Santorum is not the best Christianity has to offer

By Contributor Sam Fletcher

Sam Fletcher

Last week, I attended Rick Santorum’s rally in Spokane Valley as one of a few protestors, a mixed group of Occupy Spokane and local clergy standing up for liberal, pro-humanity values. This article is partially a critique of Santorum, but I’d like to use his values as a springboard to talk about what values would be better than Santorum’s, and the conservative right in general.

At the rally, Santorum offered a philosophical dead end that decried science, education, climate change and values that affirm freedom and enfranchisement of all Americans regardless of gender, creed or income status. In other venues he has called for an end to the separation of church and state, an end to contraception and a hostile stance against the Middle East. He has even spoken against couples enjoying sex for more than procreation.

Santorum, deeply committed to his own faith, may be one of the most extreme in his views, but he is certainly not alone. As a liberal Christian, I think Christian values can contribute greatly to informing and shaping a better society for everyone, without succumbing to the compulsion to dominate and dictate. I believe it is an opportunity and a calling to a new generation of Christian leaders.

Rick Santorum speaks at New Life Church/Tracy Simmons

The tide is already turning, of course, and the conservative “establishment” is painfully aware of it. I believe the vicious return of culture warriors is partially due to the fact that the establishment was not successful in passing its values to the youngest generations, and is fighting a last-resort war, which will be followed by their long, slow decline. Younger generations of America need a plan in place as the cultural shift nears completion.

I invite you to consider my proposals for some of the values that characterize good society.

We will be social. Not as in socialism, but as in social life. In contrast to the “each man is his castle” ideals of libertarians and the GOP presidential candidates, we need to relearn that the only sources of happiness are others. Science shows the only true, lasting happiness comes from a state of connectedness and community with others — not money or material goods. Infrastructural changes such as demolishing sparsely populated areas of urban and (increasingly) suburban blight and rebuilding them into denser areas with integrated areas of local business and local food production would help people not only psychologically and economically, but environmentally as well.

The challenges to overcome are the fear of each other that has been instilled into us for the last half a century; and the fear of “dangerous” ideas. In America, we have given up dense, urban housing and communities for spread-out, walled off enclaves. We have given up dialectal discourse for intellectual echo chambers. Let’s get back to a healthy village life, even if only because it makes us happier and more tolerant.

Our foreign policy will be development, not war. Like many others on the right, Santorum has called for war on Iran, and promoted the idea we are, as a nation, more in danger of foreign threats than ever before. This is simply an egregious factual error. We are actually in a more peaceful time than ever before. Our foreign policy needs to change — and fast — to accommodate this new reality. We simply do not need large, expensive power projection anymore. Let’s spend the money developing resources that advance trade, education and infrastructure such as sewers, banking and clean food and water. This will make us safer. In the words of Jesus, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Let’s spend that $700 billion military budget on something more life-affirming and productive.

We will value education as a currency, and a healthy habitat as wealth. Santorum, Sarah Palin and others on the extreme right have publicly decried education as some sort of corrupting influence on our populace. Quite to the contrary, education is the one thing of value that can never be taken from someone who has it. Education not only affords a better living to individuals, it drives a sustainable, innovative and agile economy. Education also helps to inoculate people against charlatans and demagogues (perhaps why Santorum is so outspoken against it). Think of what life would be like if the uneducated were considered “poor” and the educated considered “wealthy”? With nothing but knowledge to impart, how easy would it be to advance one’s own “wealth portfolio”?

Education is not the only “alternative wealth” we have. Clean air and water, green places and a healthy climate are also valuable to us, and we are rapidly losing them. Christians should reclaim the value of caring for creation, not exploiting it.

We will uphold healthy sexual norms. Folks, it’s time for this. The recent debate over whether contraception should be available to all women, and the resultant “slut shaming” (or, shaming of all women) by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, has highlighted a long-standing injustice. Christians have sadly promulgated much of it. In the good society, sex is a part of life, to be enjoyed and celebrated in healthy, loving relationships. This isn’t to imply the necessity of sex only in marriage, heterosexuality, and sex for the sole purpose of procreation. Those values demonstrate their impracticality by the simple fact that so few practice them. Sex is a biological need, as much as hunger, thirst, shelter and activity. It’s not really an optional thing, and in striving to encourage overall health in our citizens, we need to allow consenting adults to live out their sexual lives in dignity and respect. This includes allowing homosexuals to enjoy the same marriage rights as straight couples.

All human behavior can be subject to pathologies and sex is no exception. But it is time to treat the pathologies and problems with science, compassion, experi and understanding instead of shame and taboo.

We will remember that Earth does not exist for the shareholders. Perhaps this is the most important item on this list. God did not create the world so that the rich may profiteer from its abundance (in fact, Jesus said the rich will have a hard time in the kingdom of heaven.) We are alive on this planet so that we may be happy. Not happy from material things — happy because of experiences, sharing and connections to others. If we look at things this way, money and material goods serve their purpose but are not the overwhelming goal of all existence.

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17 responses to “Santorum is not the best Christianity has to offer

  1. Kris Christensen

    Sam, you lifted my spirits this morning. Thank you! My favorite part–the observation that the culture wars are intensifying because the older generation fears its demise and the demise of its world view. I think that’s right on. Fear of death is one of the most significant human motivators. The political events of late are driven by fear, not righteousness.

  2. A facebook friend brought to my attention the Charter for Compassion, which I had not heard of, but it definitely informs a lot of what I believe.

    http://charterforcompassion.org/site/

    The TED talk on this page about the Charter is also worth the twenty minutes of your time: http://charterforcompassion.org/learn/history/

  3. Thank you for the link to Charter for Compassion – if you really understood her teachings BEFORE you wrote your article – would you have changed anything? You are going in the opposite direction Ms Armstrong is teaching. She is teaching from Love and you from judgement. Rush was absolutely out of line with his hate speech, yet did you CARE when Bill Maher called Sarah Palin and several other conservative women cunts? It is time we demanded that ALL media stop the hate speech towards women. I am really trying to understand the liberal side. But your article only makes me feel sad for you, and after listening to Ms. Armstrong, I see a much better solution. I would really love to start a charter group in Spokane. It is time we stop proving the other party wrong, and work together in making our world a better place. Work on solutions and stop the blame game. Too many good people are leaving your church Sam – this article does not help. You can do better. God Bless.

    • Diana,

      Thanks for your response. I do care very much about the incident you mentioned. I am no fan of Bill Maher. I do not watch his show, but I found his movie Religulous to be awful and incredibly dishonest. I think it’s wrong to demean people, and especially women, and you’re absolutely right to call out liberals for engaging in this kind of behavior. Whoever it may come from, it is wrong!

      You are right that I am exercising judgement against the politics of Rick Santorum. I do, however, think that this is fair to do. He has put forth bold statements which are shaping the discussion on many very important issues; the environment, the place of religion in public discourse, LGBT rights, education, and so on. He has chosen to be a public figure and it is good for us to engage the ideas of all public figures. I would hope that we can all, myself included, refrain from demeaning the person and simply challenge the ideas and statements.

      (I think I could have mentioned in the article that I don’t think this blame should be drawn in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats. Democrats, I think, have just as much blame to take if blame were to be given for where our society has (in my opinion) gone off the path. And I admire some on the right such as Ron Paul for his outspoken views on pacifism and ending the war on drugs.)

      I don’t want to engage in blaming one “side” or the other. I don’t think there is yet a “side” that reflects my views, although it may be coalescing. I hope to put forth a few ideas that could be developed into action items, which I believe will help heal the world from decades of exploitation and extremism from many, many different groups.

      Sadly, all churches in the U.S. are shrinking, although I think the need for spiritual fulfillment and fellowship is not. Research is showing that young people are leaving the church because of the culture war (there’s a good summary of what’s going on here: http://bit.ly/xEcSIN and here: http://bit.ly/zV0Nx1) and mainline churches are, research shows, suffering from “guilt by association”. These aren’t my speculations, this is from numerous studies about why the young are leaving.

