Robert Walter Funk 1926-2005

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 14 September 2005 0 Comments
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"Several years ago, I was interviewed at a pro-choice event
for Republicans. Being well past any likelihood of
pregnancy, I linked my concern about my right to die with my
right to decide about my fertility. Both ends of life are
clearly the prime battlegrounds of the "Right to Life"
groups, yet they assert that an embryo or a fetus and a
person who cannot survive without heroic, indefinite
intervention are fully alive and must be saved. I said then
that I was as appalled at the notion that the government
might decide if I should live or die, just as they might
decide if my daughters could have an abortion within the
reasonable parameters set by Roe v. Wade. People at that
event thought I was "stretching it."

"Since then I have been proven tragically correct. Attorney
General John Ashcroft has challenged Oregon on its right to
death with dignity law. Abortion conditions continue to be
eroded by the radical conservatives who seem to know better
than the family in question what is best. People in nursing
homes often have to be resuscitated at hospitals because,
even with written directives otherwise, the nursing home is
required to send the patient to the hospital to be "saved."
Can you explain how it is that the Republican Party that has
historically stood for limited government is now inserting
itself into the most personal of issues?"


Politics is always more about power than principle. You
should not expect consistency from either party. If you go
back into the 30s, the Democrats were in power and met the
Depression with massive spending programs and rising
deficits. Today the Republicans are in power and the
Democrats are complaining about bigger and bigger government
and massive deficits. In the days of Abraham Lincoln, the
Republicans were the party of civil rights and justice for
black Americans. Today, black Americans tend to vote about
90% Democratic. In the days of Theodore Roosevelt,
Republicans were the environmental champions. Today most
environmental groups endorse Democratic candidates. These
things may be ideological for some but I am convinced that
they result more from the desire to ride issues into
political power more than anything else. That is not cynical
so much as it is realistic. Power is the name of the primary
goal of politics.

When I lived in Virginia in the fifties and sixties, the
Democrats tended to be "States Rights, Anti-integration,
Anti-Union, Conservatives." During that time, the best
governor of that state was, in my opinion, A. Linwood Holton,
a Republican. As a citizen now of New Jersey, I still regard
Republican Thomas H. Kean as the most effective governor in
the past thirty years.

What is now going on in American politics is, I believe, a
reaction to the fast pace of change that always creates
uncertainty and fear. It has been building since shortly
after World War II. It began with the post World War II
massive migration of black Americans out of the south into
urban America. Next came the morally correct, but culturally
destabilizing ruling of the Supreme Court against segregation
in 1954. This was followed by urban unrest and riots in the
sixties, created in part by the pressure on social systems in
northern cities with the arrival of black migrants who, as
products of a cruel and dehumanizing segregation, were
generally poorly trained and poorly educated. Next came the
disillusioning war in Vietnam that we could not win, we could
not lose and from which we did not seem to know how to
extricate ourselves. This was followed by the Watergate
scandal in which, for the first time in American history, a
sitting president was expelled from office. These forces
came together to create great insecurity, great anxiety and
great fear. It also caused our nation as a whole to search
for leaders who reflected the values of our past that, by
comparison, looked calm and peaceful where values were not in
doubt. Since it is far more difficult to articulate new
values than to retreat into the past, this nation turned
first to 'born again' Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan,
whose movie career projected him as the candidate of law and
order, American patriotism and traditional values. Gradually
security was restored and in 1992 America turned its
presidency over to one who reflected the Vietnam resistance.
It was time to move on. President Bill Clinton's misuse of
the Oval Office for sexual escapades, however, plus the
constant and I think excessive investigation of him by a
politically motivated Republican Congress reignited the fear
that values were once again under assault, resulting in the
narrow victory in 2000 by another voice of the past, George
W. Bush, the son of Reagan's vice president and successor,
George W. H. Bush. The Bush II presidency was then defined
by the 9/11 attacks that once again cast the people of this
nation into a mode of fear. Fear always drives people to
seek the security of yesterday, a security they feel that
they have lost. The appeal of the present Bush
administration is first to family values, which is code
language for anti-abortion measures and government control of
sexual activity. The corollary to this is the drive to
protect the "sanctity of marriage," which is the code
language for anti-homosexual measures. So life issues and
sexual repression issues dominate their social agenda. They
seem not to realize that this flies in the face of their
conservative promise to "limit government" or to "get the
government off the back of the people." The politics of fear
is quite frequently the ticket to power. The rise of a
controlling religious mentality that seeks to force everyone
by law to abide by the prevailing traditional norms of
behavior is a part of that.

What usually happens when religion becomes politically
powerful and seeks to impose its values on the whole body
politic is that, drunk with a new sense of importance, it
ultimately overreaches its mandate and people begin to feel
threatened by the imposition of a narrowly defined religious
power. The passion that surrounded the Terri Schiavo case,
the president's dramatic flight to Washington to sign the
emergency measure rushed through Congress at midnight to
"save this woman's life," Republican Majority leader Tom
Delay's subsequent attack on the Judiciary, the whole drama
being orchestrated from Florida by Governor Jeb Bush, and
Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist's suggestion that by not
passing every judge nominated by the President, the political
opposition party was attacking religion, even hinting that
Democratic opposition to these potential judges was based on
the fact that the nominees were "Evangelical Christians," has
all the marks of a major over-stepping of the boundaries of
religious power. People respond quite negatively to any
attempt to coerce conformity. A Democrat named Franklin
Delano Roosevelt, at the height of his post depression
popularity, tried to pack the Supreme Court and was rebuffed
by an aroused public. That is clearly happening once again
today even though the political shoe is on the other foot.
The practice of politics is always about power more than
principle and this nation is strong enough and wise enough
never to let any group or any person get too much power. So,
relax and let history play itself out. It will.

— John Shelby Spong

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