The Huffington Post Press Items
The recently revealed video of Governor Mitt Romney at a fundraising event last May is changing the election conversation. I hope it does, but at an even deeper level than the responses so far. There is certainly politics here, some necessary factual corrections, and some very deep ironies. But underneath it all is a fundamental question of what our spiritual obligations to one another and, for me, what Jesus' ethic of how to treat our neighbors means for the common good.
"Across the political and theological spectrum, the faith community is putting aside differences and taking up the biblical vocation of protecting the poor and bringing their stories and struggles to light," said Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, a progressive Christian group based in Washington.
We live in a globalized world. Our neighbors are no longer only the people who live next door but include all of those whose lives are connected to our own. It's almost impossible to go a day without using or eating something that doesn't have parts or labor from a country or a person halfway across the world.
Someone asked me recently what I thought of something "as a member of the Christian Left." My insides tightened and screeched into a ball. It was as if Freddy Krueger had run his sharpened fingernails across the black board in history class. Christian Left? Left of what? When did I sign that membership card?
We've got a problem in this country. I know it, you know it, and the politicians know it too, but most won't even say it out loud: poverty. We're bracing ourselves for next month's release of the 2011 numbers -- most economists predict that we're looking at the highest rates of poverty in fifty years.
There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."
Consequently, a number of Christian groups, including the Evangelical Sojourners, Catholic bishops, and even some nuns on a bus, have confronted Republicans on these policies which seek to build wealth on the backs of the poor. Still, these remain voices in the wilderness. For the most part, conservative Evangelicals still offer unquestioning support for the Republican party. But the fact is, a major change has gradually taken place in the GOP. Gone is the focus on "compassionate conservatism" with its legislation to help the poor, and in its place is an Ayn Rand philosophy that despises compassion as weakness, and idealizes the super-rich. So while Republicans may continue to use religious vocabulary in order to appeal to their conservative Christian base, they are nevertheless promoting values that are diametrically opposed to those of Jesus.
I recently asked Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners Director of Mobilizing and founding executive director of New York Faith & Justice, what broke here heart. Her answer? The Paul Ryan Plan.
A few weeks ago during his talk at the Wild Goose Festival, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis made an important point that is easily forgotten in the heat of the culture wars: The terms "right" and "left" are political categories, not religious categories. And whenever we try to cram our faith into one or the other, we wind up distorting not only our religion but our politics as well.
A budget is a moral document. That phrase was coined by the faith community and has become a refrain in the ongoing debates over deficits and budgets. But in this week's House vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, we see one more example of the priorities and principles of the broader GOP budget and how they apply to the rich and to the poor. Because of this, we must conclude that the Republican budget is an immoral document -- in the way it treats the poor. I certainly don't believe that all our Republican lawmakers came to Washington to hurt poor people, but it's time for some of them to challenge the dominant forces in their party and face the consequences of such indefensible choices.