A Letter To My Conservative Christian Friend

I wrote this letter in 2004, shortly after the re-election of George W. Bush, to a conservative Christian friend who told me — as I’ve been hearing quite a bit in the last few days – that she considered paying taxes a “theft” and that we’d all be better off  if we could just wipe away most of the legislation and public infrastructure of the last 50 years. Here is my response to her. It’s eight years out of date… and yet it still exactly reflects my feelings. 

Dear J,

You asked me to explain my bleeding heart to you, so the best I can offer is this: I think there are times when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By that, I mean that the ‘collective,’ for lack of a better word (though you would call it ‘government’) can often be a force for good. I would go further and say that there are times – albeit rare – when the collective response is the only force for good. Practically speaking, my moral values — which center on public as well as personal commitments to justice, eliminating poverty, protecting the environmnent, safequarding civil liberties, caring for the disadvantaged, using war only as absolute last resort, eliminating the death penalty, and being tolerant of others’ viewpoints — are not represented in the current conservative discourse of extreme rugged individualism.

You told me – facetiously, I hope – that the only things you were “willing” to pay for were interstate highways and wars. Okay, then, let’s do a thought experiment for a moment and take your “small government” out for a spin. I wonder if you can really imagine a world without publicly funded medical research?  Without building codes to prevent devastation from earthquakes because developers were too greedy to build safe buildings?  Would you want to drive a car or fly in a plane whose construction had no government oversight?  Would you like to live in a country with no restrictions on land use or development?  There’s a famous story in the public health world about the “tragedy of the commons” whereby farmers over-graze a communal plot of land because there is no individual incentive, only a collective one, to reduce grazing. When they finally come to their senses, it is too late.  Do you really want to live in a world driven by the ‘tragedy of the commons’?  I’m wondering, too, would you want a country without a robust national security system? Without public schools? Without hospital emergency rooms? Would you object to arsenic in your drinking water?  (Bangladeshis don’t like it; and they can’t do a darned thing about it.)  You and I may disagree (even strenuously) on the meaning of freedom and who should have access to it. But surely we can agree that our government plays a role in protecting us, not just “enslaving” us – as you said without a shred of irony.  I have seen real slave conditions in the developing world, J, and so it’s really hard for me to hear you compare paying taxes you don’t want to pay to slavery.  There are close to 20 million people who are actually enslaved throughout the world right now, by the way, and I’m using the term literally, not figuratively. So I hope you can forgive me when I say that this particular brand of hyperbole rubs me entirely the wrong way.

But getting back to my values. I can’t understand how the religious-republican political right has claimed the so-called “values” high ground by staking out certain non-negotiable issues (like gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion) and not other issues we might consider morally relevant. Why are so many of my moral values left off the table and written off as examples of liberal elitism? It’s a mystery.

You told me we are in the midst of a culture war right now – a battle for the American soul – and I’m really trying to hear you when you say that homosexual activism is a deep threat to your beliefs. But I don’t want to ‘crush’  homosexuality, as you suggest, I want to stomp out intolerance cloaked in righteousness. It’s the Christian-Right power elite that threatens me more than a fellow human being’s sexual identity.

I don’t want to offend you by airing my religious beliefs –which are so different than yours –but I truly believe that any author of our universe would create a world with infinite cultural variety and complexity.  Such a god would give us minds capable of extraordinary reasoning and subtlety and creativity.  I cannot accept that this God would give us only one single way to know and understand and serve Him. I know you are truly concerned about my salvation, but people who see the world as I do are genuinely offended by the claims of our Christian friends who claim the one true path to salvation; their unwavering certitude makes us especially alert to any suggestion of hypocrisy or inconsistency in their belief system. When I see “cherry-picking” in the far-right Christian political arm, I wonder why the moralism is directed at certain kinds of people and certain kinds of problems. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s self-serving.

I wonder when I hear people talking about homosexuals and welfare queens and East Coast liberal elites… where’s the  righteous Christian anger at unbridled capitalism? Where’s the anger at Ken Lay over at Enron and all the other corporate crooks?  Why is the anger directed at poor people, not the corporate power elite? Let’s be honest: I don’t know the gospels as well as you do but I went to Episcopal schools my whole life and I do recall that Jesus didn’t much care for rich people. How can this greed not be a huge, huge issue for Christians?? Where’s the outrage at our growing disparities between the haves and the have-nots?  (more pronounced than at any point in American history since the gilded age in the 1890s.)

Where’s the outrage about the death penalty? Killing adolescents and retarded people? Why should ANY criminal be killed? And the appalling state of our prisons (denying people mental health and substance abuse treatment and locking them up at unprecedented rates without any hope of rehabilitation)? Where’s the Christian decency and compassion over that? Where’s the outrage at our shameful performance at Abu Grahib?? Upwards of 100,000 “excess” deaths have occured in Iraq –  and the ugly truth is that most of those people wouldn’t have died if Bush and Rumsfeld  had simply taken good advice from their own people, (Keep in mind, I was not initially completely opposed to this war in Iraq, so I can’t be accused of being a knee-jerk liberal on this point.)

So, tell me: Where’ s the Christian outrage over such indifference to human life? Why no demands for accountability? Is this what God wants? Where’s the outrage at our disgraceful lack of stewardship of our beautiful, God-given environment? Why are representatives of the energy business allowed to write laws (not just lobby legislators –  but actually write legislation!) about the environment?  Where’s the Christian outrage at the Bush administration’s shameful contempt for our natural wonders?  I consider them gifts from God far too precious to entrust to the hands of people who want to make money off them. People like me -  basically “decent” human beings who do not define themselves as Christians in the way you do — would have a lot more patience for the Christian right agenda if we saw the intellectual honesty in it.  But we don’t. It seems incoherent and idiosyncratic and extraordinarily mean-spirited.

