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Progressive Revival

Note to Ed Schultz: It is the Apocalypse, Friend

Yesterday, Ed Schultz posed a question on both his radio
program and his MSNBC show:  Where
is the religious community on health care? 

Ed, a Christian who admits he is not a regular churchgoer,
sees the issue in pretty simple terms. 
Jesus healed the sick.  For
free.  Period.  Why aren’t churches out on the front
lines arguing for a compassionate government that will care for the infirm,
ill, and dying?  After all, don’t
these same people understand that America is somehow a Christian nation?

Hey, Ed, I’m a fan. 
And since I was driving to the beach, I listened to you for two hours
get more and more heated–and take some pretty heated calls–on the issue.  I was with you, buddy.  But I think you missed a thing or
two.  Let me help you get the religion story straight.


First, many mainline and liberal churches are on the front
lines with this issue.  For
example, the Episcopal Church’s policy office issued an alert to Episcopalians to contact their members of Congress and has tried to answer
questions regarding the current legislation.  And they aren’t the only ones.  Most American mainline denominations have policy offices
working on this issue (and some have for quite a number of years now, around
SCHIP and other health concerns).  In
addition to denominational efforts, on August 10, cooperating groups across a
theological spectrum kicked off “40 Days of Health Care Reform” campaign to rally faith communities to support new health care policies.   There are lots of Christians–mainstream, mainline, moderate,
liberal, emergent, and progressive ones–who care about healing as a social and
spiritual issue.


Second, and I say this quite ruefully to you, Ed:  mainstream religion is of little
interest to most of the media.  Ed,
while you may be quite supportive of the Episcopal Church or the 40 Days
Campaign, you really wanted to know where James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Rick
Warren, and Franklin Graham stood on health care.  Ed, you wanted to know about the leaders of the conservative
evangelical community–the big TV preachers and religious right political types.

I can tell you where they are.  They are hiding. 
Some people think that evangelical opposition to abortion is keeping
them away from the health care bill (the abortion issue is a factor worrying
some Roman Catholics).  But I think
that many conservative evangelicals are using abortion as a way to duck
addressing the issue.  In
Washington, religious leaders know that abortion is pretty much off the table
in regards to the health care bill. 
The Hyde Amendment will keep the government from paying for abortion (as
long as the Hyde Amendment remains in force) and private insurance companies
will–or will not–pay for abortion as their policies dictate.  As you rightly pointed out, Ed,
abortion stays status quo in the current discussion.


The real thing keeping these leaders from speaking out is
that large segments of their audiences suspect that President Obama is the
the long-predicted evil political leader who will usher in a universal
socialist state, complete with a false religion that will doom untold millions
to eternal damnation with “666” stamped on our foreheads.  “Becoming Russia” is code language for
these fears–whether overtly or intuitively understood.

In other words, Ed, this isn’t a health care debate.  This is the Apocalypse.


The most chilling aspect of the apocalyptic fever gripping
the Bible Belt right now?  I can’t
think of a time when American fundamentalists believed that the Antichrist was
the President of the United States. 
Typically, fundamentalists have identified the Antichrist as someone
outside the United States–Hitler, Stalin, Gorbachev, or Saddam Hussein to name
a few recent candidates.  A few
fundamentalists thought Bill Clinton might be the Antichrist, but he was more
often seen as the “forerunner” the real bad guy, a kind of wicked John the
Baptist-type preparing the way for the big apocalyptic show.   And for whatever perverse reason,
Barack Obama is seen as the real thing.  Some Christians have turned inward for the Antichrist; President Obama is the darkness (and I mean “dark”) within.  


In other words, Ed, don’t expect any sort of rational
discussion–or even biblical argument about a compassionate Jesus–to convince
these folks.  This isn’t
rational and sophisticated theology is out of the question.  This is pretty much the
worst kind of religion that can be imagined–apocalyptic fervor and biblical
literalism stoked by the fears of racism and xenophobia–the sort of stuff that
makes me think that the neo-atheists have a point.  Wonder why the town halls are so heated?  It isn’t that religion isn’t in the
room.  Bad religion–and lots of it–is
present in the room.  It just isn’t
the sort of religion that you or I approve of Ed.  It isn’t about healing the sick; it isn’t about caring for
the least of these.   It isn’t
really about Jesus.  It is about
wide-eyed fear over the end of the world as some people know it.

And the only thing that can possibly speak to it is sane religion, the simple teachings of Jesus:  Heal the sick, care for the poor.  

