Popular pastor Rick Warren recently said that American Christians should vote "for a Christian worldview which stands up for the sanctity of life, the sanctity of sex, and the sanctity of marriage." No offense to Pastor Warren, but reducing Christianity and American civic engagement to the things that happen in our underpants is terrible Christianity and even worse citizenship.
Warren's reductive marching orders to American Christians hit three hot social issues from this year's presidential campaign: abortion, birth control, and marriage equality. I've been told that I'm belittling Christianity with the term "underpants voters," but isn't presenting these sex-based issues as if they are the only things that should be important about Christianity in America simply an insult that belittles American Christians?
Conservatives too often equate "the sanctity of life" with making sure that government imposes a narrow set of religious beliefs on a woman's pregnancy, regardless of her own thoughts, feelings, or needs. People in America (including Christians) honestly disagree about the exact point at which the mass of living cells inside a pregnant woman becomes a human being. But there is no disagreement that an actual child is a human being. Shouldn't the "sanctity of life" continue once a baby is born? Welfare, social-service programs, and public education are designed primarily to benefit children, to keep them fed, clothed, protected, healthy, and smart. But Republicans rail against these programs. Where is the "sanctity of life" in claiming to protect fetuses while ignoring the needs of children?
The debate about access to birth control burst into the American political scene in … well, sometime in the 19th Century. The issue was pretty much settled among most Americans about four decades ago. But the Republican Party, spurred on by the Christian right, brought the issue back this year. Why? Apparently because they consider birth control, in the words of far-right presidential candidate Rick Santorum, "a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage." Santorum doesn't seem to understand that contraception is often used to treat medical conditions, and that most married women use birth control at one time or another, including most Christian women. Is sex really only "sanctified" when it results in a child? Do conservative Christians know that birth control is the main tool we have to prevent unwanted pregnancies and, consequently, abortions? Where is the "sanctity" in making laws that invade our bedrooms and increase the number of abortions?
On the subject of marriage equality, American public opinion has reversed in recent years. More people now endorse marriage equity than oppose it, and an increasing number of states have overturned legal restrictions on who we love, this most personal of human freedoms. President Obama himself has come out in favor of marriage equality, much to the scorn of conservatives Christians. They love to quote the Old Testament verses calling male-to-male homosexuality an abomination. At the same time, they conveniently ignore similar verses that condemn eating shellfish and pork, wearing poly-blend fabric, and planting different crops in the same field. Even worse, many also tend to ignore the countless biblical references to loving one another. Where is the "sanctity" in ignoring many Bible verses while obsessing about a few that support a desire to discriminate against people who love each other and want to express their love publically and legally?
The Constitution of the United States doesn't mention God and only brings up religion to prevent the government from establishing theology into law. Of course, Jesus himself never said a word about abortion, birth control, or marriage equality. His teachings went far beyond what happens inside our underpants and focused on our minds, hearts, and souls. Maybe all Americans, Christian or not, should follow that example when we step into the voting booth.