Lots of "Liberty" Being Thrown Around . . .

I took a ten-day sabbatical from Prevailing Winds because the horror of Arizona’s new immigration law frankly took a lot out of me, and I don’t like to write when I’m feeling terribly emotional or otherwise on edge. It often produces my most colorful stuff, but not necessarily always my best.

It’s election season in Latah County, and thanks to the irrational anti-Obama sentiment and the effects of the Tea Party movement across the country, we are awash with GOP and independent candidates proclaiming their deep love for liberty. Legislative candidate Gresham Bouma — now, there’s a good Dutch Reformed name for you — and gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, who is a very odd man under any circumstances, particularly electoral ones, distribute campaign literature sodden with cries of “Liberty Forever” and “We Are Not Sheeple!,” and because proclaiming oneself to be foursquare in favor of liberty is a sure way to suggest one’s opponent isn’t, it’s become this year’s by-word.

Bouma, a conservative Christian, and Rammell, a patriarchal Mormon, both make much of their reliance on God and their gratitude for the liberty and freedom he’s bestowed on America, and so it seems reasonable that we might question what “liberty” really ought to mean to the Christian and where that might fall short coming from these two arch-conservatives. I’ll write more on the subject, I’m sure, but here’s a three-point guide that the disciple of Jesus might consider in assessing the validity of “I love liberty more than the other guy” claims being tossed out:

1. Does the candidate, in trumpeting his relationship to God, define “liberty” in Biblical terms?

It’s perhaps not necessary to discuss “liberty” as it’s discussed, say, in Romans and First Corinthians, which tells us that our Christian liberty ought never be the cause for another sister or brother, or anyone else, to stumble. However, it’s important that “liberty” be embraced as the word has been used in history, and in a way consistent with Scripture’s use of the term. Defining “liberty” as the reduction or elimination of taxes, the elimination of environmental and other property-usage restrictions, and the continuation of policies that benefit the rich and powerful is not what liberty or freedom is about. Those things often have little to do with justice, and feverish cries for liberty don’t resonate well when those making them would deny civil and privacy rights for others. God knows that too much “liberty” and not enough justice has poisoned this and every other culture similarly out of balance.

2. Does the candidate have a record of supporting “liberty” for others — the poor, the weak, the outcast, the disenfranchised — long before he considered his own liberties to be at risk?

Scripture tells us that we are to consider the rights and needs of others, especially those weaker than us, before we embrace our own. Paeans to freedom and a lust for liberty are hypocritical if the oppression and injustice others face daily become entrenched with no regard — or worse, with the approval of — those who, when they believe their rights are at risk, are overcome with a sudden, selfish commitment to safeguarding for themselves what others have missed, and missed to much greater damage than privileged white males are ever likely to endure.

3. Finally, in proclaiming his love for liberty, does the candidate speak in truthful ways that demonstrate respect, a concern for accuracy, and a sincere desire to improve not just the government, but the entire electoral process?

The cries from Tea Partyers, Constitutionalists, birthers, Sovereign Citizens and foes of immigrants are often what Scripture describes as “clanging cymbals” devoid of love. And while this is wrong, and sinful, regardless of who the cymbal-clanger is, this is a season when vitriol and vituperativeness is coming from the far Right, which laces its hateful, divisive speech with commensurate — but never appropriate — doses of faux-Christian language. There are ways to be critical of President Obama without stooping to lies, innuendo, racist taunts and rumor-mongering, and there are ways to protest government spending without eviscerating incumbents and poisoning dialogue. Anger, particularly anger mixed with ignorance, can energize a crowd, perhaps enough to even win an election. But it’s not a campaign plank; it offers no solutions, but only propels misinformed, bitter people to offices they don’t understand. Vehemence combined with knowledge can be a good thing. Vehemence on its own . . . well, it makes for interesting campaign literature, but abysmal performance.

From my reading of their literature, I have to say that Rammell fails on every account, including the basic “act decently” one that I’m sure his mother taught him. Bouma is slightly less incendiary, but the “liberty” he clamors for is a peculiar scenario that has a distinct “I’ve got mine, to golly-heck with yours” attitude. Neither ought to be elected, and I pray they won’t be.

More, much more, on this later.

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