Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hell to pay? Or just to live through?

When the Schindler and Schiavo families* burst into twenty-four-hour “breaking news” a few weeks ago, my heart sank. For starters, regardless of how you feel about the end-of-life issues highlighted by this story, these families have endured fifteen years of tragedy, heartbreak, and alienation. Every member of those families needs and deserves our prayers. But the real tragedy for me occurred when Republicans in the White House, congress, and the Florida governor’s mansion scrambled onto the scene.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Terri Schiavo’s parents, and you’re pleading for your daughter’s life. A shared faith brings your priest or pastor and fellow Christians to your side… What do you expect from them? I know that I would expect prayers, counseling, advice, support, advocacy, lobbying, protesting, and so on.

Now imagine that in the final days of a battle that has lasted for fifteen years, new sectarians join the fight on your behalf. Enter President George Bush, Governor Jeb Bush, and various members of congress. Now what do you expect?

These men did not join Robert & Mary Schindler’s fight to offer prayer, support, and guidance. Rather, when they burst onto the scene, they promised action! Worse yet, they promised action from the government, and that is exactly what the Schindlers were expecting.

And this is where a new tragedy in this story unfolded: our politicians gave that family the false hope that our government could be run like a church. They acted like church elders who were outraged at the behavior of certain congregants. They were going to convene, censure the unacceptable behavior, and demand change.

But then our politicians ran square into a problem: the framers of our Constitution had the foresight to build checks and balances into our government, which would contain the whimsy of a few politicians. These politicians couldn’t do anything except exaggerate the tragedy the Schindlers continued to endure. Despite theatric attempts to circumvent an entire branch of our government, even the Bush family realized it was out of options:

Earlier Sunday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said there is nothing he can do to save Terri Schiavo's life.

"I cannot violate a court order," Bush said after attending Easter Sunday church services. "I don't have powers from the United States Constitution -- or for that matter from the Florida Constitution -- that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made.

"I'm sad that she's in the situation that she's in," Bush said, commenting publicly on the case for the first time since Thursday. "I feel bad for her family. My heart goes out to the Schindlers and, for that matter, to [her husband] Michael [Schiavo]," Bush said. "This has not been an easy thing for any, any member of the family. But most particularly for Terri Schiavo."

To Terri Schiavo's parents -- who have said Bush should do more to help their daughter -- the governor said: "I can't. I'd love to, but I can't."

Her parents have lost nearly 30 legal opinions in both state and federal courts, which have consistently sided with Michael Schiavo, who also is Terri Schiavo's legal guardian.

Jeb Bush could have come to this conclusion before intervening at all, since all of the theatrics we’ve watched play out on cable news has followed fifteen years of legal decisions. Congress and the executive branch had already created & passed laws that determine what rights families have in making end-of-life decisions, and the courts did their job: they interpreted what this meant for Terri & Michael Schiavo.

What amazes me about this situation is the continued unwavering belief of conservative Christians in the ability of Republicans to make America a nice place for them to live. This is very similar to when President Bush promised his infamous four million evangelicals that he would pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. We have heard almost nothing about the topic from our president since the election, and still conservative Christians wanted to believe that our president, a few congressmen, or one state’s governor could negate the work of an entire branch of our government.

And just like with the DOMA, there was the obligatory threat of serious ramifications for the Republican Party if conservative Christians didn’t get their way on this issue. In fact, Randall Terry promised there would be “hell to pay” if Terri Schiavo died, the same way that the Arlington group threatened the outrage of evangelical voters if no constitutional amendment was passed to “protect” marriage.

My point for all Christians is this: We will always be a just another pool of coveted voters (the “black vote”, “soccer moms”, “NASCAR dads”, etc.). Politicians will always tell you what you want to hear to get your vote. Have faith in God, not politics, and maybe we can spare dragging another family through another pointless tragedy.

*Though the marriage of Michael & Terri Schiavo technically creates one family, I intentionally use the plural here because of how the two halves have alienated themselves from each other since Terri’s stroke.