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An Open Letter of Pastoral Admonition to Governor Rick Perry

Dear Governor Perry,

 

I am concerned that you are encouraging a climate of fear, and, perhaps inadvertently, participating in a culture of death.

I am a Texan (born in Graham), a Methodist, and an evangelical.  I am also, by conscience, a pro-life Christian.  I care deeply about Christian ethics, and I pray daily for the state of our country.  I am writing to you with these matters in common, hoping that my appeal to you will find a hearing.

You can take the girl out of Texas, and give her a fancy Yale education, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl.  I think that I understand the sense of pride you have for our home state.  I am also very proud to be from Texas, but there is a way that this pride may encourage some people in the United States to seek more swagger than truth.  You sound at times as if you want people to be proud to the point of bullying, to be prideful to the point of cruelty.

Put simply, many people feel economically vulnerable right now.  One temptation all created, fallen people (that is, all of us) have is to deal with our insecurities and fears by finding someone beneath us over which to stand.  When we feel small, we have a tendency, at our worst, to seek someone that we can be bigger than.  I feel threatened and fearful about my future, so I look around for someone else whose situation is worse.  This is not humanity at our best.

In some of your comments in particular about the death penalty (e.g. the “I’ve never struggled with that at all” exchange at the September 7 debate in Simi Valley, CA), you seem more proud of your record than grimly resolved, willing to encourage the cheers of a crowd in support of another’s death rather than to question them.  Wherever we stand on this very difficult issue, it seems the right tone is grim resolution, not confidence.  I understand that you need to sleep the sleep of the righteous, in order the next morning to wake up and make good decisions.  But those of us called by God to determine the life and death of others perhaps are best called to live in a state of wariness.  Our hands are, at the very least, bloody, and to be proud of the work of the hangman seems simply to be unfitting for a Christian man.

I would also appeal to you to be concerned for those people in our country who have been the very hardest hit by our economic downturn.  The man waiting on death row is someone over whom frightened people can feel superior, and so is the man waiting in the unemployment line.  One week after the Simi Valley debate, at the Tea Party debate in Tampa, when Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul “if society should just let [an uninsured person] die,” some spectators again cheered.  Neither you nor any other candidate offered a word of correction to the audience.  This sense of glee over someone else’s pain seems quite to be the mood among some in our country right now, and I appeal to your Texas hospitality to counter that sense at every turn.  Christians are called to believe charitably about those who are suffering – to have mercy toward those who are waiting just outside the gates of the rich man. Please, for the sake of our native land, counter the tone that suggests we are all in a zero-sum game for limited resources.  There can be enough to go around, and that word may be the most needed right now.

I will try one final word regarding our common, evangelical, pro-life commitment.  In order for a woman to decide to bring an unexpected, unplanned fetus to term, she must believe that there is enough love in this world for her and her baby.  She must look at all the economic and political indicators and believe, in spite of the fear and danger of our menacing situation, that there is safety.  She must, in sum, believe that God will provide.  I appeal to you to sound that tone, to carry that banner, in this political day.  Assure people who are afraid that we will be able to care for one another, that we will be together in this shared future, that we will not let someone die due to lack of coverage or a miscarriage of justice.

 

Sincerely,

Amy Laura Hall

  • Anonymous

    This is WONDERFUL. It is hypocrisy of the greatest kind to proclaim oneself “pro-life” and then oversee the death of hundreds. Thank you for posting this.

  • http://graciousgaze.blogspot.com Kim

    thank you, dr. hall

  • http://twitter.com/leslietomlinson Leslie Tomlinson

    Tone matters. Our posture toward policies of life and death and security matter. Thank you Dr. Hall for a clear call to an attitude of abundace. In God’s grace, there is enough for all.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Dr. Hall.  I have been desperately craving this type of reasonable and thoughtful insight into the complex issues that are being debated.  Election season leads to too much black and white, right and wrong and the platform of debate leaves out the true struggle of trying to be faithful – of trying to choose what is best when no choice seems acceptable.

