To a minister who said he hoped the Lord was on our side, [President Lincoln] replied that it gave him no concern whether the Lord was on our side or not “For,” he added, “I know the Lord is always on the side of right;” and with deep feeling added, “But God is my witness that it is my constant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
-Rev. Matthew Simpson in his address at Lincoln’s funeral.
In 1952, the United States Congress established a national day of prayer for the country (36 U.S.C. § 119). The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a privately funded, apparently partisan group dedicated to promoting observance of the day and representing a particular Christian perspective. This year, they hosted an event at which James Dobson spoke out against President Barack Obama as the “abortion president.” As it was a privately funded event, I see no reason to attack Dobson for turning it into a partisan event, though I am somewhat troubled by the dichotomy he seems to be suggesting between Obama on one side and Christianity on the other. Thus I will step around several quite interesting issues:
Should their be a National Day of Prayer?
Should Dobson have said what he did?
Should attendees at the event have expected it to be a non-partisan affair?
Instead, I want to talk about the relationship between our faith as Christians and our participation in a civil government. I can agree with much of what Dobson says about Christianity and yet still feel that Democrats do a better job of promoting real Christian values in our country.
First, I will share my personal opinion on abortion. I can imagine no situation in which I would advise someone to have one. Neither am I convinced that they should be legal.
Second, it is not part of my faith to judge people for their choices, only to help them make the best ones in the future. I see no moral benefit in punishing people socially for their choice and think that it would lead to alienation and fear, rather than good.
Third, I will note that abortion is legal. I am in a position to advise, and not a position to approve or disapprove. The US Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to privacy that covers abortion in certain circumstances. Forty years of governments have failed to change the constitution. This includes Democratic and Republic presidents and, notably, times when Democrats or Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. I recognize that the people of my country do not, collectively, wish to change this law. As a citizen I can work to change this, but I cannot make the decision on my own.
President Obama has chosen to pursue a course that promotes access to health care and promotes reproductive rights for women. I can – and do – support those moves, while also being against abortion.
It distresses me that abortion has become such a partisan issue. It further distresses me when people link Christian values around killing with a particular party or candidate. I am saddened that my country and my state support abortion. Let me say for the record that I am also saddened that my country and state support war. I disapprove of my tax money being used for military forays in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And let us be honest about the proportion of federal funds that go into war relative to abortion.) I disapprove of my tax money being used for the execution of US citizens who commit any one of 41 capital offenses under federal law. I disapprove of a whole host of uses to which my money is turned by a justice system that recognizes corporations as having the same rights as humans. None of these do I take lightly.
In my opinion as a Christian and as a theologian, my government and my society are responsible and culpable for intentionally causing the death of thousands of people, both foreign and domestic. I consider myself partially to blame for those sin done with my consent, my apathy, my money, and on my behalf.
I am not arguing that abortion is one sin in a sea of offenses and therefore negligible. I am arguing that a Christian must weigh the many, difficult moral choices presented by voting and taxes and make the best choice possible (with prayer and in fear and trembling).
I fundamentally believe in the representative democracy we have, bound by the basic liberties and balances of a constitution. I work within that system to help create the best government and society I can. I believe in sharing common mission and common wealth with other US citizens. I use the system of taxation and representation to try to do good in the world, taking in pride in the things we do together.
If I believe in our common purpose, then I must accede to our common will. I must allow other people’s priorities to balance my own, even when they include abortion, even when they include capital punishment, even when they include war.
Jesus suggests a solution to this moral conundrum. When one has no money, one need not pay the governments that do these things. This is, I think, why it is so hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Alternatively, you may “separate yourself from this unjust generation” and look for another country that makes better moral choices. Those of us who do not choose one of those options are doomed to work with and within the government and society we create.
I hope you will allow your faith – whatever it may be – to inform the way you vote and work within our country. I also hope you will recognize the profound importance of balancing your convictions with those of other Americans. We are each, and we are all, negotiating the challenges of common life. Even among Christians, recognizing the best path for the country is difficult.
For me, at this time, that means preserving the access to health care for as many as possible and respecting the rights of all to use that care how they may in accord with the law and their own conscience.
And it is my constant anxiety and prayer that both myself and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.