The Common Good

The Religious Right is Losing Control

Sojomail - March 22, 2006


03.22.2006 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week : Iraq, three years after the invasion
Hearts & Minds : Jim Wallis: The Religious Right is losing control
Faith in Action : Take action now for immigrant rights
Iraq Journal : Tom Fox: Last in a round of bullets
Faith and Politics : What would Jesus render?
Building a Movement : To the streets
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"We either die by the Americans, the insurgents in the name of jihad, the security companies, which kill you and leave you laying in the street, the Iraqi police or...the death squads. Three years after the American invasion of Iraq, I have only one wish. I do not want democracy, food, electricity and water. I just do not want to die."

- Laith Muhammad, an Iraqi student.

"The toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime was worth everything. I have never felt as free to speak any day in my life as today. If George Bush did anything good, it was toppling Saddam Hussein. I am not pessimistic. But I'm upset, because the war and the occupation, which could have led to a new situation in Iraq, were squandered by the stupid mistakes committed by the American administration and military and the U.S. representatives in Iraq."

- Fakhri Fikry Kareem, owner and publisher of the daily Iraqi newspaper Meda.

Source: The Washington Post

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HEARTS & MINDS ^top

The Religious Right is losing control
by Jim Wallis

For more than a decade, a series of environmental initiatives have been coming from an unexpected source - a new generation of young evangelical activists. Mostly under the public radar screen, they were covered in places such as Sojourners and Prism, the magazine of Evangelicals for Social Action. There were new and creative projects such as the Evangelical Environmental Network and Creation Care magazine. In November, 2002, one of these initiatives got some national attention - a campaign called "What Would Jesus Drive?" complete with fact sheets, church resources, and bumper stickers. The campaign was launched with a Detroit press conference and meetings with automotive executives.

Recently, more establishment evangelical groups, especially the National Association of Evangelicals, also began to speak up on the issue of creation care. Leading the way was Rich Cizik, NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs, who, on issues like environmental concern and global poverty reduction, began to sound like the biblical prophet Amos. Cizik and NAE President Ted Haggard, a megachurch pastor in Colorado Springs, were attending critical seminars on the environment and climate change in particular and describing their experiences of "epiphany" and "conversion" on the issue. Cizik was quoted by The New York Times as saying, "I don't think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created." In 2004, the NAE adopted a new policy statement, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which included a principle titled "We labor to protect God's creation."

When the same New York Times article, written in March 2005 by Laurie Goodstein, noted that "A core group of influential evangelical leaders has put its considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming," the politics of global warming changed overnight in Washington, D.C. Previously, advocates around climate change and other environmental issues were simply not a part of George Bush's political base and their concerns were not on Washington's political agenda. But the NAE constituency is mostly part of the Republican base and the new environmental concern was not unnoticed by the White House - the very day the article came out the White House called the NAE to ask what policies they were most concerned about.

The next year saw NAE participation at many major climate change and environmental meetings - both domestically and internationally - and a series of press stories about the new evangelical environmentalists, including a full page interview with Rich Cizik in The New York Times Magazine.

In January, the Religious Right reared its head. In a letter addressed to the NAE - signed by 22 of the Right's prominent leaders, including James Dobson, Charles Colson, Richard Land, and Louis Sheldon - they said, "We have appreciated the bold stance that the National Association of Evangelicals has taken on controversial issues like embracing a culture of life, protecting traditional marriage and family." They then went on to say, "We respectfully request, however, that the NAE not adopt any official position on the issue of global climate change. Global warming is not a consensus issue." It was a clear effort to prevent the NAE from taking a stand on environmental issues and even to veto the whole effort. Stick to our core issues they implied - meaning abortion and gay marriage. Five years ago, so powerful a group of conservative Christian leaders probably could have tamped down this new evangelical effort that served to broaden the range of moral values and issues of biblical concern. But not this time.

A month later, on Feb. 9, a full page ad appeared in The New York Times with the headline: "Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis." The striking ad announced the Evangelical Climate Initiative, and was signed by 86 prominent evangelical leaders, including the presidents of 39 Christian colleges. I was speaking at one of those schools shortly after the ad came out and talked to their president who was one of the signers. "I'm tired of those old white guys telling us what to think and do," he said. He is a younger white man who decided to take a stand, even if it was against the old guard of the Religious Right.

The Evangelical Climate Initiative is of enormous importance and could be a tipping point in the climate change debate, according to one secular environmental leader I talked to. But of even wider importance, these events signal a sea change in evangelical Christian politics: The Religious Right is losing control. They have now lost control on the environmental issue - caring for God's creation is now a mainstream evangelical issue, especially for a new generation of evangelicals. But now so is sex trafficking, the genocide in Darfur, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and, of course, global and domestic poverty. The call to overcome extreme poverty abroad and at home, in the world's richest nation, is becoming a new altar call around the world - a principal way Christians are deciding to put their faith into practice.

