Neurotic, not psychotic.

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JUNE 3, 2011 6:14AM

Can I be a liberal and a Christian?

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     Being a Democrat in small-town Alabama is lonely business. I am pretty sure I am the only person county-wide with an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on my car. Working in law enforcement, a traditionally conservative lot,  I am literally surrounded by Republicans. I've never attended one of the local Democrat group meetings, but I expect the attendance is sparse. During the last local election, widespread anti-Democrat, anti-Obama sentiment resulted in many citizens voting a straight Republican ticket. "Liberal" is practically profanity in this area, and being branded as such makes you about as welcome as an ex-spouse at a wedding.

      Many of the people I know and love are conservative, and I think they still love me, despite my left-leaning views. I have always been "unique" (read: weird) and most people who know me know that I am bipolar, and I think some of them probably attribute my perceived errant thinking to mental illness. "Bless her heart, " they think. "God love her, she can't help it." Most are fairly tolerant, though some are probably secretly praying for my mortal soul, because in addition to being politically conservative, the majority here consider themselves Christian, and for them political liberalism is the antithesis of Christianity. A few have insinuated or just proclaimed outright that one cannot be a liberal and a Christian. I beg to differ.

     Not all Republicans are Christians, and not all Christians are Republican, but the "religious right" have achieved dominance in GOP politics, mainly due to moral issues they have transformed into political issues, specifically abortion and homosexuality. I don't want to generalize; as I said, many that I know and love are conservative, and good people though none of us are perfect.  But some on the far right seem like modern-day Pharisees to me, with their self-righteousness and hypocrisy and judgmental ways. They also tend to overlook the poor and feel lack of affordable healthcare is a personal problem.  Because I align myself with the left politically, people on both sides assume they understand my views. But I think my actual opinions would surprise both sides and possibly satisfy neither. In the eyes of many, I am in a grey area politically and spiritually.

     Here in Alabama, I vote Democrat, therefore I am liberal. But how would my views match up with liberals around the country? I feel certain that in some circles I would be considered not liberal enough. After all, I still believe the death penalty can be appropriate in some cases, though it is an ethical dilemma I have struggled with for years. I am deeply concerned about the number of inmates on death row who have been exonerated due to DNA evidence unavailable at the time of their trial and wonder how many innocent people have been put to death. Also, the methods used are questionable to say the least. The electric chair and gas chamber are barbaric, and from what I've read, lethal injection is not far from it, certainly not as gentle and painless as it appears. People often say, "What if it was your loved one that was murdered? Wouldn't you want justice?" Yes, I would. I would want them dead, and I would want to be the one to do it. But that is an emotional response, not a rational, logical one. The nagging question in my mind is, does the state have the right to take a human life? I'm not convinced. "An eye for an eye",  the Bible says. But Jesus preached mercy and forgiveness.

     Back to the hot button topics of abortion and homosexuality, these are issues that I believe are personal and moral and should remain private. When I am asked if I am pro-life or pro-choice, I say "Both". Very few people, if any, are literally pro-abortion, though some on the right consider pro-choice synonymous with promoting abortion. I do not personally believe in abortion. I can't imagine any circumstance under which I would have one, and I would never counsel anyone else to have one. I do believe that life begins at conception. I do not support late-term abortions.  But I support a woman's right to choose, because I believe no one else, certainly not any man, deserves the right to make that decision. No one else has to carry the child to term or deliver it, and until the baby is viable outside the womb, it is a part of the woman's body.  

      As a Christian, I believe that the decision to have or not have a baby is a private, moral issue between the woman and God. Making abortion illegal will not stop it; it will just make it more dangerous for women and babies. The best way to reduce the number of abortions being performed is to improve sex education in schools and promote adoption. Ironically, many pro-lifers oppose sex education in schools, as if keeping young people ignorant will keep them from being sexually active. Almost nothing will prevent most young people from being sexually active. Moral education should be tempered with reality. Abstinence outside of marriage is admirable, but a high ideal to live up to when you're young and your hormones are raging.  I vote we teach kids "self-control or birth-control".  Also interesting to note is the tendency of conservatives to support the death penalty and war. Terminating a fetus that cannot survive outside the womb is seen as a grave sin that should be a crime, but killing people who may or may not be guilty of crime and people who are innocent citizens of a government we disagree with is considered acceptable.

