The Common Good

An Attempt to Hijack Christianity

Sojomail - April 28, 2005

Quote of the Week » Activist judges
Hearts & Minds » Jim Wallis: An attempt to hijack Christianity
Spiritual Practices » The papacy of all believers
Colombia Journal » Mother's Day vigils for peace
P.O.V. » Left, right, and wrong
Religion and Politics » Middle Eastern Christians defy stereotypes
Web Sitings » Roll of role models | Good guide | Strike one for democracy
Boomerang » Readers write
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An attempt to hijack Christianity
by Jim Wallis

Last week, I wrote about the "Justice Sunday" event held at a Louisville, Kentucky, mega-church. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, and Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on video in the event titled "Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith." Of course, I have no objection to Christian leaders expressing their faith in the public arena - it's a good thing that I do all the time. The question is not whether to do so, but how. As I heard more and more about "Justice Sunday," it felt to me like it was crossing an important line - saying that a political issue was a test of faith.

So, when I was invited to speak at an interfaith "Freedom and Faith" service at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, I agreed. On Sunday morning, I flew to Louisville, and that afternoon addressed more than 1,000 people who attended the rally. I didn't go to say that these leaders shouldn't bring their faith into politics; the issues concerning them - abortion and family values - are also important to me. But the way they were doing it was wrong. The clear implication of their message was that those who opposed them are not people of faith.

We can get some historical perspective by looking at how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did it - and he was the church leader who did it best. Once after he was arrested, he wrote a very famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," addressed to the white clergy who were opposing him on the issues of racial segregation and violence against black people. Never once did he say that they were not people of faith. He appealed to their faith, challenged their faith, asked them to go deeper with their faith, but he never said they were not real Christians. If Dr. King refused to attack the integrity and faith of his opponents over such a clear gospel issue, how can the Religious Right do it over presidential nominees and a Senate procedural issue known as the filibuster?

After the "Justice Sunday" event, and the controversy surrounding it, some of the sponsors are denying they ever claimed that those who oppose them are hostile to people of faith. Yet their words stand for themselves. In the letter announcing the event on the Family Research Council Web site, Tony Perkins wrote: "Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked...because they are people of faith and moral convictions.... We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

So, I told the Louisville rally that when someone has stolen our faith in the public arena, it is time to take our faith back. "Justice Sunday" was an attempt to hijack Christianity for a partisan and ideological agenda. Those on the Religious Right are declaring a religious war to give their version of faith religious supremacy in America. And some members of the Republican Party seem ready almost to declare a Christian theocracy in America. It is time to take back both our faith and our Constitution.

It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation's future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action. This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."

Watch streaming video of Jim's message at the "Freedom and Faith" service:


Windows Media Player

Read more about "Justice Sunday" and Sojourners' efforts to offer an alternative view. Some sites may require registration.

Frist seeks Christian support to stop filibusters
+ The New York Times

Religion, politics intersect in 'Justice Sunday'
+ Lexington Herald-Leader

Christians square off over battle for judiciary
+ Chicago Tribune

Battle over benches spills across pews
+ Los Angeles Times

Religious conservatives speak out against Democrats' use of filibuster
+ The Kansas City Star

Foes attack event as intolerant
+ The Courier-Journal (Louisville)

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The papacy of all believers: A Mennonite look at the Holy See
by Will Braun

I am the spiritual descendent of iconoclasts who religiously rejected the papacy and the structures it crowns. So while I found the Papal pageantry captivating (and then disappointing) it also seemed somewhat beside the ecclesiological point.

As a Mennonite who is also deeply indebted to Catholic influence, I find myself reflecting these days on Church, the papacy and an interesting 500 years since my forebears fled Catholic officialdom and established their version of the priesthood of all believers.

All the Roman pomp has renewed my appreciation for the simplified concept of priesthood I experienced growing up in rural Menno-land. Yet I am drawn to Catholic monasteries, I have icons in my apartment, and my respect for the priests I know equals my respect for the early Reformers.

I envy the denominational drama of red-robed Cardinals locked up with Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel (especially when the most drama we Mennonites can muster is a lively quilt auction - no debugging equipment required). The stature of Catholic tradition is impressive.

With such a sweeping accumulation of tradition, a church is bound to accrue some of the very best of the Christian tradition - mystics, monasticism, abundant ritual and a relatively catholic nature - as well as the opposite - (you can fill this one in yourself). Strength and weakness dwell so close.

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P.O.V. ^top

Left, right, and wrong
by Garret Keizer for Mother Jones

People go to church for all kinds of reasons, but the main reason that people of a certain age will start going to church is that their kids are starting to overdose on the dominant culture. They go to church hoping to find solid ground. Sometimes they go to the polls hoping for the same thing.

