Judy Ferro [Published in the Idaho Press-Tribune on July 28, 2014]
At a Democratic Open House last week, Leif Skyving, a candidate for the House in District 10, told me he’d talked with a woman who felt she couldn’t vote for a Democrat because she was a Christian and supported family values.
I’ve worked with Leif long enough to know that he doesn’t easily talk about his religion. . (Disclosure: I am treasurer for Leif’s campaign.) When faced with a major decision, he will privately say, “Let me pray about this,” but his public statements are apt to be about fairness and investment in the future.
Leif’s experience reminded me of an anecdote my sister Joy once told about her Southern Baptist minister. While money was short, the man took a night job as janitor at a Nampa elementary school. One afternoon a young girl, a new student, didn’t make it home. Teachers volunteered to sit at the school all night in case she found her way back and then met for prayer before classes the next morning.
The minister was surprised that Christians taught in our public schools. Somewhere along the way, he had accepted that separation of church and state was rooted in rejection of Christianity rather than in respect for a public that represents 40 different Christian denominations as well as other religions.
Democrats support separation of church and state, as well as other basic American values: fairness, community, compassion, and the rights of the individual, including religious freedom. They believe in treating others as they would like to be treated. Many Christians are drawn to the party because of these values.
And I’ve known too many good people who are Republicans to suggest Democrats have a monopoly on these values.
In the 2004 campaigns, however, some Republicans worked hard to claim ownership of the Christian vote. Afterward, a flood of books appeared to rebut one party’s claim to have a corner on God. My two favorites were Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter and a little-known book Jesus Rode a Donkey by Quaker theologian Linda Seger.
Both books emphasize the New Testament’s admonitions to care for one another. Carter points out that one-tenth of Gospel verses are about compassion for others or rejection of wealth. Seger takes care to stress that, when the Hebrews were independent, the prophets urged that their government, as well as individuals, to support widows and the handicapped.
And both books see caring for the environment as a Christian duty. Seger asks how anyone can see the beauty which the Lord created and not understand that He cares deeply about our earth. She points out that we are the stewards of God’s world, not its owners.
In a very different vein, Jeff Sharlet’s 2009 book The Family, outlines the development of an aberrant form of Christianity that masquerades as a type of Fundamentalism. Sharlet claims that a group started in opposition to FDR’s policies and the growing power of unions has developed into a worldwide mesh of “Christian” prayer cells that teach that God bestows wealth and power as a sign of his favor. Moreover, God’s chosen need not follow the teachings of scripture like the rest of mankind; it is enough that they pray to be guided by Jesus. Many indulge their vices, lie and mislead, even torture, while claiming divine guidance.
Speaking publicly of one’s Christianity is not always a sign of one who shares your beliefs. Some that do may embrace a religion that is anything but “Christ like” while some sincere Christians may be quiet out of respect for the separation of church and state and reluctance to parade their faith for political advantage.
Voting wisely is not a simple matter.