Our country — the very first democracy founded on principles of the Enlightenment, principles based on reason and a respect for the weight of evidence and a profound tolerance for the “opinions of man” — is on very, very dangerous when we blur the line between faith and government.  I am scared when I read that 72% of Americans do not believe in evolution or that 75% of Bush supporters believe that the Iraqis played a direct role in September 11th.  I feel there has been a hijacking of our God-given reason and, while it may suit your needs right now, history shows that democracies cannot succeed on those terms for long.  The same “faith” that drives your political agenda now could well mutate into something you find wrong and dangerous.  What will you do then? There’s a reason we have had a long-standing separation of state and religion and I am saddened to be a citizen of a country where people think they can destroy that basic pillar of our democracy.

You told me that I don’t understand the very real “contempt, anger, and suspicion” you have for what you call “government power elites.” Can you understand that I have my own anger and suspicion of the people who run Enron and Halliburton? In my life in the public health world, I saw again and again how hard corporations worked to avoid even minimal protections for public health and safety.  I have seen again and again how the profit motive drives decisions at the expense of reason and fairness. Sometimes what’s good for industry is good for the commons. But often it’s the opposite. Does society have no right whatsoever to make occasional course corrections? So many of the things we take for granted — occupational safety; clean air and water; the “right” not to get cancer from greedy, toxin-dumping companies; you name it — have come from strong government intervention and challenges from the courts.

And it’s when you go to places like Africa and Latin America and South Asia that you see what living without strong government protections would do to us. That’s where you see people literally toiling like mules for 18 and 20 hour days for a wage that can’t even buy them a bowl of rice or, in a lot of cases, no wage at all; children of five carrying back-breaking bricks all day long and hunched over hot fires and forced to weave wool rugs with their tiny fingers; people who are hideously scarred and maimed from working in brutal industries without even the most basic workers’ protections; women who are raped by their bosses because they asked for a bathroom break… that’s when you see that we have so much to be thankful for in our American government – of the people, by the people, for the people.

I don’t understand your blanket contempt for our government. Yes, yes, there are governmental excesses, follies, even disasters. But we, the people, are our government! It’s an unaffordable luxury to distance yourself from your government, especially when people around the world die for the rights we spit on. And how can you not see the many things we get right?  I believe that our government gives us protection not just from the hard tyranny of the Osama bin Ladens of the world – and I don’t see you calling to shut off that government spigot, FYI–  but also from the soft tyranny of private sector elites who put their own desires consistently ahead of the interests of their neighbors.

By your own admission, you have led a sheltered life. We all have, in our own ways. So I’m not trying to sound condescending or rude but I wonder if you have considered learning something more about people who can’t vote, or people who live in actual slavery; or people who are just plain poor; or people who just can’t get a break. You may find that playing by the “rules” only gets you so far in life. Of course there are deadbeats and people who work the system. I don’t disagree! I knew such people when I worked as a case manager and saw firsthand quite a few able-bodied people who wanted government handouts. It was nauseating. But the alternative is even more nauseating: a world where we indiscriminately cut people off at the knees out of some disproportionate fear that a minority will take advantage of us. I return again and again to this incompatibility of the current Republican agenda with my religious and moral beliefs. There seems to be a disconnect with reality. A lie, in fact, that if you play fair, you’ll get ahead.  But it’s not just about trying to live the American dream.  Being a good citizen.  Believing in God.

Millions of people play by these rules and, still, their lives are abject misery. And what I want to know is: Why do you presume that our government — the richest and most powerful in the world — shouldn’t help them? Why do you think a collective response is more morally repugnant than a private, personal one?

Like you, I just can’t move beyond the life experiences that have shaped me. I have seen crushing poverty firsthand in Africa and Asia and I know there could never be enough faith groups and private sector initiatives in our wildest dreams to redress a government policy that unfairly penalizes African farmers or turns a blind eye to slaughter and disease. Sure, we’d all like to keep our money to ourselves and direct it where we see fit. (You can be damned sure I wouldn’t give a dime to a lot of things you’d support!) But we can’t expect private charity alone to make a dent in all our problems – especially when other sectors of the American economy are actively harming people here and overseas.  (I’m referring to our scandalously wrong-headed agricultural policies. But we could point to our energy policy and its implications for women’s status in the Arab world. There are zillions of other examples.)

Even in the U.S., I have seen many, many decent people who just couldn’t get ahead in life. I am really bothered by all the anecdotes rich people like to tell about the frauds and con artists they know – like your babysitter who wants subsidized childcare. Come on, do you think liberals really like freeloaders? We don’t! But these mythic cases begin to take on a life of their own and they completely overshadow the very real structural impediments to having any stake at all in society when a person is so economically unstable that his life falls apart when his car breaks down.

