The conservatocracy is up in arms over whether John McCain, purportedly a "liberal," will be able to hold onto conservative voters concerned about immigration. A less-asked question is how he will fare with those evangelical voters also concerned about immigration, but in a very different way.
Evangelicals tend to recognize the need for compassion for the poor, to the unborn, to immigrants. Expansive, non-defensive Christianity has been the outstanding vehicle in human history for increasing the liberty of those seen as subhuman until Christians began viewing them as neighbors: the poor, the sick, the sexually exploited; racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; the not-yet-born and the declining but not-yet-dead.
Sure, we should recognize that some claiming the name of Christ have been selfish, but many others have led the way in taking risks and making "We the people" include more and more people viewed not as threats, but as neighbors.
The big U.S. experiment from the 1840s to 1924 was whether the "we" could include millions of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. Some Protestants who thought of America as a Holy Land fought what they saw as pollution by immigrants, but by the end of the century, the consensus was clear: We the neighbors includes Catholics and Jews, and soon came a smattering of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims as well.
The big 20th century experiment was whether the "we" could include different racial and ethnic groups. Despite constitutional amendments, the Civil War hadn't settled that, since African-Americans largely remained poor and disenfranchised. In the mid-20th century, though, strong and courageous Christians (once again, sadly, with exceptions) fought for civil rights as many of their predecessors had fought for emancipation.
I hope that during February, Black History Month, American schoolchildren are learning the uniqueness of our history. In India, Hindu priests lead the opposition to equal rights for the generally dark-skinned Dalits ("untouchables"). In the United States, though, ministers like Martin Luther King and others of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference demanded to be treated as neighbors. Many Christians and Jews joined their cause.
George W. Bush's call for "compassionate conservatism" helped win him the White House. John McCain has voted consistently pro-life, so he can attract support from the majority of Americans who now see unborn children as part of the "we," and also from those looking for a way to be compassionate toward the illegal immigrants among us, many who have labored here for years and built families.
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