By Jeff Fulmer
Originally posted 7/20/11 at Hometown Prophet
For most of my life, I considered myself a Republican and a Christian, not necessarily in that order, but they weren’t mutually exclusive either. The two ideologies happily went hand-in-hand like Adam and Eve, before you-know-who showed up and crashed the party. In my genesis story, I have to credit George W. Bush with tempting me to question my longstanding, intertwining beliefs. While I munched on the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the rose-colored Republican scales fell from my eyes.
The Iraq War (Part 2) was a big problem for me. Don’t get me wrong, Saddam Hussein made a terrific villain complete with his swaggering bravado and Frito Bandito moustache. Unfortunately, he hadn’t actually done anything to justify a full-scale invasion. Maybe I was being nit-picky, but I just couldn’t get over that fact. I also couldn’t understand why my fellow Christians weren’t more upset. “Blessed Be the Peacemakers” was drowned out by the roar of F16s, and the Cross was covered with a sea of waving flags.
A fiscal conservative, I was having a hard time justifying Bush’s reckless spending. In eight years, he took the US budget from a $236 billion dollar surplus (from a Democrat no less) to leaving an over one trillion dollar deficit for his successor. The cost of Bush’s one hundred and sixty thousand man posse in the Middle East was a contributing factor, but it was really his tax cuts that were most responsible for ballooning the debt. As a Christian, it bothered me that the cuts were skewed to the top 10% of wage earners, with special favoritism going to the top 1%.
While Jesus was apolitical, I don’t remember him siding with the rich and powerful very often. In fact, Jesus warned future generations about helping the down-and-out. The condemned plead, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?” He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25: 44 and 45)
To be fair, many Republicans I know are generous with their time and money and do attempt to help “the least of these.” They just don’t want the government helping them, at least not too much. And at the same time, they claim they want the US to be “Christian” nation….There seems to be a real disconnect between being a “Christian nation” and obeying Christ’s clearest commands.
Freed from the need to defend the ‘right’ at every turn, I took a long, hard look at the rest of the Republican agenda, starting with the social issues they supposedly care so much about. From gay rights to immigration, there is a pattern of marginalizing minorities, giving them frequent pokes with the logs protruding from their own eyes. Attempting to score political points by trying to artificially keep Terri Schiavo alive was a shameless spectacle.
For the most part, the ‘family values’ posturing seemed to be political theater designed to rally and distract the base from the real work being done on Capitol Hill. The actual legislation being passed was almost exclusively for the benefit of the group the GOP really represents, corporate America. In a world run by Republicans, industries were deregulated and defense contracts multiplied, while any minimum wage increases were stymied and jury verdicts capped.
After Bush/Cheney won re-election, they sent their biggest supporters, the oil and gas industry, a $14.5 billion thank you in the form of additional tax breaks. Today, the top 1% now controls a staggering 40% of the total wealth in the US (as opposed to 20% in 1980), Yet, according to the IRS, the richest 400 Americans only paid 17% in taxes. When everything flows from the top, the average working family is left with whatever trickles down to the trough.
Finally, I’ve found the Republican’s style of slash-and-burn campaigning to be particularly offensive. Not since Jackson Pollack has anyone perfected the art of the smear like Karl Rove. I interned for the Reagan Bush Re-Election campaign in DC, so I’m not naïve about the harsh realities of political campaigns. At least at the end of his life, Lee Atwater expressed regret, apologizing to Michael Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the 1988 campaign.
There is a long list of conservative pundits (O’ Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, Savage, Boortz, and Nashville’s own Gill and Valentine, just to name a few) that use their bully pulpit to character assassinate anyone who dares disagree with their self-serving ideology. I wonder how these men (some who are supposed to be Christians) live with many of the verses in the Bible, but “judge that ye be not judged” should give them serious pause.
As Christians, we’re called to a higher standard. We can also take some solace in the fact that God can and will right all wrongs in good time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight back when others try to hijack Christianity for their own ambitions, nor does it mean we shouldn’t stand up and speak out for the oppressed, marginalized and ‘the least of these,’ just as our Lord did.
Many say the Bible doesn’t specifically address the decisions we deal with in the modern age. However, Jesus (and Paul and James) did speak about the Spirit of the Law, which can inform every question we face today, if we’re open to it. I’m planning on periodically writing about some of these issues from my own Christian perspective and you can subscribe to my newsletter to receive future blog updates. Thank you for taking the time to read my story; let’s keep the conversation going.
Jeff Fulmer is the author of the book "Hometown Prophet."