I think a lot about families I’ve met in my travels in the developing world – people who are crushed by blinding poverty (and I mean that literally, by the way.  When I worked in Bangladesh, one of the biggest public health problems was blindness from vitamin A deficiency) and I wonder at the Republicans’ callousness and un-Christian attitude to people in need.  There seems to be some kind of fiction that these problems can be eradicated through “points of light,” not through muscular government commitments. And, yet… let’s not ignore the hypocrisy. These same fiscal conservatives who don’t want to fork over a dime of federal money for a national health insurance plan think nothing of giving billions of dollars in weapons. I am ashamed by how little money our government spends on foreign assistance compared to the money we spend on buying arms for other countries. Please don’t insult my intelligence by calling this ‘nation building.’ I guarantee we’ll spend the next 40 years undoing the damage to these nations we’re building. If there is a God, I assume He’s looking down at us with disgust. I wonder how we can cozy up to a regime like Saudi Arabia — where women are locked in buildings to die in a fire  because it would be too shameful to let them escape without their veils — and I wonder why so many Republicans would prefer reliance on despicable tyrants to an honest discussion about  energy policy.

When I look at the lives of these oppressed souls I have seen up close, I feel so deeply grateful that I live in a country that has fought for civil rights, for women’s rights, for so many liberties that others don’t have. It wasn’t General Electric or Ford that gave us the Voting Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Civil Rights Act or the Fair Housing act.  Our government gave us these liberties.  And our country is, fundamentally, a nation based on the rule of law. You say it’s based on Christian principles and that’s true… to a point. (We can ignore for a moment the fact that some of the founding fathers were Deists.) But more than anything… the history of America is the history of the rule of law.  Without the rule of law, you can’t take for granted any of the things I’ve described and, more important, you can’t take for granted your right to practice your religion.

Of course I believe in public-private partnerships and I absolutely acknowledge the follies of some of our government interventions. I’m not naive about the limitations of government initiatives and, as you know, I consider myself a centrist on many issues. But — let me be clear — many people  view the private sector with the same suspicion and disgust that you view the public sector.  And, by the way, my very nice husband is one of those “government power elites” you say you so disdain. Nicholas spends three weeks every year reviewing grants for the National Institutes of Health. It’s entirely voluntary and uncompensated; he gets no monetary or academic credit for it.  He simply believes it is his civic duty to ensure that we have the most open and generous system of medical research in the world. There’s an example of your “power elite” in action.  I know lots and lots of people who are proud to work for our government.  My brother-in-law in the state department, for example, and my cousin in Iraq.

The final  thing I want to mention — at the risk of further alienating you — is abortion. I agree that it is a terrible scourge on our society.  And I am assuming that you see no circumstances in which abortion is acceptable. On the other hand, you do support a president who has been an unabashed supporter of the death penalty, especially in his capacity as governor of a state that has perhaps the nation’s worst record of fairness/incompetence on this issue. You also support a party that believes in waging offensive, not defensive, war, in certain specified conditions.  So, there are clearly some limited areas where you see the role of government-sanctioned killing. (I’m not making a judgment about whether you like it, just that you haven’t ruled it out.)

I don’t want to make any defense of abortion. I don’t really have one, at least in most cases. But I do want to ask if you are aware that abortions have increased quite dramatically under Bush’s tenure after an eight year decline?  I wonder if you are willing to search into that big heart and big brain of yours and explore why this might be so.

Please know, J, that my political beliefs are informed (like yours) by my hands-on life experiences.  I feel called to these beliefs and actions. They are not frivolous or un-godly. I believe in my heart in the righteousness/rightness of my views. (I can only speak for my own heart, and don’t presume to have an objective ‘rightness,’ but my point is that we all truly believe in the moral underpinnings of our positions and actions.) Equally, I feel called to have an open mind, to listen and learn from others and to accept that knowledge is sometimes provisional. I consider it a sign of moral strength, not weakness, to think cautiously and humbly – and even provisionally – about certain complex moral issues, knowing that I am an imperfect human.  I respect your views and your commitments, too, even when they hurt me or people around me, because I know you are doing what you think is right.  I know we both share a commitment to a more just and humane world even thought we approach this commitment differently.

Thank you for this dialogue which has been painful but important.  I hope you can see that some of the liberal anger you describe as “mindless” is, rather, simply based on a different world view. A different sense of moral righteousness. You say you hope the Republican party will go forward, taking the high moral ground. Indeed.

With love,

Erika

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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16 Responses to A Letter To My Conservative Christian Friend

  1. Well done Erica. There are many Conservative/GOP minded Christians who don’t agree with many things in the GOP narrative but are forced by faith to abandon the Democratic Party on grounds of conscience over abortion and gay marriage and who, like me, know that the GOP needs reformation and work to reform it. Do the Democrats do the same? Democrats often use this argument, “I am against the death penalty” and then they support abortion which has terminated the lives of 50 million babies since 1973, of which, 15 million are AFrican American and of which 25 million are female. How is this moral? How is it pro woman? How is this pro minority or helping the poor that in Washington, D.C. where about 40% of AFrican American woman abort their babies because they have no money? Where is the money for their generations and what did BArack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein and HIllary Clinton do to end AFrican American poverty right there in the capital city? I haven’t heard have you? I assume it is nothing. Zero.

    They “talk” about poverty but they don’t end it. They have personal multi millions but they don’t give or lend to the 4 women in Washington, D.C. who need money to birth their generations yet all of the above have plenty of money to birth their own. Maybe we wouldn’t have to argue, fight, or disagree so much if both Democrats and Republicans both walked their talk but neither does. If the Democrats had not “married” their party to gay marriage (not gay rights) and abortion (which terminated 15 million AFrican American babies) then I would still be a JFK Democrat. Because JFK was OUR man simply because he was Roman Catholic and NOT because he was a Democrat. We voted our faith first. WE did follow every papal encyclical on poverty and we lived it and still do. But, we left in 1973 over abortion. While we don’t condone war as a solution to anything we know it is sometimes necessary and as far as my family is concerned, WWII, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was justified. I didn’t want Korea, Vietnam, or any of the Middle EAstern wars and neither did my parents. They thought those people over there should solve their own problems but we were fighting Communists?? Through these wars of proxy we fought Russia, a WWII ally turned rogue.

    Well, my Dad fought Hitler and Hirohito. That was enough. George W. Bush did not have my approval in Iraq and the people involved in 911 were Saudi Arabians. He bilked the Department of Interior of 100 billion to fund Iraq and US Native Americans of mixed French Ojibwey/Chippewa/Cherokee/ Cree and European ancestry know it. I voted for George W. Bush and have voted GOP simply because personally I would NEVER follow the party of Andrew Jackson who started the Democratic Party in 1828 because he “Trail of Tears” walked our Cherokee ancestors to their deaths. WE are the party of anti-slavery because as Native Americans we were the FIRST slaves here. Yet we survived. We took in freed slaves of African ancestry. See: Katz: “Black Indians.” So, us “savages” mated with Europeans, Freed slaves, Native American, First Nations Canada and you name it. Because we all fell in love or lust and married, had babies, and kept going. For us it is about survival and our generations. We feel sorry for people who think otherwise because who would not want their family to survive?

    Abortions increase because women feel no faith to birth, have no courage to birth and have no money to birth. Abortion statistics reveal that “economy” is still the deciding factor on whether a woman births or not. My theory is that “rich women don’t have abortions” and in Robert Bork/Borg’s, 1990s book, “Slouching Toward Gomorrah” he did a very good study on age groups and economy of abortion statistics. This rang true that many teenagers and college girls abort. They have no money and they have no faith or confidence and feel they have no support. George W. Bush had nothing to do with abortion. It is a matter of lack of economy, faith, shame and support. If both political parties were to objectively look at a number of their stated beliefs or values and compare them to the Biblical narrative I think they would seriously come up short. They both avoid doing this to change. They are too comfortable fighting each other. Playing this sickening one up man/woman ship game. I despise both abortion, gay marriage, war and nuclear proliferation. I researched 20 companies on the NASDAQ and found these “corporations” to be headed by Democrats. So, the bogus notion that “Republicans” are all corporate jerks is false. Everyone who runs a race is in it to win it but how? By cheating? Being a disinformation junkie? Painting one side as Mother Theresa and the other as greedy Donald Trump billionaire? Let’s get real please!

    The demonization has to stop and the sanctimonious self righteousness on both sides of the aisle has to stop and I had to laugh a little when you said above, “I believe in my heart in the righteousness of my views.” Well, don’t you know that the “heart is wicked?” That it can be self indulgent and not to be trusted so that is why we have the Scriptures and the 2,000 year history of the Church and scholars and elders to “submit” ourselves to? My views are nothing! It is not what I think (Enlightenment) or what I “reason”, for reason is fallable (goodbye Emanuel Kant) and there is no such thing as “pure reason” so we are left with “outcomes.” If I say that I care about the poor and do not relieve their suffering and poverty I am a liar. If my “works” do not match my “faith talk” I am a noisy gong. Talk is cheap but action is expensive and I put my ‘money’ where my mouth is? Isn’t that just what we want others to do?

    Quote: “There is too much talk by people who had no right to speak” said Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. He said, “Let me be a free man. Free to follow my Creator. Free to roam where I choose. Free to gather my food. Free to choose my own teachers.” So, this is our Native belief. If someone starts talking and speaks “forked tongue” and their actions don’t match their “talk” we don’t have to listen anymore. We are not required. We choose our own elders and teachers and these are people who work tirelessly for the community. All others get the boot from us. So, in our matrilineal line us women elected our chiefs. Always a man. If he voted for his own clan, or his own selfish agenda, and didn’t do for the whole nation we booted him out. It was a great disgrace to be removed as chief by the clan mothers. The chief had to do for everybody. Know what we think? Barack Obama would have been removed a long time ago and so would George W. Bush. We do not allow you to remain in leadership if you only work for your clan (party). You have to do for everyone or we boot you out. It has been said the Republicans resisted every effort by the Democrats to cooperate. We know this is not true. Obama signed one Executive Order after another. We do not value speed. WE wait to get consensus. But, these legislators cram one piece of law through as fast as they can. We never did that. We deliberated long and hard on matters.

    We do not like the way this “culture of death” works and it has always been a culture of death to us Native Americans in one administration after another. We call it that among ourselves because it does not bring us life personally and never did as Native Americans. It brought us suffering and still does. Sorry we don’t see all the good things you see in Government. We never received these things. What we “witnessed” all our 500 years of our generations is that the Republicans (anti-slavery party) fight the Democrats (pro slavery party) for control and we have a saying, “inside each person is a good and bad wolf. The one who gets fed is the one who survives and is the strongest.” So, for us, SLAVERY is the biggest issue because we are the original slaves. We see our African American brothers and sisters languishing in their “urban reservations” in the inner city in poverty as our people do on our self imposed prisons called “Indian Reservations” which are the poorest places to live in United States.