Comments read comments(19)
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Ruth Lindsay

posted August 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Thanks so much for another great editorial.
The usurpation of Christian discourse by the “social conservatives” on the right has indeed only been made possible by media blackout of other Christians groups. I think there is a growing number of people such as myself who are turning to the Christian legacy so as to revive its true power. Fundamentalist groups have maintained influence because they have skillfully packaged their reading of the Word of God and turn pastoral care into a consumer good. But people still long for the love of Christ, and that can only be found within human community that calls us to our higher selves; this is the essence of Christian communion.
Thankfully, the internet and digital technology generally have made communications resources widely available. The challenge is to make loving, truthful speech heard, and to do that writers, readers, and reporters need to step up.

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Nat Ersoz

posted August 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Oh. Come. On!
You’re being way too specific.
In other words, Ed, this isn’t a __________ debate. This is the Apocalypse.
Fill in the blank:
Environmental Policy
Foreign Policy
Banking Policy
Economic Recovery
Unemployment Policy
Gay Marriage
Y2K (God, that was a good one.)
Its always about the Apocalypse.

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posted August 14, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Wow, thanks Diana for putting into words something that’s worried me but hadn’t come into clear enough focus. Loved the comment by Nat, too. So true!

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posted August 14, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Memorizing/Regurgitating the Bible vs. Comprehending the Bible
False Prophets & Modern Day Pharisees vs. Living As Christ
Prosperity Gospel vs. Whatsoever You Do To The Least Of My People

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posted August 14, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I am a conservative Christian, but NOT a fundamentalist conservative christian. I think Ed is lumping all the conservatives in the Osteen, Warren, Dobson, Graham camp. Many of us are NOT followers of these present day charlatans. Many of us are concerned about the vagueness of the health care legislation. We are not the blind followers of the religious right, nor are we the shouters at the health care forums. We are people who desire a civil debate of this issue.
Jesus healed for free is a great utopian idea that stems from liberalism’s ideal society. But the issue is much more complicated. People I know in my more conservative religious tradition desires that everyone have affordable health care. We just disagree on how to achieve it. I think Ed is off base in his attempt to demonize all conservative Christians.

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Ruth Lindsay

posted August 14, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I think it is very important to remember that people being rude and uncivil do not represent all people who have reservations about health care reform…while the rhetoric on “death panels” doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, people have legitimate concerns. After all, who doesn’t have reservations about what this congress is capable of producing? I think it’s important to have an in-depth conversation that helps to orient us toward the immense tasks that face us as Americans, and not to pretend that this can be dealt with in one piece of federal legislation.
I think our first test as Christians in this debate is how we respond to the people who are screaming and yelling incoherently. It is easy to respond with anger, but that does not address the fears that are being expressed. Those people might never be able to be convinced to back societal reforms, but the fears they invoke need to be understood and addressed with compassion so that those of us who might be susceptible to our own fears can work to move beyond them instead of reinforcing them.

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posted August 14, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Having lived in both Europe and the US all my life, I am puzzled as to why the lower economic class people – the ones who would most profit from health care – are the ones most easily caught up in the propaganda against Obama’s honorable attempt to bring the US into line with virtually the entire civilized world.
This brilliant analysis helped me to understand the background and motivation of these people, thank you!
Of course, it would be helpful if all these conservative but not fundamentalist Christians would get up off their rear ends and actually take a stand. I clearly remember the outrage every time I suggested one of these ‘conservative but not: literalistic, fundamentalist, etc.) Christians was a Republican. They vote 100% Republican, but aren’t such a creature.
Yeah, right.
Sure, there are valid questions regarding the health care bills pending. No single rational economist, no single rational doctor, no single rational person who has studied the current system in the US still believes we don’t need reform. Since the Republicans didn’t do it in all the years they were in power, it is now up to the Democrats.
Nothing is ever perfect, but for the conservative but ‘non’-fundamentalist Christians to let health care die because of their distaste for Obama not being a gen-u-whine conservative in their interpretation is to abandon the debate to the wing-nut christianists.
We go around and around on human status for gays and transgender, on abortion rights for women…can’t we, just once, accept that maybe, just maybe, there is a reason the entire rest of the civilized world has better health care than the US? That reason being the US is the only country without universal, affordable health care for all?
Nah, that would mean that the conservatives didn’t get 100% of what they want.

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Brian West

posted August 15, 2009 at 12:00 am

So Jesus healed people and was compassionate to the poor. By what logic does this imply that Christians should thus turn that responsibility over to the government? Instead of giving our money to the government to have them hire social workers and hospital bureaucrats, why aren’t Christians devoting their own resources, time, and energy to obeying Jesus’ commands?
Would that the church obey Jesus’ example and commands so well that there were no health care or poverty crises. Instead we have progressives who want the government to solve all the problems by imposing solutions from on high, and conservatives who aren’t passionate enough about poverty to volunteer their own resources to the goal. Both sides are all too typical of consumerism-soaked Americans–we want someone else to take care of the problem, so we don’t have to get our own hands dirty.

