Lately, I’ve received e-mail from readers challenging me to state plainly what I think about politics, religion and society.
So, I’m thinking, “Why not?”

Truth is, if you were to judge me by my parts — white male, educated and ordained Southern Baptist — you’d likely come up with a picture more like Jerry Falwell, short the jowls, of course.

However, similar to Falwell, I tend to vote Republican, not because I see Republicans as more moral, but simply because I usually agree with their views on business. And, I think we need less welfare, not more.

But after that, I slide toward the Democrats, favoring social programs and socialized medicine. I think state-sponsored lotteries are a hidden tax on the poor. And while we’re at it, I think the gambling industry is depraved, followed closely by the tobacco and handgun manufacturers.

It wouldn’t bother me to incinerate every handgun in the world, yet I’m pro-hunter. For that matter I’d be happy to assemble the hunters of the world into a firing squad and shoot through the heart anyone who rapes a child.

In religion, I consider myself a Liberal Evangelical. Notice I used the word, “evangelical.” It means that while the Bible is my authority for living, I don’t insist that it be the authority for others — Freedom of Religion has to include freedom from religion.

For example, school prayer. Most people who support school prayer would shudder to hear the prayer of a non-Christian. Yet if you allow prayer in school, you’d have to allow equal access to Scientology, Wicca and perhaps Zoroastrianism.

My reading shelf tips on both ends. I read books from the liberal Christian author Anne Lamott as well as books by C.S. Lewis.

If you “follow the money,” as the saying goes, my money supports an AIDS orphanage as well as my seminary alma mater, this despite their refusal to support women in ministry. Yet, although I refuse to give money to homeless solicitors, I’ll sometimes buy them lunch.

In sports, golf, baseball and poker anesthetize me; while the Tour de France and the X Games mesmerize me.

Finally, when it comes to my patriotism, I’m a citizen-soldier who is sworn to defend our flag, but similar to many soldiers, I also defend your right to burn it. And while I believe there are constitutional grounds to reconsider the “under God” phrase, I will never stop saying it under my breath.

Does knowing what a columnist thinks (or any person) really tell you much? We tend to think so. Perhaps that’s why we often greet new ideas and people like a dating service.

The problem, says my friend Tamara Chin, is: “We can’t approach our relationships with spiritual questionnaires, hoping to get a match. Jesus believed in ‘Keep It Simple.’ If you love God, you have to love your neighbor as yourself. We get stuck when we add qualifiers such as religion, politics, race, favorite rock bands and boxers or briefs.”

The truth is, if you knew me, you wouldn’t weigh so much what I profess as much as how I act.

It’s like this: Last week I was stopped in the hospital hallway by a father with a sick daughter.

When our conversation shifted to a certain biblical interpretation, we found ourselves awkwardly at odds.

Sensing my uneasiness about our differences, the man threw his long hair over his tattoo-covered shoulder and said something like, “Chaplain, I don’t talk with you because of your opinion. I talk with you because I can tell you care.”

And that shut me up. That said it all. Love your neighbor as yourself. Care. Simple.

“Do you care?” My guess is, that’s what most people want to know.