed charity...there's no arguing with that fact.  It's true.   Currently, there are more politicians who say "We believe that those without the means to buy food should be given a grant to buy food at tax payers' expense."  Now, if I were to stand up and say..."Jesus tells me to feed those who don't have food using tax payers money."  That in of itself is not a rational argument to justify a state program.  But if I say "My faith teaches me to feed those who hunger...but here's what this study, and this study, and this study say about what feeding those who can't buy food does to improve society..."  I have introduced real, tangible scientific evidence to support my beliefs, and therein, we've created a rationale that penetrates all lines of division or conflict.  Simply stating, "My faith tells me to do it" while offering no tangible, real-world evidence to support your belief politically is not sufficient reasoning to support the position.

It is not Leftist-Christian theocracy to feed those who cannot be fed.  Such a viewpoint is shared among multiple faiths and belief systems across the globe.  Islam (who actually did institutionalize this view), Judaism, Hinduism, many numerous Native American belief systems and cultural systems, as well as regional and tribal faiths teach the same thing.  If you feel compelled to give, then give.  Do as Christ commanded and give anonymously, give in secret, and give simply to give.  But what you cannot avoid as a citizen of a state-level society is copping out of your obligations to your society.

The Biblical rationale for public assistance isn't really present either direction.  Such systems of subsistence didn't exist in the single-digits A.C.E. of the Roman Empire.  But what is justifiable scripturely is what Paul teaches in Romans 13.  To obey the laws imposed upon you, to respect your leaders, pay your taxes, and give respect when due.  He's talking about being a rational member of society, and that through your obedience, that your example of Christ-like love and life may spread to others.  Now let's be clear, governance and public policy depend on one being able to argue facts.  If you can argue with evidence taht Food Stamps is more harmful than good, then do what you feel is right.  However, to simply rip it away after people have been dependent on a system for years, crafting their finances and living circumstances around that system...then you as a legislator have a responsibility to ensure that you don't hurt anyone as you pull the rug out from under them.  If you're going to remove a system of provision, then you have to replace it with something else to keep them from being harmed.

While you may not agree with your tax dollars feeding the hungry, it is not leftist theocracy that dictates the view.  It's the view that solving hunger solves crime, solves drug abuse, solves childhood chronic illness, and systematically and measurably benefits the lives of millions of Americans across the country, and the world even.  Solving hunger in a systematic, regular, consistent manner, such as through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), you are assisting in solving the problems that cause larger more systematic problems if left unsolved or unsatisfied.  There is the measurable, rational, systematic reason that we provide SNAP to the public.  You never know if you will be in that position, and you as a person who doesn't need it rests assured that a hungry and poor person won't try to rob you for your money so he can feed himself.  And while that does happen occasionally...just imagine if 50 million people were thrust into that position.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Secularism is not Anti-Religious

Secularists do not desire to drive religion from the public sphere. A society's expression of faith is one that defines the fabric of that society. How our society treats those who are spiritual in any form defines the people of that society. 

But also consider this: it is important that while individuals are free to express their faith, it's also important that your faith no dictate your decisions in public policy. Using faith to justify public policy exclusively is harmful to society, and blurs the veil that separates church and state. The church and state argument derives from Thomas Jefferson's belief that there should be a wall between the government and the churches. He saw the corruption that existed in the UK where the Church of England is a public church, funded by tax payers. The government and church both engaged in highly questionable political and religious interactions, trading power and money for offices of worship and spiritual guidance. 

Consider also the 500s through the 1700s, where for 1200 years, the Catholic Church actively interfered or in some cases even outright ruled nations using faith to instill fear, suppress the spread of education, and demanding full and unquestioned fealty, or face persecution by the Church. It was a dark age in Europe where science was dismissed and condemned, and questions glared at with disgust. The only people who benefited from that system was the Church, and it was the state that suffered at the hand of the Church. 

So when I say I favor the separation of Church and State, I base that view on the history of interactions between church and politics. It's important that we understand that the separation of Church means keeping the judgments of churches out of governance, but not your expression of faith from guiding you as an individual. Christianity extols the values of ethical conduct, righteous administration, and servant-based leadership. It begs people to fight injustice, to expose the dark areas, and to bring judgment to those who commit wrongs.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Coming Out on Many Fronts - The Mini-Memoir of Me

I don't know if you'll share this but, I thought I'd make a stab at it anyway.  When I was very young, I was not sure why I was drawn to men.  I didn't understand it, I was confused about it, and honestly, women never did anything for me in any form.  When I was a teenager I tried to pretend I was attracted to women, had a girlfriend in High School and in College.

