The Common Good

God's Own Party?

Sojomail - May 11, 2005


05.11.2005 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week » Offensive faith
Hearts & Minds » Jim Wallis: God's own party?
Campus Lines » Presidential commencement conundrum at Calvin College
Culture Watch » A revelation for the makers of Revelations
Politically Connect » Free trade: Exceptions for the rulers
Global Vision » A famine of democracy in Ethiopia
Media Watch » Sojourners in the news
Boomerang » Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"I believe it to be a great mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it.... We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference."

- Dorothy Sayers

Source: Daily Dig



HEARTS & MINDS ^top

God's own party?
by Jim Wallis

Several weeks ago, Episcopal priest and former Republican Senator John Danforth began an op-ed in the New York Times by writing: "By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." And, I would add, some Religious Right leaders are trying to transform the church into the religious arm of conservative Republicans. Either way, these partisan attempts to hijack faith and politics are wrong.

Yet each week brings a new outrage. This week's news was of a Baptist church in North Carolina, where nine members, including three deacons, say they had their membership revoked because they were Democrats who supported John Kerry. According to the Charlotte News-Observer, the nine walked out of a church meeting when Pastor Chan Chandler asked them to sign documents agreeing with his political views. When they left, members remaining voted to terminate their membership.

While the pastor has attributed it to a "misunderstanding," the former members say that last fall he told the congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Kerry should either leave the church or repent. One, a 75-year-old deacon, told the News-Observer: "He went on and on about how he's going to bring politics up, and if we didn't agree with him we should leave. I think I deserve the right to vote for who I want to." News reports today indicate that Pastor Chandler is resigning.

It's the latest outrage in a continuing pattern. Last year, news stories included Republicans seeking church membership lists and mailing postcards implying Democrats wanted to ban the Bible. Just a few weeks ago, Religious Right speakers held what they billed as "Justice Sunday - Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith" in support of President Bush's judicial nominees. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was quoted in the New York Times as saying Democrats "have targeted people for reasons of their faith or moral position."

Because many other religious voices spoke to challenge the attempt to make God a partisan, President Bush, to his credit, repudiated the equation of faith with his policies. He was asked at his recent press conference whether he thought filibusters against nominees were "an attack against people of faith." He replied: "I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated.... I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith."

Then, on ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Pat Robertson about his statement that "the out-of-control judiciary, and this was in your last book Courting Disaster, is the most serious threat America has faced in nearly 400 years of history, more serious than al Qaeda..." Robertson replied: "George, I really believe that. I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together...the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."

This latest news from North Carolina is the logical, inevitable result of the road the Religious Right and some Republicans have taken.

It is the assumption that Christians must accept one partisan political position on issues, or be accused of not being Christian. This is an assumption we must reject. Rather, we must insist on the deep connections between spirituality and politics while defending the proper boundaries between church and state that protect religious and nonreligious minorities and keep us all safe from state-controlled religion. We can demonstrate our commitment to pluralistic democracy and support the rightful separation of church and state without segregating moral and spiritual values from our political life. Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Second Inaugural Address, said of the two sides in the Civil War: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He would say the same today.

The Republican Party is not God's own party, as the Religious Right and some Republican leaders seem to be suggesting. And, of course, neither is the Democratic Party. We must say it again and again until it is heard and understood: God is not partisan; God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for its political agenda, it makes a terrible mistake. God's politics challenge all our politics. Our faith must not be narrowed to the agenda of one political party.

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Save the Date: Sojourners Benefit Concert - June 3, 2005!

A Gathering of Spirits: Sojourners Benefit Concert with Carrie Newcomer, hosted by Brian McLaren, will feature a special message from Jim Wallis.

Join us for an evening of music and dialogue that will help sustain Sojourners' vision and programs for the coming year! The concert will be Friday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Cedar Ridge Community Church, located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. A catered reception with Brian, Jim, and Carrie begins at 9:30 p.m.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to www.sojo.net/concert or call (800) 714-7474, ext. 235.


CAMPUS LINES ^top

Presidential commencement conundrum at Calvin College
by Elise Elzinga

The announcement of President Bush as Calvin College's commencement speaker disappointed me not only because of my serious concerns about many of Bush's policies, but because my final day at Calvin will now reflect what has been my hardest struggle as a student. I have often felt in the minority because of my political ideology, and have had to defend both my political beliefs and personal faith. Coming to Calvin I never imagined the isolation I would feel from my brothers and sisters in Christ because of my political opinion. My faith has shaped my political passion, but I have battled with the feeling that my faith is being judged as less sincere because of my political ideology.