In places such as the U.K., Christians are rallying around the call to "Make Poverty History." Many are comparing that call to the cry of British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce and an earlier generation of evangelical revivalists in the 18th and 19th centuries who changed history in England and America by their steadfast commitment to end slavery. For many, poverty is the new slavery. Again, this is especially true for a new generation of Christians. The connection between poverty and all the other key issues - the environment, HIV/AIDS, and violent conflicts around the world are increasingly clear for many people of faith.

The sacredness of life and family values are deeply important to these Christians as well - yet too important to be used as partisan wedge issues that call for single issue voting patterns that ignore other critical biblical matters. The Religious Right has been able to win when they have been able to maintain and control a monologue on the relationship between faith and politics. But when a dialogue begins about the extent of moral values issues and what biblically-faithful Christians should care about, the Religious Right begins to lose. The best news of all for the American church and society is this: The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has just begun.

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FAITH IN ACTION ^top

Take action now for immigrant rights

"The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34).

Last December, the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437). Many of the provisions of this punitive and enforcement-focused bill are patently hostile to the alien among us. The debate on immigration reform has now turned to the U.S. Senate.

The bottom line is this: Congress is getting the terms of the debate all wrong. Punitive measures such as those in H.R. 4437 not only run contrary to the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger among us; they are chillingly anti-work, anti-family, and anti-community, and they will only exacerbate the problems of our fractured immigration system.

+ Click here to take action for compassionate immigration reform

Sojourners has joined the call to ask that all who are able - religious, labor, community leaders - to gather at the West Lawn of the United States Capitol on March 27 at 11 a.m. In coalition with a host of religious and community organizations, we hope to bring thousands of leaders from across the country to D.C. to shatter the racist, xenophobic, political grandstanding by members of the U.S. Congress.

+ Click here for details on this event

World Relief, an evangelical organization focusing on assisting refugees, immigrants, and others in need, is sponsoring a sign-on letter for evangelical leaders, churches, and organizations. You can sign on as an individual evangelical leader, or ask the leadership of an evangelical congregation. The letter will be circulated the first week of April but will be open for more signatures afterward. If you are a pastor in an evangelical church or a leader of an evangelical organization and would like to sign on your church or organization, please go to the World Relief Web site:

+ Click here to sign-on with World Relief

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IRAQ JOURNAL ^top

Tom Fox: Last in a round of bullets
by Lisa Schirch

Bullets travel in circles - one side fires, another side reciprocates. Tom Fox's body was the final resting place for a long line of bullets in Iraq....

Bullets ended Tom's life. But they have not crushed his vision for a just peace in Iraq nor the inspiration he offers the living to join in the cause of ending the war in Iraq. Tom was in Iraq to end the cycle of bullets among Saddam Hussein's forces, the coalition forces, and the insurgents. His body, his writings, and his work for peace all aimed for that end. There should be no bullets in reciprocation for those that rest in Tom. We need a different path out of Iraq.

Thousands of people risk their lives every day - as Tom did - around the world to oppose dictators through nonviolent action, to document human rights violations, and to build relationships across the lines of conflict.

+ Read the full article

+ Read a Christian Peacemaker Team member's reaction to columnist Cal Thomas' criticism

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FAITH AND POLITICS ^top

What would Jesus render?
by Timothy Godshall

It's time to file taxes again. This year, the due date falls one day after Easter. The proximity of the two dates reminds us of the tension embodied in Jesus' call to "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21, KJV).

Jesus spoke these words to people governed by Rome, the largest military power the world had ever seen. He was responding to a group of Pharisees who sought to force him into a pro- or anti-tax position, either of which would have gotten him into serious trouble. Instead of falling into the trap, Jesus' answer was so well-crafted that his challengers "marveled" and went on their way. This passage is often abbreviated to justify payment of taxes: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." But when read in its entirety, it begs the question: what belongs to Caesar that does not belong to God?

+ Read the full article

+ Learn more about the Peace Tax Fund

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BUILDING A MOVEMENT ^top

To the streets

On March 31 roughly 800,000 people across the country will go to bed without a home. Where will you be sleeping? On that same night in cities, towns, and college campuses across the country, people will choose to spend the night outside in solidarity with those who don't have a choice.