I came from a rather conservative and fundamentalist background, accepting the words they taught up to a point.  I was anti-gay, anti-gay marriage, anti-gay anything for a long time because I was told that’s how things were supposed to be if you wanted to be a “good Christian man”, even though I myself knew to some degree what I was.  I even got to chatting with a few guys online, deluding myself that I was just looking for friends, when, in fact, I was looking for a boyfriend, but didn't quite realize it.  I kept this facade up for a long time.

But alas, it was so not meant to be.  What did it for me was me and her were at a restaurant eating a late dinner.  One of the cooks came up to me and we chatted it up for about 45 minutes.  I felt real bad afterword cause she was left there in a dumbfounded silence as I engaged this guy (who was very attractive) in a rather intense conversation about theater and food.  Sadly he wasn't gay, but the experience opened my eyes quite a lot.  I had felt infinitely more comfortable talking to him and engaging him in discussions than I did with her.  And it wasn't because I didn't
care about her, but because the connection wasn’t there.

Also during my 2nd year at LCSC in Lewiston, ID…I had resided in a house where about 30 people lived.  It was an old convent turned into a dormitory with kitchen and common area.  Most the people were nice and quite reasonable to be around.  I had a roommate who was a unique character to say the least but, he was good at brightening my spirits with invitations to come drink and the occasional driving him for his weekend imprisonment for a few slaps on the hand things he did.  A few other friends lived there as well.  But one day when I was walking back from class, it was about October or November, and I had left my window cracked to let air in.  I had noticed something that wasn’t on my seat last time I drove.  I remember it quite vividly.  Something designed to embarrass you or expose you before you’re ready or intimidate you never really goes away.  Someone had decided it would be funny to drop gay porn into my car.  And brightly as in front of God and everyone, had been a gay porn DVD.  Never in my life had I felt more dread and intimidation than that moment, knowing someone had decided to behave so insensitively.  Now I know this doesn’t compare to others’ experiences, but, this was truly something I could never forget.  I grabbed the DVD and quickly deposited it into the dumpster outside the dorm, and brushed it off like it was nothing.  I continued on my way as I normally do, but now with a twinge of dread in the back of my mind.  I asked myself questions like “Is this the start of something?  Is it going to get worse?”  Thankfully it didn’t…but it easily could have.
Courage: 90% of resistance is cautionary.
~Shigeo Shingo

After that, I slowly worked up the courage to start coming out to people.  My friend, Barbara was the first
one I came out to, telling her I was Bi, partially cause I was still confused, but knew enough that I liked men, but still wasn't sure if women were off the table.  Then finally about a year after that, I and a guy met onlin
e.  We decided to drive 8 hours to meet each other.  Oh we felt such a chemistry with each other, our chats were passionate, we loved each other’s pictures, and so, we decided to meet in the middle.  After finally meeting in our Motel, it literally was love at first sight.  We spent two amazing days together talking and cuddling and truly expressing our feelings to each other.  When we parted, I felt like he took a part of me with him, and him with me.  For a few days after that, every time I touched my arm, it felt like he was touching me, like the way we caressed in bed together.  We carried on with each other from a distance for eight months until we finally broke it off.  Neither of us could get away to see each other, and he was still closeted.  It broke my heart for a while…but I gathered my strength and moved on.  We still talk on occasion, but, I’m not expecting us to try again anytime soon.

The next chapter of my adult life started in 2009, when I entered Evergreen to finish my Bachelor’s degree.  The Evergreen State College is renowned with having one of the most active and vibrant college gay and lesbian groups in the nation.  As a centerpiece of social justice, I was drawn to the discussions about social justice.  Even bombarded with messages about full equal rights for LGBT Couples, I still sharply questioned the position, trying to be one of those (in my mind) people who take the road of least resistance and wanted to build a bridge between the two opposing viewpoints.   Looking back on the position, I can see now why I was so wrong in its viewpoint.  Though I don’t feel I was wrong for trying to find common ground.

Evergreen actually took this picture and made it a postcard
After I graduated in 2011, I
was politically active for the Republican Party, believing 100% in the views that given the freedom, the market will provide and everyone will have everything.  I voted fervently for most of the Republican candidates on the ticket in 2010 (trust me, I STRONGLY regret it to this day), and continued to try to build bridges of common view.  I argued fervently that government isn’t evil, but it should back off, and just let things work that can work, and control things it should control.  With the recent tea-publican menace worming its way into the party, such views were not accepted easily.