I've been deeply concerned as I've watched the political atmosphere divide religious people, causing a downward spiral of Christian civility across the country - and in the Calvin community. All too often, our loyalties have shifted us from fighting independently for issues of real concern to simply putting our complete trust and support in a political party. It is important for all people of faith to recognize that there are devoted Christians in both political parties and Christian values displayed on both sides of the political spectrum.

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Meet-ups for a Movement

More than 500 readers have signed up to host God's Politics meet-ups in their local communities. In response to this demand, Sojourners has produced a free study guide to enable you to use the book as a movement-building tool. The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new national dialogue has begun - start your own study group today!

+ Click here to host a God's Politics meet-up event

+ Click here to find a meet-up in your area


CULTURE WATCH ^top

A revelation for the makers of Revelations
by Jason Byassee

Revelations is a new NBC miniseries designed to tap into the lucrative market of end-times belief - demonstrated by the success of the Left Behind novels. Actor Bill Pullman plays a Harvard scientist whose skepticism, be assured, will gradually be worn down by a Roman Catholic nun who believes signs of the "end of days" are upon us. That Pullman's child has been murdered by the Antichrist and that another now-comatose child is channeling his daughter's spirit while quoting the Bible in Latin from her hospital bed will, no doubt, help wear away his skepticism.

Since network television is new to making shows that deal sympathetically with religious themes, I thought they could use the following pointers.

Notes to the makers of Revelations:

1. It's Revelation. Not Revelations. It's singular, not plural. That's because it's the one revelation of Jesus Christ. Really. I looked it up. People who say "Revelations" show they don't know what they're talking about. I know you've already spent massively advertising this misnomer, and it's a common mistake, but it's still dumb, so please fix it.

2. Jesus hasn't come back for 20 centuries. Sorry to be so obvious here, but someone seems to have convinced you that the "end of days" is really near this time. You're not the first to think this, but everyone who ever has, has been wrong. Like when believers sold their stuff and expected the apocalypse at the turn of the first millennium - the year 1000. Or when someone wrote 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Happen in 1988. Or the Y2K nonsense. Trust us on this; we in the church have been waiting for Jesus to come "soon" for quite some time.

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POLITICALLY CONNECT ^top

Free trade: Exceptions for the rulers

There's not much truth in advertising when it comes to trade pacts such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which may come to a vote in Congress soon. For example, the phrase "free trade" is a misleading slogan, since the pact would outlaw free trade in low-cost, lifesaving medicines (a kind of trade that many Americans enjoy when they shop for drugs in Canada). And the danger that the agreements pose to U.S. workers is not just that jobs will move overseas - it is that, by threatening to move jobs away, employers can keep a progressively bigger piece of the pie, increasing the gap between haves and have-nots in the U.S.

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GLOBAL VISION ^top

A famine of democracy in Ethiopia

As Ethiopians prepare to vote in parliamentary elections on May 15, a Human Rights Watch report details massive abuses by the ruling party, the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization. Dozens of people, including some children, have been detained and in some cases tortured for their alleged support for the opposition party.

+ Read more


An Evening with Jim Wallis: How a Book Tour Became a Movement Tour

Wednesday, May 18
5:30 Dinner
6:30 Service

Join us for worship in word and song, led by Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics: How the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. All are welcome for a potluck meal (side dishes, salads, and desserts welcome). This event will be at Sojourners/Call to Renewal Office, 2401 15th St. NW. Some street parking is available. For more information, call Sojourners at (202) 328-8842.


MEDIA WATCH ^top

Sojourners in the news

Politics in the pulpit
+ CBS Evening News [streaming video]

Lessons on 'values voters' in demand
+ The Washington Times

Reading the Bible with a pair of scissors
+ On Line Opinion (Australia)

Focus stirs up both right, left
+ Denver Post

No 'Justice'?
+ Christianity Today

Life of the party
+ Salon

Revival speakers seek a religious 'non-right'
+ The Times of Trenton

Change religious dialogue
+ News-Leader (Springfield, MO)


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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Matthew J.O. Scott writes from New York City:

It does not help the cause of stopping the killing in Darfur to call it genocide ["'If only we had known,'" SojoMail 5/4/2005]. The best human rights experts - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights - don't use that term. They are not semantic pedantics. They conclude that greater sins - crimes against humanity - have been committed because that is the blanket term for atrocities of the nature being committed today in Darfur: systematic rape, "scorched earth" destruction of whole villages, and worse.

