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Truthdig Podcast: ‘Jesus Rode a Donkey’ Author
Posted on Apr 10, 2007
Linda Seger explains why Jesus’ teachings have more in common with Democrats than Republicans, how Christians have been manipulated into compromising their values and what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris sitting down with Josh Scheer, and on the phone we have special guest Linda Seger. Linda has just written the title “Jesus Rode a Donkey.” Wait a minute before you begin to laugh or question that title. This book is about why Republicans don’t have the corner on Christ. Linda, tell me about this book, “Jesus Rode a Donkey.” What’s your main message here?
Linda Seger: The book is about Christian values from the viewpoint of the Democrats. I wrote it because, particularly before the 2004 election, we kept hearing about values and Christian values and we kept hearing that those are Republican values and that they were represented by this Republican administration. Well, I’m a Christian, and I changed from being a Republican to a Democrat when I was in my late 20s. And I have very specific Christian values that line up for me much better with the Democratic Party. So I thought that there needed to be a book that said, what were those values and how are they biblically based and theologically based? Why are there so many of us who are Christian Democrats instead of Christian Republicans?
Harris: That’s a nice synopsis. I’m going to get right to the criticism of your book. Many said that you have used Jesus, as your critics suggest, “to villainize the Republican Party.” Is there any girth to that claim?
Seger: There’s always the potential, with a book like this, to be very divisive, no matter what. I’ll tell you what I did do as I was writing it to try to get away from that. I had two Republicans read the book, Republican Christians, one ultraconservative and total, total backer of Bush, a military man. And his job was to help to make sure that it was pretty moderate. He felt it was moderate, and my other Republican reader did, too. But I have certainly gotten some of those letters that said, “Oh, you’re villainizing Republicans.” I really don’t think that I am doing that. I am definitely making some strong statements against this Republican administration and some of their policies.
Harris: What’s your strongest statement, would you say, against the Republican Party in this book?
Seger: I think there’s not been enough concern about the poor and the middle class; there’s not been enough concern about ecology. And I think these are areas where, as Christians, we are very much called to care about. For instance, ecology. Genesis 2 is so strong about—we are to be good and responsible stewards of the Earth. We are to care and cultivate the gardens, if we want to say it that way. I think that we have not been responsible stewards and that we are asked to do that. So there are these various areas. Whenever possible I always tried to quote Bush and people in the administration very specifically. I tried not to paraphrase it, and one of the things in some of the strong statements, my one reader would look and he would say, “Is that true?” and I’d say, “Yes” and I’d show my sources. And he said, “Well, then you have every right to say that.” He said, “Some people will be offended that you are saying that.” It’s been interesting to me: About half of my Republican readers who write me are very positive about the book. The other half of the Republicans who write me send me hate mail. So it kind of depends. Definitely, though, there is stuff in here to offend if one wants to be offended.
Josh Scheer: As we saw with David [Kuo], though, and also a few others, the Republicans were just kind of maybe using the Christians and so maybe they wouldn’t be offended because the Christian ones are going, “We were used by this party to win the elections” and . . . not that you’re talking about being a Democrat and maybe less conservative than something else, but you are talking about Christian values and maybe a different set of values that the Republicans had.
Seger: Here’s what I think is interesting. When I started looking at the documents coming from the National Association of Evangelicals, who tend to be mainly Republican, many of those documents are much more in line with Democratic Party policy. There’s been a shift with the evangelicals. I think it was about only 22 percent of them voted for [2004 presidential candidate John] Kerry. But in some polls now they’re saying 41 percent of them are not happy with the direction that this country is going in with this administration. They have two really interesting documents. One of them is called the “Call to Civic Responsibility,” and much of what they talk about—care for the poor and people with AIDS, better healthcare ... these kind of things—are very much what the Democrats are much more concerned about. They also have a document on global warming and they cannot get consensus on this document, so it’s not official yet, but they actually have a group among the evangelicals that are very concerned with what’s happening with this issue and are, again, much more in line with Democratic policy at this point. My guess is that what’s going to start happening is that Christians, and particularly the evangelicals, who more represent the Republican Christian side, I think we’re going to see a shift. I wouldn’t be surprised if, maybe by the next election, close to half of evangelicals vote for Democrat, half vote for Republican, and then we can get away from this terrible divisiveness and the kind of hatred and the kind of ways churches are lining up behind one party versus the other and, I think, getting overly politicized as a result.
Seger: Yes, yes. No, I don’t doubt their Christianity. I don’t doubt Bush’s Christianity, either. I doubt some of his policies. I doubt some of the values and how those line up with his policies, but I don’t doubt—. You notice I didn’t say Democrats are Christian, either. The book is recognizing that of course many Republicans are Christians, but there are many Democrats who are also, and I think there’s been a lot of vilifying of the Democrats, as if there was no such thing as a Democratic Christian. Of course there’s millions of us out there.
Scheer: What about the issues of homosexuality and partial-term abortion, and the death penalty. What do you think about those issues where Democrats have sided not with abortion but being pro-choice, and some Christians do feel that is siding with abortion. Some Democrats, many Democrats, are for the death penalty, which is killing, which is, “Thou shall not kill.” And I don’t know what your positions are on homosexuality. ...
