People of faith are the answer
Once upon a time, I didn't like Christians.
Well, let me rephrase that. I didn't like right-wing political Christianity (and I'm still not its biggest fan). I was wary of a faith that seemed to be all "J'accuse!" all the time, seemingly less rooted in love than in hostility.
And when someone identified themselves as a "Christian" -- this is who I thought they were. I waited for the lecture on abortion, the rant against how evil liberals -- like me! -- were destroying the moral fabric of our society.
Often, I got what I expected. This is Lancaster County, after all.
But around 2004 or so, I began getting emails from a guy saying: You're wrong about Christians.
His name was Pastor Dan, he was a United Church of Christ minister and more liberal than I. And that was his point: I was stereotyping Christians. They weren't all the same, and I had been listening to the loud voices, voices claiming to be emblematic -- we are the Christians, they said, and others who don't believe as we do aren't real Christians.
Well, said Pastor Dan, it wasn't true. And as we got to corresponding back and forth -- we became friends -- I realized he was right. There were people who were more about compassion than condemnation. There were Christians who didn't assume, or insist, that their faith gave them the right to rule. There were Christians who -- gasp -- voted for Democrats! They were as heartfelt in their faith as anyone else -- maybe even more secure in it. They hadn't been as loud or insistent.
It was a game-changer. I stopped arguing with the religious right as often -- for I came to see that theirs was just one voice, they occupied but one seat at the table; it wasn't their table, as they so often insisted.
All this, I think, coincided with the apex, and subsequent decline, of Christian conservatism as a political force. Empowered by the election of George W. Bush -- who was seen as a fellow traveler -- an authoritarian Christian conservatism really did seem to be on the march in this country. It's one reason I argued with its followers so frequently.
But the disintegration of the Bush presidency coincided with, or perhaps led directly to, a decline in the movement. Understand what I'm saying: It's not that there aren't any Christian conservatives left, it's not that they don't have any clout within the Republican Party -- they do. But the influence of Christian conservatism is waning.
Consider the sea change in attitudes on gay marriage. The rapidity with which public opinion has evolved on this issue is stunning. Ten years ago, no one would have dared predict this. Polls now show a clear majority of support here in Pennsylvania. Republican politicians are changing their minds. The cultural right has been utterly and completely overrun.
There are those who say this is indicative of the country's moral rot. I don't believe that at all, because all along, the most powerful argument for gay marriage has been the moral one -- they are citizens too, they are entitled to the rights the rest of us get. Let's encourage commitment and families, however they're comprised.
Yet the country does face rough roads ahead. And I think Christians, all people of faith, really, are an answer, if not the answer.
We may come to a point where the country's needs outstrip its ability to provide for those needs. As budget cuts bite, as austerity translates into misery, who will care for those in need?
I don't mean in some war-torn Third World country, though the need is great there. But I fully expect there to come a day when the need here, right here in our country, our town, will be greater than we've known.
Who will step up? From where will compassion come, in a society where compassion so often seems in short supply?
I know it will come from people of faith. I know we can count on them. And thank the heavens for it.
Gil Smart is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 291-8817.