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God's Politics

Jim WallisHere’s my second contribution to the The Washington Post/Newsweek online discussion “On Faith”. As with my first entry, I am joining with other religious leaders, scholars, and activists to respond to a question on a religious or spiritual topic. Our question this time:

Is Thanksgiving a religious holiday? If so, who does one thank and for what? Should non-believers celebrate Thanksgiving?

My goodness. No, Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday! And of course, “non-believers” can celebrate it. Just yesterday on our God’s Politics blog, a Native American leader talked about how they can even find ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, despite the dubious origins of the holiday between early settlers and American Indians. And if our indigenous citizens, whom we almost made extinct after the first Thanksgiving dinner, can find a way to re-interpret and redeem the holiday, certainly the rest of us can. My English wife says that her fellow citizens sometimes celebrate July 4 as their “Thanksgiving,” the day they got rid of us!

On a personal note: My Thanksgiving this year is all about my father, who passed away on November 8, the morning after the midterm elections. My father’s passing is very significant for me on many levels. On the morning my Dad died, I called him, as I often did. He was very focused and excited in his question to me: “Do you think the Democrats will win the Senate, as well as the House?” His weakened heart stopped just three hours later, before we had a chance to talk again later that afternoon about the remaining Senate races, as we had planned.

My Dad was an 82-year-old evangelical Christian from the Midwest. He was a part of the demographic shift I am often talking about—evangelical Christians moving beyond an only two agenda focus—abortion and gay marriage—to a wider and deeper understanding of “moral values” including profoundly biblical concerns about poverty, the environment, and war. His faith and values were a primary reason for my own sense of the relationship between faith and politics. Though, he agreed that God was not a Republican or a Democrat, he had become disgusted with the war and a government for the big people and not the little ones. My Dad would have smiled when the news about the Senate came in, and laughed raucously when he heard that Donald Rumsfeld had to resign. I can almost hear him now. He left me with the daunting responsibility of preaching the eulogy at his memorial service, so I talked about the lessons I learned from him about how to love and how to have faith—the things he and my mother taught us and the countless people their lives touched. His life was almost entirely focused “on faith,” the name of this new online forum. So, I hope it is appropriate (and not presumptuous) to offer the eulogy for my father for this audience to ponder as we reflect “on faith” and, especially, as we consider the legacies and blessings in our lives during this season of Thanksgiving.

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