Sins of Omission
Benjamin and Heather Grizzle


Much ink has been spilt observing and interpreting the shift in the American partisan demographics in the last decade or two: widely publicized data has shown the stark and growing correlation between frequency of church attendance, the importance of faith in one’s life, and Republican political orientation; the best predictor of a person’s party affiliation is no longer income or class. The Democrats used to be the party of the poor, but is now the party of atheists and the spiritually ambivalent. The GOP used to be the party of the wealthy, but is now the party of the “faithful.”

Anyone writing on faith and politics risks presenting their personal views and understanding of God as the capital “T” Truth. While this piece is an attempt to apply Christian faith to the American political system, we must explicitly state that this is not intended to be a “How Would Jesus Vote” piece.

The underlying philosophies of the two parties represent fundamentally different ways of viewing the world, but both have elements of Truth that must be acknowledged and weighed. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. In praying and working that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Christians today must avoid the Constantinian fallacy of conflating church and state. In order to maintain both their prophetic integrity as well as their political influence, Christians must avoid the historical mistake made by many groups of throwing their votes blindly to one party. Such lopsided loyalty is a recipe for political marginalization and mindless herd behavior. However much Christians today believe the GOP is “their party”, for the health of our faith and our nation, we must do the hard work of critically examining the natural strengths and weaknesses of each party’s political ideology and cultivating a dialogue between them to ensure we do not make ourselves the pawns of one party or the sworn enemy of the other.

Institutions, like individuals, are endowed with unique strengths and temptations, both usually flip-side counterparts to common underlying personality traits: in the Bible, Thomas’ skepticism was no doubt a kill-joy among the other disciples upon their hearing of Christ’s resurrection; however, such documented skepticism among Christ’s most committed followers in Scripture has also undoubtedly built the confidence of many believers sharing Thomas’ scientific nature. So when praising an individual or institution for its natural strengths, we do no injustice—and indeed may be doing it a great service—by also taking note of the vulnerabilities that are associated with the converse of those very strengths. Conversely, we err to criticize weaknesses and error without acknowledging the corollary virtues.

In the 20th century, people of faith have been split relatively evenly between the two parties. If we can say that each of the parties loosely embodies a part of God’s character, Democrats have been the party of the incarnate Christ, engaged with the world’s suffering, sympathetic with God’s mercy. One might say the left has historically been the champions of God’s mercy: the same mercy with which Christ implored the rich man to sell all and give it to the poor, applied all the force of heaven to raise the beggar Lazarus to life, drove the money changers from the temple, fed and healed the thousands, and even changed water into wine just to keep the celebration going. Supporters of economic redistribution, significant government participation in the lives of those on the bottom of the economic ladder, and the doves in foreign policy tended to align themselves with the Democrats.

By contrast, Republicans have been the party of God’s justice, allowing people to receive their due for good or ill, and not flinching from the violence often required to enforce the right – the same justice with which Christ preached righteousness not to stifle a person’s life but rather to enrich it, and went to Hades to overcome sin for all. Supporters of strongly enforced law and order, of traditional family structures and values, and of empowering individuals and communities over centralized government leaned toward the GOP. It is with this firm belief that the GOP has become the champion of the unborn, believing that those unborn women (and men) deserve their own rights to choose.

Under this rubric, both parties have reflected a part of the faith that they purport to represent. God’s justice protects and acknowledges a realistic view of human nature and our needs, while God’s mercy offers the one solution for those needs. Over the last 25 years, however, several trends—the “culture wars”, the fall of Communism, the increasing international awareness and activism of evangelical Christians in Africa and the Middle East—have drawn people of faith further right. If professing Christianity now means exalting Reagan, this trend begs the question: has either side truly franchised God’s interests? Or has God become the ultimate disenfranchised voter: tossed around in rhetoric but never truly obeyed? In today’s polarized political field, both sides have used professions of faith as the carrot with which to entice the faithful, but both have fallen short of the truths they claim to embody.

In its rush to be full of grace, the left has weakened standards and muddied the once clear waters of firm belief. In its drive to be compassionate, liberals have forgotten the need – both in realistic societal terms and for the sake of personal self-worth – for individuals to be responsible for their own destiny. In their drive for equality and rights of women, the left has ignored the plight of those unborn women and men who lose their lives to abortion each year. In the hope of worldwide acceptance of military action, millions have died waiting for multilateral agreement.

The right has likewise fallen short of the ideal; the right has been much maligned for its implicit—and periodically explicit—claim to represent the interests and values of the faithful, specifically evangelical Christians. Further, while conservative individuals are generous with their money, the Republican Party has gained the reputation for being cold to the plights of the poor. The right has historically advocated a small government, one built primarily of common defense and protection, not expansive benefits for individual welfare.

It could be argued that George W. Bush has begun to reverse the stereotypes of the right. Bush has been one of the more vocal presidents about his faith, as he has described not only his personal faith in Jesus Christ and his specific conversion experience, but has also invoked the language of Old Testament godly judgment in addressing the threats of terror worldwide after September 11, 2001. Other than the war on terror, Bush’s primary initiatives have been education reform, the social security prescription drug benefit, and tax relief for the lowest tax brackets. Interestingly, this election has marked the appearance of a tectonic shift in the political terrain: as Bush has displayed “compassionate conservatism,” taking with him the traditionally Democratic strongholds of education, Medicaid and community outreach, the left has suddenly become the voice of fiscal responsibility – at least in their rhetoric.

Yet despite very recent changes in the political landscape, the corresponding strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the aisle provide a powerful lesson for democracy. Indeed, the essence of democracy is expressed in the sobering reality that neither party has a monopoly on Truth. And yet to say that both sides hold a modicum of truth is to suggest that there is indeed a Truth that is worth attaining. To the extent that a party upholds God’s Truths, we should uphold it. In the measure that a party – or organization or candidate - falls short of these ideals, we should call that entity to account. But in the end we must remember that Truths – with a capital “T” – are grand, infinite, and beyond our complete comprehension. To suggest that we could attain to the fullness of these truths is to diminish the magnitude of what God has designed for us. There is an ontological difference between what any party or candidate can portray and the glory of those Truths in actuality. And so the challenge has been laid before people of faith: will they become a rhetorical pawn to be tossed about in political games? Or will we point both sides of the debate to the One from whom all knowledge flows?

 


Benjamin Grizzle ’03 is a History and Literature graduate from Pforzheimer House, and Heather Grizzle ’03 is an Economics graduate from Leverett House.