    We know slavery Erica. We know poverty. We know historically who has been on our side. Frederick Douglass called Abraham Lincoln, “Best President” and John Wilkes Boothe, a Southern Democrat and Separatist, working on behalf of the KKK, shot Lincoln. ULysses S. Grant, a Republican, went after the KKK and Douglass approved of this. But, the Southern Democrats tried to overturn the 13th and 14th Amendments with Fugitive Slave Law and Dredd Scott and back and forth it has gone every since. Don’t you know that Southern Democrats opposed Civil Rights Act of 1965? Al Gore’s father and Senatory Byrd and others. So, the Democratic Party since its formation by Irishman Andrew Jackson (Trail of Tears Jackson) has blocked freedom of slaves and former slaves and their descendants with their Jim Crow laws that prevented generational wealth from being created by that “40 Acres and a Mule” and they took all our land as Natives.

    I have tried to get Democratic Party members in my family to “own” this history but they won’t listen. We express love for each other. WE don’t always agree on HOW to get the job done but we agree on what the jobs are that need to get done. They never seem to get done. In our family we get things done. WE cooperate. We pull together and work hard. We know Washington, D.C. is not like this and is competitive rather than cooperative. WE are asking for repentance and reformation not an end to government. As you say, government does things we need. However, it has gone into the realm of Catholic Charities and we need to boot it back out and we will as Native Catholic Christians. There are two realms: The King and the Pope. They do not interfere but they help each other, recognize and respect each other’s God given authority and cooperate. Barack Obama and Democrats need to back way down on the Church. As Will Smith said in “Life”, “don’t start nuthin won’t be nuthin.” Everybody needs to respect everybody else’s authority, boundaries, and work. Thank you and have a nice day. Liz+

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I really appreciate dialogue. I agree that Democrats need to own their ugly history and there is hypocrisy on all sides. But my letter to my friend was not a history lesson; I was speaking from my heart about my perception of contemporary politics.Of course I agree that there are many Democrats who are corporate jerks, and many Republicans who are not. But it cannot fairly be argued that the Republican party does a better job of policing corporate malfeasance. It’s not Republicans, by and large, who support efforts to correct markets, to punish the people who were responsible for the collapse of our economy, to ensure the health and safety of our labor force and our environment. The blind support for ‘market’ solutions — in the face of a long history of necessary and periodic government course corrections – is a Republican tic, not a Democratic one.

      Re the “righteouness” in my heart… perhaps I was not clear and I didn’t mean to suggest arrogance. I am sorry for that. I can accept that there is not an objective ‘rightness’ about my views and, in fact, I may be entirely wrong. But I do BELIEVE in my heart in what I stand for, in the same way that my Christian friend does, and I wanted her to understand how contested beliefs are: one person’s morality is another person’s wickedness. It seemed to me back in 2004 (and today) that the mainstream conservative agenda doesn’t understand that there are competing views of what is moral. For example: as you say, abortion. I have never met a person who likes abortion or is in any way “pro”-abortion. But some people believe that life begins at conception; others reject the idea that an embryo is a person. This fundamental difference undoubtedly has shades of gray areas, for most people (if polls are to believed). But it represents a different world view and has different consequences for how we prioritize our concerns. I feel great sadness that the culture of death problem has no immediate answer: abortion, warfare, capital punishment, not to mention the way our society drives people so close to death in myriad large and small ways, including through lack of financial opportunity. I hope future generations can do a better job of promoting life and peace. Again, thank you for your thoughts.

      Thank you for your respectful dialogue.

      • You are welcome dear lady. I deplore the “righteousness” of the Right when they crab on homosexuals ( in my pastoral ministry I have loved on many and continue to do so but disagree with gay marriage and say so) and abortion but do nothing to address the immorality of these wars and the immorality of Wall Street and MONEY! Money is a moral issue. Deeply. What you do with money says volumes about your morality. I love the DVD by Matt Damon called, “Inside Job” do you? But we must study history or we are doomed to repeat it and I fear we just go back in forth in one power play between political parties as a matter of bad habit and immoral behavior. This sickens me because in my family we cooperate and get the work done.

        In my family and culture we visit each other. If anyone is in need we give sacrificially. If these political parties who say they are Christians would give, and then give some more, out of their own personal pockets and millionaire fortunes, and then give again, and give again, until it hurts, then, in my mind, they would fulfill the New Testament moral directive of LOVE. Which equals “shared self sacrifice.”

        So we see both Romney and Obama spend multi millions, I think it is up to a billion I read, and that money to get elected is spent on campaigning? Well, that is immoral man! How many good works could have been done for the poor? I want an end to this kind of campaigning as I do to the diabolical way that banks do not lend money and Wall Street got a free pass on Adjusted Rate Mortgages. That was criminal and who went to jail? I would like to know if Dodd-Franke ended Wall Street corruption, did it? I heard through news reports that every employee of Goldman Sachs made through salary and bonuses about $300,000 between 2011-2012 and I wonder where the 4 million plus people who had their houses foreclosed on or are in the process of it will get their money?

        Well the GOP better do their due diligence of addressing money as a moral issue or they fail. I am afraid and have said it before that the Church harps on sexual immorality and does not address the immorality of money and how it is acquired and spent in this country. In my mind, I would take this huge line item called “Military Spending” and move that money over into solving minority and other poverty. But, they don’t do it. They never do. I would not take 100s of billions from Medicare or Social Security as Obamacare does and put it into Medicaid. Because in our culture we revere our elders/seniors. I would not touch that.