     As for the issue of homosexuality, my views are even more complicated. I don't consider myself a gay rights advocate, but I don't consider myself and opponent of them, either. As a Christian, I am well aware what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. It is expressly condemned as sin. But so are many other things that are more socially acceptable. Lying is a sin. Anyone who claims to never lie is automatically suspect to me. Jesus said "do not worry". Who among us never worries about anything? "Do not judge", He said.  That one seems to be overlooked quite a bit in our society.  Again, I think a person's sexual orientation is a personal issue, not a political one. Christians have every right to believe in the Bible as God's Word and acknowledge sin in their own lives and in others'. But they do not have the right to judge, persecute or discriminate against those they perceive as "sinners".  I know people that call themselves Christians that absolutely despise gay people. There is nothing Christian about hate. Jesus preached LOVE, always, to love your neighbor as yourself, and that includes gays and lesbians. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners, and deserve condemnation, but we are granted reconcilliation with God through Jesus Christ.

      Are gay people harming you in any way? No? Then let them be. God will judge us all one day, and I for one have plenty to answer for in my own life without minding other people's business, poking my nose into their bedrooms.  The question at the heart of the issue is whether or not people choose to be gay. To that I say, who would willingly choose a life of persecution and intolerance? No one I know.  Most of us can look back and remember kids we knew in school who were "different" long before puberty, long before they knew what sex was, and then later came out as gay. Clearly, for them it was not a conscious choice. There may be some people who choose to become intimate with a same sex partner, but I believe this is the exception to the rule. For those who think homosexuality is a choice, I pose this question: When did you decide to be straight? You didn't. You just were what you were and you are what you are today.  But then, why would God create a person to be gay and then call it a sin? I don't have an answer for that. I don't have an answer for many things concerning God, and probably never will in this lifetime. I'm not calling for Christians to reject the teachings of the Bible. I am calling for tolerance. I am calling for all to focus on their own lives and stop trying to bind their moral beliefs on others. As for the question of gay marriage, I say, by all means,  why not allow them to suffer the same as heterosexuals? (Visualize me smirking here.)

     So the question remains: can I be a Christian and a liberal? I suppose it depends on your definition of each, and those are highly debatable. If I'm a good Christian, do I forfeit my right to be left of center on the political continuum? If I am a true liberal, am I a bad Christian? What would Jesus do?  Would he be a Democrat, or a Republican? I would like to point out that Jesus helped the poor, befriended outcasts and "sinners" and healed the sick for free.  But somehow, I suspect my Lord would likely rise above the fray and be an Independent.  

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The Founder of your faith spoke in more radical economic terms than any American radical ever has. Matt. 5 is just a start.

Extremely well said and I agreed with I think EVERY word! And I'm not even Democrat...LOL I love ya and I love your writing!! We have the same views Ms. Heather! For the most part! Keep it coming!!
The bottom line of the stance of christian conservatives, against abortion and for death penalty, is they want more children to grow up christian and get rid of any who are not.

I think "self-control or birth-control" is a great motto for a pro-life pro-choice stance. I feel the same.

I live in Georgia now so I know what you mean about being surrounded by the indoctrinated ones. We bring balance to the Force.

I like being Liberal. I always explain that Liberal and Liberty come from the word Liber meaning book, which defines a focus on established writing also called scripture as a guide for gaining a broader view of the world than my own senses can contrive through reading and contemplation.
YES!!! Love one another, care for those less fortunate, do not judge others..just follow the guidelines we have been given. I am 61, I do not go to church, but I am a Christian. And as you see, my screen name speaks to my political beliefs. I have been voting since 1968 and I have NEVER voted for a Republican for President....local elections are another thing...there are often no Democrats running. Stay true to yourself...but be careful of those bumper stickers, others are not as tolerant of those who disagree.
As Jonathan says, Jesus was very radical and said things that would make most conservatives and a lot of liberals disappear in a puff of smoke.

