The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to strike down the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act in the Hobby Lobby case has placed the concept of Christian values back at the center of our national dialogue. Through a combination of the messages perpetuated by the mainstream media and some vocal, prominent evangelicals, Christian values in this country can be boiled down to three basic mandates:
One, Christians must be pro-life. Two, they must work to protect the sanctity of marriage. And three, Christians should defend religious freedom. Of course, these three pillars of American Christianity come with a few caveats. Pro-life only means the life of an unborn fetus — after that child is born, it is no longer necessary to take action for its well being. Marriage only needs to be protected from same-sex couples; divorce is irrelevant. And religious freedom only applies to the Christian faith.
I'm not going to argue whether these ideals are founded on the actual teachings of Christianity or not. I will say, however, that theologians have been discussing these issues for generations and have still not reached a consensus. I'm proposing a shift in what we Americans define as Christian values. Let's stop defining Christianity by these murky issues about which Jesus never spoke and focus on the stuff we can all agree on. The stuff that's crystal clear in scripture. Here are three alternate Christian values I think we can all get behind.
First, welcome the stranger. Right now, there are more than 52,000 Central American children being held at the U.S. border. These children have fled incredibly dangerous conditions in their home countries. They aren't coming to America for a better life, they're coming here to stay alive. Christian individuals and corporations should be lobbying for these kids to be allowed to remain in the United States. Instead of tweeting pictures of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and Hobby Lobby receipts, followers of Christ should be urging Congress and President Obama to take action on this humanitarian crisis. Locally, the Christian community should also take steps to embrace our immigrant population. One initial issue our hundreds of churches can get behind is the proposal to provide undocumented immigrants with municipal IDs so that they can have a way to prove their identity in the United States.
Second, Christians must care for the poor. While it's true that there are hundreds of Christian charitable organizations that raise millions of dollars to help the needy, we can make caring for the poor a Christian value by standing behind an issue like raising the minimum wage. According to a recently released study by the N.C. Justice Center, one in five North Carolina families earns too little to afford life's essentials. What if my fellow Christians' Facebook feeds were less populated with content about mandatory prayers in public school and, instead, shone a light on our country's devastating income gap? What if the media brought in a faith perspective when discussing issues like the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit?
Finally, Christians must tend to the sick. Any program that expands health care to those who need it most has to be supported by Christian individuals and corporations. In North Carolina, Christians should be the most vocal group about the need for Medicaid expansion. When Gov. McCrory rejected billions of dollars from the federal government to expand our state's Medicaid program, he left 500,000 low-income people without insurance. A recent study from Harvard University and City University of New York found there are between 455 and 1,145 preventable deaths a year that might have been avoided by expanding coverage. Perhaps Christians should spend less time fighting for legislation around supposed abortifacients (science actually says that IUDs and Plan B do not cause abortions) and more time working to prevent the very real deaths of indisputably alive human beings.
Welcoming the stranger. Caring for the poor. Tending to the sick. What if these were the things corporations went to the Supreme Court to fight for? What if folks began to see an infringement on these values as a threat to their religious liberties?
Let's start calling the abortion/gay marriage/religious freedom trifecta by its real name: conservative principles. And let's leave the Christian label to the issues Jesus actually stood for.