      Thank you for allowing me such a long and wordy response. I think you and I have more in common than you think, especially in our concern for those in need, and I would be sad if we boxed each other into pre-made stereotypes of “liberal” and “conservative”. I think both of those terms are undergoing a massive shift in meaning, and it will be interesting to see what the political and social landscape looks like in just ten more years.

  4. Hi Diane, you may be interested in this group here in Spokane: http://friendsofcompassion.com/

  5. “We will be social.
    Our foreign policy will be development, not war.
    We will value education as a currency, and a healthy habitat as wealth.
    We will uphold healthy sexual norms.”

    Hanging out more, building better stuff and getting more degrees, planet passion and having more sex. To me, this seems less of a faith formed vision of the future and more of a secular vision.

    I am not opposed to community, peace, wisdom and fidelity…but for these fruits to grow in a healthy way, I believe they should emerge from the sacred not the secular.

    After spending time today in my East Central neighborhood praying where a young girl and an young man were shot Sunday, the stuff you focus upon are actually the roots of many of the problems in my community.

    Gang life offers a social reality.
    All the community development being poured into this area hasn’t turned the tide…just read the needle stats in today’s paper.
    Education…well, come down and volunteer at our local Elementary school, evaluate the achiememt scores and you will see a mountain that is daunting to say the least.
    Sex. Well, the unrestrained, such progressive atitudes are popluating these streets with plenty of single girls with baby bumps and welfare checks. You can enjoy a sandwich at our local shops and watch the prostitutes living the free life.

    Secularism and science a part from a biblically vigorous and holy faith leave communities morally bankrupt and directionless. I pray to God that the emerging generations I work with and live among, will turn from the progressive panaceas you focus on turn to God and work to return communities to the roots of righteousness that will truly bless our city, homes and individual lives.

    • Eric,

      Thanks for your response. Your work in East Central is admirable and important and you highlight those who are falling through the cracks of our system. I appreciate it.

      I’d like to try to address your points para by para…

      I’m not talking about libertine lifestyles or any old substitute for real, civilized life. It’s very apparent to any observer that those aren’t effective solutions. We don’t want anarchic tribes, prostitution, or more teen pregnancies and STDs.

      But people do seek out these activities because they are searching for human fulfillment — in absolute worst places. We need to educate people on how to not get pregnant and STDs — and more than that, how to have loving relationships, not carnal exploitation. This will take a lot of time and intense effort to accomplish, but, I think it is worth the effort.

      Education and infrastructure development have taken a beating in the last decade, and it will take dozens upon dozens of years to repair the damage done to the least of those in our society. It’s far, far too soon to say that education efforts have failed, when we really haven’t started yet at a state level (I don’t wish to minimize the efforts of teachers, who make the absolute most of what they have to work with). But it doesn’t mean the effort and cost it would involve aren’t worthwhile. You have to start somewhere.

      I disagree with you that, from the social standpoint, striving for healthy communities is the root cause of the effects of poverty which are manifesting themselves in our communities. I do have experience working with poor communities, and I think the basics of community building can go a long way to benefiting lives.

      That said, I would dream that one day the enfranchised people of America can take more responsibility for lifting their neighbors out of crushing poverty, and create systems where virtuous cycles can occur — access to education, to fair employment, access to credit, and each generation giving their children a better life than they had. I do think this can happen, if we focus our efforts and truly accept the values behind them.

      • Fair and gracious.
        So a quesiton: An Athiest probably could share your positions and paths stated here, so I am curious what you bring to the problems you focus on as a progressive, that’s different than what a secularist would bring?

  6. Eric, same to you. 🙂

    I do appreciate that an atheist could share my positions, and that is intentional. I don’t see a reason for Christianity to disengage from the other faiths, and non-faiths, in the world. If an atheist would accept the positions I’ve outlined, I like to think it is because they are practical and make sense for the betterment of human life.

    I think what I bring could really be distilled down to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Like many others, my faith has been a journey, and I am in a place where my faith is simple and focuses on Christianity as the ultimate fulfillment of what a human life can be — fully human, and in relationship with God. I’m not strong on asceticism for myself or others.

