City of Brass

City of Brass


Brian McLaren endorses Obama

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Brian McLaren is a Christian pastor who approaches faith and politics from within the compassionate tradition of Christianity, focusing on the Prophet Jesus’ AS example of charity and taking care of the poor, etc for his inspiration rather than judgment and brimstone. As such his politics take him leftward in opposition to the conservative Religious Right – the Religious Left, I suppose, would be the natural term, though of course it is a fledgling movement with no comparable political clout. It’s worth noting that McLaren just publically endorsed the Matthew 25 network, a pan-Christian political action committee with a focus on social work, and endorsed Barack Obama for President. An excerpt from his endorsement letter:

A lot
of us feel that we’ve watched large sectors of our Christian
community in the U.S. engage in several decades of divisive, ineffective,
and downright counterproductive political engagement. At best, many
attempts at engagement have been superficial, simplistic, and subject
to binary thinking where one or two wedge issues easily distinguish
the “good guys” from the bad. At worst, we’ve watched
too many of our fellow Christians slip into a “culture war”
mindset where neighbors became enemies to be defeated and silenced,
not loved as we love ourselves. In addition, we’ve watched too
many members of our faith communities be manipulated by cynical politicians
who knew what tune to play to get people of faith marching obediently
in their parade.

Many of us – sadly, I include myself here – stood on
the sidelines and complained about the wrong being done by “the
Religious Right.” In private, we might say that the major media
figures didn’t speak for us, but we responded to faith-based
misuse of the political process with faith-based disuse. We didn’t
realize, as we now do, that disuse tends to favor those in power and
support the status quo.

As I’ve watched with sadness what has happened in recent years,
I’ve promised myself again and again that I wouldn’t just
stand on the sidelines complaining this election season. That’s
why I’m so thrilled about positive, constructive initiatives
like the Matthew 25 Network. Drawing from Jesus’ powerful parable
about his solidarity with “the least of these,” this network
invites us as people of faith to step beyond individual self-interest,
and even beyond the interest-group politics of “what’s
best for us” – whether “us” is our denomination,
religion, party, or nation. It invites us to consider how to use our
vote on behalf of the neediest, the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken
… so that their concerns are our own when we vote. For us, this
is inherent in what it means to be followers of Jesus.

Based on these values, the Matthew 25 Network has chosen to support
Barack Obama. Does that mean that every one of us is in full agreement
with every detail of Senator Obama’s campaign? Of course not:
we’re electing a president, not a Messiah! Blind, uncritical
support is part of the misuse that we’re trying to move beyond.

This is a significant development, because it comes at the time when the influence of the Religious Right is at an all-time low. The Matthew25 group reject the single-issue politics of the pro-life wing, as well, with a sub-organization called Pro Life Pro Obama, which argues that there is no inherent contradiction in being pro-life and supporting the pro-choice Senator. The reason is that Obama has articulated a desire to reduce abortions by making them unnecessary, rather than illegal (a re-framing of the abortion issue that brings right and left together). In addition to seeking to reduce the need for abortion, they also quite wisely focus on “life” as a choice – and argue that women must be encouraged to choose life and be supported in that decision (that latter part conspicuously absent from most pro-life partisans’ considerations).

Of course, there is a backlash. McLaren’s approach to the Bible is not a literalist fundamentalist one, but rather interpretative. On issues like homosexuality, for example, this leads him to counsel compassion for the sinners rather than taking a hard-line stance. Those who disagree with him (“foundationalists”) invoke plenty of doctrine in their arguments, but can’t seem to avoid accusing him of depravity in the course of their arguments. In the political realm, his endorsement for Obama led to him being labeled a “heretic”, and far worse. In some ways this political schism reflects the tension within Islam in the modern era, suggesting that these theological and political issues transcend faith and represent a more universal trend. That trend, throughout world history, has pointed in the direction of increasing liberalism and less religious literalism.

There’s more to the Religious Left than just McLaren or Matthew 25, of course. Another great resource is the God’s Politics blog, which is headed by Jim Wallis and is a co-venture of Beliefnet.com and Sojourner.net. Also, Street Prophets is full-fledged blog progressive liberal blog community with an explicit focus on religion and politics, a spin-off of DailyKos. I think that as the Religious Left finds its voice, it will naturally broaden to Islam and Judaism as well; examples of this include Talk Islam and Ameinu. And there still remain strong voices on the right, such as Beliefnet’s own Rod Dreher, who still identify as conservative but whose approach towards politics is independent and principled. Inshallah we can all work together and undo some of the damage wrought by this closing era of conservative religious dominance.



