My church finished its Sunday School class on the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles a few Sundays ago. Here are three items:
- The pastor was commenting on welfare. She was responding to people who say that the American welfare system discourages marriage, or encourages single poor women to have a lot of kids so they could get more money from the government. Essentially, she said that these sorts of situations would exist, even if welfare were abolished.
I said that I agree with her, on some level, but that I still believe that the system should encourage marriage; at the same time, I said that I did not want women to be pushed into abusive relationships. As I reflected more after the class, I thought that perhaps I was conveying the wrong idea: I do not particularly want for the American welfare system to encourage marriage, but I don’t think that it should discourage it. What would I propose, then? Perhaps that people can still keep some of their benefits even after they marry. I don’t know. Of course, there are married people who are on welfare, so it’s not as if marriage by itself means no benefits. I may be writing myself into a pit, and looking ignorant in the process, so onto the next item.
2. We talked about the death penalty. The Social Principles are unequivocally against it because they think that it takes away a person’s opportunity to be redeemed. Maybe. Some, however, have argued the opposite. In college, I had to read Camus’ Reflections on the Guillotine, and Camus said that one reason certain religious people supported the death penalty was that impending execution put a lot of criminals into a religious state of mind.
I consider myself a fairly progressive person. Still, I was disappointed when I watched the news and saw that Connecticut abolished the death penalty, and thus these two killers would not be executed. How would I feel if someone killed my loved ones? I doubt that executing the killers would make me feel thoroughly better, since that would not bring my loved ones back, but at least I would feel satisfaction that justice had been done.
There is a tension in my mind between justice and mercy. There does need to be justice. At the same time, we all do wrong things, and even those who do wrong are human beings of value. Should they not be given an opportunity to be redeemed? I don’t know. A lot of evangelical Christians talk as if Jesus dying on the cross for people’s sins resolves the tension between justice and mercy. That puzzles me. A third party dying in someone’s place resolves the tension between justice and mercy? In my mind, the tension remains. There is a gulf that forms when justice is not done. But aren’t Christians supposed to believe in redemption?
There are people who are able to forgive those who killed their friends or loved ones. Their Christianity, or whatever worldview they hold, leads them to respect the humanity of the killer, to realize that the killer is a human being with experiences, and to embrace the possibility of redemption. I admire them, but I am not on that high spiritual place. If someone killed my loved ones, I would feel as if I were loving my loved ones less were I to forgive their killer.
3. We talked about whether Hillary Clinton’s association with the United Methodist Church would hurt her, or the United Methodist Church, were she to speak to its annual conference while still being a candidate for President. Someone said that this may hurt Hillary because it would look like she was transgressing the separation of church and state. Someone else said that it may look bad for her because, as progressive as the Social Principles are, they are opposed to same-sex marriage.
I think that it would hurt the United Methodists more. I doubt that it would hurt Hillary because most American politicians (according to my understanding) have a denominational affiliation, and that does not trouble most Americans. On the UMC’s stance on same-sex marriage, Hillary can just say that she disagrees with her church on that. Plus, it’s not as if people lump the UMC into the same boat as right-wing fundamentalists, for there are UMC pastors who support or even perform same-sex marriages. Hillary can just say that her church is evolving.
Hillary speaking to the UMC conference while being a candidate for President would hurt the UMC, however, because she is a polarizing political figure, plus it would look as if the UMC is taking sides in a presidential race. That would offend the people in the UMC who are Republicans.
I doubt, though, that Hillary will speak to the UMC conference while being a presidential candidate.