Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Excerpt: Part 2

I watched as government funding dried up under the Bush regime.  When I had started at the Homeless Church, Bill Clinton had been in office, and there had been much more money for social programs.  I could call drug rehab programs and get people into them without any problem, even if they had no type of insurance.  By the time W. had been in office for a year, all of those programs had begun to dry up.  Social service agencies began cutting case management positions, and more and more mentally disabled people began to fall through the cracks.  Our mentally disabled membership among the homeless grew exponentially; in our city alone, 95% of case managers working for MHMR (Mentally Handicapped and Mentally Retarded) were laid off in a month’s time.  Bush had said that the money was going to filter through faith-based initiatives, but I worked for a faith-based initiative, and we and others like us found all that assistance money impossible to get.  I was becoming disgusted with the Republican party and fundamentalist Christians’ blind support of the Republican party.

How could people, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, be as cold and calloused as to ignore the needs of the poor around them?  How could we be so greedy that we would keep putting the Republicans into power just because they were going to save us  a little bit of money in taxes (or a lot in taxes if you were wealthy) at the expense of the poor?  I did not understand the church’s blind faith in the Republican Party.  But . . . there was still that damned abortion issue.  I still did not like abortion; in fact, I hated it, but I could not in all good conscious NOT vote for John Kerry just because he was pro-choice.  I saw my dear friends suffering from metaphorical abortions every day, and no one was stepping up to help them.  I didn’t feel comfortable not voting because I knew I needed to make a statement about the treatment of the poor with my vote, but I also didn’t want to vote for a pro-choice candidate.  A vote for John Kerry felt too much like I was personally killing unborn children.  I didn’t know what to do.

As I was lying in bed one night pondering all of these things, a thought invaded my meditations.  “How many abortions did George Bush stop in his years in office?”  It was a light bulb question for me. George Bush hadn’t overturned Roe V. Wade.  I was sure just as many unborn children had died under George W. Bush’s watch as under Bill Clinton’s.  In fact, none of the Republican candidates, who had been vaulted into office on the premise of stopping abortion, had done much of anything to stop abortion.  Honestly, by cutting funding to programs that handed out contraceptives to the poor and teenagers, these men had almost certainly caused more abortions!  I started to feel like the religious right had been duped for years.  We had elected Republican after Republican basically because of one issue—abortion—and the Republicans had done nothing about that issue.  I realized it was highly unlikely that the Republicans would ever overturn Roe V. Wade because then they would lose the one card that kept the religious right voting for them.  We had been deceived.  I had been deceived.

I am a pro-life person; by that statement I mean I am for all life.  I think there is nothing more sacred on this planet than life.  Under the George W. Bush administration not only had no unborn babies been saved, but other adult life had been treated with utter disregard.  How many innocent American soldiers died under the Bush administration?  How many innocent Iraqis died in a war, which we should never have begun?  How many people could have been fed with the billions of dollars that our government spent on killing?  If the religious right wanted to make the world a safer place, then why not help the people in the Middle East, who were so hurt and angry?  We should have dropped food and aid . . . not bombs.  All these thoughts flooded my mind as I lay in bed that night, and I knew the decision had been made.  I was going to vote for John Kerry.  I was voting as much against the Republicans as I was for the Democrats.

The day I voted for John Kerry I felt like I was probably going to Hell.  I spoke to a few of my Christian friends and family about what I was going to do, and they all freaked out.  They acted like I was crawling into bed with the Devil, himself, by voting for John Kerry.  After a few terrible responses to my new political ideas, I just kept my thoughts quiet (hiding is generally the best policy when one finds oneself a dissenter to the Church’s views—just ask all the martyrs).  I was actually afraid I might lose my job if enough people found out.  I had been pressured to be a Republican by the Christian powers-that-be.  I had been taught that to vote for anyone outside the Republican Party was to vote against God.  I don’t think this teaching is right or Godly.   I believe evangelists, who use their pulpits to push one candidate over another, make people feel like they will be voting against God if they vote anything other than Republican; such pastors are simply abusing their power.  They are using fear to control people. 

I am not saying that if you really want to follow Jesus that you have to vote Democratic in the next election (although I almost certainly will).  I am not arguing that to be Republican is to be evil.  What I do want people to do is to think for themselves before they “get into bed” with any political party.  I don’t think it is right for the church to push any candidate as God’s candidate because doing so makes people feel like if they don’t vote Republican, then they are sinning against God.  In truth, I think Jesus would probably have some pretty big problems with both of the major political parties.  I’m sure Jesus would not have been pleased with Bill Clinton cheating on his wife (because of how he treated his wife).  But I am equally sure that he would not be pleased with the Bush administration repaying evil for evil (because of all the innocent lives lost).  The Republican Party is a flawed party with many ungodly beliefs, but the Democratic Party is as well.

In my opinion, God is not for or against either party.  I think God is for all people, both Democrat and Republican. People should not vote for any party just because James Dobson, Pat Robertson, or Franklin Graham tells us we should.  We should vote for the party that best suits our individual beliefs on the most issues.  No party will perfectly do so, but one candidate or party will closer meet the issues that are important to you than the other.  When you find out which party or candidate suits you best, then you should go out and vote in good conscience, knowing that God loves you desperately and that you live within a flawed human system where no candidate is truly God’s candidate.

As a side note, my views on abortion have now changed somewhat, as well.  I still do not like the practice on the whole, but neither do I believe that abortion should be made illegal, either.  There are just too many times in my mind when abortion would be the lesser of two evils.  I don’t believe that any rape victim or incest survivor should be forced to carry a child to term just because the religious right wants them to.  If they choose to carry the child to term, great!  But I can’t imagine how impossibly difficult it would be to have to carry a constant reminder for nine months of the horrors you had suffered.  To force anyone to do that is just cruel and lacking in any compassion.  There are other situations where I think that abortion might be a better option, as well.

When I worked at the Homeless Church, I got to know several drug-addicted street prostitutes.  One of these girls, whom I will call April, got pregnant five times in the course of my years as pastor of the Homeless Church.  April’s drug of choice was crack cocaine, and April was also mentally retarded.  Every time April got pregnant, she swore she was going to stop walking the streets and stop using the crack, and every time she failed.  Her children were all born severely disabled and addicted to crack cocaine.  Every single one of them was taken away from her, as well, by social services.  When I left the church, I heard April was pregnant again.  If April had come to me asking for help with an abortion for that poor child, I probably would have driven her to the clinic myself and figured out a way to pay for the procedure.  I think it would have been more evil to bring that child into the world severely damaged and addicted to crack cocaine than to have the child aborted.  It would have broken my heart, but I would have done it.

It is easy to sit in your four bedroom house with five TV’s and four cars and say that abortion

is always wrong, but life is not always as black and white as that.   It may be easy to sit in a 

comfy pastoral chair and proclaim that a vote for anyone other than a Republican is a vote

against God, but once again I think the issue of who we need to vote for is much more

complex than that.  The poor taught me the world is not black and white, but a very colorful 

and hard to understand place, and I thank them for that.  While a black and white world

might be easier to navigate, it would not be nearly as beautiful and amazing.  So thank you,

Teddy, April, and all my other precious, poor, and homeless friends.  I thought I was going

 to save you, but I think you saved me, instead.

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