Congress and Values

Lamar Smith confuses values and policy proposals


Recent letters to the editor in the San Antonio Express and News discuss Congressman Lamar Smith policy positions as have a few commentaries written about him in various national publications. As a candidate who campaigned against Smith in 2016 and who has announced that I will be running against him in 2018, I add my voice to this dialogue.

Ever since Donald Trump was sworn in as our nation’s 45th President I have seen a lot of verbal hype about “values” coming not only from our president but from Congressman Smith and many, many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. Sometimes the rhetorical use of the term is incorrect, confusing policies that might depend on a value for the value itself. By way of illustration, in the Texas legislature right now there is a “bathroom bill”, it is a policy proposal, not a value. Respect for persons—both those experiencing gender identity disorder and those not—is a value. People who give serious thought to real values will be clear about the difference between values, which almost all people share, and policy proposals. Unfortunately, Congressman Smith has made it a habit of promoting every proposal he puts forward as a “value.”

The World’s major religious traditions support values; gone are the polytheist systems of antiquity, which had both good and bad deities. My own religious formation was in the Catholic tradition and that tradition nourished the values that I hold and seek to develop further today. Even though my current religious affiliation is more closely aligned with Protestantism than Catholicism, both traditions embrace a strong doctrine of creation. I believe that what God created was good; so I try to protect the earth and the life forms and environments that support our world. I also try to protect the people created in God’s image and likeness. These are all values.

Some policies are consistent with these values and some are not. Limiting air pollution in order to control climate change is consistent with my values; sweeping away environmental regulations because of a vague “anger” is not. Moreover, it is incumbent upon anyone who would legislate for or against such environmental regulations to be informed about the science behind climate change. Politically motivated ignorance is a disvalue.

Policies that protect the wonders found on the earth include the designation of state and national monuments, forests, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges. Allowing unlimited drilling, strip mining, deforestation, hunting, and fishing are inconsistent with my Christian-supported values. This does not mean no drilling, no mining, no developemnt. Designating areas and other forms of rational regulation are not the same as a sweeping prohibition. It is rhetoric, not reason, which has difficulty with such a nuance.

Valuing people, whether as individuals or as families and associations, is essential to the values that are nourished by my Christian formation. One of the values established in the Christian scriptures is the valuing of people beyond one’s own tribal grouping. The followers of Jesus went beyond their own nation; they decided not to impose their own cultural mores on gentile converts. Hatred of persons, whether as individuals or as families and associations, is inconsistent with my Christian-supported values, and policies that allow for racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, taco-truckphobic or actions otherwise hostile to persons whom God found valuable enough to create are inconsistent with those values. Such policies include the building of walls against people, legislation that makes the abuse of the police power at the expense of minorities practically immune from prosecution, regulations that segregate people and set them apart from others, restrictions that keep people from living where they wish and from working at what they wish.

There is a temptation to neuter the Christian tradition, much as one would neuter a pet to keep it from being fruitful. This takes the form of limiting Christianity to saying prayers, observing rituals, obeying a short-list of commandments, and observing good manners. Such trivialized Christianity has little to do with important values. Consider this passage from the New Testament: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have abandoned the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and trust; one must do these things and not abandon those. Blind guides, straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23.23-24).

Valuing creation and valuing people are mutually supporting. Degrading the earthly environment threatens the well-being of people by disrupting the natural climate, poisoning the air, and polluting the water that people depend upon. Valuing people prevents wars, which history shows to be environmentally destructive. Valuing people restrains the “ethnic cleansing” of indigenous peoples, who historically hold their homelands to be sacred.

Is it too much to expect Congressman Lamar Smith to share in these values and rationally differ only in how to realize them?


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