        If I were in charge with my clan mother sisters (smile) I would end MIlitary Spending and we do not need our military personnel in every country. I would end this interference and we do not need to sustain an embassy in every country. I would end this spending. The Middle East is a mess We should have never gone over there. But, the British of British Palestine, implemented their Balfour Declaration after WWII and this is a mess. I had a neighbor of Lebanese and Jordanian ancestry living in Jerusalem in 1948 and she said UN Troops came into the town and told them all to get out or they would be shot and move over for the Jews returning from Europe (about 1 million). Well, she said they just left all their belongings behind and people got shot who would not leave. She was in her 60s when I talked to her and still bitter. These bad political decisions haunt us forever. We would never do something like that. If 1 million people need a place we do not run other people out or shoot them. The Middle East goes back and forth in one revenge killing after another. The healers need to be brought forth from each side: Arab and Israeli to solve this. They have their own people. Americans need to butt out and definitely the British. So, we MUST study history and stop making the same mistakes.

        I agree we must follow all the Bible and not cherry pick and this is what I attempt to do. But, unfortunately there are too many “cafeteria” Catholics and Christians. They don’t see they take the best meat and leave everyone the starch and mixed frozen vegetables. Well, I was raised on starch and frozen mixed vegetables because we had 12 kids and my Mom cooked one whole chicken for us all. We ate a lot of little pieces of chicken but plenty of rice and vegetables. That is how it is for the poor. While the rich feast on steak we feast on chicken backs, necks and wings. This is not equality nor is it brother and sister love and friendship. Share your steak you greedy bums! We who are at the back of the line by the time we get to the front have slim pickins! Why must we always be at the back of the line? Let us up front for first pick you piggy people! Ha! Well, that is fair isn’t it? I was raised with “taking turns” so I cannot relate to people who always get the best while others have to suck it up. We need more love for each other. Have a fantastic day today Erica. Smooches. Liz+

  2. Richard and Alvin says:

    Erika I wish I could express my thoughts as ELEGANTLY as you and the people who have made comment on your letter. You have expressed all the thoughts I have but cant seem put those thoughts to words. Thank you Dave Hussars Uncle Richard

  3. Jay Maybruck says:

    Excellent piece. A fundemental consideration in the economic debate we now appear to be having is the value of labor. To determine where we have gone as a nation, regarding this area, does not require an advanced degree in mathematics. Look at any accurate chart which displays wealth re-distribution from 1980-2008. As the richer grew enormously richer, wages essentially flatlined. How this seems to be righteous among either the religious or actual conservatives baffles me.

    The opinions of uneducated ideologues I grasp. I certainly grasp the power of wealth within our current political system. To my christain friends, re-read the Sermon on the Mount.

  4. Very nice. I love the Sermon on the Mount. It looks out to all different kinds of people. We have a suffocating culture of narcissism. Rampant individualism is hurting us all badly. It is good to do for yourself but you have to balance that with others. This “me, me, me” has got to be confronted with some serious modeling of behavior that is both loving and practical. We must get with young people and in my day people spent more time with each other visiting and Sunday was a day for doing that. Now, things are open on Sunday or 24 hours and people are working longer and harder and not getting ahead. As you say, wages flatlined. So, somebody profited from all that labor and who was it? Not the minimum wage earner so who was it? We kept “hearing” how companies were doing poorly or how they could not afford to hire people but workers were laid off, stock profits were paid out, those left in companies were doing the jobs of two or three people for no more money. I cannot remember this term, is it, “downsizing?” I was also looking for another term but came across instead this website: http://humanresources.about.com/od/layoffsdownsizing/a/downsizing.htm. “Downsizing with Dignity.” Could anything be more insidious than to actually try to convince people that the end of their job will come with intellectual dignity? No one who is let go from their jobs feels dignified. It is always demoralizing. Yet, we have a whole website geared to laying off people with dignity. This society is sick. To repeat myself ad nauseum: Evangelicalism in particular with its penchant for “prosperity Gospel” (aka: if you are financially blessed then you are in God’s perfect will) does not relate to poverty as a moral issue for them to solve but rather as “evidence of sin.” So, if people are poor it is their fault, okay? For instance: if minorities are poor they are “not doing God’s will.” They are probably lazy or sinful, right? If you are wealthy then you are in “obedience to God’s will” and this is part of the sickening structure of Evangelicalism. So, what if you do follow the Lord and are not rich? You are supposed to feel bad and ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong that the Lord does not bless me financially? Am I out of God’s will?” So, back and forth it goes like this in these churches. I know. Because I attended several in my 20s and 30s and came back to Roman Catholicism with a theology of suffering that made sense. We are called to suffer with the poor, on behalf of the poor, and identify with them and relieve that suffering as best we can. But, there was no room in Evangelicalism in the 20 years I practiced it for a theology of suffering and the poor. The churches I attended were dripping with money and if you didn’t have money, as me and my husband didn’t, you were looked at with suspicion. My ministry to these churches with my husband and family was to show them that you could be in God’s will and not be rich. That you weren’t doing anything wrong. WE never prospered in these churches. NEver were meant to be. Still are not rich. Never intend to be. We live modestly and do not own a home, never owned a home, never had a new car and the one we just bought was $800. We do not consider ourselves poor. We have love and family so we consider our selves the wealthiest people on the planet. Good day to all. Liz+

  5. Mel says:

    Erika,

    Can you provide some links or references for the quantifiable things you’ve mentioned in this post? For example, women burning in buildings in Saudi Arabia because, the slavery information, and blindness from Vitamin A deficiency? I am not asking to be contemptuous; my beliefs run similar to those expressed. I would like to be more informed. I am not ignorant to these issues – I have personally seen painful poverty like this in developing nations and in this one – but I would always like to learn more.