  • http://www.profligategrace.com/ Kara N. Slade (admin)

    Thanks so far for the comments, and do keep them coming!  ALH is away until Sunday, but she’ll get back to the thread after she returns.

  • Silas Morgan

    Well done, as always! 

  • Craigsmithmetro

    Right on!  Each candidate should have to respond, not just the gov!

  • Janna Sandidge Hawes

    Amy, I appreciate your ability to articulate some of the issues that the media seems to be missing. Shine the light into the dark corners!
    We have a national discussion underway on the issue of bullying– I wonder if there are some common underlying issues with bullying and the tendency of folks to rejoice and laugh when others are facing difficulty and pain.
    Thank you for your words of wisdom and discernment–

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510754424 Rachael Warner

    I thank God every time I remember you.

  • a son of the King

    Very well written. Thank you sister in Christ, be blessed.

  • whoarewe

    ” In order for a woman to decide to bring an unexpected, unplanned fetus
    to term, she must believe that there is enough love in this world for
    her and her baby.  She must look at all the economic and political
    indicators and believe, in spite of the fear and danger of our menacing
    situation, that there is safety.  She must, in sum, believe that God
    will provide.”

    So are you saying that a mother alone cannot provide enough love for her child? That faith in God is not enough and that she has to have faith in the economy as well?

    It is also an overplayed, hyper exaggerated misconception that if you are opposed to Obamacare and are a conservative, that you just want sick people to die. Way to emphasize that untruth.

    What is the difference between keeping a man locked up in jail for the rest of his life, or putting him to death? Should Christians detain someone against their will?

    “Christians are called to believe charitably about those who are
    suffering – to have mercy toward those who are waiting just outside the
    gates of the rich man.”

    Yes, I agree. However, it is not the place of the government to take money away to give to others. Charity is the sole responsibility of the individual. There are legitimate aid programs available that do work, but I feel that the majority of the welfare programs do not provide incentive to help themselves (like using a link card at a liquor store). It’s like the saying about teaching a man to fish rather than just giving him fish.

    • Russell

      Thank you for your comments, they help me understand how the
      gospel we confess as Christians does not fit neatly into the categories of
      American politics. While I cannot pretend to speak for Professor Hall, I’d like
      to attempt to answer some of your challenging questions.

      First and foremost, I believe the point Professor Hall made about the expectant
      mother had to do with creating and sustaining a pro-life community, and not
      pretending like decisions occur within a vacuum. I’m reminded of the passage in
      James 2, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
      If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does
      nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” To many of the women
      (and the men in their lives) considering abortion, the message of embracing
      unexpected life may seem hollow without the realistic commitment to provide. To
      them, the pro-life position can seem like cold, judgmental moralism rather than
      the warmth of the good news of Christ. The pro-life message can never simply
      be, “Carry your pregnancy to term,” it must always be, “Carry your pregnancy to
      term, the Lord will provide and we volunteer to be agents of that providence.”

       

      Whether this volunteering implies supporting or opposing
      Obamacare is a different question, one that cannot be made without careful
      attention to theological and economic questions—and one that Professor Hall
      avoids in this letter. The point I believe Professor Hall to be making is this:
      whether we are conservative or liberal, we cannot blindly assure people that
      the invisible hand of free markets or the coercive hand of the state will take
      care of them. The Lord does indeed work through these, but they can never be
      turned into idols, especially not idols to whom we sacrifice the poor or the unwise.

       

      Your last point is well-made, and I agree with you. I think
      you point to a tension within conservatism—on the one hand, conservatives
      appeal to the fact that “The poor and marginalized are better served when
      individuals and small communities charitably provide for them than when the
      government gives to them impersonally and bureaucratically.” On the other hand,
      conservatives appeal to the rhetoric of “it’s my money, I earned it, and I
      should be able to do with it what I want.” To the extent that the former is
      emphasized, a Christian vision like the one in this letter is commensurate with
      conservatism. To the extent that the latter is emphasized, we have to call it for
      what it is—greed. I believe, and Professor Hall can correct me, that she
      addressed this letter to Rick Perry not because she thinks he’s utterly wrong,
      but because she sees some potential within him to embrace a more
      Christ-centered conservatism and eschew a greed-centered conservatism.

       

      My response has already gotten too long, but your points on imprisonment
      and capital punishment deserve further comment and I look forward to reading it.
      Thanks again for helping Professor Hall and her readers (myself included) disentangle
      Christianity from worldly political agendas.

    • http://www.profligategrace.com/ Kara N. Slade (admin)

      Hi, whoarewe, and welcome!  Like Russell, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your willingness to engage with these very difficult questions.  And, like Russell, I don’t speak for Dr. Hall, but I did edit this piece and had some input into its framing.  One thing I did want to respond to was this:

      “It is also an overplayed, hyper exaggerated misconception that if you are opposed to Obamacare and are a conservative, that you just want sick people to die.”

      The part of the letter that addressed the question of health insurance (the 6th paragraph) addressed a specific incident which has been much discussed in the media.  (See here: http://bit.ly/osYQCT.)  I know many conservatives who oppose the PPACA (to give its proper name), as does Dr. Hall, and we did not and do not mean to imply that everyone who holds that position believes that an uninsured person in a dire situation should not be helped.  That part of the piece (and the piece in general) was as much about the tone of our national discourse at it was about specific issues.  When, in a nationally televised event, a candidate for public office is asked “if society should just let [a hypothetical uninsured man] die,” and people in the audience shout “Yes” and cheer, that is a problem in a civil society.  Reasonable people can differ over how health care should be funded, but I would hope that we could have that debate in a way that makes it clear that no one will be left to fend for themselves.  I would hope that candidates for public office would (as Sen. McCain did in the 2008 campaign) provide a word of public correction when attendees at political events advocate positions that are clearly beyond the pale.

    • Zlk

      Whoweare: The analogy fails to communicate the fact that Christians believe (1) that sinners can repent of their sins and later accept Jesus as their Lord; (2) it seems to ignore the Lord’s injunction that “[when] I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25:36).’ Here Jesus is identifying himself with the prisoner. This seems to attach a great deal of value even to the life of the prisoner. Jesus  does not say, “[when] I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (except when I killed someone and was put on the death penalty). (3) To borrow from a friend, it ignores the fact that Jesus himself was wrongly put to death. Should we not at least question this practice in light of Jesus’ wrongful death sentence?

      Moreover, your interpretation of Dr. Hall’s closing sentence fails to recognize an alternate interpretation: she isn’t saying that a mother should “believe in” the market so much as that in order to discourage abortions, one must do something more than simply say that abortion is wrong, as important as this is. One must also shape attitudes toward newborns and provide economic security such that no one feels even the temptation to carry through with an abortion.   

    • Matt M.

      You said: “Charity is the sole responsibility of the individual. There are
      legitimate aid programs available that do work, but I feel that the
      majority of the welfare programs do not provide incentive to help themselves (like using a link card at a liquor store).”

      -May I ask what you know about the ‘legitimate aid programs’ that you speak of? May I ask if you have ever been poor enough to need government aid? Are you friends with anybody who has ever received sustenance from such programs? I’m going to guess that your answer to the last two questions is no.

      Because if you would have ever needed help from fellow citizens, or if you would have ever become friends with people on gov’t aid, you would know that such programs are in no way an impediment to work. I have had friends and family members on welfare– they are no longer on welfare.  (Even though that gov’t cheese really is delicious.) And if they were still on welfare, they would be no less human or deserving of welfare. You know absolutely nothing about peoples’ lives– so you would do well to hold your tongue. To say that “the majority of welfare programs do no provide incentive” is bulls**t (in the literal, Harry Frankfurt sense of the word), and to repeat a trope about welfare and liquor stores is to intentionally distort the truth in which an overwhelming number of welfare recipients use gov’t aid exactly as it was intended to be used.

      Sorry for my inability to duplicate Dr. Hall’s irenic tone, but these are my friends and family you are talking about.

