America is a religious country. Our polls say a clear majority of Americans want their leaders to be men of faith, who use their beliefs as a guiding principle in their life. With the election so divided that my home state, Ohio, is a toss-up between John Kerry and George W. Bush, it is no surprise that many ministers today chose to preach on the subject of the election. Including mine. The topic of the sermon was about compromise, when to compromise and where to stand firm.
For Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rod Parsley and others, the point of no compromise is on sexual morality. Specifically, they condemn gay marriage and legal abortion. For Wayne LaPierre and the NRA any attempt to restrict their ability to buy multiple guns without hindrance represents the break point. For others it is support for the war. I disagree profoundly with their beliefs, as does the United Church of Christ. But we would never argue it is wrong to have a point where you will not bend.
Belief has implications. One of my theology professors said it best, "Your religion is the principles by which you order your life.” Your true religion is the one you act on. Some people worship money and power. Others material possessions or the pursuit of sex. Those earthly things are what they devote all their time and attention too. Whatever church they attend, if they bow their head down to mammon, then mammon is their true God, and the material their religion. A man or woman who worships God must go where God calls, and make real sacrifice to do His work.
For my pastor, the issue he will not compromise on is poverty. The Bible does not mention abortion at all, and while it does mention homosexuality it also calls for us to worship in a purple tent and has Noah's son and his offspring sent into slavery for daring to look on Daddy's pee-pee. Moreover those condemnations pale in comparison to the calls for love and forgiveness, particularly when Christ himself spent all his time with the most despised of his society. One out of every sixteen verses in the Bible speaks of poverty. For him, this over-riding theme outweighs all other concerns, and makes all other issues negotiable.
For myself I had never framed the debate quite in that way. I ended the sermon wondering what were my no-compromise issues. When you train in political science, you try to see everything as negotiable. The reasons are fairly obvious. Unanimity of opinion is simply not found among the human species. No one gets everything they want from a political system, unless it is at the expense of the vast majority of those within the system. To get along you must give, because that is the price of maintaining the larger goal of community.
Yet there are transcendent Evils in this world. Hitler alone is proof of that. Upon a short period of reflection I realized that my no-compromise point was another issue common in the scriptures: peace. A just peace, not peace at any price.
A peace that lasts builds good will between the former combatants. A peace that lasts must be based on respect. A peace that lasts is not selfish. It may involve the use of force, but does not involve bullying. Peace is patient.
The model chosen by many Americans focuses on the differences between World War I and World War II. The Treaty of Versailles rubbed Germany's face in the dirt. It stripped Germany of dignity and resources, and attempted to make it pay for whatever crimes may have been committed. Given the economic chaos and ill-will that followed is it any wonder Hitler arose and plunged the world into war.
After World War II the victors did not demand reparations. Instead reconstruction was funded. Post-war crowing was restrained, and the attitude was more to pick your enemies up and dust them off after the fight had been decided. The result was enemies made into friends.
America is powerful, but we are one nation living in a larger community of nations. America is a nation run by men, and thus vulnerable to all the wisdom and folly characteristic of the human species. We often have disagreements with other nations, but friends ought to be permitted to disagree. Who among us goes through life without disputes? Moreover, true friends tell you when you are screwing up.
The America I see today does not understand these simple truths. Friendship to George W. Bush consists of doing what he wants you to do. Now. Dissent is treated like treachery. Europe and Japan we count as our greatest friends. Thanks to President Bush most Europeans regard America as the greatest threat to world peace. America's word and honor made us seen as a light in the world. Lies about weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Quaeda have ruined our credibility in the world.
Worst of all, we have treated much of the Islamic world as unruly children, who need to be bitch-slapped into shape. Their feelings and grievances are ignored. The administration has made little or no attempt to understand what those people wanted or needed before it decided that the best way to make peace was to make war.
Make no mistake, the Middle East is a troubled place. Four centuries ago, the Ottoman Empire stood on top of the world, with a progressive education system, scholarship, military strength and prosperity. Today most Muslims live in poverty, their governments are anti-democratic and brutal in the extreme. They have a rapidly growing population, which means lots of military age (foolish) males and insufficient resources to ensure these people of meaningful work. They're so weak that they're combined might cannot hope to defeat tiny Israel, and may Worse, the most common answer they seem to have come up with is a return to an peculiar Levantine, ultra-orthodox view of Islam that is violent and frankly, barbaric.
George W. Bush's answer to that was to invade Iraq using the flimsiest of excuses, and worse, without a coherent plan to reconstruct that country. He chose to ‘take the war to the terrorists' by invading a country where the terrorists were not to be found. He abandoned forty years of U.S. policy of trying to serve as an intermediary between Israel and the Arabs to side entirely to Israel, going so far as to deliberately undercut his Secretary of State for poltical points during a military crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. During the run up to the Iraq war he announced a plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians but then expended not one iota of political capital trying to bring agreement about, turning what might have been a promising plan into nothing more than a publicity stunt. He has ensured a loss of strategic credibility be sending an inadequate force to hold Iraq which will almost certainly lead to strategic defeat there. He ignored words of caution from our friends and allies abroad, from Democrats at home and even from within his own party. And remains incapable of admitting error.
In short, George W. Bush is not a man who approaches war with prudence or healthy skepticism. He is a man who listens only the opinions he likes. And he is willing to gamble with the lives of others, both American and Iraqi. He has brought America quagmire, and turned our good name to mud.
Once, when the campaign was going ill, George W. Bush tried to speak of himself as a "peace president". A peace president need not be a pacifist, but he must approach war with prudence and judgment, and real respect for others. George W. Bush does none of those things. If long-term peace is my non-negotiable point, then my Christian faith requires me to oppose George W. Bush.