Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd

Last week it was reported that leaders on the Christian right agreed that if either party fails to nominate a pro-life candidate, they would throw their support behind a third party. The biggest problem I have with this stance (and the Christian right movement in general) is that it draws a line in the sand relative to only two, very narrow, issues with the attitude of you're either with us or against us. In two interviews I saw with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, he painted these issues as, "non-negotiable" and, "black and white." These two issues? Abortion and gay-marriage of course.

The problem with taking a stand on a platform of two issues, is that it considerably narrows your base, rendering it ineffective. In a more plural government, where there are many parties such as the Green Party, Communist Party, Labour Party, etc, that is fine because they often form coalitions on issues outside of their platform. But the American government is a two party system, and with good reason. The public frequently complains about the extremes of each party and how Congress is unable to compromise in the middle. This is the point of a two party system. The framers of the Constitution didn't want extremists an opportunity to seize control over any branch of the government. They provided a system where there will always be a dissenting voice. When it comes to issues near and dear to a particular party, it requires compromise in order to receive favor from the opposition party. The complaint that nothing ever happens in Congress is actually a good thing. We don't want Congress doing a lot. If our Senators and Representatives can't reach a compromise on an issue, that is better than approving something on the fringes of either side. Now I admit that lately there seems to be an overwhelming unwillingness to compromise and meet in the middle with many issues, most visibly immigration reform. But the lack of compromise keeps the debate going.

By narrowing all you care about to two issues and giving an ultimatum to the major parties eliminates any possibility for each side to meet in the middle. And a majority of Americans are in the middle on most, if not all, issues. Many Christians, I would argue, oppose abortion but aren't necessarily in favor of Roe v Wade being overturned. Similarly, I would argue that most Christians oppose gay-marriage, but wouldn't support a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting it.

So a two-issue party isn't the answer. History shows that in the two-plus decades conservative Christian voters have been rallying around the pro-life banner, there has been little to show for it on a national scale. The issue has created the "litmus test" for judges and political candidates. It is the first question asked of any Republican running for president or really just about any other office. And it is what is keeping the "Christian Right" from supporting either Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney. And what has that gotten us? Not much. And the reason is that the issue isn't a political one. Even when a candidate is chosen based on who they would nominate to the Supreme Court, that judge still has to be approved by a divided Congress. So how much power does a President or a single Congressperson really have? The Constitution intended for not a lot.

On the issue of gay-marriage, that's even stickier. That's why some would favor a Constitutional Amendment. Because that's the only way an all-out prohibition would stick without being overturned by the courts. There needs to be a compelling public interest in limiting the legal right to marry. Such is the case for polygamy, pedophilia, and common-law marriage. And despite your personal views on the issue, such a case has not yet been made when it comes to gay-marriage.

So no matter a candidate's view on any single issue, he or she will always face political opposition, the separation of powers, and constitutionality. That's why I could care less about a candidate's view on those two issues. In the end, they really can't make that much difference.

I believe the battle for the "culture of life" is not a political one, but a spiritual one and is therefore not fought in Washington, but in the heart and soul of the common individual. And the way it is fought is by preaching and living the Gospel and, "watch[ing] your life and doctrine closely. Persever[ing] in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

As for a third party, I admit that part of me longs for a legitimate "Christian" party with a tent big enough to include both the social gospel and the culture of life. One that is beyond only two issues, but also addresses poverty, the importance of family, the culture of greed so evident in this country, sex permeating our culture and influencing our children, and on and on. Yet, there's a reason we still have, after over 200 years, only two parties. We need the debate. And we need to prevent radicals on all sides from gaining too much political power.

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