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posted August 15, 2009 at 8:00 am

I think Brian makes a very good point. Just because Christians believe in helping the sick and poor doesn’t mean it should be the responsibility of the government.
To get the Christian community, regardless of political stripe or denominational belief set, to get on board with one movement requires a lot of work. It means changing the hearts and minds of many individuals. I find it distressing that progressive Christians would rather shortcut the work by getting the government; that makes the movement on the left just as lazy and small-minded as conservative Christians co-opting the ballot box in the 1980’s.
Any power you allow the government to have cannot easily be rescinded. What you allow bureaucrats to do for you now can be turned against you in the future. The solution is to work outside of government for good and insist that government stay out of the way.

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Wes Denyer

posted August 15, 2009 at 9:33 am

Being a Christian and living in Canada, I have to say, most of us north of the border find all this great debate about universal health care rather strange. We’ve had it for many years, and although there is a small lunatic fringe of Canadian health care patients being exploited by the media to destroy your efforts to move toward socialized medicine (by the way, we don’t even think it’s evil to call it “socialized” medicine), 99% of Canadians are very happy with their health care. Quite frankly, as simply something that every other developed western country has, I’m not at all sure hcw it gets caught up in this religious, apocalyptic, Barack Obama antichrist, discussion. To the rest of the world, that all looks just very wierd … The United States is a Christian country. Universal health care is old news for the rest of the world. Jesus did heal people. Can’t you just get the job done?

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posted August 15, 2009 at 9:39 am

Brian West and Tom,
There is a major difference between a very small Christian community and a major (the only remaining superpower) country.
One of roughly 300 million people.
The only way for Christians to follow Jesus very strongly worded choice for us is by empowering the government to help all people.
Do you drive on public roads?
Do you pay your debts, public and private with US currency?
Do you use the Internet?
Do you expect the police/fire department to help you?
You do?
Well, given your argument, you should be actively protesting all of those services.
I also assume you gladly told your parents to forget about Medicare, that you would cover their expenses?
You didn’t?
Full disclosure: My husband and I give 20% of our income (10 for each of us) to charities which help people in need. We volunteer our time, too.
What, pray, do you as ‘good Christians’ do? If you’re not donating or volunteering the equivalent of that 10% per person in your oh-so-Christian households, how dare your protest the government aiding people?
Seriously, how would you organize that Christian charity to aid all – Jesus made it very clear that we are not permitted to limit our charitable acts only to Christians.

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Abe Doya

posted August 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Finding sane religious people here calling out their hypocritical brethren gives me hope. If this meme of Progressive Christianity could spread to the larger community and foster the same level of national interest as the decidedly Unchristian Right, we might then see a shift in political will on the part of progressive forces in government and society at large.
What would it take to have large numbers of sincere Christians call the Right on their disregard of Christ’s teachings? If ever the “Silent Majority” card could have a positive effect, the times call desperately for it now.
You need to help your brothers in faith remember the one they pretend to follow and those they really serve.
What would Jesus do indeed.

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Brian West

posted August 15, 2009 at 11:48 pm

panthera (and others):
We all implicitly have an opinion about what we believe the centralized, national government should do and is capable of doing well, versus what they shouldn’t do, perhaps because we believe they cannot, by definition, do it well. In my opinion, the government can do services like roads and military protection better than any decentralized alternative I’m familiar with. There is a gray area of activities where I’m not sure whether the federal government should be doing this or that or not. I’m certainly not convinced that centralizing power over health care (whether by socializing the care itself or just making the government the primary player in the health insurance industry) is something that our government can do well.
What governments do best (in my opinion, and to over-generalize) when it comes to activities that other entities (families, civic organizations, cities, counties, states, etc.) might arguably take responsibility for is to set boundaries for how those other entities might undertake those activities. Once the central government starts actually Doing things that others might do well, those others generally stop doing them at all–even if they might have done them better.
That’s why I say that the more the federal government gets directly involved in health care, the less opportunity the church has to actually obey Jesus’ command to take care of the poor and sick. No, they’re not doing it now, and that’s a travesty. And no, the current system obviously has major problems. But that suggests to me that the government needs to set different boundaries about how organizations and companies need to go about health care and health insurance. The broken-ness of the current system does not, in my opinion, rise to the level of justifying letting the boundary-maker become the primary player in the health insurance (let alone the health care) industry.
So, to review:
* I don’t protest roads or military because I think they fall under the category of legitimate roles the federal government can play.
* I’m honestly not sure what my 60-some-year-old mother will do for health insurance when she decides to stop working (or, rather, what she would have done under the existing system). I hope that my mother’s self-reliance thus far and my own ignorance do not call into question my integrity in this discussion.
* I don’t know whether it matters or not, but if it helps you hear out my arguments, we do give 10% of our income to our congregation. Before I was married, I volunteered weekly for ten years at our local soup kitchen. These days, I just help my wife raise our 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old children; I hope to get back to volunteering to help the poor again before too much longer, and this time to take the kids with me to help. Now, I am not trying to claim that this makes me a saint or anything, just trying to address panthera’s concerns, in the hopes that it might be harder to dismiss my arguments (which is the real point here).
panthera said “Seriously, how would you organize that Christian charity to aid all?” Just as we are likely to disagree on what the federal government should and should not do, you’re not likely to agree with my answer to this question, either. My answer: I wouldn’t. I don’t know how to get people to obey God. All I’m trying to do is describe the best reading of the Bible I can muster.
Matthew 25 didn’t say “hire someone (via the government) to feed the poor, etc.” In that account, Jesus judged between the sheep and goats based on what they, themselves, did or didn’t do. I’ll be the first to admit that puts me in a pretty bad spot, along with all the others I pointed fingers at in my earlier post. But I’m not just trying to find the truth that makes me look good. I’m trying to find the Truth, and point others, and move myself, to go where the Truth sends us.
I’m not a movement leader. I don’t know how to make thousands of churches do what it seems to me the Bible clearly says we should be doing (and churches and Christians in earlier centuries took care of). But it still seems like the best answer to the problem. Centralizing power in the hands of the government sounds like adding to our problems, not solving them.

