Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

I've got a few confessions to make.
I'm philosophically conservative.
I'm a Christian. 
I believe in personal responsibility.
I am fairly concerned and try to be well informed on political issues.
I occasionally read political blogs to understand both the issues and how people are reacting to them.

Despite all the agreement that might be found overlapping those categories, sometimes I am disturbed by what I see in the "grass roots" of those camps, sometimes - this is today's "What on earth?"

Last night during a debate aired on CNN, a debate that was probably one of the best thus-far, Michele Bachmann (and to a lesser extent Rick Santorum) challenged Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, on his decision to use an executive order to require girls aged 11-12 in Texas public schools to receive Gardasil.  Gadisil is an vaccination against 4 primary types of Human papillomavirus (HPV). 

The disease:
HPV is typically transmitted through sexual contact, but it can communicate through other means.  It is the most common STD in the world.  The CDC projects that 50% of Americans are exposed to HPV. Some estimations can as far as saying that 75-80% of Americans who are or have been sexually active will contract HPV at some point.  Most infections are not long-term serious, but not all.  About 20% of women who contract HPV develop some form of cancer related to the area of infection, primarily cervical cancer.

The debate:
I don't like the use of executive orders to legislate.  I don't like that Perry did it - or tried.  The fact is that the Texas legislature rebuffed him, and he rescinded the order.  For use in specifics, this order contained a parental opt-out, but was structured that was so that insurance would cover the cost ($300) and reduce it to a co-pay. He also went on to apologize for it.  At the debate last night, he restated that apology and said it was an unequivocal mistake.  Had he left it there, he might have been ok, but he did something I'm all too familiar with - he tried to offer an explanation.

Perry has personal experience with cancer.  Both of his parents had a form of that disease - just like mine.  My mother had it twice.  I remember my first "experience" with cancer, in fact: My best friend in second grade had a serious bout with bone cancer.  I remember the image of his books and assignments stacking up upon his empty desk for months in between the times his parents came to retrieve it for him so he wasn't held back a grade.  I understand Perry's "I hate cancer" remarks, which he often cites as his motivation for that executive order.  I don't think it's mere spin or politics.  It could be, but I actually believe and share that sentiment.

I also know what it's like to want people to understand you, especially when you make mistakes.  My wife is well aware of this corner of my personality.  Maybe it comes with being an INTJ, I don't know.  But whenever I make a mistake, I will fully admit it - and then I will want you to understand it.  It's also what I typically like to hear from people when they've made errors themselves.  I do this, not to demand people justify or to find myself justified in failure, but to grow in understanding both people and the issue itself.  Understanding things is kind of a big deal for me.

Long story made short: Perry tried to be understood.  In my case, I'm not on a national stage.  I'm also a bit more articulate than he.  I don't have cameras and pundits and political rivals bearing down on me and a 90 second response time.  Perry doesn't have those going in his favor, and came off looking really bad.  Perry's also must realize something that I am only just beginning to realize:  When you screw up - most people don't want an explanation.  They don't care.  They see you as an object, an obstacle, and only generally care if you're going to impede or disagree.  They don't want to understand - they want to tie subjects up neatly and move on to the next thing.  For those of us who like to explain things, even our mistakes, you have to accept this.  Explain things if you are asked, otherwise you're just going to open yourself up for continued attack for the thing you just apologized for.  Oh, do I know this situation well.  Sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

The Politicians:
If that exchange were it, I wouldn't be bothered.  But no, now we've got to deal with the reaction.  Bachmann and Santorum were indignant about Perry treading on parental rights, despite the fact that he conditioned his order only and specifically with an opt-out for the reasons I specified above.  Bachmann then raised a charge that crawled out of the sewers of the internet blogosphere and claimed Perry did so because of a connection with a former chief of staff and Merck, Gardasil's manufacturer.  For what?  $5000.  That was the "cronyism" and the "millions" of dollars that were supposedly involved to get Perry to wilfully afflict "innocent 12 year old girls" with a vaccine.  Michele Bachmann immediately ran to both CNN and Fox News and started parroting her "offense" to something Perry apologised for.  She sent out a fundraising letter on that line.  She claimed on Fox News that Gardasil causes mental retardation. She has reiterated that since.  Not only is that not true - it's despicable and shows an amazing amount of cognitive dissonance or disregard for facts.  In one night, she perpetuated rumor, feigned outrage against a straw man, and reported conspiracy-theory that should never be present on a national stage from someone presenting themselves as a candidate for highest office.  Bachmann has a few good things to say, and is an important voice in Congress.  But now she's thrown in with tinfoil hats and merchants of bad-science.  Sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

The Reason:
The question becomes, "why did she do this?"  The answer is Iowa.  More to the point - it's Iowa's Caucus and those who dominate it - Evangelicals.  She did it to create a wedge issue to peel away Evangelical votes from Perry.  Evangelical voters that supported her in the Iowa Straw Poll, but then quickly moved over to Perry for a number of reasons.

