I know you’re not supposed to discuss religion and politics over meals, but we did so anyway today. A humanitarian relief worker sat down with this theological friend and discussed faith and politics, pragmatism, convenience and ethics, and Uganda and North Korea. Over our lunch at our conveniently located restaurant, we discussed inconvenient truths that bear on the church, Portland, and Washington.
Here is one of the inconvenient questions I raised: Is Portland’s and Oregon’s deeply troubling history on racial matters impacting Portland and Oregon in other spheres? Perhaps sexual promiscuity, the sex trade, and an ethics of personal convenience bearing on such matters as abortion, are not often addressed because we have not addressed well the sanctity of human life of people of diverse ethnicity and economic disparity throughout the state’s history. Our liberalism has not gone beyond tolerance to radical love and compassion where we must risk our conveniences for those most at risk.
I spoke about a related matter recently at this blog. As I said in “Humilitarized Aid,” I am concerned that in Washington we have moved toward a foreign policy of humilitarized aid: we will not give aid to those in need unless it benefits us politically in terms of our military policies. If North Korea’s tyrannical regime launches a rocket in the coming days, the USA has threatened to halt its plan to provide aid to the starving people of North Korea. If this comes to pass, how would such a move not be based on political convenience rather than the pursuit of justice for people’s sake? This is an inconvenient question. On a related point, the people who would suffer most from such a presumably politically convenient strategy will be the North Korean people, not the tyrannical regime. I discussed these matters with my humanitarian relief worker friend, who is heavily invested in trying to bring humanitarian aid to the North Koreans. In a similar vein, a Ugandan friend suggested to me recently that Washington’s move to send military advisors to Uganda to assist with bringing Kony to justice has as much if not more to do with safeguarding American interest in Ugandan oil. Both the humanitarian relief worker invested in North Korea and the Ugandan invested in his own country told me that our strategies are driven in one way or another by election concerns here in the States.
This discussion is provocative, not partisan. I fear that Republicans and Democrats, and our country at large, are driven increasingly by preoccupation with the commodification of human identity for personal and political convenience. Unfortunately, the results of the Presidential election will likely be based on which candidate—Democrat or Republican—can make the best case for solving our economic problems. While I am very concerned for economic growth and the unemployed, poverty is a much larger issue, and goes beyond matters pertaining to unemployment. I fear that economics not shaped directly by concerns for the plight of the poor will continue to lead in some ways to the commodification of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized for the personal and political convenience of those with power and affluence.
I am feeling a bit of indigestion after lunch. Perhaps it was the food. Perhaps it is due to talking about religion and politics over lunch. Or just by chance it is due to my increasing concern that all of life will someday be commodified for the sake of personal and political convenience. This fear, if realized, would become the ultimate inconvenient truth.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. This volume and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.