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Karl Kroger

posted August 16, 2009 at 12:25 am

There are several things about this post that I think are spot on and helpful for thinking what’s happening in the media and religious community. However, I wonder if your primary claim is adequate/accurate.
You are basically proposing that “the real thing keeping [James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Franklin Graham] from speaking out [in favor of healthcare reform] is that large segments of their audiences suspect that President Obama is the Antichrist.”
Speaking broadly, I would suggest three other significant factors for these leader’s silence.
First, I think the abortion issue really is a major hangup for these folks and their followers.
Second, conservative Christians don’t believe in big government, except for the military.
Third, conservative Christians are more concerned with personal morality than social morality.

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george burris

posted August 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Mr. Ed says Jesus healed for free. If the government charges us anything, fines, fees, taxes for health care, will Mr. Ed take care of those bills for us? Will he protest and say it’s blasphemous?
I think Mr. Ed’s model is probably how they care for horses. Not one horse has ever had to pay taxes or copays. Mr. Ed has the Mr. Ed model, but I doubt he understands how human system works.
Should Christian Scientists be taxed for health care, when they never use it?

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posted August 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Brian West,
It is so very unusual for a conservative Christian to actually engage in discourse, I do confess to being shocked. Wow! And you actually put your money where your mouth is! Better be careful, you’ll end up in a progressive church soon at this rate.
I am a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, Ronald Reagan’s famous ‘scariest words in the English language': I’m from the government and I’m here to help you’ have some truth to them.
But only some truth.
Having had the privilege of living in both cultures, Europe and the US, I have seen the results of government involvement in health care. It works.
The mess we have here in the US shows that private solutions just don’t work. Don’t forget, rational people are all saying that health care expenses will soon reach the point in the US where even folks earning in the 200K range every year won’t be able to pay for them.
GM, among many others, tried throughout the Bush years to get the government to reconsider the employer based system we have in the US.
I understand that Americans are not very interested in seeing how the rest of the Western civilization solves many problems of interest to us as Christians, but in this case, everybody is doing it better than us.
Given the role conservative Christians took under the torture and civil rights disaster of the Bush administration, I have no qualms about us taking a positive role for a change. I don’t believe Jesus called us to lay our hands in our laps.
I hope your mom never needs to find out which of us is right.

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posted August 17, 2009 at 11:29 am

Obama is NOT the anti-Christ. Though he is just as bad. He is a Humanist.
Read the Humanist Manifesto [s] . . .
. . . and watch it describe this man and his goals perfectly.
Christians know what is opposite to The Church.

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posted August 18, 2009 at 8:18 am

Great post, Diana. I especially wanted to thank you for noting that *some* Roman Catholics struggle with the abortion issue. Lots of bloggers and political writers talk about Catholics as a huge monolith that agrees with whatever the Pope says. We’re more diverse than that, I promise!

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David Elliott

posted September 17, 2009 at 9:54 am

Are the President’s proposals really about socialized health care? They seem to me to be more about consumer protection in the health arena. Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and insurance companies remain private but they are given directives that require offering affordable services to all citizens. Nothing that comes into my home – food, water, electricity, appliances, TV etc. comes without strong consumer protection regulations to protect all citizens. Shouldn’t the same apply to another fundamental right of being a citizen, affordable health care?
The church throughout history has honored individual care for the poor along with the robust development of social institutions to do the same across society. Individual compassion just doesn’t scale up the way it should in an ideal Christian society. All Christians should support the foundational principles of the proposed health plan.

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