March 11, 2010

Conservative Values, Liberal Values, and Social Justice

Rarely do I allow myself to get involved in political debates.  Even more rare are the times when I get engaged in such debates online, through email and social networks.  Almost always, my involvement in such conversations can be summed up in two words:  "delete" and "ignore."

However, I found it hard to ignore one such conversation that took place last week.  It took place on the Facebook page for the Boy Scouts of America.  It began with a "status update" in which the BSA mentioned that several scouts presented the BSA's annual report to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  (BSA operates under a congressional charter.)

The comments that followed were mixed.  Many were negative, expressing condolances for the scouts who had to interact with someone who, in the commenter's opinions, stood against Scouting's values.  Others were even more harsh; had it been a court of law rather than a facebook page, some of the statements would have been deemed libelous and slanderous.

Meanwhile, other comments appeared, insisting that the presentation of the report wasn't about politics, that politics don't even belong in Scouting, and that the values Scouting teaches are neither conservative nor liberal values;  they're Scouting values.

This led to a comment by someone named Tony who said that of course Scouting is, and always has been, based on conservative values.  As proof of this, he cited the fact that "duty to God" has always been a part of the Scout Oath.

I probably should have ignored this comment and the debate as a whole, but I've become tired of having voices I don't agree with speak for me on issues of faith.  So I posted my own comment in which I said that, as a Christian pastor, I believe that it is insulting to God to define God as either conservative or liberal.  God is neither.

Tony then posted another comment, accusing me of insulting him, and arguing against my statement that God is a liberal.

I looked back at what I had written.  Nowhere did I insult Tony.  Nowhere did I say that God is a liberal.

See why I usually try to stay out of these debates?

Meanwhile, in Washington, Congress is currently debating health care.  It seems that one of the sticking points in coming to an agreement over health care is abortion.  Conservatives, generally, will not vote for any health care plan that provides coverage for abortions, because doing so would violate their pro-life values.

I admire their pro-life values.  But I wonder:  Do they realize that the lowest abortion rates in the world are found in countries that provide access to health care and social services to all their citizens?  Do they not know that outlawing or restricting legal abortions does little to affect abortion rates, that the highest abortion rates are actually found in countries where abortion is against the law?

Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to listen to or consider facts like these.  If you try to understand the issue at a deeper level, they accuse you of complicating things.  If you advocate improving social services for the poor, even if it's an effort to lower abortion rates, they might go so far as to accuse you of being a Nazi or Communist, as Glenn Beck did this week.

Improving social services and providing health care will reduce abortions.  But what kind of value is it that uses a "liberal" method to achieve a "conservative" goal?  Some people just have to see it defined as one or the other, rather than engaging in a conversation that can lead to us accepting it as a common value.

I have no problem calling myself a "social justice" pastor.  I have no problem referring to my church as a "social justice" church.  Maybe I'll even put that on my church's new website!  And I would love to have a conversation about what that means.  I have, in fact, been able to have many such conversations over the years, with both "liberals" and "conservatives."

Fortunately, not everyone is a Tony or a Glenn.  Most are, in fact, willing to be reasonable, to listen, and to share their views without name-calling or misrepresenting the views of others.  I have found these conversations to be among the most meaningful in my life.

If we are to make any progress on addressing some of the most important issues we face today, these are the types of conversations we must have.

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