The Common Good

Jim Wallis: Dr. Dobson, Let's Have a Real Debate

Sojomail - March 8, 2007


"The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore ... You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

- Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), in a recent interview. (Source: Esquire )

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Dr. Dobson, Let's Have a Real Debate

Last week, James Dobson and a number of other Religious Right leaders wrote a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals, claiming that work on climate change was a distraction from "the great moral issues of our time." I responded on our God’s Politics blog on Friday, with the piece Dobson and Friends, Outside the Mainstream. So far this week, we’ve had several other good responses from Brian McLaren, Bill McKibben, and Lyndsay Moseley. And, I’ve invited James Dobson to a debate on the question, "What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians?"

James Dobson’s letter attacking Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals has caused a firestorm, and maybe the beginning of a really good dialogue. Brian McLaren’s post yesterday pointed out that the letter from Dobson and friends actually acknowledged that there is a real debate among evangelicals about the seriousness of climate change and the reasons for it. So instead of calling for Cizik’s resignation for saying global warming should be a moral issue for evangelical Christians, why don’t Dobson and his friends accept a real debate on whether climate change is, indeed, one of the great moral issues of our time? A major evangelical Christian university should host just such a debate.

But I want to focus on the following very clear statement from Dobson's letter:

"More importantly, we have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."

That is indeed the key criticism, and the foundation for the real debate. Is the fact that 30,000 children will die globally today, and everyday, from needless hunger and disease a great moral issue for evangelical Christians? How about the reality of 3 billion of God’s children living on less than $2 per day? And isn’t the still-widespread and needless poverty in our own country, the richest nation in the world, a moral scandal? What about pandemics like HIV/AIDS that wipe out whole generations and countries, or the sex trafficking of massive numbers of women and children? Should genocide in Darfur be a moral issue for Christians? And what about disastrous wars like Iraq? And then there is, of course, the issue that got Dobson and his allies so agitated. If the scientific consensus is right - climate change is real, is caused substantially by human activity, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths - then isn’t that also a great moral issue? Could global warming actually be alarming evidence of human tinkering with God’s creation?

Or, are the only really "great moral issues" those concerning abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence? I happen to believe that the sanctity of life, the health of marriages, and teaching sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues, and Dobson says they are.

So Jim, let’s have that debate - the big debate. What are the great moral issues of our time for evangelical Christians? You’re right, a new generation is embracing a wider and deeper agenda than you want them to. I think that is a very good thing. You think it is a bad thing, and want to get people fired for raising broader issues than those connected to sexual morality. So, today, I am inviting you to have that debate about what the great moral issues of our time really are. Again, let’s ask a leading evangelical university to invite us both and host a public debate, and perhaps ask a major evangelical publication to co-sponsor it. Let’s have that debate, Jim, and see what America’s evangelicals think the great moral issues of our time really are. How about it?


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Lyndsay Moseley: Jonah's Warning and Global Warming
Rather than dwell on the potential consequences, I want to emphasize that the story is not finished! The scientists tell us that we have time to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming if we begin to act now. Remember the story of Jonah, who was called to preach the coming destruction of Nineveh? The people heeded his warning and turned from their ways, repenting and seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness. We, like the people of Nineveh, can heed the warnings and take steps to be better stewards of the earth - not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors, our children, and God.

Chuck Gutenson: Iran, Neocons, and Christianity
There are some articles that one should not have to write. The thesis they defend should be so obvious that setting it forward should be unnecessary. However, there has been a remarkable degree of saber-rattling toward Iran over the last several months. Further, a founding document of so-called neoconservatism claimed that, "Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has" (and we all know how swimmingly our project in Iraq has gone!). So, unfortunately, it does seem necessary to make and defend the obvious claim: Christian faith is inconsistent with the central tenets of neoconservatism.

Bill McKibben: Drown Your Neighbor
You can almost hear the desperation creeping into James Dobson's voice. His attacks on Rich Cizik (and all the other millions of evangelicals working on creation care) are ludicrous. There is not a "heated controversy throughout the world" about whether global warming is real. Instead, worldwide, there's melting ice, gathering storms, and spreading disease. The U.N. estimates that climate change will produce 150 million environmental refugees by mid-century. And very few of them will have done anything to cause the problem - while we in the U.S. produce a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide. Jerry Falwell talks about the need to preach the gospel. Well, the "love your neighbor" part isn't going so well at the moment. It's more like "drown your neighbor" right now.

Becky Garrison: Coulter Christianity?
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other New Atheists cite Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, and Ann Coulter as ontological proof that all Christians are hypocrites. Using this logic, I could turn the tables around and pick out, say, the Marquis de Sade, Mao Tse-tung, and Marilyn Manson. I can use their stories to prove that all atheists are sadists, dictators, and really bad rock musicians. In the words of Dana Carvey (a.k.a. former President George H.W. Bush), "Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent."

Jeff Carr: Talking About Iran with Hannity and Colmes
Watch it on YouTube

Jeff Carr: Solidarity with Iran's Christian Minority
While there is freedom of worship for Christians, there is not complete religious freedom such as that found in our country. Proselytizing is actually a crime in Iran, so being an "evangelical" has a very different meaning there. To be honest, I didn't know much about the Christian community in Iran prior to this trip, and I did not go prepared to preach a sermon. It was quite an honor, however, to be asked to preach to a group of Christians who are a minority group in an Islamic-dominated country. It was an even greater privilege to worship with a group of people who have experienced some difficult times in the last 27 years as a community. I took the opportunity to try and encourage them as best I could, and chose Hebrews Chapter 11 as the text for my message.

Brian McLaren: Anti-Anti-Global-Warming Group's Silver Lining
I am sitting in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I just read Jim Wallis' recent post about global warming, responding to the recent letter written by several leaders of the Religious Right. The version of Christianity represented in that Bauer/Dobson/et al. letter indeed seems far away and rather odd in relation to the conference I was part of today, an energetic and diverse group of vibrant, (mostly) young Malaysian and Singaporean Christians - evangelicals, pentecostals, mainline Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Their passion for the environment was palpable, and deeply rooted in their Christian commitment.

Rose Marie Berger: Time for a Gulf Coast WPA?
As we cross the year and a half mark since the United States lost more than 1,500 people, a major American city, and had roughly 90,000 square miles devastated by the perfect storms of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Bush, I want to highlight a recently released report ("A New Agenda for the Gulf") by our friends at The Institute for Southern Studies. The 14-page report documents the scope of the crisis in the Gulf. The report also reveals that, while state and local leadership is important, many of the most pressing issues go straight to Washington, D.C., and that federal action is needed to jump-start the recovery. President Bush and the new congressional leadership have all said Katrina and the Gulf Coast are still a top priority. The report gives more than 30 action steps Congress and the president can take now to help turn things around.


Vigil for Peace in Your Community

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