"You know where I stand," George W. Bush said any number of times before his 2004 electoral victory, and I certainly did: on the wrong side of every issue. But did voters know where the Democratic Party stood or, more to the point, on what it stood? Did it stand on anything? If the question offends you, permit me to ask another. Had Howard Dean been an evangelical Christian with an evangelical Christian base, would his followers have deserted him because his Iowa holler made him "unelectable?" Or would they have closed ranks behind him because his stand on the Iraq war made him right?

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Middle Eastern Christians defy stereotypes

Persecuted in some Middle Eastern countries, a tolerated minority in others, Christians in the region do not fit the stereotypes held by many of their neighbors or their Western sisters and brothers. "[M]any Arab Christians oppose U.S. intervention in Iraq as well as the West's decadent values," writes Derek Hoffmann in Christianity Today. "Although some Christians believe the American Iraq policy is divinely blessed because of President Bush's faith, most don't. Images of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed and wounded in the course of hostilities and the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison override any sense of God blessing the war. Many resent what they see as President Bush's mixing of political and religious rhetoric, which has made it easy for Arab media to portray the war as a 'crusade.'"

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Roll of role models

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Good guide

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Readers write

Rev. Steve Pace writes from Frankfort, Kentucky:

I want to thank Jim Wallis for coming down to Louisville to speak out on the conservatives' "Justice Sunday." What a travesty of justice that whole movement is. Don't those folks even read the Bible anymore? Certainly not the prophets. I was proud to see the Baptists with more moderate views speak up. I do not believe that most Americans of any faith want to see this high-handed railroad approach of the Right. As far as I am concerned it is all a big grab for power and control - and money. And that's about as far from the true gospel message as you can get.


Tim Maki writes from Averill Park, New York:

Hooray for Jim Wallis' continuing assertion that we are people of faith and that the Religious Right leaders do not speak for (all of) us ["Jim Wallis: Filibustering people of faith?" SojoMail 4/21/2005]. However, I am concerned that SojoMail articles have too often emphasized political issues without identifying biblical principles that mandate our concern for those same issues. When we emphasize one goal (what's best for the common good) over our purpose (to be salt and light, according to Matthew 5:13-16), we limit our potential impact. Making social teaching a priority over emphasizing how biblical principles can affect social behavior moves us from influencing the world to being just another political voice among many that are manipulating faith for political ends. Moral arguments without biblical foundations become simply an exercise in philosophy.

Political activism is not our mandate, except as an expression of living out our faith to influence all spheres of our culture. Let's be careful not to become a politically progressive version of what we claim the Religious Right has already become.


Kathleen Robbins writes from Rochester, New York:

As much as I might agree with some of Jim Wallis' comments this week, I wish he would use phrases like "some Republicans" and "some Democrats" and not generalize all Democrats or Republicans. I happen to be a Democrat, but I also know a number of Republicans whom I deeply respect and who don't always toe the party line. I think to generalize about either party is not helpful and continues the polarization of politics in this country.


Jason Ellis writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan:

I got a chuckle out of your recent article criticizing Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and others for their "Justice Sunday" event. While they may be overplaying their hand, I think your accusation of "idolatry" and "blasphemy" is a bit much. Considering you are convening an event this summer through Call to Renewal and Bread for the World to advocate for what you view as "just" budget priorities, one could accuse you of "hypocrisy."

If you hope to be relevant in the sphere of public policy, I hope you recognize that the term "justice" is itself abstract and, until the second coming of Christ, people of good faith will disagree on these matters.


Gerald Ardito writes from Croton on Hudson, New York:

I have been receiving SojoMail for the last few months and am a subscriber to Sojourners as well. This has been one of those blessed coincidences, as far as I can tell. For the past year or so, especially during the election season, I have found myself almost completely in despair. And I do not mean just because of the outcome. In the hijacking and bastardizing of the rhetoric of Christianity, I found myself almost ashamed to say that I am a Christian. I could find no way to close the gap between what I believe and what I heard others say in the media in the name of Christianity.

While I have not found the answer in Sojourners, I have a found a place of calm where I can hear others, like Jim Wallis, express their Christianity in ways that are meaningful, relevant, and consistent with Christ's message. And so, I say thank you, from the bottom of my heart and soul.


Mark Batholomew writes from Washington University in St. Louis:

Thank you very much for your support and coverage ["Students strike for living wages," SojoMail 4/21/2005]. I just wanted to update you and let you know that after 19 days of sitting-in (five of those spent in a hunger strike), an agreement was reached with the administration that included among other things:

*An annual allotment of funds toward pay and benefits starting at $500,000 this year and increasing the next couple of years until a living wage is in place;

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*The creation of a committee - including members of the Student Worker Alliance - to oversee the implementation of the new policies and to handle any labor grievances;

*An agreement to investigate the labor practices of subcontracted companies;

*And continued dialogue on the issue.

There's still some work to be done as far as ensuring neutrality toward organized labor, but we're happy for now with what we managed to get. Thank you again for your support.


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