So finally, 2012 comes around, and I’m proudly wearing my Romney sticker on my car, and hanging on the words of both candidates passionately, absorbing their talking points, each of them…and what finally was the straw that broke the Camel’s back…”You didn’t build that….” Taken out of context over and over and over again, into utter absurdity.  At this point, I am totally disillusioned as to why I’m even supporting this party any more.  I took a hard long look at myself in the mirror and started inventorying my views.  I compared them aggressively against the party platforms of both parties.  Now I know my history.  I know what kind of damage church and state together can cause.  I know what kind of damage unregulated greed can cause, and I know from my Bible, that government is NOT evil but an arm of justice (See Romans 13 for a detailed scripture reference).  I was also pro-choice even before this as a Republican, because I believed that each circumstance bears a different level of morality…and it is not the place of the state to hold women prisoners in their own bodies by legislatively stripping women of this right to choose to reproduce…despite my personal views on abortion.  So finally, I started reading more.  End This Depression NOW! – By Paul Krugman, as well as his other books: The Conscience of a Liberal and A Return to Depression Economics.  I tore through all three books hanging on his every word…and it suddenly occurred to me, that I am a 100% Democrat.  If this was so on economics, and mostly on social issues, then, it would make sense.

In addition to coming out to my parents as gay, I also came out
to them as a 100% Dark Blue Liberal...which I think actually was harder for them to understand than me coming out as gay.  Looking back on my life, my experiences, my interactions with others, and finally, my faith…I understand more than ever why equality is important to me.  To me, coming out was the way that I could be truly an individual.  An individual with pride about who and what I am.  Throughout the last few years, I have continuously buried myself in history, in culture, and in science as best as I can understand it, to better understand what it means to be Gay.  To break it down to the simplest of explanations: Being Gay is nature’s way of creating uniqueness in an otherwise homogeneous world.  Instead of women, I love men.  And by love men, I mean I desire their companionship, their presence, their passion, their touch, their shoulder, their voice, their eyes, and finally, their unconditional Love.  Not “Love Because” or “Love IF”, but “Love PERIOD.”  Love without limit, reason, purpose, or condition.  The kind of love that would thrust me into a gunshot or throw myself on top of him.  The kind of love that Jesus gives us every day:  “Love Period.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Speaker of the House Philosophy

The Right-Honorable John Bercow
Speaker of the British Parliament, Elected 2009
No Party Affiliation
Speaker Boehner has worked himself into quite a pickle.  On one side, he has right-wing extremists who threaten his speakership if he concedes to Democratic demands to pass a clean Continuing Resolution…while on the other hand he’s facing a very angry electorate who will ultimately dump him like a bad habit if he doesn't pass a clean C.R..  So what ever should he do?

The Right-Honorable Sir Arthur Guinness
Speaker of the House, New Zealand, 1911

Well, before I answer that question, let’s look at what a speaker SHOULD be as compared to the speaker we have now.  The Speaker of the House is the 3rd most powerful man in the US Government.  He’s 3rd in line for the presidency, he’s autocratic leader of the entire Lower House of Congress, and he pretty much has the power to do whatever he wants in regards to the House business.  When looking at other types of speakers of the house in other systems of government, the speaker often elected by the entire body of legislators.  The Speaker of the United Kingdom Parliament is often one who is regarded as fair and entirely equitable, having no party affiliation or loyalty during his time in as the speaker.  He mediates disputes and maintains the house rules and delegates which members can speak at which time.  He’s also a non-voting member of parliament and does not vote except in cases of a tie.  And in even in that circumstance, the rules of voting while the speaker are very strict as to maintain a non-partisan status. 

John Boehner, 

Speaker of the House
Republican, Elected Jan 2011
The role of the speaker, in my view, is to serve as a servant of the houses factions.  He should be one who organizes the agenda proportionally, allowing all members to vote on whatever piece of legislation either side wishes to present.  Now, I’m not saying that there should not be any order to it…but I do believe that the issues discussed in the House should be representative of the house’s membership.  So if Democrats control 55% of the membership and Republicans 45%...then 55% of the issues discussed in the House should be from Democrats, and 45% from Republicans.  A fair, proportional, equitable division of the issues presented.  The speaker’s role in this regard is to make sure that the rules of order are followed, that the time to speak be divided evenly and fairly, and that the parties behave themselves in a civil manner.  Further, the speaker should never be a partisan in any way when an issue affecting national issues occur.  The Speaker’s role is to ensure that the rules of the House are enforced and not to selectively enforce them or give special preference to his or her own party. 
Nancy Pelosi, 

Former Speaker of the House, Democrat
Elected 2009

Some changes that I would like to see in the House in regards to a speaker is a 2/3rds majority vote for the job.  That a simple majority is insufficient to elect a speaker that is truly viewed as non-partisan.  A non-partisan speaker is essential to the functioning of the chamber and ensures a fair and equitable exchange of dialogue between the parties.  It also would ensure that the speaker maintains a good relationship with all parties and divides the work proportionally.  Finally, a vote of no-confidence which can be initiated by a petition signed by 1/3 of the chamber’s members.  This would also keep the speaker’s non-partisan status enforced and would ensure that the speaker appeals to ALL members of the chamber to maintain fairness and equality to all parties and members.

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