Seger: The first thing is, I think abortion is one of the most difficult issues because it is true: The Republican Party has taken this pro-life position and the Democratic Party on the whole has taken pro-choice. But it isn’t quite so neat and clean. There’s a very interesting section of the Democratic Party now called Democrats for Life, and they are working with the pro-choice and saying, “Instead of being overly .... so moralistic, let’s look at being effective. Let’s really try to look at it. How do you stop unwanted pregnancies? That’s the real problem.” The real problem is not who’s for or against abortion, and nobody is for abortion. People are just saying, what do we do with these unwanted pregnancies? What do we do to help people who decide to keep a child but don’t have a lot of money? Like raising minimum wage definitely helps. Having better child care. But another thing that bothers and worries the Democrats is that in places and countries where abortions has been prohibited there’s actually more abortions and that they’ve become more unsafe, and women are dying. And they say, “Obviously, this isn’t very effective to just take a straight, moralistic, absolutely under no circumstances. ...” So the big question has more to do with being effective than with a kind of moral position, because these moral positions are so difficult. I could say, “Yeah, I don’t think we should have abortions, either, but what are our choices? How could we actually be effective?” So I think that’s the big issue, and I know many Christians who say that’s the main reason they vote Republican.
Now, the homosexuality issue, I think, has been misinterpreted and become a wedge issue, because the Democratic Party is not for same-sex marriage; it is for equality of rights regardless of religion and race and gender orientation, etc. And so people who have long-term, domestic partnerships—and that could actually be a mother and her son or a father and his grown son ... any number of relationships. They say, “Why don’t we look at these in terms of long-term relationships and how do we give equal rights?” And the other thing the Democrats say, which has generally been a Republican stand, is that this should be a states’ rights issue. Massachusetts has same-sex marriage, many states have same-sex benefits, and in a recent poll in Massachusetts, as people say, it either has made no difference or it’s been a better thing to have same-sex marriage. It’s not hurt the state. It’s not hurt people. I think some of these issues are difficult. There are certainly difficult issues, but I think some of them, like homosexuality, are being made into wedge issues when they shouldn’t be.
Scheer: I don’t doubt that it’s being made into a wedge issue. What I’m looking for is also, what’s the Christian take on homosexuality? Jesus—.
Seger: There it depends on who you talk to and how you read your Bible. There are only about six verses in the Bible about homosexuality, and if you look at them carefully, they are about degrading sexual behavior, and that they are usually paired with other verses about degrading heterosexual behavior as well. So they’re more about gang rape and these kind of issues. There is no verse in the Bible, really, about being lesbian. There’s a verse in Romans that is interpreted that way. It’s about women doing unnatural acts. But all the commentaries I read said, “unnatural acts” ... the phrase of women, between women, is not there. Unnatural acts in biblical times was any woman who was overly aggressive or assertive. So a prostitute or even someone who took the lead, sexually, or anything like that. And that was a pretty consistent take on that verse. So I looked at those six verses and I thought there’s been a lot of talk, when there are six verses there and there’s thousands about the poor. And I said, aren’t we getting out of balance here? And when I look at those verses, you can interpret them either way, but a lot of them have to do with holiness codes from 3,000 years ago when the Israelites moved into Canaan, and when you put them into context, is this really saying something about loving homosexual relationships now? There doesn’t seem to be anything in the Bible about homosexuality as identity, and the only [citation] there is, the one section in the Bible—it’s pretty controversial, but David and Jonathan had a very close, same-sex love relationship. There is nothing that says whether it was gay or not. It just says they loved each other more than they loved someone of the opposite sex.
Scheer: So you’re saying there’s homosexuality in that time, too, and that they were trying to deal with it in the Bible.
Seger: Oh, yeah. I don’t think the Bible was trying to deal with it so much. I think anyone who says so much of the Bible is clear about it, I don’t think it is very clear about it. But there clearly has always been homosexuality. You go back to Sappho and her lesbian verses and the early Greeks and the fact that they were talking about it. And, Leviticus. It was being taught to them. The interesting thing about Leviticus is you have a group of Israelites who are moving into foreign land, differentiating themselves. They have to have lots of kids. It was sort of a command, “Have a lot of children because we’re going to be overwhelmed by these other people if we don’t help our own population.” So that very well could be some of the motivation for some of those verses in Leviticus.
Scheer: There’s another Christian issue that the Republicans have used. Maybe it’s a wedge issue to you. I don’t know. What about abstinence? Teaching only abstinence-only programs?
Seger: Well, here’s what the Democrats say about this. They say we should be teaching abstinence, but we shouldn’t only be teaching abstinence, because when they have looked carefully at what happens with abstinence-only programs, they said when kids have sex they don’t use condoms and they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re not aware of birth control. And so they’re going to have sex anyway. You may as well educate them. You don’t want unwanted pregnancies. So what the Democrats want is they said, “We want a program that’s very thorough, that has abstinence-only, that has sex education, that really educates young people, whatever decision they make. And let’s face it, that their decisions are not always going to be good. At least you’re not going to end up with these unwanted pregnancies.”
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