Apologia

Apologia – (noun) 1. a formal written defense of something you believe in strongly (fr. the Greek).

 Last week, Senator Sanders (I. VT.) spoke at Liberty University. It was an event that was covered well in the national media, most notably for the unlikely venue and the unlikely speaker. I noted on my Facebook page my approval of the one and my support for the other, the other being Sen. Sanders who is running for President. Two longtime friends (real friends, not the typical FB variety) called me out on my support for Bernie, wondering what I saw in him.

D.M. – Sorry Jim – I don’t get it. The Senator is obviously a decent man who clearly means well, but I don’t see much that’s particularly attractive about his rhetoric. Basing one’s politics on picking a higher class of people to loathe doesn’t strike me as especially uplifting. Liberty U. comes off well, though.

 A.M. – Jim, I’m with D. After reading his speech I do not understand why he is attractive to you. It’s typical communist propaganda; pitting one class of people against the other. It’s bad enough he’s a communist; he’s also an atheist. Tell me how this is good for our country??????

I’ve known D.M. for nearly 15 years; he’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, extremely well read. A.M. is a friend of my parents from long ago. I attended church with both of these fine people for over a decade and consider their friendship valuable, and their challenge to me one I must carefully respond to.

My support for Bernie Sanders is not taken lightly; I did not arrive at this decision without considerable thought and reflection as to the needs of our country and my own Christian responsibility in a time when our culture has shifted dramatically away from a traditional common understanding of what American culture is.

A little history. Until now, I’ve been a lifelong Republican. For most of my life, I’ve identified as a conservative, an evangelical Christian, pro-life, traditional marriage kind of guy. I’ve attended Christian educational institutions of some stripe throughout my educational life. I’ve studied to become a minister. I’ve been a licensed lay preacher. My world-view on these matters is not thrown together or ill formed. Above all, I am committed to Jesus Christ as my Lord.

So, let’s deal with the red herring first – Bernie Sanders is not a communist. He is a socialist and there is a world of difference. One of the things that is wrong with America today is that we can no longer speak accurately and graciously about our opponents. So put the “flamethrowers” and the ad hominine arguments away. If you can’t, then don’t expect mercy when someone attacks your silliness.

What strikes me strange with the critique of class opposition is that Republicans have been doing this for years; only the target has always been the poor, not the rich. In fact, what budget cycle has there been in the last 30 years that Republicans didn’t seek to strip our domestic programs designed to help the poor? We may argue about the efficacy of such programs, and how they could be improved, but when your underlying value system dehumanizes the poor, I simply can’t see how that is not class warfare.

To me, the two biggest obstacles to support for Senator Sanders hinges on what he began his speech with at Liberty U.; his support for abortion and same-sex marriage. To his credit, he did not mince words, or try to explain away his positions. He put it out there and let his hearers deal with it. And I’ve come to a different view than most of my tribe on both of these issues.

I abhor the killing of the unborn. And making abortion illegal will not end abortion. It will only lead to the needless death of hundreds if not thousands of young women whose situation in life has led them to this unfathomable place in life – me or my baby. God help us all. I’d rather work on the conditions that bring about that decision, not the least of which are economic, but more importantly our view about how precious life really is – whether its here or in some third-world country that we want to bomb.

Ted and Steve exchanging nuptials does not impact my traditional marriage. My marriage (and theirs) will rise or fall based upon its own internal dynamics. Not allowing same-sex marriage doesn’t do away with homosexuality. “Traditional” marriage has been a disaster for decades now, with over half of marriages ending in divorce, and non-traditional families now the norm. My only concern here is that churches not be compelled or otherwise penalized for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

No POTUS is going to change a woman’s right to choose how to handle her own reproductive ability. No POTUS is going to change the right of homosexuals to wed. These two items are now settled law. It’s done. The culture war is over, and the terms of surrender are being drafted. And that is why I think supporting Bernie Sanders is critical.

Instead of pursing the overthrow of established law (ever since Reagan, every Republican POTUS has passed the litmus test on the pro-life issue, yet Roe vs. Wade still stands) why can’t we concentrate on doing what is also clearly the heart of God, and help the poor? Income distribution in the USA is obscene! The laws are written to protect and expand the wealth of the select few. The poor don’t write laws establishing offshore tax havens. Usury is still a sin. And American-style capitalism is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures.

Our Lord taught us to pray that we might have our daily bread. It is Lazarus who has a name and is in Paradise, his rich overlord nameless and in hell. At the great Day of Judgment, joy and fellowship with the Lord await those who “did unto the least of these.” Outer darkness for those who withheld their hand from helping the poor. Our Lord teaches us that the stranger is our neighbor (so much for the immigration debate) that our duty to him/her goes beyond the convenient to the inconvenient, the sacrificial way of love.

The prophet Amos is replete with judgments against the rich and condemnation for a system rigged against the poor. Perhaps he too was a communist. The great theme of all the prophets is justice for the poor. When the prophet Nathan confronts King David over his murderous adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet uses the image of the rich man stealing the lamb of a poor man to illicit David’s own condemnation of his sin. It is clear that the poor have been robbed in this country as well. We have no level playing field.

I was chatting about this with one of my Amish friends last week.    Danny asked me what I thought of Donald Trump. I told him my true thoughts were too colorful to express. He laughed and then gave a pretty accurate opinion of Trump as a man all about himself. No Christian should be attracted to supporting Donald Trump. And yet so many are. How do you think Jesus sees “The Donald?”

As Danny and I conversed, we agreed that the pressing need was to do something to bring hope back to those who have none. People who have hope don’t burn their neighborhoods down, and don’t let others come in and destroy their towns either. We are reaping the sin of generations, the denial of “forty acres and a mule” to the freed slaves, the Jim Crow laws and the lynchings. How can anyone claim that we were a Christian nation a hundred years ago when a black family would be lynched and then body parts carved up and taken away for souvenirs? These sins have come home to roost with a vengeance. People who think Ferguson and Baltimore were anomalies are kidding themselves.

It should be Christians talking about the inequality of income distribution and the laws that enable it, not an atheist. And yet when so many Christians would rather be hysterical about things they can’t possibly change and support politicians and a system so out of touch with the heart of Scripture in relation to the poor, it is refreshing to have anyone, even an atheist, call us back to our foundational roots of mercy and justice for all. If Christians can make their focal point the cause of the poor (and I realize there are many that are already doing this) and identify with them at a personal level, I believe it may help us as we attempt to carve out a space for continued religious liberty in America. (And here I in no way want to lend support to someone who refuses to bake a cake or fulfill their sworn duties to uphold the law).

Identifying with the poor on a personal level is the most basic thing someone can do. Give money to the homeless – yes, go for the big bill in your wallet – without demanding to know the outcome (drugs? liquor? food?). Stop posting that stupid stuff on FB about making everyone on welfare get a drug test. Get involved with organizations that are making a difference, whether they are specifically Christian organizations or not. And always love.

This apologia has been long, and there is so much more to say. D.M. will instantly find the holes in my reasoning, because I’m sure they exist. A.M. will vote for the most conservative Republican out there, regardless of the strength of my arguments or not. I’m sure there are plenty of issues I don’t agree with Sen. Sanders on, but I think its time to start talking about the issues he’s pressing. These are truly moral issues. And yes, I’d rather be accused of being naïve, than being heartless.

James Bourne

The Lamb’s Quarter