Evangelicals - now it's getting closer to home.  Now I've had personal contact with people in this world I too live in that belong to two camps Bachmann is gunning for here:  People who have rejected immunization for their children and those who get hung up on anything to do with sex and teenagers.  I have my own thoughts about the first category, but the second is the one that I want to take issue with.

In case you don't think they exist, they do.  Take a gander at any of the Conservative blogs - HotAir, RightScoop, or RedState, for example.  The comments on this issue can get disturbing.  There are a fair amount of self-described "Christians" who are pounding their coffee tables about this not being about cancer, but an STD.  It's a choice to have sex, afterall, and if kids are irresponsible then there are consequences and cancer and death are consequences.  Giving kids a vaccine against some of these is, in their mind, something akin to abandoning abstinence, morals, and yea - truth itself.

Sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

Let me go out on a limb here and call these people, in a word, foolish.  Yes, I went there.  You're neither championing the Gospel nor are you helping your cause.   Look at the confessions I made at the beginning of this post, and now listen to me: I have no problem giving girls a vaccine for HPV, and I don't think it turns daughters into whores to do it.  The statistics on both this disease and on teenage behaviour are astounding.

You can raise a moral girl or boy.  They can be a pure as the driven snow.  But unless you're going to wall them off for the rest of their fertile years you're not thinking long term enough. Let's say your girl is as pure as the driven snow in her teenage years (and I hope she is, and the consequences of HPV aren't what I think about first when I say that.)  Let's also say that you raise her to be wise, graceful, and full of Christ-modeled love.  Let's say she goes off to college, eventually finds yet another strong Christian man who is involved in the Baptist Student Union.  He was saved by Christ at 17 - not an unprecendented thing, afterall.  He has grown tremendously in the years since, and displays a spiritual maturity well beyond what would be expected.  He is a true testament to sovereign grace.

Your daughter, raised with a sensitivity to these things as admirable in a mate, eventually is courted by this young man and they move toward marraige.  You approve of what you know.  But he was not raised in a Christian home.  His parents were not as involved.  He was a more "average" human in his youth, as we all were before Christ saved us.  He had a girlfriend in high school.  He went too far with her.  He regrets it now, repented of it with tears years ago, and would never advocate such a thing with Gospel colored lenses on.  He was actually saved from something, afterall.

He doesn't know it, but he's a carrier of HPV. And a year from now, after he's married your daughter, she contracts it from him.  Years from then, maybe even a decade later, during her annual exam the lab results don't come back clear.  They suggest cervical cancer.

Does she "deserve" to rot, suffer, and die now?  Does her husband deserve to be widowed at 32, or their new baby be at risk to contract it too?  Would you pound away on your coffee table using words like "whore" and "consequence" with the same indignation and disregard for others when it was your little girl?  Will you sit by her bedside and tell her she should have married better now?  Will you now demand that the real grounds for marriage is virginity and not love of Christ, display of grace, or love of others?  Will you shun him for killing your little girl because of his sins as a 15 year old sinner?  What will you do, I wonder?

I'm Just Saying:
I don't think women should suffer and die of cervical cancer because either they or their eventual mate had premarital sex and contracted HPV.  I find that to be a pharisaical view - "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" I don't think that displays a real understanding of the Gospel or brings credit and honor to the name of Christ. I don't like calling people whores or prarading moral outrage at the idea that teenagers make stupid, hormonal decisions and come to deeply regret them later.  I'm not so naive as to think that my youth-group attending little dear will make the right choice every time, and when and if she (or her man years down the road) makes a mistake I don't think the sentance should be agonizing and preventable death years down the road.  My scenario is just one of many scenarios, and I don't it makes me morally weak or a poor Christ-follower to admit that things aren't always so simple.  Will I raise my daughters in the way they should go? Yes.  Will I teach them about righteousness and consequence? A thousand times yes.  Will I ever make my rearing about morality and not the deeper points of the Gospel - by the Grace of God, No.  So help me, no.

Evangelicals please hear me.  Don't be a simple group.  Don't let cynical politicians, be they Bachmann or Santorum or Perry or anyone else manipulate you into positions that overshadow the message of Christ so they can get your vote.  Don't bare your teeth at the reality that people are sinners and do, in fact, sin.  Don't, in your right-hearted desire to teach morality, tread upon ground and make arguments that Christ's enemies did.  Don't buy bad arguments, repeat rumors (also called slander and gossip), and pretend for a moment that your righteousness is really based on your performance.  There will be prostitutes and pastors who both stand clean - without spot or blemish - at the end of days and neither will do so because they made themselves that way.  Where we begin to act like such is not the case, we do (and have done) tremendous damage to ourselves and to the Name we claim to love so much.  But alas, sometimes we're our own worst enemy.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV