With the presidential election over, discussion has surfaced from both sides of the red-state-blue-state divide on so-called values issues, which some believe were the deciding factor in President Bush’s re-election.
Issues such as abortion, gay marriage and a coarseness of popular culture have made for fodder among radio and television talk shows since the election.
Some South Shore clergy members agree there is a deep divide in the nation that is rooted in relaxed moral standards. They argue that it is the church’s obligation to raise the bar high, and in some cases, legislate values. Others say the divide is not as polarizing as what pundits have led people to believe, citing condescension on both sides of political and religious thought.
Many local clergy do believe that it doesn’t matter whether the division is real or perceived, now more than ever is the time for a national discussion on the moral fabric of America.
The moral compass
“There used to be a time when a man’s word was gold and people shook hands and made an agreement,” said Thurston Ott, an evangelical minister of 57 years and pastor of Snowcross Baptist Church in South Lake Tahoe.
“When you talk about moral issues, there is a sense that those times from the 1940s and 1950s are now gone,” Ott said.
There is a movement among many in the evangelical wings of Christianity, some believe, to reinstate traditional beliefs about right and wrong. Ott contends America has gotten away from its biblical foundation in the Ten Commandments and the guiding philosophies of our forefathers.
“The men who founded this country based this country’s platforms on Christian values; the Ten Commandments, which are moral principles to live by. What I see happening is that we are getting away from those Christian principles.”
Issues such as gay marriage and abortion are equally as egregious to the word of God as greed, Ott says.
“As a Christian, I believe gay marriage is wrong. Marriage should be between a man and a woman. I believe abortion is wrong. It is the taking of life,” Ott said. “When you see greed – money is the root of all evil. When you look at what happened with Enron, those men have no moral character and no moral fabric.”
Political and religious debate
Pastor Jerry Foster of Calvary Chapel of South Lake Tahoe church agrees moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage should be discussed at a national level. However, it shouldn’t be a political debate but a religious one.
“I think to Bible-believing Christians, these are biblical issues, not political party issues,” Foster said. “Part of this polarization is that we are unfairly lumping people and their political party affiliations into all or nothing. And I don’t think that’s right.”
There is a line between imposing values on a congregation and teaching the word of Jesus Christ, Ott says. In his sermons he chooses the latter.
“Christians are not perfect, just forgiven,” Ott said.
People often misunderstand these differences and pigeonhole a church as being a place where ministers judge and condemn others, he said.
“It’s not my place to judge,” Ott said. “My job is not to criticize but to love people and assist them in living a meaningful, Christian life. That’s why I don’t waste time on Sunday with issues.”
While he doesn’t minister to specific issues, he teaches to what the Bible says. The difference is what’s in the book. It is up to his congregation to apply what the word of God is, according to the Bible, to their own lives.
And that is precisely what has gone awry when it comes to an honest and open debate. Leaders with political agendas, debated constantly by pundits is what has caused polarization, says Temple Bat Yam Rabbi Jonathan Freirich.
“There is not a values divide. I think that our country is truly united by a desire to make the world a better place, ” Freirich said. “I think politicians use values to divide and every four years our country becomes more divided than it was during those four years.”
The politicization of values issues, which arguably has become the code word for what one-time presidential candidate and political pundit Pat Buchanan calls a “culture war” should be a national discussion to find middle ground rather than a continuing fight over both extremes, he said.
Religion created the blue and red states, Freirich said.
“It is not like everyone in a red state is a Republican and blue state is a Democrat. We are a people, a nation, who work on solving problems together. Today, however, our politics isn’t about solving problems. It is about getting people elected. And as long as it remains a public relations battle, extremists will win the day, because extremist opinions sell,” he said.
“I think we ought to be having a discussion and ask questions about what the purpose of government is. How can government help people and where should government not be helping? I think those questions are not being asked and we are not pursuing those answers.”
The cultural war
But some would disagree, saying the election was a wake up call for Christians to keep the values fight at the forefront of national and political discourse.
“I believe this election was the awakening of the church across America,” said Alan Morse, pastor of First Baptist Church in South Lake Tahoe.
Citing an unsuccessful challenge earlier this year to having the Ten Commandments posted in an Alabama courtroom, to gay marriages in California and Massachusetts, Morse hopes the nation, led by Christian principles, will undergo a cultural war unlike it has ever seen.
“To our horror and dismay we as a people have begun to think about what has happened to our nation,” Morse said, reflecting on the past 20 years of cultural attitudes. “Our founding fathers established this country on Christian (principles) over 200 years ago. You cannot separate the American people from the very heart and soul of who they are as a people, rooted in biblical Christianity.
“We still have an identity in our country, and whether people are conscious of it or not, we do find our truest identity in traditional Christianity.”
The re-election of George W. Bush set in step a mandate for social and moral change in this country, Morse said. It is up to the church to be the ones to lead the fight.
“The Christian church needs to get its act together. I think for the longest time, it has been asleep. The election jolted it and us out of our apathy. I hope this was for righteousness and it wasn’t for expedience,” Morse said. “My deepest hope is that it was much more than politics. That it was really about Jesus Christ and our faith in God.”