Friday, May 27, 2005

God's Politics

I had a chance to hear Rev. Jim Wallis preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church last night. His homily wasn't laden with concrete strategies and techniques for the Christian progressive. His vision, however, certainly shook me and pushed me farther forward into the social justice issues I've been wrestling with lately. The spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. was called forward and I could feel the energy ripple through the assembly.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine and author of the book God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. He also alluded to an involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as well as having preached in the old Ebenezer sanctuary in MLK's day. He is fundamentally a liberal with a strong focus on community action.

Wallis laid out his issue with mixing politics into religious discourse:
Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich, and pro-Republican? And since when did promoting and pursuing a progressive social agenda with a concern for economic security, health care, and educational opportunity mean you had to put faith in God aside?

What did the Right get wrong?

In a word, faith. He pointed out that it wasn't the Religious Right that grasped control of the Republican Party; it was the Republican Party that used the databases of churches and congregations to spread their ideology and create the Religious Right. Even if it seems a little like the Chicken or Egg debate, Wallis has a strong point that the biblical basis for many issues on the Republican platform are very selective.

The major hot-button "moral value" issues were limited to abortion and same-sex marriage. The honest truth is both of these on their own are nothing. Without supporting the "society of life" fully by rejecting all forms of murder (including the death penalty) and increasing monetary and volunteer support for adoption programs, the abortion issue alone is useless. Without social context, the same applies to same-sex marriage.

Wallis continued to enumerate other important "moral values" that were lacking from the Religious Right agenda. Such as eliminating poverty, revamping education, environmental stewardship, global peace, and civil rights. These values are paid lip service, of course, but the Religious Right presents no viable strategy to tackle these things. When it came to the environment, Wallis clarified further: "You know, what is called God's Creation?"

He was careful to differentiate the average Republican from the current leadership of the Republican Party. The "white house theology" is no replacement for all peoples of faith, and no one should accept its superiority. He re-emphasized the fact that no matter whether you are a Republican or Democrat, God is not necessarily on your side. The fact that one party has control over God is ridiculous.

What doesn't the Left get?

In a word, faith. Left organizations have gone too far in banning religious expression from the public square, and have even tried to ignore religion from their politics. Wallis pointed out the fact that by doing so, the Left has allowed the Right to set the religious tone and claim the moral high ground. This despite all the Left owes to religion and the movements it supports.

One man from Massachusetts thought it would be easier to come out as a homosexual in the Democratic Party than as a Catholic. Wallis emphasized acceptance of atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and minority denominations, but not by ignoring their differences. Only by uniting on their moral similarities can the Left reject the Right's agenda.

Another important issue was raised. The Left needs not only to accept religious, but embrace it. Wallis pointed out that every big movement (abolition, suffrage, civil rights) in this country was based on religion. Faith provides the strength to change the world and a safety net during the inevitable pitfalls. Wallis needed no elaboration, recalling the power of prayer and song during the Civil Rights Movement.

I also recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.'s address in the March on Detriot:
For we’ve come to see the power of nonviolence. We’ve come to see that this method is not a weak method, for it’s the strong man who can stand up amid opposition, who can stand up amid violence being inflicted upon him and not retaliate with violence.

You see, this method has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale, and at the same time it works on his conscience, and he just doesn’t know what to do. If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful. If he beats you, you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful. Nobody with any sense likes to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity.

And even if he tries to kill you, you’ll develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for.
These words speak to the growing Christian Progressive movement. Civil disobedience and nonviolence are our weapons against the "holier than thou" hypocrisy. Whether you are right-leaning, left-leaning or centrist, religious or non-religious, we as a people in this country, in this world, have an obligation to hold those in power accountable for their actions.

John 15-16 comes to mind:

"When the Counselor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me. You will also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

“These things have I spoken to you, so that you wouldn’t be caused to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

"When he has come, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment; about sin, because they don’t believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to my Father, and you won't see me any more; about judgment, because the prince of this world has been judged.
Once we cede to any group, no matter what their policies, moral superiority or higher ground, we give away our right to free thought. The more we are incited by the group, the more we should question the validity of those claims. If everyone has an angle, the most compelling and readily available evidence should never be taken on face value. The harsh reality is that evidence has been either skewed or completely manufactured.

With no questions to ask, there can be no answers. If any group claims to have all of life's answers figured out, they're a liar. The Left doesn't have all of those answers, nor does the Right. I have a lot more faith in myself figuring out my own purpose than a political group anyhow.


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At 11:53 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Doug Parris said...

The problem with Wallis and virtually all those who try to "mix" social liberalism with "religion" is that they are imagining God. Imagining what God "would" do. It's all theory and feelings. They do not believe in an objective God who is real. A God who might have positions they don't like. One that might point out where they're wrong. That is why they can't entertain coherence with the Bible. They want to make it "a matter of interpretation," a "living document" into which they can read what they want to believe and, hence, have no idea what it actually teaches. Their idea of Christian Conservatism is entirely made up for them by propagandists of the left who equate freedom with "favoring the rich." They "feel" intensely but "think" rarely. Their "religion" is all flash and platitudes. There is no theology to it. It is shallow.


At 9:43 AM GMT-5, Blogger the prisoner said...

Mr. Parris,

I respectfully disagree. This is no "mixing" here. Jesus was decidely a social liberal and puriah of the religious conservative of his time. Perhaps that is the part some conservatives do not want to accept in the Bible.

I am not only Christian of the New Testament, but of the Old. And it is true there are things that are hard to understand and accept in the Old Testament. But there are just as many things that Jesus updates that too many Christians ignore.

I don't understand, especially as an English major and from a Catholic background, how any document cannot be considered "living." If a document has no applicability to today's world, it is dead and not worth reading. The reason theology exists is to breach the chasm between practice and dogma, as they are sometimes at odds.

Feeling alone, I agree, is not enough to base a faith. But some of the greatest theologians of our times have pointed out the importance of "love" over reason, including the Apostle Paul himself.

It is fine if you believe in a static document oversimplified with its "do's and dont's." But I follow a living God, not a dead one. God is still speaking...


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