  • Duncan Murrell

    I’m loathe to post this here, given the thoughtful comments, but you told me I had to so here goes:

    Governor Perry Dances the Hora:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/rick-perry-dances-the-hora-around-a-menorah-without-a-torah/245632/

    • http://www.profligategrace.com/ Kara N. Slade (admin)

      Your comments (thoughtful or otherwise) are always welcome here!  And this video is so inexplicable that it is a thing of wonder.  Thank you, Duncan!

  • http://www.profligategrace.com/ Kara N. Slade (admin)

    FROM AMY LAURA HALL – READ ON:

    (Not really from Kara)

    Thank you, dear people, for your thoughtful responses and conversation, irenic, candid, and true!  (This blog thing may just work after all!)   I spent the weekend climbing down a pretty darned steep trail down Linville Gorge, and back up it, in beautiful western North Carolina. (Blog entry to come.)  
    I was indeed writing to Governor Perry as one Christian to another, and as a Texas, evangelical Christian.  I do hope that each candidate will resist the tone of domination and cruelty that we noted in the two links from the debates.  But I was particularly interested to ask Governor Perry to resist the temptation to bravado that is so a part of our common heritage.  I am concerned that, during a time of economic uncertainty and uncertain war-making, a significant part of the population will want him to amplify, not modulate, that bravado.  

    The points that other people have made here regarding my intentions are so helpful.  I think I need just to say thank you, and Amen! on the clarifications on my sometimes hasty points.  The form of a blog is tricky, right?  We have to make points way too quickly and with insufficient nuance.  What I love about this string is that we seem to be having something of a virtual conversation, and one that has clarified, even for me, just what it was that I was trying to say in this letter.

    Here is my simple prayer, given in the spirit that had me set up this blog in the first place. Print out the letter and talk it through with someone who watches the opposite side newsfeed from your own.  If you are an MSNBC baby, have a real, slow, patient conversation with someone who loves Fox News.  If you are a Democracy Now baby, have a seemingly tedious, true, difficult conversation with someone who loves Ron Paul.  Do that, and my work was worth the effort.  Leave the conversation here, and I should have been outside communing with trees.  

    On that note, I am now off to hear a book reading in Chapel Hill.  But thank you, again, for all of your encouragement.  More news to come soon about the mountain lion who tracked me on my hike!  (No, seriously, a real mountain lion.)

    • http://www.profligategrace.com/ Kara N. Slade (admin)

      THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT, FROM KARA: 

      Please do share this letter with a friend or relative whose politics are not your own.  I’ll do it if you will.  Otherwise, who knows what might happen:  

      Staring at a tree . . . thinking about the tree as a “thing-in-itself” . . . staring at another tree . . . reading Kant on the sly . . . looking and the sunset and the mountains and more trees . . . wondering if nature and religion and art might really be all part of one gigantic . . . ?

      Look, there’s no such thing as “safe idealism.”    Friends don’t let Kierkegaardian friends commune with trees.  Share the letter.  Today.

      THANK YOU.

  • John Quigley

    I read your letter with interest, it is well put and to the point. I would like to point out one other facet of our Governor, he has stood up for those children who were brought to this country in a manner other than legal, he and the Texas Legislature did a good thing when they passed, and he signed into law the funding law for in state tuition. They included those children who had done nothing wrong, except being the children of illegal aliens. They had gone to school, and done well and wanted to have a college education. The only requirement is that they have to file for citizenship. Personally, I like it, even though I do believe we need to strengthen our border security, those young people did not have a choice about being illegal.
    Perry also has very little power as Governor, much of his decisions come from the power of others to act. So he can sleep the sleep of the innocent since he has to have instructions from others in order to act. Texas has a weak governor and strong Lt. Governor, an interesting idea. Perry does have the bully pulpit but action can only come as a result of others acting first. Have to admit, Perry did a pretty good job at the lighting ceremony of the Chanukah menorah. Only dancing he had not been given a yarmulke which is a part of the garb. Oh well, it was a nice gesture for the governor to make.

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