The way issues--especially those related to "values" as understood by the extreme right--are presented today sets us up for immediate and ongoing conflict.
Though it is not my intention, I expect this post will created some of that.
What follows are the words of former Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, Texas. He served in the Texas State Senate for fifteen years. He delivered this speech in early November in Austin, Texas.
As a backdrop to the current political situation in Texas, I want to discuss with you a current phenomenon. However, in the way of a preface to this discussion, let me explain that I will be making references to the Christian faith and its New Testament.
I do not intend any slight to other beliefs by doing so. It is simply that I am a Christian, I regularly attend a Christian denomination church, and I simply know more about the Christian faith than I do of the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, Buddhism, or others.
Not too many years ago, a small group of religious leaders, who were concerned about what they perceived as a drift of our country away from its moral foundation, decided that they would become politically active and do what they could to stem this tide toward moral bankruptcy.
Most prominent among these groups, but certainly not alone, were Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition. Their strategy was to go to the grassroots of the Republican Party and to capture the party mechanism – the precinct and county conventions – in order to apply leverage to those who would be candidates for political office.
While the influence of the Christian Coalition may have cooled somewhat from its peak a few years ago, I need not tell this audience that, over the last decade, this movement has come to exercise a great deal of influence over the success and/or failure of candidates and over the success and/or failure of legislation.
While there have clearly been examples of political tactics carried on by some of these groups which can only be described as “vicious,” “unscrupulous” and “un-Christian,” for the most part they have simply taken the position that they will assess the suitability of a political candidate based on that candidate’s adherence to and advocacy for the group’s interpretation of Christian principles. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that, in fact this type of advocacy is what our country is founded upon.
While Bob Bullock was one of the first to bring religion into the political dialogue with his “God Bless Texas” theme, prior to the Christian right’s emergence I was not aware of candidates or office holders bringing their relationship with the Almighty into their political and campaign dialogue. It now is not only the mantra of those who subscribe to the Christian right’s agenda, but now other candidates, having sensed the need to protect their right flank, have felt compelled to bring their religious convictions into the public arena as well.
The growing influence of the Christian right on candidates and public policy has been met with an argument by some that religion should not be brought into the governmental arena. The nature of this backlash is to argue that it is inappropriate to base legislative decisions on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Just as an aside, for my entire political career I have heard people make the statement that legislatures cannot legislate morality. O fcourse, if one simply stops and reflects, that is an absurd statement. Virtually all legislation has its basic premise grounded in morality.
When we enact laws against murder or assault, they are based on moral and religious teachings condemning such activities. When we enact laws against robbery and theft, they are based on moral and religious teachings. All laws are, or should be, based upon the notions of fairness which are grounded in moral codes, most of which came originally from religious premises, the most conspicuous of which is that one should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Let me advance a proposition to those of you who may be concerned about the growing influence of the Christian right on public policy. May I suggest to you that, as opposed to the suggestion that we have too much religious influence on public policy, we actually have too little.
Before you react, let me flesh out this proposition.
Up to now, the application of religious principles in political debate has been mainly applied to social mores such as abortion rights, same sex marriage, intelligent design vs. Darwinism, and other similar social issues. But all too often, those Christians who take strong stands on such issues based on moral or biblical teachings, do not then continue the application of such teachings to other issues.
For instance, when considering how many of the poor children in Texas will be removed from Childrens’ Health Insurance [Program (CHIP)] in order to hold down costs to the state, they choose not to consider Christ’s admonishment to “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”
When considering how much to reduce funding for indigent health care, Medicaid for nursing homes, child abuse protective services, or special education for handicapped children, there seems to be little recognition of Christ’s teaching that “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also.”
All too often, these Christian admonishments are qualified to read,“Suffer the little children to come unto me, unless of course, their needs require a vote to raise additional revenue.”
Or to read, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also, but you are absolved if your compassion would require you to cast a vote for a tax bill.”
There are, of course, many members of the Legislature who recognize this disconnect. They truly worry that they are not living up to the Christian principles which they espouse.
However, they are caught inthe dilemma of having pledged not to increase taxes and they realize that, in order to truly apply Christian compassion in these areas will take additional state funding.
Once again, perhaps we need more religion rather than less.
It was Christ who said, “Much is required from those to whom much is given.”
We even have the teaching of Christ’s parable where he tells the richman, if he wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven he must “Go, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me.”
Talk about a high tax rate!
How does a devoted Christian cut funding for needy children based on a no new taxes pledge while reading this passage of the Bible?
A year or so ago, there was a commendable teenage fad where youths were wearing bracelets containing simply four engraved letters, WWJD –“what would Jesus do?” The purpose was to provide a constant reminder to youths to assess the right or wrong of a decision before making it.
I wonder what the impact would be if every Legislator who avowed a religious motivation were required to wear such a bracelet – a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet, or a “What would Yahweh Do?” bracelet, or a“What Would Mohammed Do?” bracelet, or a “What would Buddha Do?” bracelet.
Then, whenever they were preparing to cast a vote to reduce or restrict programs for the poor, the sick, the elderly, or the children, they would be reminded of their previous avowals?
Wise people of many different eras have made this case before me.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them but to be indifferent to them--that’sthe essence of inhumanity.”
Pearl S. Buck said, “The test of a nation is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.”
And finally, Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
I submit to you the proposition that we do not have too much religion in government today, we have too little.
We do not have too much advocacy for Christian principles in government and politics; we have a highly selective and hypocritical application of Christian principles in government and politics.
Those who advocate for Christian principles in our public institutions should have the strength of their convictions so as to truly follow the teachings ofChrist in His care and compassion for the poor, the lame, the sick ,and especially the children.
I submit to you, we can and should legislate morality.
We can, and weshould legislate based on moral and religious principles.
But we should do so even in those areas where political courage is required.
It was Aristotle who said, “Virtue is not knowledge of what is to be done, but rather the doing of it.”