  • Pat

    I’ve been really struggling with fellow Christians supporting a “pro choice” party; mainly because in my heart of hearts I don’t feel abortion, or the choice to have one, is a political issue.
    I’m a physician and I know what happens at the moment of conception, as do most of us, really; a miraculous cascade of LIFE that we cannot as man even begin to understand. Simple things like: how does a nose know when to become a nose, a heart a heart, and a leg a leg? And much more complex things like: how is the brain (a collection of billions of neurons interlinked so intricately we will never understand how God even thought of it) programmed to perform something as intangible as thought, all the while controlling and monitoring the functions of the rest of the body?
    When we, as man, interrupt this growth process, started by God but obviously contributed by man through procreation, through the act of abortion, have we not lost touch with our humanity?
    Now, as a ‘choice’ we may support the notion that abortion is a serious decision to be best arrived at by a woman and her doctor, as Senator Obama upholds. And, of course, this decision is the result of much thought and meditation. I find issue with that, because we don’t leave other acts of killing to the individual. Capital punishment, if carried out by an individual, even if he or she is an individual family member of a murder victim, is considered murder. We don’t leave that ‘choice’ up to the individual, because it entails doing something that is inherently wrong – murder.
    If, in fact, we as Christians believe that abortion is murder – and how can we possibly in God’s name believe it’s not – then there really is no choice but to stop the social acceptance of the practice of abortion YESTERDAY, let alone allowing political correctness to ‘leave it up to the mother and her doctor’ 1,300,000 times in the year 2000 – 3,560 times a day in our ‘One nation, under God.’
    Let me give an example of how satan has disguised his deception. My wife and I lost a baby at seven months gestation. If not for the absolutele miraculous grace of God, we would have been devastated by losing our son, Nicholas. We were placed in a hospital ward with other couples awaiting similar tragedy – the still birth of their deceased children. Those without God had absolutely no peace in their loss.
    There probably is not one person reading this who hasn’t experienced a similar loss, or know someone who has. Here’s my question, fellow children of God Almighty: Why do we, on the one hand, mourn the unintentional loss of a baby in the womb, having no difficulty feeling the utter sorrow and despair of the couples’ loss, while on the other hand coldly accepting an intentional ‘loss’ (by going in with cold metal instruments and scrambling the fetal tissue) as simply a ‘choice’?
    Search your heart and hear me when I say, satan has deceived us into accepting the lie that an unborn child is not a living person, so it’s not our responsibility to protect her or him from ever breathing one breath of the air we the ‘living’ relish daily. And he’s disguised his deception by painting it as a political issue that has divided our great nation at polar opposites of the ultimate (in our day) ‘human rights’ issue: a woman’s right to choose, and a baby’s right to live.
    How can we as Christians live with our conscience by silencing our voice for unborn children because we’re afraid that some will see it as religious activism? If you haven’t already, perhaps you could look at the following link, which I believe truly offers a viable alternative to accepting the VERY slow decline (the numbers above for 2000 are down from 1,360,000 in 1996) in abortions by thinking it’s better to make them ‘unneccessary,’ vs make them ‘illegal': http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/95b18512-d5b6-456e-90a2-12028d71df58.htm .

  • Tioedong

    Ay yay.
    You have to remember that for the radical secularist press, “religious fundamentalism” is a code word for bigotry.
    This is called a “straw man”. You set up a fake enemy, then shoot him down, pretending that your straw man is the real thing. As a Muslim, you see this all the time. Yet all religions have bigotry, including the secular progressive movement that is pushing Obama.
    The largest Christian church in the US is actually the Catholic church. The bishops oppose Obama and many democrats. You see, this is not about bigotry at all: It all comes down to abortion as the flash point.
    The Muslim physicians I trained with didn’t do abortions even when threatened being kicked out of their residency. Right now, the Bush administration has passed a law allowing freedom of conscience.
    But if the Democrats get in, look for Muslim and Catholic countries getting US aid linked to changing their abortion laws, similar to what occurred under Clinton.

  • Aziz

    Pat, I am more sympathetic than you know to the pro-life position, but I dont think there’s any value in legislating morality. Working to convince people to choose life is truly the best long-term way to foster a culture of life – with eth choice having to be a meaningful one, not forced. Legislation against vice simply makes it illegal, but has no moral persuasion. there is societal consensus on murder, despite the fact that not everyone derives their morality from religion. A similar concensus on abortion does not exist, but it can.

  • Suzy

    Was you reference to Jesus as a prophet an unnoticed error? The Holy Bible states that Jesus is the Son of God.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    Suzy, I respect your beliefs, but as a practicing muslim I obviously have a different view than you do. I think we can agree to revere Jesus in our own way.

  • jazzypaul

    Actually, Aziz, you could have avoided the confrontation with Suzy by simply calling Jesus by his name. By putting “prophet” in front of Jesus’ name, you’re begging the fight for no particular reason.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    I don’t see it as a confrontation. I reflexively write “Prophet” before Jesus’ AS name. Why should Suzy, or I, change our way of venerating him just for others’ sake? I’m a muslim blogger. I’m going to be true to myself. I don’t think I am being confrontational or offensive by employing my religious context. I am glad Suzy left her comment, it’s perfectly valid, I just wanted to make it clear that it was a deliberate usage and not an “error” on my part because we do not share religious axioms.

  • jazzypaul

    No, Aziz, you’re begging the fight.
    If you leave the prophet part off when addressing Jesus, you are simply referring to a religious figure.
    However, when attaching the word Prophet to his name, you are now claiming that he is a false idol to billions of people. Gee, that simple view of not sharing religious axioms just got a little sticky, didn’t it?

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    “false idol” ? Your determination to insert words into my mouth suggests that if anyone is begging for a fight, it’s you, not me. I’ve answered enough on this.

  • jazzypaul

    Aziz,
    I’m not begging for a fight. However, it is not unreasonable for me to say, “hey, when you address something in this way, whether you want to or not, you are saying this.”
    Someone cannot be both a prophet AND God incarnate, can they?
    Addressing someone by name allows Christians to view Jesus as God incarnate, and allows muslims to view Jesus as prophet.
    However, giving Jesus the title of prophet would then say that He cannot be God incarnate.
    If people are worshipping something that is not God, then indeed, they are worshipping a false prophet, are they not?
    Tell me I’m putting words in your mouth all you want. The truth is that they are inferred whether you want to admit it or not.
    All I am saying is that in an interfaith setting such as this, THE MOST RESPECTFUL THING YOU CAN DO is simply reference people by their names instead of by the title that any individual faith might give them.
    Salaam,
    jazzypaul

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