My response to conservatives (and thank god people in my part of the world are mostly casual Christians if that) about homosexuality is "Judge not lest ye be judged". About social programs, Jesus talked about feeding the poor and giving up all your riches. Show me a passage about *prosperity christianity*. And there's that render-unto-Caesar thing.

I simply do not understand these religious right people who claim to read the bible (the gospels are what count, not the Old Testament, and not Paul - what JESUS said) and spout the kind of mean stuff they do.

....of course, I'm not a Christian and don't give a damn what the bible says... Just on the grounds of innate compassion, recognition of one's own potential or real needs, and being able to look oneself in the mirror: This in my, haha, book produces "liberal" views.

And, as Surazeus points out, liberal and liberty come from the same thinking. Conservatives love to blather about liberty when they mean coercion. 1984, where art thou...
I think that to be a Christian is to be liberal by definition. Christ's words and actions were those of a progressive, a radical.

It's too bad I don't hear people asking, "Can I be a conservative and a Christian?", because that's something that needs a lot of examination. And I think the answer to that question is a resounding "no".

There's a quote from a character in a Woody Allen movie: "If Jesus could come back and see what is being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up."

And I write this as someone who lives in the so-called buckle of the bible belt. Good luck to you.
Heather, What a wonderful exploration of attitudes we face in life. It expresses so much of what I felt about growing up and living in Alabama. It also expresses why I no longer consider myself a Christian... nor a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim... I believe in Christ-consciousness but I am not a Christian and I applaud you for your stance and your willingness to share and discuss it as well as standing your ground and staying planted in the South! :) I think too often we are to quick to judge another and it drives me nuts (not that I haven't and don't make those mistakes myself) if we would all focus on how we could better improve ourselves we sure would need to waste less time judging others and it seems to me sometimes its remembering that no matter our beliefs that get in the way. It is a hypocrisy that pushed me away from the Christian church as I knew I would never be good enough for such a judgmental and damning God. Thanks for your sharing.
Like the views here and the read.

I am a Christian..and identify with a more liberal agenda and yes..the democrats. I don't see them as being mutually exclusive.

I feel bad that one of your commenters is "sick of Christians." I know many can be over the top. I am hoping she meant "some" Christians....but if not...well....add me to that list I guess.
I think you've articulated one of the great spiritual crises of our time: How to embrace your faith, accept the teachings and the example of Christ, while rejecting so much of what fundamentalist Christians espouse? For me, it's helpful to distinguish between the political voice of the religious right, and the individuals who are actively living their faith. And the easiest way to make that distinction is in one's capacity for empathy and compassion. The political, religious right has not just discounted empathy, but actively satirizes it as some pansy-ass, bleeding-heart reaction to people who need to suck it up, stop whining, get a job, and stop having so many babies. (But for God's sake, don't abort any!) So much of this Calvinism is promulgated by talk radio, by the Limbaughs and the Hannitys and Anne Coulter--none of whom seem even vaguely Chrisitian, and yet nearly all of my Christian relatives parrot their sound bites and cling to their hereses. Go figure.
Better question...How can you be a Christian and a modern conservative at the same time? Right Wingers have blinded the masses in the South by concentrating their rhetoric on "hot button" issues like abortion and latent, maybe unconcious racism. Meanwhile they are doing things to the country and it's citizens that have a basis more with Ayn Rand and Materialism than Jesus and his teachings. It is classic slieght of hand and gets votes that are against the best interest of the voter. Recent actions on Medicare have opened a crack, remind these social conservatives that their blindness and predjudice(say it nicely) is going to cost them dearly unless they wake from the magicians distractions and look behind the curtain. They are being used.
My husband and I are Mormon, definitely Christian, and he is definitely a Democrat. If I was American I would vote Democrat also if I was able to vote. Interestinly enough, the majority of Canadians would also vote Democrat, Christian or otherwise.
I hopped onto the site to post something to my own blog page and was drawn to click on your posting. Just this morning I was watching Rick Santorum declare his candidacy for the 2012 presidential race. I'm from Pennsylvania and definitely not a Santorum fan. His statements about gays and abortion are not just controversial, they're ignorant and scary. I think he epitomized the liberal backlash on Christians, which is unfortunate since the majority of liberals are also Christians.

