Lawrence Christians say Jesus’ teachings have been left out of the ‘Christian Right’
Pollsters and pundits say the recent presidential election turned, in large part, on “moral values,” which often meant how voters felt about the issues of gay marriage and abortion.
But many Americans, including some Lawrence residents, were left feeling the moral values most important to them — values deeply rooted in religious tradition — were left almost entirely out of the political debate.
Count among them the Rev. Judy Long O’Neal.
“My gravest concern as a Christian minister is that the voice that has been silent has been the voice of Jesus — the teacher, the healer, the prophet. Because it’s his voice that says ‘feed my sheep, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and love one another — love your enemies, even,'” says O’Neal, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, 245 N. Fourth St., and co-director of Martha and Mary’s Way, a Lawrence-based, women’s interfaith network.
“He didn’t say anything about abortion; he didn’t say anything about homosexuality, but he did say a lot about war.”
O’Neal is among the Lawrence clergy and community leaders who express dismay at the way issues of social justice — many of them threaded throughout Scripture — appeared to be ignored by candidates of both major parties.
“The bottom line (of the Christian tradition) would be the Scripture about ‘as you have done to the least of these, you do to me,’ and ‘I come to proclaim good news to the poor,'” O’Neal says.
“It was all about upending the existing system. The actual message of Jesus has been ignored in this climate.”
Dispirited by elections
The Rev. Joe Alford, like O’Neal, feels many of the moral values that matter to him were left unaddressed by political campaigns overtly designed to draw the votes of religious Americans.
“I didn’t hear a whole lot of talk about the plight of the poor and the oppressed, women and children who lack medical care and housing and food. Nothing of substance was really said about that,” said Alford, Episcopal campus chaplain at Canterbury House, 1116 La.
“To me, that’s the real immorality. Gay marriage and abortion are important cultural issues, but I think they pale by comparison to those other issues.”
Alford also is director of the Jubilee Cafe in the fellowship hall of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt. Free breakfast is served there from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesday and Friday, with Kansas University students serving as waiters for those who come to eat.
“I think what’s going on is that corporate money controls so much of the political process, and there are no profits in taking care of the poor. When Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, they had a good lobbyist,” Alford says.
The recent elections left Alford feeling left behind, as far as his moral values are concerned.
But he’s not giving up.
“I’m just more committed than ever to keep working with people at the Jubilee Cafe and expanding our services. In September of 2001, we were serving 70 people per day. Now we’re serving 140,” he says.
Jean Lilley also felt the political campaigns, in the way they approached religion, left much to be desired.
“One of the things I found interesting was when the presidential debates talked about faith. Both candidates said their faith was very important to them, they pray a lot, but they never really talked about what they do with their faith,” says Lilley, executive director of Lawrence Habitat for Humanity.
“Jesus didn’t call us to talk about our faith, he called us to do something, to take action.”
For Lilley, helping the community create safe, affordable housing is a way to live out an important moral value.
But the topic of how to provide homes for low-income families wasn’t discussed much during the lengthy campaigns.
“Those two political issues, abortion and gay marriage are high on the emotional scale. That’s why they get most talked about,” she says.
Do justice, love mercy
The Rev. Thad Holcombe, too, says important issues were left out of the debate about moral values.
His concerns included a growing disparity among rich and poor, increasing divisions of class in society and the continuing destruction of the environment.
Holcombe, campus pastor of Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave., says the foundation for his moral values is derived from a familiar passage in Scripture (Micah 6:6-8): “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
To Holcombe, that means championing the oppressed and righting inequalities in society.
“How do you have mercy, how do you have compassion and how do you live out an ethic of compassion and justice?” he says.
“It’s not limited to three or four areas (of moral concern). It’s a huge area of our lives and our institutions of the public good.”