    I would like to say, Eric, that you are the better man for spending so much time “boots on the ground” while I am sitting in comfort and writing words. I do think we ALL have more to learn from your example than anything I could write. It’s people like you who will get the real work done of making our society a better place. 🙂

    • Oh great kill me with kindness…now I can’t say anything more. 😉

      I share your personal manifesto too but with a few addendums. Our work and witness in this neighborhood is based on the grace of God. I’m a piece of sh’t and all I’ve got to point to, cling to and hope in is Christ. Second is love and third is scripture. I think all three are needed for deep transformation.

      Keep stiring things up…us fundies need a reason to iron our whitey tighties.

  7. PS: Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Bible, so take from that what you will.

  8. Great example of a respectful, fruitful dialogue! This is exactly the kind of conversation SpokaneFAVS wants to ignite!

  9. I am writing to thank Sam for authoring this essay for two reasons. First, and most important for me, he introduces five values on which to build a “good society.” Second, he challenges Mr. Santorum’s statement that there are no liberal Christians.

    Prior knowledge and experience exert a powerful influence on what information we take in, how we interpret it, and then respond. I am the friend who shared with Sam, Karen Armstrong’s work. As I read Sam’s piece I saw multiple connections between his ideas and those offered in the Charter. I think each of the values Sam identifies is important because they are not part of our dominant culture. The major weakness of his essay is that it is too short! It offered a nice appetizer; now I want the main course. I think he should be allowed to engage in and offer further examination of the evidence and argument justifying each value and with some references to their implication for Spokane. I think this would be very useful. There are many decisions, projects, and opportunities for applying such values and frankly Spokane could be a better place to live if they were put more into practice. I’m not meaning to suggest that these values aren’t here, as they are, they just need more voices of support and encouragement behind them.

    Mr. Santorum is a public figure seeking office and his views, if elected, will have a major influence on this country and the world. Mr. Santorum’s statements of opinion and policy therefore need careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation. While the weaknesses in his political platform are concerning to me, what I find more alarming is how he is engaged in defining what it means to be a Christian. He behaves as if he is more interested in preaching a theology than leading a government. I hope Mr. Santorum has a lasting impact on neither. I am thankful for Sam’s essay as it rebuts fundamental Christianity as the only Christianity. Indeed, fundamental Christianity as preached by evangelicals and conservative Catholics is a rather new creature to our social and religious landscape. I make such claim using one of Karen Armstrong’s most cited works “The Battle for God.”

  10. “He behaves as if he is more interested in preaching a theology than leading a government.” – The election process has become SO bizarre! If we can all agree on one thing, this should be it. We all need to wake up and realize how media is manipulating this election. For one thing, “who” keeps putting any candidate in the position of answering these questions, and how many answers are taken out of context? Sam, you went with the single intention of “protesting” and finding fault. What would have gone differently if you went with the intention to find some similarity with him? It is a difference of attitude. The idea of compassion, would be a level playing field, just as we are playing on now. We do not have to defend ourselves or prove we are right, by name calling or insulting each other. We are mature Christians looking for truth in a complicated world. Searching. Compassion is understanding the other fellow, even if we believe he is wrong. Concerning LGBT, this is a situation that is going to take a LOT of compassion. I have lots of friends that are in enduring relationships that should be recognized. I love the video of the rep. (I think from Walla Walla?) who stood up for the marriage act due to her daughter recently coming out. But if her daughter was not Gay, how would she have voted? I understand how this complex issue scares people. This is compassion, to understand each other. This is how we change. It is sometimes a slow and painful process. First we need to “acknowledge” peoples feelings and fears. With compassion. If you want to lead in support for issues such as LGBT, (for example) then start the process in a positive way. Attacking a candidate because he/she may not agree is just going to keep things stirred up. Show examples of why approving the marriage act is a good thing. I do Rev. Mortg. for Seniors. Many people tell me that is such a bad loan. I tell them stories of the people I have helped improve their lives and examples of why this loan is a good thing. With Love and Compassion, we can make a difference. Peace.

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