The Huffington Post Press Items
It is always appropriate and necessary for the faith community to question and challenge political leadership on the biggest moral issues -- indeed it is our prophetic vocation to do so. That means lifting up the now growing rates of poverty in America and around the world, even when both parties only want to talk about the middle class.
An election like this one always calls for both moral centering and political recalibration. Leaders of both parties were talking the morning after the election about cooperation to solve the nation's problems. We'll see, but that will likely also take a movement.
Tooley used a recent apology from Lutherans -- for violent persecution of 16th-century Anabaptists -- to emphasize a "neo-Anabaptist movement" that demands all Christians and society "bend to pacifism."
He says the views of neo-Anabaptist religious leaders such as Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis are "especially pervasive" and "permit a naughty sense of rebellion" -- evidence of how the Anabaptist message has mainstream appeal, especially its pacifism.
The power of an inside/outside strategy has been compromised by the problem of access which many leaders from social movements got after the election of Barack Obama. I remember seeing many friends in the building which served as the administration's transition headquarters, all of us attending meeting after meeting on the policies the new administration hoped to enact. Some of us attended so many meetings on so many varied topics that some security guards joked that we ought to have cots in the transition headquarters to avoid going back and forth from home so much.
There are endless comparisons made between Obama, Clinton and Reagan -- how badly each did in their first midterm elections, and how to recover and not be a one-term president like Jimmy Carter. But in the case of Obama, the better historical models are FDR and the JFK/Johnson period. It was the robust activism of those independent progressive movements of the past that created the space for major reforms and made other presidencies memorable. That's because social change does not ultimately rest on who is in the White House, but a movement outside of Washington, D.C., that makes fundamental reforms possible. What we need to re-learn now is the choreography of the "outside/inside dance" that real social change always requires.
Scriptures say, "Without a vision the people perish," and soon after he was elected, the president let the vision perish and the people soon followed. Without it, a vacuum formed and allowed the growth of a different sort of movement. Most unexpectedly, after the new "progressive" moment in January 2009, the "new populism" in America is now decidedly on the Tea Party Right; sparking an anti-Obama, anti-Democrat and anti-government movement; questioning the president's religion, patriotism and even his birth place; and tinged clearly by some with an ugly racial edge. The "movement" is now on the other side of the political aisle. A campaign of "Hope and Change," and "Yes We Can" was slowly replaced with the governance of diminishing expectations and "They Won't Let Us." But people who feel that they are perishing can be both afraid and angry.
Inauguration Day was highlighted for our family by a visit from Dr. Vincent Harding, the eminent African-American historian, and a member of Martin Luther King Jr's inner circle during the Southern freedom movement. Despite health concerns and the dangerous weather, "Uncle Vincent," as my two young boys call him, traveled across the country to witness this moment of a history in which he had been so deeply involved. As we stood on the mall clutching our inauguration tickets in our mittens, Harding said, "It was a movement that started all this."
It is almost certainly the case that Democrats did not adequately address the moral and religious components of voters' economic concerns. But it's also true, as Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners astutely observed, that the election reflected the judgment of voters that Democrats had fundamentally not put forward a compelling vision with concrete policies that directly addressed the underlying economic problems.
We can be sure that there will be dissonant spokespersons like Jim Wallis and his allies in his Sojourners community who will march to the beat of another drum. Also, there will be countervailing movements such as the Emergent church, led by the likes of Tony Jones and Brian McLaren; along with those radical countercultural advocates who relate to "the Simple Way" messages of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, as well as several others. But such voices increasingly will be marginalized and referred to as irritating malcontents by those Religious Right Evangelicals who will dominate both the image and practices representing Christianity to the general public for the next 50 years.
This election, some good people were elected and other good people lost. Some of these officials, newly elected and reelected, will try to find solutions to some of the great challenges facing our country today. Others will deepen the poisonous partisanship that has defined much of the past two years in politics. The polling showed, chillingly, that most voters came out to cast their ballots against candidates and policies rather than for anybody or anything.