Last year, students from across the Midwest got a small taste of the reality of homelessness. By spending a night on the streets of Chicago in mid-February, their lives were changed as they raised awareness and collected signatures for a rental housing support bill that they later helped make a reality. As a result, thousands of people across the state of Illinois were able to find or stay in housing. This year you can get involved in one of several ways. You can join other groups who are planning similar sleep outs in your own area or plan one by yourself or with others. You can help rally support for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund on a national level and target specific issues within your community. Be it through educating yourself and others, recruiting volunteers, rallying resources, or working for political change, there are so many ways that you can make a difference on the March 31. Though it takes more than one night to change a nation, one night is where it can start.

Whether you will be sleeping out alone, with friends, a congregation, or your school, send your information to tothestreets@gmail.com so that it can be posted at www.tothestreets.org.

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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS ^top

Top story:

God Doesn't Lean to Left or Right, Evangelical Leader Says Dayton Daily News
Ohio soon could be back in the national political spotlight, this time as the site of a discussion on faith and politics, a key issue in this year's governor's race. Jim Wallis, a nationally recognized progressive evangelical, has invited the Rev. Russell Johnson of Lancaster, the conservative evangelical leading a statewide effort to register voters, to join him for such a talk March 26.

More Sojourners in the news:

Interfaith Group Launches Social Justice Campaign Dayton Daily News

Global Campaign Launched to Urge Conflict Transformation in Iran Dispute Ekklesia

Theologian's Ideas, Not Heroics, Noted The Plain Dealer

Tough to Discern God's Politics in Today's Tussles SNP Online

What's Wrong With Liberal Christians? MichNews.com

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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Sarah Seidel writes from Spokane, Washington:

I would like to thank Jeff Carr for his article "Welcoming the Stranger" and thank Sojourners for helping to bring the issues of immigration to the attention of Sojourners readers [SojoMail 3/15/2006]. Having spent a year volunteering on the U.S./Mexico border this is an issue close to the heart of our family. I would also like to call attention to the No More Deaths-No Mas Muertes movement in the greater Tucson, Arizona, area. In this area many grassroots organizations have combined in a movement whose goal is to take death out of the immigration picture. Voices in the area have peaked following the arrest of two humanitarian aid workers who were (following a doctor's recommendation) taking three severely dehydrated migrants to the emergency room. I would encourage readers to check out the progress on the case and join the in No More Deaths-No Mas Muertes cause by visiting www.nomoredeaths.org. Thank you for your continued support of welcoming the stranger among us.

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Susie Marshall writes from Dallas, Texas:

Thanks for bringing some attention to the guest worker issue ["Welcoming the Stranger," SojoMail 3/15/2006]. I work for a nonprofit hunger relief ministry that salvages fresh produce. The immigration reform currently in the works will greatly affect the produce industry if there are no changes made. Much of the produce harvesting in our country is done my undocumented workers, essential to the industry because they are willing to do the work. From discussions I have heard, produce growers are very willing to do what would be necessary for a quality guest worker program. But if there is no guest worker program and the growers will face criminal charges for employing undocumented workers, our produce industry could face a serious crisis, not to mention that the workers will have no way to support their families.

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Ian Danley writes from Phoenix, Arizona:

Thank you Sojourners for bringing attention to the immigration conversation. Evangelicals have been ducking this issue ("Conservative Christians mum on immigration bills," Seattle Times 3/11/06). We desperately need you guys in Washington to continue to be loud Jesus voices that stand up for the plight of the undocumented. So far strong economic and humanitarian arguments have not been persuasive enough to overcome the widespread fear and racism that is influencing policy and policy makers today. We need a moral high ground rooted in our biblical call to protect the sojourner in our midst.

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Ms. Cynthia Adams writes from Round Lake Heights, Illinois:

If the law is passed and it is required, Catholic Bishop Mahoney's appeal for civil disobedience to support the "strangers in our midst" is the easy way out of this problem. Yes, we must extend compassion, and welcome, to our brothers and sisters from the South. But we must do much more. Where is our justice work when it comes to helping build up some industry in Michoacan, Mexico? These dear hard-working, family-values kind of folks would not leave home if they had good jobs and decent homes to begin with. Helping them to stay here, apart from their families, is not really helping them at all. Don't get me wrong. Those who are here and contributing must be permitted to join our society. But sooner or later we must address the core issue of why they come. We are to work for justice. Let's help them climb out of that grinding poverty so they can stay in their homes with their families. They should not have to travel hundreds of miles and break U.S. laws to feed their families.

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Ann Duvall Spooner writes from Blaine, Washington:

I cannot support any attempt which encourages illegal immigration, whether through a guest worker program or otherwise. Too many of my friends and family had to wait 10 years or more to enter this country legally and in good faith, and who are law-abiding, good citizens. To honor your request would be to dishonor them.

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Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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