    If you have the time for this, I thank you.

    • Sorry for the delay in responding. (I’m on vacation now and have been super-busy.) For starters, National Geographic did an amazing cover story a few years ago (on modern slavery. Here is a link: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0309/feature1/

      I shared it with my kids, who at the time were complaining about being me treating them “like slaves” – it was incredibly eye-opening. I know there are many, many other resources but I just don’t have the time right now to send them to you. Sex trafficking is also a form of slavery and there’s lots of information on that. The World Health Organization has information about Vitamin A deficiency. Here’s a start: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/

      It is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children in the developing world. When I worked in Bangladesh, in the late 1980s, it was a huge problem, as was Arsenic poisoning from tube-well water.

      Thanks for your feedback. It’s great to hear from people who read my blog! Thank you.

  6. Robert Morrison says:

    Erika, I came to your blog by a circuitous route. I appreciate the fact that you believe your views are the way to solve the problems of our nation and the world in which we live in. Even Elizabeth Levesque who has posted on your blog believes that through her brand of Christianity, which is a social gospel, she has a way to solve the problems of our nation and of the world. A lot of people have opinions on how to solve the problems of the world. Obviously those from the hard left to those of the hard right politically speaking think that their ideas will solve our problems as a nation as well as the world’s problems. I appreciate also that Elizabeth Levesque believes we should look at history. There are too many ignorant people who continue to make the same mistake over and over again because we don’t look at history and even if we look at it we don’t learn from it.
    One thing that we can all agree on and that is that there are a whole lot of problems in the world in which we live. Some are more extreme than others. We can all get wrapped up in these things time and time again. I run a company which of course employs people. As soon as you include people problems arise. At least we think that if we did not have to add these people everything would work perfect. Of course when you add those people then they see you have problems as well at least they perceive that in their eyes.
    So I ask you a couple of questions.
    1. Why do people have problems or why are they not perfect? (we probably all have our own definition of what a perfect person is) We can talk about the drug addict to the serial killer to the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s etc. of the world. Let your mind run wild here to the worst type of people in society throughout history. From the very religious to the very non-religious. Why is their cruelty committed by one person to another? Then let’s come home, why does your husband or your 2 kids have problems in your eyes. Why is one child cruel to another child. Why can’t they get it right from your perspective? I am sure that they are not perfect in your eyes at certain times. I would think that they would say the same about you as well from their perspective too. Full disclosure, I have been married to the same wife for 28 years and have 3 kids whom are all still living at home and the oldest is 24 and working full time as a teacher to high school students. None of us are perfect and we have to still wrestle with our problems.
    2. Why do we all have to die? Why does life have to end? You talk about the death of specific people in your blog. You note that these things are not fare and that society in your view is not doing it right. In fact the right has it wrong and even the left have it wrong at times too and surely specific or maybe all religious groups have it wrong as well. But why do we have to die? It has been happening for millennia and nothing has changed. Even what you might think are the best of governments can’t seem to solve this problem or the problem in my first question. History proves that out fully and completely. In fact you and I are going to die at some point here. I would say that is a real fundamental problem. We are both growing older each day and some disease or dis-functioning organ is going to cause us to breathe our last breath. My wife has already had breast cancer and thankfully for the time being she is still in the land of the living. Why do we have to die?
    I would suggest that these two questions are the most fundamental of all the questions we could ask and if we could solve them we would be very happy indeed. No other problems are more significant than these problems because if we could solve these two problems everything would be fixed. The reality is that everyone is blind to these two fundamental problems. They are the cause of all the other problems in the world but again not many look at these two issues. I fully understand that of course one has to address the existing problems and come up with the best solutions but again let’s take a step back and look at the two foundational issues in life which are the cause of all these issues.
    Have you done that? Do you think of why we have to die or why someone like Hitler existed and did what he did? By the way he thought what he was doing was right. At least that was his opinion. He is entitled to his opinion. You believe that your views are right just like he did his and just like everyone else does theirs. Who is right? Who’s standard is the fare standard or the right standard?
    I hope you take some time to think about these issues which are the most fundamental issues in our society and in our world today and they are timeless. They go along with the questions who are we and why are we here. However I know that these questions can be easily answered once we know the answer to why we are not perfect and why we die. Of course then there is the other question of what happens to us once we die. That is fundamental as well but can be answered once we answer the question of why we die.
    Sincerely,
    Rob Morrison

    • Thank you for taking the time to write and to think thoughtfully about these questions. I try to do the same, and will reflect on all you have said.

      • Robert Morrison says:

        Erika, I can ask no more of you. I trust your word that you will truly give some thoughts to these questions. Again I believe they are fundamental for all of us to ask.

        Rob Morrison

  7. Dear Mr. Morrison: Thank you for the philosophical questions which theology is supposed to answer. Classically philosophy is the “King” of the Sciences and theology is the “Queen” because it answers the existential questions that philosophy poses. Your questions: “Why do people have problems and are not perfect?” and “why do people die, why does life have to end?” Also: “Who is right and whose standard is fair?”

