For Which We Stand

John Danforth, an Episcopal minister and former Republican Senator from Missouri writes in The New York Times that the Republican Party is becoming the political arm of Christian conservatives. This is an argument that’s used (all too) frequently, but Sen. Danforth’s conservative credentials are normally beyond doubt — which is why it’s so puzzling for Danforth to so fundamentally misunderstand the current political climate.

Evangelicals and conservative Christians have always been one of the strongest voting blocs in the GOP. The GOP has always been a party that has stood for the sanctity of human life. The Republican Party was founded on the principle that human life is the most fundamental value in society — which is why the GOP began as a reaction to the pro-slavery forces in the United States before the outbreak of the Civil War.

In the case of Terry Schaivo, I understand that some are uneasy with the Congress getting involved. Legally, I think it was a dubious choice. But it was hardly an issue that only reached to “conservative Christians.” Last I checked neither Jesse Jackson nor Ralph Nader were “conservative Christians.” Half of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the bill ceding authority over the Schaivo case to federal jurisdiction.

Danforth’s position begs the question — does opposition to the death by starvation of a woman who has had dubious legal process represent a position that can only be held by “conservative Christians?” Does opposition to human cloning represent a position that can only be held by “conservative Christians?” (If so, then apparently the UN, which has already passed a human cloning ban is apparently an outpost of Christian theocracy as well.)

Or is it true that these positions are ones that can be shared with anyone who believes in the sanctity of human life? Certainly a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or even an atheist can recognize that the interests of the state are best served by fostering a culture that protects and preserves human life. Indeed, the very purpose of government is to recognize and protect the value of each of its citizens.

On the issue of gay marriage, I agree with Mr. Danforth. The idea that homosexuals should be legally discriminated against strikes me as repugnant. The state has no business in diminishing the rights of a person because of their sexual orientation provided that they don’t infringe upon the rights of others. The mere existence of homosexuals doesn’t in any way diminish the rights of heterosexuals. At the same time, I agree with the President that extending the concept of marriage — a concept that is rooted in millennia of tradition. Traditions should not be changed by judicial fiat, but by the will of the people over time. Civil unions are a matter of law, marriage is a matter of society. A legal change to the definition of marriage would be more destructive than helpful.

The larger point is that the idea that somehow Christian theocrats have invaded the Republican Party is absolute balderdash. President Bush is no more a theocrat than President Reagan was — both of them were quite open in their faith and made frequent references to God. For that matter, so did the Founding Fathers. Opposition to abortion isn’t a relgious issue, it’s an ethical issue, and last time I checked the concept of “separation of ethics and state” wasn’t exactly a founding principle of law. (Although it might be a de facto one these days. The same applies to opposition to human cloning, support for Terri Schaivo being allowed to live, and other issues. Just because Christians happen to believe in those things doesn’t make them specifically Christian issues. Paying one’s taxes is specifically mentioned in the New Testament, yet no one is calling liberals “theocrats” when they use religious rhetoric to support their claims.

With all due respect to Senator Danforth (and he deserves much), the idea that the Republican Party should embrace limited government is an excellent one to which I wholeheartedly ascribe. The idea that in order to do that we should abandon the values we stand for is most certainly not. The values for which we stand are values that are worth defending, and the idea that the willingness to use the law to protect human life isn’t something that’s opposed to the law, it is the very essence of it. If the Republicans turn their backs on their values in order to placate their critics, then the Republicans will lose, and deservedly so.

3 thoughts on “For Which We Stand

  1. Jay,
    Damn good post. There have been such hysteria in the past few weeks that your steady voice is a needed breath of fresh air. I’ve been really upset reading libertarian sites, that I usually greatly enjoy, throwing around the ‘christian theocracy’ label at anyone who simply questions whether or not Terri has received effective representation in the judicial system. As a healthcare professional I can not tell you how many wrong diagnosis/treatment decisions I’ve seen made. People are waaaay too willing to put blind faith in a few individuals over such a massive issue. I’d be the first to admit that I do not know all the facts of the case, and I’m more than sure that the ‘facts’ have been manipulated on both sides of this issue. It would be nice to have a few definitive answers that many more of us could live with rather than this massive cloud of gray.

    I appreciate your clarity.

  2. Jay:
    Your writing is a thing of beauty; you write far more effectively than most professional journalists and commentators.

  3. It may be true that George W. Bush is no more of a theocrat than Ronald Reagan, but the political base of evangelical loonies was much smaller and much less powerful in 1981 than it is today. Even if Reagan personally wanted to guide the nation down its current theocratic path 20 years earlier, there wasn’t a large enough constituency of Rapturists back then to make it politically practical. The clearly isn’t the case in the year 2005 when a quarter of the American electorate came out in droves last November to vote in “the most important election in their lifetime” charging the castles of the nobility to demand institutionalized discrimination against homosexuals.

    The real tragedy here is that a symbollic incident like the Terri Schiavo case is what it takes to make people realize just how badly the Republicans (and many Democrats, who are now politically motivated to pandering to evangelical ideologues) are beholden to an increasingly radicalized religious right. If only the everyday events could attract as much attention to the connection….such as taxpayer funds allocated towards non-taxpaying “faith-based entities”…or the desire to subsidize private religious schools with “vouchers”….or the fact that the majority of support for our current action in Iraq is coming from people who believe our presence there will hasten the second coming of Christ and ensuing apocalypse. None of this stuff can get the average non-evangelical American to lift their head of the hammock….but a perceived overreach of politicians seeking to re-insert a feeding tube into one woman in Florida gets the non-evanglicals to cry “they’ve gone too far!” Americans are getting harder to understand by the hour.

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