In a highly partisan political climate amidst the COVID-19 and gun violence debates, how is it possible to move forward with life-creative action? Indeed, can the issues be considered in the same breath? I say “yes!”, because both are centered on the preciousness of life, both are unwelcomed violence, both grate our consciences, both are anti-life, and both necessitate bi-partisan action.
How, then, can we move forward politically? I submit first of all, we need to understand the dynamic variances of each party, and then secondly, interface these dynamics with a Jesus’ ethic.
Historian Kevin M. Kruse, in a CHRISTIAN CENTURY article (12 February 2020) titled “Partisan Times”, took a deep dive into party dynamics. He notes in Jonathan Haidt’s THE RIGHTEOUS MIND, conservatives respond primarily to themes of patriotism, faith, valor, law and order. Liberals respond primarily to themes of compassion and fairness.
Similarly, sociologist James Davison Hunter in CULTURE WARS, posited both liberals and conservatives value freedom and justice, but they put those values into action in very different ways. Conservatives saw freedom in economic terms (tax cuts and deregulation) and justice in social terms (upholding moral standards), while liberals saw freedom in social terms (being pro-choice, supporting gay rights), and justice in economic terms (minimum wage, union rights).
Then there is one of my favorite writers, Ezra Klein, in his book WHY WE’RE POLARIZED, positing the common thread of the two political parties as liberals’ “openness to experience and the optimism that drives it”, and “conscientiousness, a preference for order and tradition that breeds a skepticism towards disruptive change connects to conservatism. Klein observes that “people who score high on openness . . . tend to like envelope-pushing music and abstract art, [whereas] people who score high on conscientiousness are more likely to be organized, faithful and loyal.”
Klein speaks of Obama’s “hope and change” mantra as being central to the liberal’s creed. “The kinds of people most attracted to liberalism are the kinds of people who are excited by change, by difference, by diversity. . . . By contrast, the job of the conservative is to [stand] athwart history, yelling stop [to quote William F. Buckley].”
What ways forward for Covid-19 and gun violence? A seminary professor once told our class, “Jesus comes with a very specific proposal of marriage for the world.” For the Lutheran Christian, consider the humorous screed, “No matter the question, the answer is Jesus!” This means we look at Covid-19 and gun violence prevention through the eyes and soul, the transformative ethics of Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is concerned about ALL.
In John 10, Jesus announces, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ALL of us are sheep, Democrats, Republicans, Nothings. ALL of us, rich, poor, middle, are sheep. ALL, the brilliant, average, struggling are sheep. ALL, the professional athlete, weekend warrior, the couch potato are sheep. ALL, abled and disabled are sheep. ALL, the married, single, gay straight are sheep. ALL, blacks, white, brown, yellow (?) are sheep. ALL, corporations, small business owners, self-employed, employed and unemployed are sheep.
Jesus wills abundant life for ALL. Politically attuned Christians are bound to honor the ALL-NESS of humanity. Jesus unites political diversity for the sake of the common good. Playing to a base, feeding only those who are sitting around your ideological campfire, blinds our ability to insist on abundant life for ALL. Life is a gift for ALL. Abundant life happens only when we engage the big picture of humanity, and fight for life for ALL with ALL.
Rev. Dr. Ron Letnes