Hubert Humphrey in Hell

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by Michael Finley

I'm in an awkward position: a political progressive attending an evangelical church. (To make a long story short, I come from the Roman Catholic tradition but a couple of years ago I fell for the congregation I write about here. It made no sense culturally, but I liked the pastor and many of the people very much, and I found myself persuaded by the emotional depth of everyone's faith.)

And I worry: Does sitting in an orthodox pew mean I must forsake my liberal ways?

To hear many of my new friends, everything I leaned toward in my benighted past – justice, fair play, and sticking up for the oppressed and afflicted – must now be leaned away from. I'm not immune to the thought: Is that what God wants?

Does Jesus hate liberals, unions, civil rights, and environmental regulation? Where does he stand on raiding the minimum wage? Can Hubert Humphrey truly be roasting in the flames of hell?

I have been reticent on this point, not wanting to antagonize what appeared to be a uniformly conservative congregation, half afraid the answer was yes. I seem so screwed: riveted to the call of God, and therefore, technically, willing to forswear my politics if I got a definitive sign to shift right. That's the whole deal with God: You do what you're told.

But I am not getting the shift sign. Indeed, I am the one who has shown the prejudice and done the stereotyping, the usual things about big hair, polyester suits, and what to pack for the Rapture.

My evangelical friends have been nothing but patient and sympathetic with me. "It must be hard being around all us Republicans," one guy, a house painter, joked with me over after-service coffee.

An older woman named Marion reminded me of the old hymn, "In Christ There Is No East or West." "The same goes for right and left," she said, patting my arm affirmatively. "God wants your heart, not your voting record."

After several months of this, a parishioner outed herself in a confidential email. "I just want you to know you are not alone," Mary Alice, a homemaker, said. "I was raised a Democrat and I still vote that way, although Rod cancels my vote out.

"It just doesn't seem right," she said, "what some of these characters are getting away with."

As proof of her ideals, Mary Alice felt women should hold positions of leadership in the church, and that we needed more people of color in the congregation. She was against abortion, but she tried to look beyond that wedge issue to the bigger picture. "I need to feel a candidate is looking out for people, and not just pandering to them," she said.

Bit by bit other people have come up to me – I feel like I am wearing a donkey suit sometimes – and confided dark liberal desires.

"Darn right the working man needs protection," said Nelson, an independent roof contractor. "People aren't Dixie cups to be used and thrown away. We're good for the long haul, but we need respect, we need to be talked to."

"I'd vote Democrat in a minute except I'm against pornography and drugs," said Bud, a former crack addict who found Christ, and he remembered having faintly positive feelings about Hubert Humphrey. "But gee, that was a long time ago," he said.

Was Hubert in hell? Bud squinted. "Nah," he finally said. "But don't get me started on Ted Kennedy."

Debbie, a first-time mom, confided, "My family has no medical insurance and it scares the wits out of me. The church tries to help people. But it can't step in if we get sick or something really terrible happens. We all have to do it together, as a society."

Art, a tow truck driver, took me aside and admitted this to me: "I'm conservative as the Dark Ages, but I just don't like these guys," meaning the neocons behind the war effort.

A common theme in the political pages is that Bush has already won the election because he has the evangelical vote wrapped up. But that may not be true. So far the election promises to be quite close, as it was four years ago. I'm sure the president will win the lion's share of conservative Christian votes. But he needs every single one to prevail.

But I also know fundamentalist Christians who want him and his gang out, and the America they grew up in back. And they reject the idea that their votes are chattel for Karl Rove, a GOP plantation ready for harvesting.

We evangelicals are as smart and as patriotic and as discerning as any Americans. I shouldn't even have to say that, as it reveals my own arrogant learning curve. The idea that we have surrendered to Bush, and not to the God of the Universe, well, that's really bad, isn't it?

Michael Finley can be reached at mfinley@mfinley.com.

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