I recently had the honor of spending some time with Dr. Peter Kusmic, one of the world's ecumenical leaders, a scholar and a man known for his peacemaking efforts in the Balkans. Peter is the brother-in-law of Dr. Miroslav Volf, a professor who anchors the Center for Religion and Culture at Yale. Both of these men take the words of Jesus seriously, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
As we spoke about ethics, politics, missions, business and other current world issues, we found much common ground, even while we approached issues a bit differently. It is hard for Americans to comprehend the ethnic hatreds and suffering in the Balkans, in the Sudan, in Zimbabwe and other regions. Peter is a Pentecostal Christian in a region torn by strife between Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Muslim, with other traditions on both sides of the ethnic divide!
Out of these conversations, I want to propose some ways forward on highly divisive issues. These thoughts will not please the hard-core Left or Right, but perhaps they can be a starting point for forging consensus that leads to practical help for the broken and vulnerable among us.
International cooperation is not an option. We live in an interconnected world and cannot retreat from reality. But international coercion and a one-world governing elite would be a disaster for freedom. My conservative friends, the UN does have a place - a place for debate and discussion, for moral outrage, humanitarian help, and for peacemaking. My liberal friends, surrender of national sovereignty is antithetical to democracy and economic development. The 20th century is proof that central planning does not engender liberty.
Climate change, global warming, a coming ice age, limited resources and a burgeoning population - what do we believe and what do we do?
My conservative friends, shouting, "free markets and less regulation!" is not enough. Ethical constraints and environmental limits on capitalism are vital if we are going to prosper and have a planet for our grandchildren to enjoy. My colleagues on the Left, your foundation dollars and government salaries have to come from somewhere - it is called for-profit business! We do not need to "de-develop" the USA - we need to foster wealth creation within reasonable environmental limits, with as little government control as possible.
Government regulation is NOT the same as government administration, control and even ownership. I urge all socialists to take a look at the environmental consequences of 70 years of Soviet planning in Eastern Europe and the USSR. At the same time, the rapacious policies of several multinationals in Latin America continue to keep that vibrant continent from real prosperity.
Will we permit real, open public debate on the climate? What do we have to fear? At the same time, will all climate-change advocates who have been raking in millions in grants and profits please stand up and be counted and allow their lifestyles to be examined? Meanwhile, global corporations must be held to account for how they treat the environment. Such accountability can take place without an one-world government, if nations will negotiate in good faith.
My business friends, we must think about sustainable enterprises that bring reward for risk and return good to the world.
For over 40 years both political parties have failed to restrain spending. My Republican friends, I join you in opposing much of the new spending proposed by the current administration. However, conservatives must be willing to have every part of government spending scrutinized - including the military and the subcontracting of security to private firms. I have family members and friends that were and are part of the defense industry and all of them, in honest moments, admit that there is much waste. George Will years ago said that conservatives like to rail about less government while taking full advantage of all her benefits. Let's get honest and understand that smarter thinking and streamlined processes will not be easy.
I challenge all elected, appointed and career federal officials to get off their special gravy trains and be part of the same medical and retirement programs the rest of us have. While scores of my friends look for work, the federal salaries are rising and the bureaucracy is growing - not a good sign.
We must be honest about history. FDR's policies did create temporary jobs and build infrastructure. But the real turnaround came as private and public agencies geared for war and the new technologies it spawned fueled the prosperity of the post-WWII generation. So we may need some government help to stimulate some sectors - but not permanent control of large portions of the economy.
Let's decide to balance the budget over the next three to five years. "It is not that simple," many say. Why not? Where is the courage to take on ALL the special interests, from arts to education to subsidies for agriculture, to military programs and pet projects in particular districts. (I read that the recent spending proposed in Congress has over 5000 earmarks. We are waiting for your pencil, Mr. President!)
Wall Street avarice created the current crisis. But government policies encouraged "flexible" lending practices and the people we entrust our hard-earned tax dollars to refuse to change their habits. Several governors are leading the way in budgeting - let's learn from them.
Peacemaking is our theme. Howard Dean, capitalism is not the enemy and socialism is no solution. Sean Hannity, repeating conservative mantras will not move us forward either. Wealth creation moderated by sound ethics and governmental policies is the way forward. Private initiative must be primary - in business and charity, with governmental help when needed.
Now to the two social issues that raise voices before anyone is heard.
Abortion ends the life of a human being, whether she is defined as actual or potential, a fetus or a baby. Let's stop the verbal nonsense and once and for all expose the real issue: many folks do not want to live with the consequences of their decisions. If the sexual intimacy was consensual, then the unborn child deserves our protection. "A woman's right to choose" includes the choice to have consensual sex with her partner. My liberal friends are already screaming, "it is not that simple. Some impoverished women really do not have choices and some scared teenager deserves her life back. You are so insensitive!" My conservative friends are already angry because i used the word consensual as a qualifier.
Apart form rape or incest - and we need to create a climate where these can be exposed while protecting the victims - abortion is rarely a medical necessity, physically or psychologically. The small percentage of cases where a mother's life is in danger deserve compassion and perhaps the permission of a tragic moral choice; however, this is not a large number of the more than 40 million dead since Roe v. Wade. The victims of non-consensual sex who courageously carry to term and either raise the child or release to adoptive parents deserve all our support. For those who have had abortions, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation is the order of the day.
Even if my position is not the majority opinion culturally or legally, doctors and nurses who refuse to perform elective abortions should not be ostracized or penalized. This is intolerance from the other side of the debate.
I recently heard one male point of view in a coffee shop: "Abortion is OK. If I want to have a one-night stand I should not have to pay for it the rest of my life, and oh, yeah, neither should she." What a sad window into the hedonism of our day.
Gay marriage is the other hot potato. Most world religions affirm the sanctity of monogamous heterosexual marriage. The Judeo-Christian marriage ethic has been the core of our Western Culture for centuries. In the last 40 years gay activists have been crying our for full equality. How do we reconcile these two very divergent perspectives?
A little anthropology, biology, history, psychology and sociology helps. Clans and communities, nations and empires throughout history have honored heterosexual marriage as a social contract, a religious sacrament and an essential foundation for the future. My GLBT friends, your call for civility and tolerance of your private adult sexual activity is one thing, overthrowing the sacred traditions of world faiths is another. In fact, the GLBT agenda continues to morph from toleration of private activity in the 1970s to benefits for domestic partners in the 1980s and 1990s to the strident call to redefine marriage in the 2000s.
Here is a way forward: Other forms of domestic partnership can have legal status without the title marriage. Adult partners can still have benefits, create ceremonies and legally bind themselves to each other; however, marriage is reserved for monogamous heterosexual unions that have proven to be the key to health and stability and remain the ideal for billions all over the world.
There is no place for intolerance or violence toward any person, regardless of orientation. But toleration does not mean a person must agree with another person's choices. Clergy must never be forced to marry or unite people against their faith. If a particular group dissents from the rest of their particular religion or sect, they are free to create their own community - but they should not hijack or subvert the faith of others in the process.
Traditionalists must live at peace with non-traditionalists without being forced to agree with them. This is the genius of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. My neighbors live together as an unmarried couple. I would love them to marry and come to faith; however, they are great folks and I am happy to know them. We help each other and have fun discussing all types of topics. They are smart enough to know we disagree about the (what we view as) incomplete nature of their union; we know that they are made in God's image and bring good to the world and deserve our love and respect.
Defending traditional marriage will be on better ground if those who claim faith and fidelity practice it. Hypocrisy and scandal are grist for the subversive mill.
Public education must not replace one form of perceived intolerance with another. Religious children should not be forced to listen to "education" that is a mask for moral relativism, promiscuity and sexual experimentation outside of an adult relationship. At the same time, no student should be afraid if they are "different." Wherever possible, Christians should be the best friends they can be with the people they disagree with most.
Emperor Julian (called "the Apostate" in the 360s because he sought to revive paganism against the growing influence of Christianity) lamented that the Christians far surpassed their pagan neighbors in sacrificial service to poor, whether Christian or not. If only this was the testimony of the non-religious today.
Peacemaking is arduous, halting and takes time. It cannot fit a 20 second sound bite and it will rarely be understood in its early stages. But it is worth the effort. We can have Zimbabwe or South Africa; we can have the Balkans or Ireland. In the USA we can shout, "Foul" to all the ideas of our opponents, or start with the values we share and build from there.
As we honor the Prince of Peace, let's resolve to be people of peace.