God's Politics

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 3:14-18

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Part three of a dialogue between Jim Wallis and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed on the question: “What should values voters value most?”

Jim WallisYou raise several interesting lines of thought in your response, Ralph. Let me try to address some of them.

My point that the Religious Right only focuses on one or two issues is not a “straw man.” I’ve looked at the promotional material and program for the “Values Voters” conference this weekend in Washington. The major opening plenary session is titled “The Preservation Of Traditional Marriage” and the website promotes a book titled “The Party of Death,” which claims to detail “how left-wing radicals, using abortion as their lever, took over the Democratic Party-and how they have used their power to corrupt our law and politics.”

And I saw several comments here to your post. One said, “I grew up in an evangelical right-wing conservative denomination, and have been a minister in it for the past decade. I have been troubled by my tradition for several years over many things. If conservatives have a huge agenda and are not based on 2 issues, I’ve never seen it.” Another person wrote: “As one who grew up in an independent Baptist church and who has an extended family deeply rooted in the Nazarene church, I can assure you that among such religious conservatives there are only two or three hot button issues: abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer.”

Some of your friends on the Religious Right do have private charitable agendas. But their political agenda is still mostly about two issues. That’s what they talk about, that’s what they mobilize around, and that’s what they use to the partisan advantage of Republicans. I heartily agree that many evangelicals now have a much broader agenda and that is precisely the point.

The Religious Right has now lost control of the evangelical political agenda and here’s why.

One year after the television images of Katrina were seared into our minds, thirty-seven million Americans still live in poverty, left out and left behind. Globally, thirty-thousand children die needlessly every day from hunger and disease. Certainly poverty is a moral value, and it clearly is for a new generation of evangelicals.

Despite official indifference and denial, the future of our fragile environment is in jeopardy as global warming continues unchecked. Caring for the earth that sustains us is also a moral value which young evangelicals now call “creation care.”

Insisting on full humanity and dignity for all people by opposing discrimination and oppression for ethnic or racial reasons, whether intentionally or due to systemic structures, is a moral imperative. Racism, human rights, sex trafficking, and genocide in places like Darfur are all now clearly on the Christian agenda.

Twenty-six hundred Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis are now dead. Daily violence continues to spiral out of control. The cost and consequences of a disastrous war, that many now believe is a distraction from the real fight against terrorism, is a moral issue. And attacking the war’s opponents as appeasers does not answer the hard questions.

But you still don’t see many of the issues above on the political agenda of the Religious Right. In fact, some leaders of the Religious Right have tried to keep issues like the environment and poverty off the evangelical agenda for fear they would distract from same-sex marriage and abortion.

The serious breakdown of both family and community in our society must be addressed. But we need serious solutions, not merely scapegoating others.

And wouldn’t coming together to find common ground in reducing the number of abortions be better than both the left and the right using it as a political litmus test?

The desire for integrity in our government is growing across the political spectrum. Corruption in government – how money and power distort and misguide our political decision-making and even our electoral processes – offends basic values. In a political culture with seemingly never-ending scandals, our values should insist on securing both electoral and lobbying reform, and ending how pork barrel spending and special interests sway policy decisions.

As I travel around the country, I find that the American people are weary of the left/right battle lines but are hungry for a “moral center” in politics, one that the media pundits cannot simply pigeonhole with the worn-out labels of liberal or conservative. We need a new dialogue that goes beyond those categories. I’ll come back to that point in my next post.

You ask about the Democrats on marriage and abortion. When I say that parenting has become a counter-cultural activity in America, all parents nod their heads–both liberal and conservative. But neither party has a genuinely pro-family agenda. The Democrats, as you point out, make a big mistake of not speaking the language of family values while Republicans have only an anti-gay marriage agenda, not a comprehensive family friendly platform that especially takes the needs of America’s working families into account. And abortion is a moral issues that Democrats should address (and are beginning to), but so is a consistent ethic of life (as the Catholics say) which Republicans violate by focusing only on abortion and ignoring so many of the other greatest threats to human life and dignity.

The real problem with Democrats is not their views on specific issues, but their reluctance to speak of their position on issues in moral or religious language. That is now changing ­ Sen. Barack Obama delivered a major speech on faith and politics at our conference this summer, Robert Casey spoke here in Washington last week, and Sen. John Kerry offered his yesterday. The American people want our elected officials make the deep connection between moral values and politics.

It¹s time to build a nation with a new set of moral priorities that advances the common good for all Americans and speaks in the language of values. But the moral agenda must be broader and deeper than the one the Religious Right continually poses. And a new dialogue on moral values could take us beyond the old liberal/conservative political straightjacket and truly move our nation forward. Do you agree Ralph?

Bush at the UN. On Darfur, “Mr. Bush urged Sudanese leaders to approve a peacekeeping force there to end what his administration has called genocide.”

Red Letter Christians. Sojourners/Call to Renewal launched “Red Letter Christians,” a group of progressive Christian communicators broadening the discussion of “moral values.”

Faith Based Initiative. “The Bush administration’s faith-based initiative is reaching only a tiny percentage of the nation’s black churches, most of which have limited capacity to run social programs.”

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Full news summary:

Bush at the UN. Bush Makes Direct Appeal to Iranians in U.N. Speech – “President Bush appealed today to the people of Iran to take control of their future and said their leaders were squandering resources on nuclear weapons ambitions, but he hastened to add that the United States was pursuing a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. … With respect to Darfur, Mr. Bush urged Sudanese leaders to approve a peacekeeping force there to end what his administration has called genocide.” “Mr Bush said that if the Khartoum authorities did not do so quickly, the UN had to act. “Your lives and the United Nation’s credibility are at stake,” he added, addressing the people of Darfur.” Transcript: Bush at the U.N.

Darfur. Bush to Name Envoy for Darfur.- “President Bush has decided to name Andrew Natsios, a former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as his special envoy for Darfur in the hope of reviving a diplomatic effort…” Good editorials in the Washington Post – The Genocide Test and the New York Times – Take the Lead on Darfur

Red Letter Christians. Liberal evangelicals begin campaign – “Liberal evangelicals, weary of a Republican-centric image, launched a campaign Monday to promote Christian values beyond the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.” Religious left to reclaim its faith – “Fourteen activists, some of whom portrayed themselves as disenchanted evangelicals, announced the formation of “Red Letter Christians,” a group that says it bases its actions and political philosophy on the words of Jesus, which appear in red lettering in some versions of the Bible.” The “ Red Letter Christians” is a project of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

Faith and Politics. Kerry Talks of Loss, Renewal of His Faith– “In a speech he said he wishes he had given before the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday described his religious life in greater candor and detail than ever before.”Kerry urges cooperation to reduce abortions – “Kerry called for a new national commitment to reduce the number of abortions, saying that both sides on the abortion debate can reach “common ground” on the sharply divisive cultural issue. Transcript: John Kerry’s speech on faith

Pasadena Church May Fight IRS Summons – “A liberal Pasadena church facing an IRS investigation over alleged politicking sounded a defiant note Sunday, with its leaders and many congregants saying the probe amounted to an assault on their constitutional rights and that they were inclined to defy the agency’s request for documents.”

Iran. France Now Opposes Iran Punishments – “As world leaders converged at the United Nations, French President Jacques Chirac dealt a significant blow to the Bush administration’s effort to slow Iran’s nuclear development, saying his government would join Russia and China in resisting the U.S. push for sanctions against Tehran.” Iran’s Freeze on Enrichment Could Wait, France Suggests – “In an effort to jump-start formal negotiations between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac of France suggested that Iran would not have to freeze major nuclear activities until the talks began.”

Torture. McCain Stand Comes at a Price – “Battling Bush over rules for detainee treatment, senator jeopardizes his courtship of the right. “This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community,” said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.” Bush Detainee Plan Ad
ds to World Doubts Of U.S., Powell Says
– “Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said that he decided to publicly oppose the Bush administration’s proposed rules for the treatment of terrorism suspects in part because the plan would add to growing doubts about whether the United States adheres to its own moral code.” Experts Say Bush’s Goal in Terrorism Bill Is Latitude for Interrogators’ Methods – “In his showdown with rebellious Senate Republicans over bills to bring terrorism suspects to trial, President Bush has repeatedly called for clarity in the rules for what he calls “alternative interrogation techniques” used by the CIA.” Faith Based Initiative. Few Black Churches Get Funds – “The Bush administration’s faith-based initiative is reaching only a tiny percentage of the nation’s black churches, most of which have limited capacity to run social programs, hampering the initiative’s promise of empowering those congregations to help the needy… The national survey of 750 black churches by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that fewer than 3 percent are participating in the program.”

Poverty in NYC. To Fight Poverty, Bloomberg Plans Tax Credits and Rewards – “In an effort to reduce the city’s high poverty rate, the Bloomberg administration plans to offer tax credits to impoverished families to offset child care costs and cash rewards to encourage poor people to stay in school and receive preventive medical care.”

Op Ed. Poverty’s Changing Faces – “The recently released poverty data paint a grim picture of life in America. Once again the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that 37 million people — one of every 12 residents — is living hand-to-mouth in the United States. … Although the size of the poverty population has been fairly stable, its composition has not been. … The reality of our poverty population is constant churn. Some people fall into poverty every year, and just about as many escape its clutches.” (By Bradley R. Schiller, professor of economics at American University and author of “The Economics of Poverty and Discrimination.”)

Quote of the Day.

“If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act.” President Bush on Darfur to the UN General Assembly (New York Times)

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Martin Luther King Jr., from The Strength to Love

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