Commentary

Christensen: Is God a Democrat or a Republican?

rchristensen@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2014 

Does God whisper into the ears of Republicans or Democrats?

It is a question to ponder as we approach both the Christian holy season and the final weeks of the political primary campaigns.

As the former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican who represented the state for one term in Congress, said, North Carolina is the buckle on the Bible Belt, and its politics reflect that.

Consider the “Moral Monday” protests in the state capital, led by the Rev. William Barber II, the head of the state NAACP and a Disciples of Christ pastor. Barber, who wears his church vestments at rallies, leads each with a call to join hands and a prayer. His talk is filled with biblical references about helping the poor.

The Moral Monday protest movement has a strong representation of the clergy.

“We must not give up the high moral ground to the right-wing extremists,” Barber said earlier this year at a speech in Columbia, S.C. “Any profession of faith that doesn’t promote justice and standing against wrong is a form of heresy.”

Barber said there are 300 verses in the Bible that talk about justice and poverty issues and only three that talk about sexuality, and “none of them give you a license to hate somebody.”

NC-grown Religious Right

North Carolina has a strong conservative tradition that grew out of religious belief. The rise of the late Sen. Jesse Helms and the national Religious Right movement in the 1980s started largely in North Carolina and in Virginia with the Moral Majority and the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

The conservative religious movement was fueled, in part, by opposition to such social issues as abortion, greater acceptance of homosexuality and a breakdown of traditional families.

One of the major candidates in the May Republican Senate primary, Mark Harris, follows in that tradition. The Charlotte Baptist minister led the successful effort in 2012 to pass a constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples in North Carolina.

Medicaid called ‘immoral’

While Democrats such as Barber say their Christian faith informs their backing of programs that help the underprivileged, some conservatives see helping the poor as primarily a function of churches and charities and not of government.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently argued that programs such as Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the poor, actually hurt the poor.

“Sometimes these big government social welfare programs are immoral,” Phillips told a conservative conference in Raleigh. He said North Carolina made the right decision last year to reject the expansion of Medicaid to 500,00 working poor – people who make too much to currently get Medicaid but who make below the poverty line. He said studies have found that Medicaid recipients actually do worse when fighting diseases such as heart problems and cancer.

He cited a University of Virginia study that found that Medicaid patients who underwent surgical procedures were 13 percent more likely to die than those patients who had no health insurance and 97 percent more likely to die than those who had private insurance.

“It is immoral to dump millions of more Americans, our fellow citizens, into a program where they will die sooner,” Phillips said. “That is wrong.”

Dr. Damien J. LaPar, the study’s lead author, writes there are many potential factors for the higher risk factor for Medicaid patients, including their socioeconomic status and race. He also writes that they have been in more advanced stages of their diseases when they sought help.

No room for compromise

Some conservative political figures fill their speeches with references to God. During a recent talk to the conservative conference, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a particular favorite of religious conservatives, mentioned God at least 20 times in an 18-minute speech.

“We have forgotten God,” Forest said. “We have kicked him out of the home. We have kicked him out of the school, and we have kicked him out of our culture. We call it everything except sin.”

Our Judeo-Christian beliefs, of course, inform our laws. Religion has been a powerful force whether in the movements for abolition, temperance or civil rights.

The risk in mixing religion and politics too closely is it leaves little room for compromise, or opening yourself to other views. Governing is about the ability to get people of different views and backgrounds to pull together to work for the common good. That is true for running a country, a state or a church.

If you believe God is whispering in your ear – and there is only one divine or moral position on, say, Medicaid expansion – then you believe you own the one correct moral position, and the other fellow is a heretic. Governing then becomes more difficult.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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