Progressive Revival

Religious conviction is a delicate matter.    Many of the greatest reformers this world has ever known, Christ, Moses, and Muhammad, not to mention more recent figures like Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, all heard God’s voice, pushing them along, affirming them, inspiring them, and lifting them up in moments of doubt and exhaustion.   Religious conviction can be a beautiful thing, illuminating one’s path in a dark night of the soul, providing a sense of purpose and mission.

This type of religious conviction can also be a tricky, not to say terrifying, matter.   Many who claim to hear God’s voice then move to speaking for God, with no pause to allow for a moment of humility.    My own question about religious reformers who claim to hear the voice of God or speak for God is always fairly simple:  how deep is your love, and whom do you serve?   In other words, is your conviction rooted in love, and is it directed to the uplifting of all of God’s children, or does it uplift some at the expense of others?   This is what causes me concern about some of what I heard from Governor Sarah Palin so far.

In the last few months we have seen agonizing “vetting” or even border-line inquisition dealing with the religious faith of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright.   We have seen McCain struggle with whether he is a Baptist or Episcopalian.    Fundamentally, I am and remain opposed to any type of a religious litmus test for a person running for political office.  That is why I am not going to go in depth dealing with the divisive and deprecating comments of Sarah Palin’s former ministers have made about Muslims, converting Jews, questioning whether democrats can reach heaven, blasting those who criticize George Bush going to hell, or the need for “spiritual warfare” against those who disagree with them.

But while their personal faith need not concern us, a person’s actions and words are public matters.  This is particularly the case for a person who stands a mere heartbeat away from the most powerful office on the planet, and has the power and responsibility to decide on matters of war and peace.  These questions are not hypothetical or abstract.   They are real, urgent, relevant, and appropriate.  At that level, I do think it is imperative to take on the words and deeds of Sarah Palin.  Many are paying attention to Palin’s Pentecostal background as part of the Assemblies of God.    I am more interested in what has she said about arguably the most divisive issue of our day, the war in Iraq.    Here she is, speaking for God:  

“Pray our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country — that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God…That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.”

Is that right?  That the Iraq War is part of God’s plan?   The God that we know does not look with favor with the death of up to a million of his children, both American and Iraqi.   The God that we know does not look with fondness with taking the money that should be going as food into the wrinkled stomachs of God’s children, and providing healthcare for the tens of millions without access to it, and instead wasting it at a tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in a war that benefits only the military-industrial complex.   Part of the problem of this “God’s plan” talk is that it effectively demonizes those around the world–and in this country–who have a profound objection to this war, its fuzzy logic, and the brutal and inefficient way in which it has been carried out.   If the Iraq war is God’s plan, then whose plan are those of us who are opposed to this war following? 

It is one thing to scrutinize the words of the religious advisors and mentors that a presidential/vice-presidential candidate has ever uttered.  It is another to see that candidate, Sarah Palin in this case, speaking at the church where her minister, Ed Kalnins, casts the Iraq war as nothing short of a holy war:  “I really think it is a holy war. It’s a war of gods. … When someone fights in the name of God, that becomes a holy war.”   Have we not had enough of the “holy war” language, whether done by extremist Muslims or extremist Christians?   Are we still in the age of Crusades and Jihads?   May it be that we come to see religion be a force for good, instead of simply perpetuating the self-comforting myth that God is on our side, and only on our side.    May we come to recognize that God is on humanity’s side.      The struggle of Good and Evil is not the struggle of one portion of humanity against another portion, but a daily struggle that each of us are to conduct first and foremost inside our own hearts and souls.   Without that bit of humility, religious conviction can so quickly turn to arrogance, and from arrogance to violence.  And we have lived for far too long already in a world suffering from violence that we need not pour the fuel of religious conviction on that flame.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin claimed that victory in Iraq “is within sight.”   As one of those of us who watches the news from this troubled land every day with an aching heart and open eyes, I wonder if she is watching the same news as the rest of us, if she is living the same reality as the rest of us.   In truth, it makes us wonder whether she is in fact hearing God’s voice, or if she is just hearing voices.


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