The crimes against humanity being committed against civilians in Darfur go beyond genocide. They are also "equal opportunity" - by all sides against civilians. These crimes have much more to do with Sudan's vicious political exclusionism than with race. But calling it genocide all too easily allows those responsible to bat that accusation away because it simply does not hold up under scrutiny.

Sojourners readers could do well to enlarge their human rights vocabulary and to encourage the US government to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) proceedings on Darfur. The U.N. Security Council will receive its first report from the ICC Prosecutor in late June. Greater U.S. support for the court can help ensure that impunity in Darfur - and elsewhere - ends with the rule of law and justice.

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Carrie Bail writes from Williamstown, Massachusetts:

Although after writing letters and staging educational events, it was gratifying to hear the Administration use the word "genocide," the hope for effective action was short-lived. It should not surprise us, I suppose, that there are other more persuasive reasons for our administration to remain on friendly terms with the powers that be in Khartoum. One reason is that the CIA is getting very comfortable relying on the intelligence provided to us by the Sudanese government. The other is that in these days of rising oil prices, Darfur's rich oil will soon be accessible by a pipeline which empties out into Africa's Atlantic coast, a fact not lost on an administration that has had to deal with our nation's undiminished thirst for oil.

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Paul Iverson writes from Lake City, Iowa:

I just read Mr. Batstone's article criticizing President Bush for not being more proactive in engaging the U.N. in the Darfur situation. Let me get this straight...Sojourners is against the President for going into Iraq to free 25 million people who were being tortured and slaughtered by their leader, and criticized him for not working with the U.N. to find a peaceful solution. The President took action precisely because the U.N. would not. Now you are criticizing the President again for not going into Darfur with the help of the U.N. to clean up a mess the U.N. has done nothing to stop. It seems to me that you simply do not like President Bush and will not be happy whatever he does. That is called "Bush Bashing." I do not read one word about the responsibility of the Democrats in any of this. You only attack the Republicans. Where is your Christianity in that?

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Evelyn J. Dymkowski writes from Clinton, Iowa:

Cori Bush writes "But the fact is that there are serious problems with Social Security that must be faced" [Boomerang, SojoMail 5/4/2005]. This is a lie that has been pushed since the very beginning of Social Security in the hopes that it will be believed and the program can be destroyed. Social Security, as it now stands, is good for another 40 years before anything more has to be done to change it. This comes from the Government Accounting Office itself. Is there anything else about which the government cares what will happen in 40 years? What about what they are doing to our public lands - our air, our water? What about conservation of energy? The American people must make their voices heard very strongly that we do not want this program destroyed by private accounts or any other means of dismantling the program as it stands. If you want to make the input progressive - not the output as Bush has suggested - it would be fixed in a minute. Just raise the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security as has been done in the past. But that is not even needed for 40 years.

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Peter Ruark writes from Lansing, Michigan:

I am part of an organization that works to influence state policy on behalf of low-income people, and the Sojourners e-mails often provide a breath of fresh air during my workday as we fight what often seem to be losing battles. Though I appreciate your analyses and viewpoints immensely, I was disappointed to see that you reprinted the satire "Unitarian Jihad" [SojoMail 5/4/2005]. As a person of faith currently making my spiritual home in a Unitarian church, I would like to say that the author of the satire seems to have no idea what the Unitarians stand for or how they conduct their witness in the world. While it is true that many Unitarians seem to be unaware of the climate of dialogue and the appeal to "faith informed by reason" that takes place in the best of evangelical churches, it is equally true that many evangelicals wrongly see Unitarians as morally relativistic, solipsistic or even anti-Christian (I urge evangelicals who are under this impression to read the Unitarian Universalist Statement of Principles and Purposes.) In fact, Unitarians and evangelicals can and have made common cause in appealing to the moral obligations of people of faith to contribute to a more just society. Divisive pieces like this do nothing to bridge what is often a lack of understanding between the two approaches to faith.

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Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: boomerang@sojo.net. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


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