I had breakfast the other day with a good friend who also happens to be an Evangelical Christian pastor. I know that in this era of labels and stereotypes, that descriptor suggests a rigid literalist convinced of his own righteousness, selective in his reading of biblical injunctions and focused on issues like pornography and gay marriage. My friend is a wonderful human being who most emphatically does not fit that picture.
Not surprisingly, our conversation turned to the long lines of self-professed Christians who had just turned out for “Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day,” and we regretfully noted the absence of similar numbers offering to volunteer at area homeless shelters or food pantries. (Eating a chicken sandwich to demonstrate support for homophobia wasn’t my friend’s preferred form of Christian witness.)
As we were talking about the so-called “culture warriors,” and their evident lack of concern for the less fortunate, it occurred to me that callousness isn’t just a phenomenon of self-righteous “religious” figures. Political discourse around these issues has also changed rather dramatically during my lifetime.
Perhaps my memory is faulty, but when I first became politically active, policy disputes tended to focus on the merits of solutions to agreed-upon problems. Republicans and Democrats alike agreed, for example, that there is a social obligation to address the issue of poverty. The arguments centered on methods to ameliorate the problem–whether particular government programs were effective, whether they had unintended economic or social consequences or were similarly flawed. I don’t recall anyone saying “Who cares about poor people? They aren’t worthy of our efforts or attention. They’re poor because they’re lazy, or lack ‘middle class values’ or because they’re morally defective.”
Today, we do hear variants of that message.
It isn’t just that “actions speak louder than words,” although there is plenty of that. I hardly need to point out that legislators around the country are competing to see who can offer the most mean-spritited measures–efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and deny thousands of poor women access to breast cancer screenings, efforts to cut food stamps for poor children while protecting obscene subsidies for oil companies, refusal to create health insurance exchanges that would make insurance affordable for those who cannot get it now, and literally hundreds of other proposals that make clear their lack of concern for “the least of us.”
Verbal contempt for the poor has also become an accepted part of political rhetoric.
These days, when people like my friend express compassion and concern for marginalized or impoverished people, the response is frequently hostile and dismissive. The compassionate are mocked as “bleeding heart liberals,” too naive to recognize the lesser value of people who are a “drag on the economy.”
I don’t know when the conversation changed from “what should be done?” to “why bother with losers?” I don’t know when “good Christians” decided to ignore “I am my brothers’ keeper” in favor of “I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it.”
I don’t know when “religion” meant judging your neighbor rather than helping him, but the change might explain why fewer young people are identifying with organized religion these days.
5 thoughts on “When Did the Conversation Change?”
“Perhaps my memory is faulty, but when I first became politically active, policy disputes tended to focus on the merits of solutions to agreed-upon problems. Republicans and Democrats alike agreed, for example, that there is a social obligation to address the issue of poverty.”
If that were the mode of civil public policy discourse today, the discourse over “same sex marriage” would be far different. The question would be: “How best should same-sex couples be treated under our legal institutions and processes?” Then one would expect legislative committees to have hearings (actually inquiring as the everyday wants. lives and needs of same sex folks) and to receive evidence and testimony concerning, for example, the public policy wisdom of denying certain them rights and benefits available to their opposite sex counterparts.
Compromises might be hammered out, laws drafted and debated some more. Ultimately minds willing to give and take a bit would see some legislation passed. A civil union law, maybe just like or maybe a tiny bit different from marriage where, for example procreation really did have something rational to do with the point at issue.
Sounds very pleasant and productive……but instead in this state we simply get a clamoring for a constitional amendment forbidding lawmakers from really considering that question, instead declaring as God’s will that nothing substantial that opposite couples take for granted can be recognized when it comes to same-sex couples…..or for that matter unmarried couples generally.
Heck, just stick it in the Constitution and tell the General Assembly not to bother with the whole thing.
Guess that makes the public policy discussion on same sex marriage pretty cut and dried…….so that lawmakers can better concentrate on finding the state chicken sandwich.
Wasn’t it President Reagan that coined the phrase “welfare queen”? Seems to me, that is the mantra of the right wing now. All of those welfare queens sitting at home collecting that check and pushing out babies that will need food stamps to feed. You know, those lazy people that won’t work and become one of the current President’s food stamp recipients.
Bullying is alive and well at all levels of life. Asking to put someone out of business because they disagree with us is bulling plan and simple. Is it any wonder that bullying is rampant in our schools when adults do it so blantly every day. We all want to influence other people but bullying is not a way it should be done!
I think the first step, moving forward, is maybe to cut back on calling “hateful” or “mean-spirited” anything that we fear because we don’t understand.
Just because someone else has more than you that doesn’t give you the right to treat them as less of a person, and vice versa. The self-righteousness is deafening. In regard to Chick-fil-a, it very quickly stopped being about what pet causes their president supports. It’s about people who have the attention span of mayflies adopting it as their cause du jour.
You know the type, people who love to rail against oil companies but are completely willing to look the other way when they have Apple, Amazon, Monsanto, and a host of other extremely unsavory companies in their 401(k). They have no problem with a great quarterly return, but suddenly when there’s a loss they rush to blame somebody else for it. Blah.
For Pete’s sake, Chicago said they don’t have “Chicago values” on one hand, and on the other they have the Nation of Islam patrolling their streets. The insanity…
How is it that you see a peaceful protest of a company’s support for anti-gay causes as bullying? I would be among the first to defend Mr. Cathy’s right to be as bigoted as he wants. But because I believe he has a right to his opinion, does not mean that I have to forego the opportunity to express my opposing opinion, lest I be called a bully. He directs millions of dollars toward anti-gay groups who have made it their raison d’etre to ensure that gay people will not be treated equally in this and other countries. Some of that money has gone to fund a push in Uganda to make it a capital offense just being gay. Dan Cathy supports those causes, and he is free to do so. But not every act of opposition is an act of bullying. I don’t think any realistic people I’ve spoken with think that the gay community and its supporters will shut down CFA. But we don’t have to spend our money their, and we can certainly advocate that others who care about us not spend their money there. That’s not bullying. The solution to bad speech is more speech, not less.
On the other hand, I totally object to the majors of Boston and Chicago implying that this company is not welcome in their community. While they can probably say what reflects either their own or their supporters’ feelings on the subject, they cannot use the force of their office to prevent an otherwise legally run company from doing business in their cities. This is a free speech issue because it is a government entity attempting to silence a position it finds objectionable. In that event, I am completely on the side of Chik-fil-A, as much as I disagree with them substantively.
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