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Beyond Abortion and Gay Marriage

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Whenever I’m interviewed on Christian or conservative talk radio, the topic nearly always turns to — or starts out with — abortion. Never mind that the book that prompted my appearance is about independent politics; radio hosts and even book reviewers zero in on the one chapter on abortion and gay marriage. The irony is that I wrote that chapter to show how religious leaders and conservative politicians focus on those two issues to the detriment of other equally pressing issues — and how that has turned many a religious voter away from partisan churches and party politics. The hosts and reviewers do exactly what our leaders often do; they turn the spotlight on one or two hot-button issues while ignoring so much else that’s important.

Before anyone assumes they know where I’m going with this, let me make a few things clear:

—I am an evangelical, though that may not mean what you think it does.

—I am not saying that abortion and gay marriage are not important issues or that pastors should not present a moral and biblical perspective on both.

—That perspective, though, too often uses political buzzwords that send a clear but IRS-friendly message that unmistakably translates as “Vote a straight __________ Party line.”

—Partisanship exists in both conservative and liberal churches.

Passionate pro-life pastors in particular read what I’ve written or hear what I’ve said through their right-to-life filter and think I’m telling them to shut up. I’m not. I’m telling them and their liberal, woman’s-right-to-choose clerical counterparts that many people in the pews have had it. They — we — have had it with partisan sermons that are veiled political diatribes, and we’ve had it with services that are more like political (or patriotic) rallies than opportunities to worship God. (Actually, I’ve pretty much had it with sermons in general, but I’ll spare you here rand vent about them over on Postmodern Misfit.)

I believe there’s a place for political and social action among the people of God; that place, simply put, is outside of worship services. And I believe personal faith and politics cannot be separated; if your faith does not influence your political perspective and voting choices, that doesn’t say much for your faith. But I also believe political discussion and activism has to extend beyond abortion and gay marriage to the war in Iraq, the war on terror, the atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere, our shaky economy, our lack of adequate healthcare, the sorry state of our schools … you name it, people of faith need to bring their faith perspective to bear on these and other serious issues.

But — and here’s where both liberal and conservative Christians lose it and end up giving Jesus a bad name — we need to do so in a spirit of humility, servanthood, and genuine helpfulness. We need to share our perspective rather than bully our way into the political process and insist on making that perspective the law of the land. We need to work toward solving problems instead of trying to lord it over others and creating a whole new set of problems as a result.

I suspect the non-Christian American public would experience a bit of shock and awe if ordinary, reasonable, truly loving and truly compassionate people of faith could bring their wisdom, experience, and insights to the political table. As it is, their very existence is too often obscured by larger-than-life “leaders” who get the media attention — and whose message comes through all too accurately.

Marcia Ford is the author of We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter.