This piece reminds me of Jim Wallis' top-selling book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It and also Frank Thomas' book, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Though very different texts, both call for equating spirituality and Christianity with social and economic justice--as does our former Lieutenant Governor below.
My sense is that a good number of legislators adhere to this ethic in some personal way but because of powerful special, particularly corporate, interests coupled with their not hearing sufficiently from their constituencies combines to propel a short-sighted and self-serving policy agenda. They therefore need to hear from all of us who have a stake in public education. Sounds like a good New Year's resolution.
by Bill Ratliff, FORMER TEXAS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Sunday, December 11, 2005
The following are excerpts from a speech that former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff delivered last week to members of the Austin Project, a program aimed at helping at-risk youth.
Not too many years ago, a small group of religious leaders - concerned about what they perceived as a drift of our country away from its moral foundation - decided that they would become politically active and do what they could to stem this tide toward moral bankruptcy. Most prominent among these groups, but certainly not alone, were Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition.
Their strategy was to go to the grass roots of the Republican Party and to capture the party mechanism - the precinct and county conventions - in order to apply leverage to those who would be candidates for political office.
The growing influence of the Christian right on candidates and public policy has been met with an argument by some that religion should not be brought into the governmental arena. The nature of this backlash is to argue that it is inappropriate to base legislative decisions on religious beliefs or moral convictions. . . .
As opposed to the suggestion that we have too much religious influence on public policy, we actually have too little. Up to now, the application of religious principles in political debate has been mainly applied to abortion rights, same-sex marriage, intelligent design versus evolution and similar social issues.
But all too often, those Christians who take strong stands on such issues based on moral or biblical teachings do not then apply such teachings to other issues.
For instance, when considering how many poor children in Texas will be removed from the Children's Health Insurance Program in order to hold down costs to the state, they choose not to consider Christ's admonishment to "suffer the little children to come unto me."
When considering how much to reduce funding for indigent health care, Medicaid for nursing homes, child abuse protective services or special education for handicapped children, there seems to be little recognition of Christ's teaching that, "in as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also."
All too often, these Christian admonishments are qualified to read, "Suffer the little children to come unto me - unless, of course, their needs require a vote to raise additional revenue." Or to read, "In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me also - but you are absolved if your compassion would require you to vote for a tax bill."
There are, of course, many members of the Legislature who recognize this disconnect. They truly worry that they are not living up to the Christian principles which they espouse. However, they are caught in the dilemma of having pledged not to increase taxes, and they realize that, in order to truly apply Christian compassion in these areas, it will take additional state funding.
Once again, perhaps we need more religion rather than less. It was Christ who said, "Much is required from those to whom much is given." We even have the teaching of Christ's parable, where he tells the rich man that if he wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven, he must "go, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me." Talk about a high tax rate!
How does a devoted Christian cut funding for needy children based on a "no new taxes" pledge while reading this passage of the Bible?
A year or so ago, there was a commendable teenage fad where youths were wearing bracelets containing simply four engraved letters - WWJD, for what would Jesus do? The purpose was to provide a constant reminder to assess the right or wrong of a decision before making it.
I wonder what the impact would be if every legislator who avowed a religious motivation were required to wear such a bracelet - a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet, or a "What Would Yaweh do?" bracelet, or a "What Would Mohammed Do?" bracelet, or a "What would Buda Do?" bracelet. Then, whenever they were preparing to cast a vote to reduce or restrict programs for the poor, the sick, the elderly or the children, they would be reminded of their previous avowals.
We do not have too much religion in government today. We have too little.
We do not have too much advocacy for Christian principles in government and politics. We have a highly selective and hypocritical application of Christian principles in government and politics.
Those who advocate for Christian principles in our public institutions should have the strength of their convictions so as to truly follow the teachings of Christ in his care and compassion for the poor, the lame, the sick and especially the children.
We can and should legislate morality. We can and should legislate based on moral and religious principles. But we should do so even in those areas
where political courage is required. It was Aristotle who said, "Virtue is not knowledge of what is to be done, but rather the doing of it."
Ratliff is a Republican who represented Mount Pleasant in the Texas Senate.