At the end of the interview, Santorum was asked what he thought about Sarah Palin's recent botching of Paul Revere's historic ride. He laughed and said he had been too busy with other things to even watch her.

I don't believe him. I think he did see it, but didn't want to comment. So, as he's announcing his candidacy, he also just lied to the American people. I think we want to hear the truth from our politicians. I also think we it doesn't happen. Both parties are guilty of being dishonest and manipulative.

I, too, live in a "red" region in my state. I've been branded a liberal, as though it's a crime or a contagious disease. I just ignore it, because until we have people with integrity running for office and serving The People, I'm pretty much anti-politics and not willing to claim to be "blue" or any other color, for that matter.
The answer to your question is No.
Take a look at the reviews on Amazon of Donald Kraybill's book The Upside-Down Kingdom. It's a seemingly quiet book, which is fitting, until one reads it...and then it changes lives and perceptions. it's not just a progressive's view of radical Xtianity, it challenges to personalize one's faith to match the command of what it means to follow. From one review there: "... Kraybill goes beyond just calling us to help people however; he shows us that concern for the poor, the oppressed and the alien is essential to true spirituality and the gospel..."

Found here:

And why surmise that Christ would be an political independent? His political views are glimpsed at in Matt 22, He's a monarchist--thus "the Kingdom." It's not a democracy, it's a theocracy.

People often speak on behalf of Christ, without realizing or caring He wouldn't endorse the words or thoughts of those who interpret. It's certainly one of the reasons for the Constitution's Establishment Clause. That's evolved into my own thinking that you can believe what you want, just leave others' beliefs alone which is a rebellion against the Great Commission, but aligns with other parts of a non militant faith.
Right wing Republicans have co-opted the meaning of "Christian." Christian means follower of Christ, and you sound like you are actually FOLLOWING his teachings. Jesus stressed helping the poor more than anything, and it's obvious where right wing Christians stand on that issue. Also Jesus wants us to love our neighbor and not select who our neighbor might me, while eliminating others from the neighborhood. Abortion is never mentioned in the Bible. There are different ways of interpreting the Bible, but the one message that comes through loud and clear is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. This means a kind of generosity and charity not evident in zealous people, whatever their religious group. You sound like an independent thinker, and I hope you get a chance to move someplace more compatible with your open mind. Sometimes, where we live can be a blessing or a bummer.
"The best way to reduce the number of abortions being performed is to improve sex education in schools and promote adoption."

When I was growing up, in the area in which I lived teenage pregnancy was almost unheard of. I only recall one teenage girl who got pregnant, and that was in a high school population of two thousand students.

We had sex education, but it was very minimal and basic. The reason for the small number of teenage pregnancies was because there was a strong social stigma against sex before marriage and teenage pregnancy, and for a girl to become pregnant, or for a boy to get a girl pregnant was consider shameful.

Cut to today. That social stigma has virtually disappeared. Most liberals, and even liberal Christians, consider such a stigma to be judgmental and cruel. But it was the very thing that shaped teenage behavior and kept teenage pregnancies at a very low rate.

Instead of the social stigma against sex outside of marriage, we have the liberal ideology of radical individualism. Whatever the individual wants, he or she must have, and it is considered to be very rude to criticize people for what used to be seen as bad decisions. Today, a woman can go to the abortion doctor more often than to the dentist, but one must not be critical of her in any way.

Today sex education is the norm, and we practically throw condoms at kids. But without the social stigma it is all for naught, and having almost a million abortions a year is the new norm.

In that regard the liberal ideology of radical individualism has been extremely destructive, leading to millions of abortions on the one hand and condemning millions of young mothers and their children to lives of poverty on the other hand. But for many liberals the problem is conservative Christianity and its "silly" and "antiquated" view of sexual morality. Go figure.
Bourgeois liberals are to blame for taking the likes of "mishima 666" seriously.
I read this several days ago and meant to comment....The short comment would be yes -- the longer view is absolutely, I don't understand how people can be so right wing and Christian, though I suspect Christ would have been very apolitical. We all want God on our side. I also suspect that, like me living in the south, you are mostly liberal when compared to the radical right wing. It's pretty easy to be on the left when the right is sooooo far to the right. I pretty well see myself as a centrist but in Texas I'm a commie pinko SOB -- keep up the fight and don't let the evangelicals make you think you are not Christian enough, they don't get to decide that.
get ahold of some really liberal theologians
like hans kung or paul tillich...
these men are serious players,
spotless, and humane.

Many of the people I know and love are conservative, and I think they still love me, despite my left-leaning views."

No they don't.

"Back to the hot button topics of abortion and homosexuality, these are issues that I believe are personal and moral and should remain private."

Then you have no understanding of the gay rights movement which is about NOT being "private" (ie. in the closet)

"Making abortion illegal will not stop it; it will just make it more dangerous for women and babies. The best way to reduce the number of abortions being performed is to improve sex education in schools and promote adoption. Ironically, many pro-lifers oppose sex education in schools, as if keeping young people ignorant will keep them from being sexually active."

And they sure as heel don't want gay or lesbain couples to adopt. So at heart they ARE in favor of abortion.

"As for the issue of homosexuality, my views are even more complicated. I don't consider myself a gay rights advocate, but I don't consider myself and opponent of them, either. As a Christian, I am well aware what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. It is expressly condemned as sin."

You ean the part where David and Jonathan "had alove that surpatheth the love of women"? And what about "the disciple that Jesus loved"?

Clearly Jesus was a "Bottom."

He was also a flesh-eating zombie -- but that's a discussion for another thread.
You're hot. That's why all these guys are commenting. They don't give a wiener about the topic. Welcome to Open Salon.
You sound like most republicans that I know. Like where you are from, my state is definitely RED. Very very few democrats in Idaho, and even fewer Liberals. A common misconception is that all Democrats are Liberal, that is not true. Just seems that way because Liberals have hijacked and dominate the party.
Anyways, I digress.... are you sure you aren't Republican?
Mishima 666
"When I was growing up, in the area in which I lived teenage pregnancy was almost unheard of."
Out of sight, out of mind, eh? The fact is that the teen pregnancy rate in the 1950s was double what we have now. It was just that sudden marriage was the expected outcome, problem solved(other than the 50% divorce rate these situations engender). Even Pat Robertson's first child was born 6 months after he got married. What you are trying to say is similar to the claims that we didn't have any racial problems in the good ol' days. It is a false picture of the reality, if these problems get swept under the carpet, they didn't happen. Don't fool yourself, teens throughout history have had sex, it is no different today. Rather than a sudden shotgun wedding, however, we are just more open and honest about the consequences. We are also more open about information we make available to these teens. It has reduced the incidence of pregnancy, sexual diseases and back alley abortions leading to sepsis and death. Christians fought(and continue to fight)these effective measures, mainly(IMHO)because they think their morality will somehow overcome human biology. It won't, it never has and it never will.
Well said. Amazing how a post like this tends to bring out the Christian haters. Though they make think they do, Republicans have never had a monopoly on the Christian faith (evidenly, Republicans no longer have a monopoly on hate, either).
Hate isn't an abstract quality.
Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Jesus never heard of Christianity and, if he had, he would have considered it an abomination, not in the least for declaring him equivalent with God. If he were to come back, the first thing he would do would be to seek out a synagogue, only to discover that what they were practicing there had very little relationship to the religion of his youth.

More to the point, one of the characteristics of a bipolar disorder is the ability to hold simultaneous and diametrically opposed beliefs with equal sincerity. That seems to be what you're doing when you maintain that you can be a Christian and a liberal at the same time. I believe that most conservatives would c0nclude that you're not a Christian, and most Christians would concur. On the other hand, I'm afraid that most liberals would have a hard time accepting you as a liberal.

Liberal Christianity is oxymoronic because all religions are essentially conservative by nature, since they survive by insisting on an absolute belief in whatever doctrine they pre-suppose.

It is interesting to note that there is substantial evidence to believe that Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad were all bipolar. Evidence available upon request. By the same token, there is also evidence that Paul, Martin Luther, and Joseph Smith were also so afflicted.

Religious obsessions are quite common among bipolar people but, with the development of the wide array of drugs that are being used to treat various strains of bipolarism, there's little discussion these days about those religious obsessions.
Yes! Separation of state and church...Two different things.
Keep the faith, baby! I grew up in Kansas and the last conservative I voted for was Nixon.
I am stunned and honored to have my blog post chosen as an Editor's Pick, and I am fascinated by the variety of comments, especially Alan Milner's. I'm not sure what qualifies you as such an expert on bipolar disorder, sir, especially diagnosing long-dead historical figures, but thank you for sharing. Ehrenstein, your comments are the most thought-provoking, but not convincing. I may need a cookie to go with the Kool-Aid you're handing out. Thanks for the support from...some of you.
Interesting post. I've had a few issues with the flip-side of your title; how can I be an atheist and a Republican?

The truth is I'm not much of a Republican - that's how. Aside from a tendency toward fiscal conservatism, I depart from most of the social agenda Republicans espouse - mostly because I think it's all none of my business. I just don't care who you marry. And if you don't want to have kids, I don't feel I have the right to compel you (or anyone else) to.

I wish we could have more thoughtful discussions like this, and less screaming and name-calling.

I read your post early this morning and I wanted to ponder through my thoughts before responding. I, too, am a Christian. I consider myself a "just to the right of center" Republican. With that being said, I do hold liberal views on certain things. I do not support abortion, nor do I judge someone for making the choice. My heart is more saddened when a woman feels this is her only choice. There are horrible circumstances out there and I can only speak from my own experience. I was 18 yrs old, a Freshmen in college, unmarried and pregnant. Not popular growing up in a small Missouri town in the middle of the Bible belt. I had shattered all of the dreams my mother had for me. I would be lying if I didn't admit I thought about abortion. I decided to not only have the baby but to keep and raise him. It is a decision I do not regret. He is 23 yrs old and truly the soul who saved my life; I can't thank God enough for giving him to me. As for my mother's broken dreams; my son created new ones for her. She went to her grave loving him more than any other being on this planet.
I believe education and personal responsibility are solutions to many problems and do not believe the issue of abortion should be excluded. I agree, adoption should be promoted more. I find it ironic, disturbing and one of those "can't wrap my brain around it" things when abortion is allowed yet when an expected mother carrying a baby is killed in a car accident at the hand of wreckless driving or DUI, it is considered manslaughter x 2. In this instance, the baby...well...IS a baby. I have to ask, is it a baby only when it is convenient or wanted? Personal responsibility and personal respect and self esteem can prevent many (not all, I realize rape is not a choice) unwanted pregancies and abortions.
In the area of homosexuality, I understand completely what you are saying. I do not judge. I can't explain it nor condemn it, using God's Word, as some Christians do. I do not believe God intended us to spew hate and use It as an excuse for bad behavior. I do not believe it is a choice in every individual and it is not my place to point the finger and decide who was born this way and who wasn't. I have been blessed to meet incredible people from all walks of life, many who do not hold the same beliefs I do yet I consider them to be friends.
To answer your question, yes I do believe it is possible to be a Christian and a Democrat. I view Christianity, as not a religion, but as a relationship. There are Christians who have forgotten this, unfortunately.