Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Point of View" Radio Program with Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Most evenings as I drive home from work, I listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered” to catch up with current events. But during the semester, several evenings each week I teach late and come home after the news programs are over. Those evenings I typically listen to one of several Christian radio stations, and at that hour they have switched over from music to paid programming by various ministries. I enjoy listening to the sermons given by these ministries. They tend to be more conservative theologically than I am, but I always get something out of the preaching. Sometimes the message will be an encouragement in dealing with life’s difficulties. Other times they will teach on a passage of the Bible, and they might share insights that I hadn’t heard previously. It is always interesting.

A few months ago, I was driving home late and found something new on one of the Christian stations I have pre-programmed on my car radio. Instead of a preacher giving a sermon, there was a new program called “Point of View.” As I listened initially, it seemed to have nothing to do with God, church or Jesus. I was confused for a while. I wasn’t sure if my husband had programmed another station over the old one. Alternately, I thought maybe the Christian station had been sold and converted to a political talk radio format. Turns out I was still listening to one of the local Christian stations that night. A link to the “Point of View” program’s website is below. The tag line on the website is “Defending Faith, Family & Freedom.” However, I did not hear anything about “Faith” when I listened that first night.

When I tuned in to the program that first time, the host (a woman who never identified herself) was welcoming a guest—Jackie Gingrich Cushman, the daughter of the former Speaker of the House. Initially, Ms. Cushman was plugging her book: Five Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours by Newt Gingrich and Jackie Gingrich Cushman. I had frankly never heard of Ms. Cushman before hearing her interview on this program. But I was struck by the audacity of Mr. Gingrich co-writing a book on family. After all, he is the thrice married, twice divorced man, who committed adultery during both his first and second marriages, and famously asked his first wife for a divorce while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. It is clear that we all fall short of the glory of God, and we are all very imperfect beings. As a sinner myself, I don’t judge Mr. Gingrich for his short-comings. I’ve got enough of my own to keep me plenty busy. But I’m stunned at the gall and hypocrisy of writing a book being marketed on some fictionalized notion that his family life is something to be emulated. What is next—a book from Bill Bennett lecturing us on faithful stewardship of one’s financial gifts or a book from Ted Haggard about integrity?

After Ms. Cushman briefly plugged the book on the “Point of View” program that evening, the discussion quickly shifted into a tirade against “Obamacare.” Ms. Cushman spoke about the American guarantee of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and argued the “government take-over” of health care infringed on our liberty. This statement stunned me. I don't understand the characterization of a "take-over" since Congress did not pass a bill with a single payer option. I suppose that a government mandate to carry health insurance coverage could be viewed as a limitation on one’s liberty. But I think it pales in comparison to the significant infringements on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that have been suffered for years by the millions our fellow Americans who have not been able to obtain medical insurance and to receive appropriate medical treatment when they have the misfortune to become seriously ill.

For the life of me, I don’t understand the resistance of any Christians to health care reform. It is a huge source of frustration and disgust to my friends and family who fall into the “progressive Christian” demographic. Christ taught us to care for the sick, and for centuries Christians were often the folks who established hospitals in their communities. I don’t understand how a “Christian” political movement in the modern era has now morphed into a force to fight against structural reforms to ensure more people have access to medical care. What the heck happened?

In listening to the many tirades against “Obamacare” in the last year, my understanding is that many conservative Christians who oppose health care reform are particularly concerned about an expansion of government power. In the abstract, I can appreciate such a concern about government power. But with respect to health care reform, it has not just been a theoretical issue about the proper size and scope of government. The decades long delay in enacting health care reform has had real life, catastrophic repercussions for so many of our fellow citizens. Tragically, people have lost their lives. Families have lost loved ones due to an inability to get proper medical treatment. To me, ideological rigidity has no place in this context because people’s lives hang in the balance. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have health insurance and/or have not had to endure serious illnesses in our own families are not in a position to make life or death judgments impacting those who are not as fortunate.

When I was listening to “Point of View” that evening, in the context of their “Obamacare” grievances, Ms. Cushman and the program’s host kept referencing “the government” and “they” in ominous terms: they want to impose big government on us, and they want to require us to have health insurance that we don’t want to have. Ms. Cushman and the host spoke as if we lived in some sort of totalitarian state, glossing over the fact that President Obama was elected in a landslide on a platform that included a promise to effect (finally!) health care reform. It is not as if the Democrats seized power in a coup d’état; they were elected by a majority of our citizenry. The health care reform was not enacted at gun-point; this is what “we the People” voted for.

At one point in the program, the host took calls from listeners. The first was a frankly nutty woman who was allowed to ramble for a long time. She shared her theory that the government wanted to control health care to effect policies to reduce human overpopulation. She cited as proof some meeting Bill Gates called of famous rich folks including Warren Buffet and Oprah. Apparently, the consensus at this meeting was there was a need to reduce the number of people on this planet. The caller indicated that this led to the government wanting to control our health care to get rid of babies and old people. I actually was trying to follow the logic of the caller’s passionate concerns, but couldn’t ever figure out the supposed connection between the apparent Bill Gates meeting and the government “take-over” of health care. To me, it seemed more likely that if the government wanted to reduce overpopulation via health care policy, they would continue the status quo since people are already dying needlessly for lack of access to medical care. I was infuriated listening to the caller’s slander, but because of the lunacy of the assertions, I just assumed that the host would provide a reality check once the caller finally stopped speaking. Wrong! The host indicated she agreed with the caller’s views. Indeed, she added that because of the health care reform legislation that had just been enacted, the government would be pushing abortions and rationing end-of-life care to seniors in order to kill off folks at both ends of the age spectrum. Ms. Cushman eventually chimed in that she thought the caller made excellent points. I was incredulous.

The next caller mentioned that according to recent polls, the health care reform legislation was now more popular since it has been signed into law. The caller indicated that Democrats were actually picking up popularity points and the Republicans were now lagging in polls. That caller was abruptly cut off by the host, who suddenly lost her previous enthusiasm. Ms. Cushman dismissed the referenced polls as indicating only that the public was tired and just relieved to have the political fight over.

The other guests that evening didn’t really seem to have anything to do with faith issues, but at a programming break the announcer indicated that the “Point of View” program is a listener supported ministry. “Point of View” seems to be in the same general programming genre as Janet Parshall’s show. But in the few times I’ve listened to Ms. Parshall’s program, she does involve references to faith. Janet Parshall’s programming does focus a lot on political current events, but she hosts a more clearly Christian show. Indeed, I have heard some programs where Ms. Parshall focused exclusively on faith issues and did not raise political ones at all. By contrast, while I was listening to “Point of View” that first evening, I don’t believe I heard even one reference to Christianity or religious faith in the discussion with Ms. Cushman. Indeed, I couldn’t distinguish the program that night from a secular talk radio format. As a result, I was confused as to why it is a “listener supported ministry.” What’s next? Is Rush going to form his own “ministry” so that his show can gain tax-exempt status?

The link below summarizes the program the night I tuned in. I’ve listened to “Point of View” several times since that first evening. To be fair, there have subsequently been references to faith issues. One program was devoted entirely to plugging a software product that enables users to do in-depth Bible studies. However, most evenings I’ve listened to the program, the discussions tend to be focused on political current events. When I’ve listened, there have been some references to faith, but they seem to be only parenthetical and not a primary focus of the show.

Matthew 23:23-24 (King James Version)

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

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