Being a Democrat in small-town Alabama is lonely business. I am pretty sure I am the only person county-wide with an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on my car. Working in law enforcement, a traditionally conservative lot, I am literally surrounded by Republicans. I've never attended one of the local Democrat group meetings, but I expect the attendance is sparse. During the last local election, widespread anti-Democrat, anti-Obama sentiment resulted in many citizens voting a straight Republican ticket. "Liberal" is practically profanity in this area, and being branded as such makes you about as welcome as an ex-spouse at a wedding.
Many of the people I know and love are conservative, and I think they still love me, despite my left-leaning views. I have always been "unique" (read: weird) and most people who know me know that I am bipolar, and I think some of them probably attribute my perceived errant thinking to mental illness. "Bless her heart, " they think. "God love her, she can't help it." Most are fairly tolerant, though some are probably secretly praying for my mortal soul, because in addition to being politically conservative, the majority here consider themselves Christian, and for them political liberalism is the antithesis of Christianity. A few have insinuated or just proclaimed outright that one cannot be a liberal and a Christian. I beg to differ.
Not all Republicans are Christians, and not all Christians are Republican, but the "religious right" have achieved dominance in GOP politics, mainly due to moral issues they have transformed into political issues, specifically abortion and homosexuality. I don't want to generalize; as I said, many that I know and love are conservative, and good people though none of us are perfect. But some on the far right seem like modern-day Pharisees to me, with their self-righteousness and hypocrisy and judgmental ways. They also tend to overlook the poor and feel lack of affordable healthcare is a personal problem. Because I align myself with the left politically, people on both sides assume they understand my views. But I think my actual opinions would surprise both sides and possibly satisfy neither. In the eyes of many, I am in a grey area politically and spiritually.
Here in Alabama, I vote Democrat, therefore I am liberal. But how would my views match up with liberals around the country? I feel certain that in some circles I would be considered not liberal enough. After all, I still believe the death penalty can be appropriate in some cases, though it is an ethical dilemma I have struggled with for years. I am deeply concerned about the number of inmates on death row who have been exonerated due to DNA evidence unavailable at the time of their trial and wonder how many innocent people have been put to death. Also, the methods used are questionable to say the least. The electric chair and gas chamber are barbaric, and from what I've read, lethal injection is not far from it, certainly not as gentle and painless as it appears. People often say, "What if it was your loved one that was murdered? Wouldn't you want justice?" Yes, I would. I would want them dead, and I would want to be the one to do it. But that is an emotional response, not a rational, logical one. The nagging question in my mind is, does the state have the right to take a human life? I'm not convinced. "An eye for an eye", the Bible says. But Jesus preached mercy and forgiveness.
Back to the hot button topics of abortion and homosexuality, these are issues that I believe are personal and moral and should remain private. When I am asked if I am pro-life or pro-choice, I say "Both". Very few people, if any, are literally pro-abortion, though some on the right consider pro-choice synonymous with promoting abortion. I do not personally believe in abortion. I can't imagine any circumstance under which I would have one, and I would never counsel anyone else to have one. I do believe that life begins at conception. I do not support late-term abortions. But I support a woman's right to choose, because I believe no one else, certainly not any man, deserves the right to make that decision. No one else has to carry the child to term or deliver it, and until the baby is viable outside the womb, it is a part of the woman's body.
As a Christian, I believe that the decision to have or not have a baby is a private, moral issue between the woman and God. Making abortion illegal will not stop it; it will just make it more dangerous for women and babies. The best way to reduce the number of abortions being performed is to improve sex education in schools and promote adoption. Ironically, many pro-lifers oppose sex education in schools, as if keeping young people ignorant will keep them from being sexually active. Almost nothing will prevent most young people from being sexually active. Moral education should be tempered with reality. Abstinence outside of marriage is admirable, but a high ideal to live up to when you're young and your hormones are raging. I vote we teach kids "self-control or birth-control". Also interesting to note is the tendency of conservatives to support the death penalty and war. Terminating a fetus that cannot survive outside the womb is seen as a grave sin that should be a crime, but killing people who may or may not be guilty of crime and people who are innocent citizens of a government we disagree with is considered acceptable.
As for the issue of homosexuality, my views are even more complicated. I don't consider myself a gay rights advocate, but I don't consider myself and opponent of them, either. As a Christian, I am well aware what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. It is expressly condemned as sin. But so are many other things that are more socially acceptable. Lying is a sin. Anyone who claims to never lie is automatically suspect to me. Jesus said "do not worry". Who among us never worries about anything? "Do not judge", He said. That one seems to be overlooked quite a bit in our society. Again, I think a person's sexual orientation is a personal issue, not a political one. Christians have every right to believe in the Bible as God's Word and acknowledge sin in their own lives and in others'. But they do not have the right to judge, persecute or discriminate against those they perceive as "sinners". I know people that call themselves Christians that absolutely despise gay people. There is nothing Christian about hate. Jesus preached LOVE, always, to love your neighbor as yourself, and that includes gays and lesbians. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners, and deserve condemnation, but we are granted reconcilliation with God through Jesus Christ.
Are gay people harming you in any way? No? Then let them be. God will judge us all one day, and I for one have plenty to answer for in my own life without minding other people's business, poking my nose into their bedrooms. The question at the heart of the issue is whether or not people choose to be gay. To that I say, who would willingly choose a life of persecution and intolerance? No one I know. Most of us can look back and remember kids we knew in school who were "different" long before puberty, long before they knew what sex was, and then later came out as gay. Clearly, for them it was not a conscious choice. There may be some people who choose to become intimate with a same sex partner, but I believe this is the exception to the rule. For those who think homosexuality is a choice, I pose this question: When did you decide to be straight? You didn't. You just were what you were and you are what you are today. But then, why would God create a person to be gay and then call it a sin? I don't have an answer for that. I don't have an answer for many things concerning God, and probably never will in this lifetime. I'm not calling for Christians to reject the teachings of the Bible. I am calling for tolerance. I am calling for all to focus on their own lives and stop trying to bind their moral beliefs on others. As for the question of gay marriage, I say, by all means, why not allow them to suffer the same as heterosexuals? (Visualize me smirking here.)
So the question remains: can I be a Christian and a liberal? I suppose it depends on your definition of each, and those are highly debatable. If I'm a good Christian, do I forfeit my right to be left of center on the political continuum? If I am a true liberal, am I a bad Christian? What would Jesus do? Would he be a Democrat, or a Republican? I would like to point out that Jesus helped the poor, befriended outcasts and "sinners" and healed the sick for free. But somehow, I suspect my Lord would likely rise above the fray and be an Independent.