    I noticed like Charles Colson you did not ask, “So, in light of Jesus Christ, how now are we supposed to live?” For me, and my “social Gospel” (thank you Walter Rauschenbush and Hell’s Kitchen) this is my moral imperative. Because I “follow” Jesus Christ I “do” as he does and what did He do? (Sorry, I love the WWJD? bracelets). Did Jesus not come with power and fish and loaves for the 5,000? Did he not heal? Was he not considered a drunk, sluggard and glutton because he spent so much TIME in people’s houses eating and drinking? Was he not executed by Rome and the Jewish Sanhedrin (Court) as a criminal and blasphemer? Did he not say to “free the prisoners, the blind, the lame, and so forth? ” Well, he said all this and more. Plus the Sermon on the Mount in both Matthew 6 and Luke 5 so in this sermon the “poor” are included and Luke’s Gospel is primarily a treatise on the poor and the rich.

    I am glad you have a company that employs people. Good for you! Can you do more? Do you live modestly and live in a simple house with a simple car so you can hire more people? What about your friends? Can they do more? Can they forego their vacations and spend that money on the poor? I make minimum wage and am glad for my little convenience store job in this poor economy even though I have a Master’s degree. But, I give money to the people who ask me and I have given money to others and bought people gasoline for their cars out of my own pocket and I am poor. But, I am rich in the Lord so I don’t care. I applaud all how give sacrificially and then give some more. Give til it hurts! Money is useless in the after life. Give it while you can!

    In answering briefly your questions: People have problems because they do not live rightly, have gotten themselves into trouble AND other people have gotten them into trouble or created trouble for themselves. Have you never been the recipient of someone else’s problems and has it not cost you dearly? I have! People die because they smoke or eat or drink too much or have accidents but they also die because they are killed by others. Have you not read the history of the MURDERS of the Native Americans and Black Chattel Slaves? They were just plain KILLED. I don’t like the word “Genocide” it is too sanitized and it does not reveal the nature of these CRIMES. So, we must make reparations for murder, right? It says so in the Bible, “suffer not a such and such to live” well, we can put them in jail can’t we along with habitual thieves, rapists, molesters and the like, can’t we? Or we can TRY to rehabilitate them, can’t we? Some are beyond help and too violent and need to be locked up?

    What about “my people’s claim” (Native American) and the claims of descendants of Black Chattel Slavery that they could not create wealth from the “40 Acres and a Mule?” We have to seriously address these crimes. Don’t call them inequities or problems. They are CRIMES. We have a judiciary for such things and we need to SOLVE these matters. Once and for all.

    Poverty is a crime. No one in America should go hungry tonight. Or without work. Or a home. These are societies sins. WE all own them. We all need to help. I am glad you are doing your part. Please do more and encourage your friends to do more. Give more. I wish you peace and brother/sister hood. Liz+

  8. Robert Morrison says:

    Dear Elizabeth Levesque,

    You wrote: “In answering briefly your questions: People have problems because they do not live rightly, have gotten themselves into trouble AND other people have gotten them into trouble or created trouble for themselves.” Also “People die because they smoke or eat or drink too much or have accidents but they also die because they are killed by others.”

    Do you really believe these answers that you have given are correct in truly answering these questions?

    Let’s take the second answer about dying first:

    If we consider your answers they still don’t answer the question when it comes to those who live healthy lives, exercise regularly, eat right and stay away from vices which are known to cause disease and death and some of these people who follow these guidelines tend to live to a ripe old age of 100 and then all of a sudden they die. Others who have followed this plan have died early of some cancer or some other problem. These types of people do not match up with your answer of why people die. Furthermore you quote the bible so I would guess that you would know that in the book of Genesis I believe, God in speaking to Adam said that in the day he partook of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that he would die. And I believe that this would have been due to his disobedience to God. I believe that there were some other parts of a curse that came along with that disobedience after he had partaken of the fruit. So if you follow your Christian view point your answer is not quite correct. It seems to be tainted with some of your own personal opinions.

    Regarding your answers to why people don’t live rightly or why they have problems or why they are not perfect according to someone’s standard again the bible which you claim to follow I believe has an answer to that too. I believe again in the book of Genesis you will find that God caused a flood to come and destroy all of mankind because they only thought to do evil continuously and God only found one man who sought to obey God which was Noah. From classic Judeo/Christian understanding from the bible it shows that due to the fact that man/Adam disobeyed God that he and his offspring no longer wanted to obey God and thus you have this problem. The same book of the bible shows that Cain who killed Able, if you read the text you will find that God asked Cain about his sin and I believe it says something to the affect that God told Cain that he should master it.

    You claim that you know the bible so wouldn’t these Genesis accounts ring true in your ear? Aren’t these the classic texts that a Christian would give as an answer to these questions?

    Sincerely,
    Rob Morrison

  9. Dear Rob: are you trying to make the case for Original Sin from Genesis? Cause I didn’t know I was in a discussion about Original Sin because you never framed your response. If you want a discussion on Original Sin I can give you one but email me privately on FAcebook okay? Also, “classically” as in, ‘how a theologian would answer these questions”, once again, I did not know we were in a theologically classical discussion because you never stated your expectations for dialogue. Do you want me to quote Aquinas or Augustine? What are your expectations? Cause I can do that all day long. How about philosophically? Do you want me to quote Socrates, Plato or Aristotle? How about Aquinas’ “Treatise on the Trinity” in which he quotes half Aristotle and half St. Augustine? Would you like to go into that one cause I can? Let me know because you seem to have a list of expectations for dialogue and answering I am completely unaware of. peace. Liz+

  10. Pingback: A Letter To My Conservative Christian Friend « charlesberry101152

  11. charlesberry101152 says:

    Thank you all. I agree with all of you. Common sense is not always common. Great work, Elizabeth and Robert. I know all about Native and African American people. I have been in that same situation too.

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