As I drove to work this morning I listened to an NPR retrespective on the history of US relations with Gaddafi over the years. I was most struck by some of the comments made by Presidents Reagan and Carter – Carter called him a skunk! In the eyes of America Gaddafi went from being a freedom fighter to a ruthless dictator. He then became a kind of ally in the fight against terrorism and, it seems, he is now back to being thought of as a dictator. I realize that his actions over the decades were erratic, so some waffling in U.S. foreign policy is to be expected, but it also seems likely that our opinion of him and his regime has shifted to and fro as our perception of our own interests has evolved. So then I ask, what are our interests – and more importantly – what should our interests be?
Let’s notice a few things about our reactions to the events surrounding the protests and revolutions happening in North Africa and the Middle East. I’m not particularly interested in the media coverage of the events. I want to look instead at North Americans, the lookers-at-a-distance. Because that is all that most of us do, myself included. We look.
Well, if we’re honest, we worry as we look. Most of us look on and worry about what this all means for us. We see young Muslim women and men facing down armed riders on camel and horseback and, standing up against anti-tank weapons being fired at civilians. But just as a young man’s thoughts inevitably turn to love in the Spring, our thoughts turn to the mundane things of our lives and the possible effects that the revolutions on the other side of the globe might have on us.
I must admit that I’ve put off considering the issue in this blog in part because I always try to let events stew a bit so that I might write more considerately, but also because I legitimately do not know whether or not these revolutions are the kind of events on which Liberal Evangelicals can stand united. Rest assured dear reader, this will not be a call to repentance. I will not chide you or myself for thinking primarily of spiking gas prices and potential terrorist safe havens. It is inevitable that all of us consider most and first those ramifications that will directly impact our families, our jobs, and our nations. It is inevitable, but we oughtn’t be blind to the fact that our immediate interests as Western consumers and citizens may not align with our long term interests as Christians and world citizens. So I ask, can we identify at least a few core principles on which we are willing to stand united? Allow me to offer up a few candidates.
1) As religious progressives who believe in self-determination in religion, let us rejoice in the possibility that areas of the world where free religious expression has been oppressed by totalitarian regimes may now move toward a more open system in which religious expression is neither compelled nor constrained. But let us also be vigilant in our advocacy on behalf of religious minorities in all countries, including our own.
2) As feminists who promote the full humanity of woman and support the rights of women to control their own bodies, careers, dress and voices, let us support women of all countries and religions as they seek to protect and guarantee their rights. And let us be humble enough to recognize that not all women will understand their own self-interests in the same manner.
3) As Evangelicals who know what it is like to be shoved uncomfortably into a single group in the minds of others and to wear a label that others frequently misconstrue and misuse, we know that not all Muslims are the same. Not all North Africans are the same. Not all North African and Middle Eastern Revolutions are or will be the same. We know the reality of difference, so let us reject language that treats all Middle Easterners or Muslims as automated agents of a single amorphous Islam.Liberalism is about freedom from convention, so let us always keep in mind the fundamental fact that individual members of any group are always still individuals.
4) Finally, as Evangelicals, let us remember the words that Jesus spoke in what has come to be known as “The Golden Rule” and let us do unto the protesters who crowd city squares across North Africa and the Middle East as we would like to be done unto were we the ones marching and fighting for freedom. Let us stand behind the values and ideals we claim to cherish: freedom of religion, freedom of expression, democracy, and liberty. We want these for ourselves even though we know that liberty and freedom are messy and inefficient. We want the right to elect our leaders and decide our own fates, even as we recognize that we sometimes elect the wrong people and make bad decisions. Let us recognize in these protesters, the same basic human desire for freedom that we feel in ourselves and treat them as we would want to be treated, ignoring imaginary “worst case scenarios.”
Of course, most of these issues are above my head and out of my hands. I have no say in American foreign policy and next to no influence on public opinion, so why worry and write about these matters? To be honest, I find it personally helpful, even cleansing in a fashion to strive for radical moral consistency. Of course dangers to my country and my pocketbook may emerge from these protests, but the hypocrisy of not being willing to risk my own comfortable life so that other might have the basic freedoms and rights that I enjoy – that hypocrisy is so glaring and corrosive that I find it liberating to be rid of it. In philosophical terms, Kant’s categorical imperative dictates that I think not of possible outcomes but only of the ideals involved, and therein lies true moral freedom. But my impulse is to put the issue in more personal terms.
We cannot see all ends and so we cannot predict with much accuracy what this or that action will yield on a scale as grand as world-historical events. So why don’t we just have faith. The bumper stick proclaims, “Let go, let God.” Perhaps this is one of those times when a cheesy slogan may convey something true. When in doubt about future events, stop trying to predict outcomes, and follow your deepest ideals. Sure, the toppling of hateful regimes and dictators can lead to chaos, and we may end up with something worse than a dictator who keeps the oil flowing, but fear of potential bad consequences is no excuse for inaction. And I think I’ve got scripture on my side on this one.
As we gather around television sets and computer screens this week and watch protests continue in country after county and witness Libya descend into what may become a protracted civil war, let us remember as Liberals that we ought to cherish and promote freedom regardless of the religion or race of the those who seek it. Let us remember as Evangelicals that God so loved the entire world that he sent his son, he did not love only those that call on his son’s name. As Liberal Evangelicals let us have the courage to pursue and support our ideals, even as we find many of our most cherished ideals being voiced in sometimes surprising places.