The Common Good

Be Not Afraid

Sojomail - October 30, 2008


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same. I hope that everybody in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did.

- Hadijatou Mani, now 24, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12. A West African regional court ruled Monday that the government of Niger had failed to protect Mani from slavery, and ordered the government to pay about $19,000 in damages. (Source: The New York Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Be Not Afraid

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In the final days of this election campaign, a new message has emerged. For the entire political year, the overriding theme has been change—with each candidate competing to be the real champion for a new direction. With 80 percent of Americans unhappy with our country’s current direction, it seemed that no other theme could break through.

A new message has, and it is this: “Be Afraid—Be Very Afraid.” Most of that fear is directed at Barack Obama, the leading candidate with just days to go before November 4. Instead of being content to offer a competing policy vision to Obama’s, the Right has now focused on the man himself in an attempt to stir the fears of the electorate that “he” is not really like “them.” “Do we really know who Barack Obama is?” has been the refrain of partisan peddlers. A parallel and ugly national innuendo campaign stokes the fear. Is he a Muslim? An Arab? A pal of terrorists? Or maybe even a closet Socialist? Where did he grow up? Why such a funny middle name? Doesn’t his support come from those parts of the country (and those people) that deep down inside are anti-American? And, of course, what has quickly become a campaign classic—guilt by association.

The fact that Barack Obama is the first black nominee of a major party for president gives all the fear a decidedly racial undertone. YouTube has quickly become populated with video after video of the dark underbelly of American fear and racism. The innuendos and rumors have brought to the surface latent fears and thinly veiled biases that many had hoped were gone from our country. The message of fear is the same: Obama may look okay on the surface, but we don’t know what might lie beneath.

Regardless of whether one favors Obama or McCain, this development should be of concern to all Americans, and especially people of faith. There is now a new spiritual dimension to this election, and it is decidedly evil. Christians believe that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear...” (1 John 4:18.) There are, of course, good and decent motivations to vote either way in this election. Strong people of faith will be marking different boxes on Election Day, but for people of faith there will be a spiritual decision to be made as well. Will we put our trust in the power of fear or hope?

Conservatism did this with the bright and hopeful theme of “Morning in America” with the Ronald Reagan years. I disagreed with most all of Reagan’s agenda, but his appeal was to ask us all to choose hope, not fear. Similarly, the best of liberalism was seen in the power of John and Robert Kennedy’s appeal to build a “newer world.” Both conservatives and liberals can appeal to the better instincts of the American people, or to their worst—and each side has done both over the years.

Fear has always been the dark side of American politics, and we are seeing its resurgence in the campaign’s final days. Demagoguery has come from both the right and the left in America, and the most dependable sign of it is the appeal to fear over hope. Facts don’t matter when fear takes over. Fear covers over the debate on a candidate’s tax plans, the wisdom of their foreign policies, their experience and judgment to handle the economic crisis. Fear attacks character and lies with false prophecies of what a candidate would do if they are elected.

Some of the worst fear-mongering has sadly come from leaders of the Religious Right who are worried about losing their control over the votes of the evangelical and Catholic communities, especially a new generation of believers. Their apocalyptic rhetoric has been among the worst and most irresponsible. When religious leaders sound so desperate and seek to stoke fear and hate, they have lost their theological perspective by putting too much of their hope in having political power. It is that loss of power and control which seems to be motivating the current campaign of desperation and fear now being waged by so many conservatives. Instead, scripture points to a better way:

For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:10-15, emphasis added)

With that reminder that Christ is our ultimate hope, let us pray that, on November 4, the need for change will finally prevail over the appeals to fear. Pray that the voters will choose either Barack Obama or John McCain as the best agent of change, rather than submit to the tyranny of fear. It is always better to live (and to vote) in the light of hope than in the darkness of fear. It is always an act of faith to believe that, in the end, hope will prevail over fear. So pray, and vote.

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ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

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Voting as Damage Control
by Shane Claiborne

We always need to make informed decisions, though we may not endorse things that are imperfect manifestations of kingdom values. One way for people of so-called "privilege" to act in solidarity with the poor and marginalized is to ask folks in poverty who we should vote for. Another experiment for white folks in this election might be asking people of color who have suffered so much historically whether we should vote or who we should vote for -- and to honor their struggle by submitting our voices with theirs.
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An International Challenge for Christians to Vote
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Voting is required of every Christian because God demands of us to seek the peace and prosperity of our country as well as any other nation we may be living in at any particular time. If God told the Israelites who where in exile in Babylon "To build houses ... seek the peace and prosperity ... Pray to the Lord for it," then what more should we do for the nation that God has given us? As Christians we may not see a candidate who meets the highest standard of competence, integrity, and justice that is revealed in the Bible. Yet even if that is the case, we must pray for wisdom from God to help us choose a candidate who meets the minimum requirement of biblical leadership. We then must not stop at only casting our vote.
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James Dobson's 'Letter From 2012 in Obama's America'
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But in utter disrespect for the prayerful discernment of your fellow Christians, this letter stirs their ugliest fears, appealing to their worst impulses instead of their best. Fear is the clear motivator in the letter; especially fear that evangelical Christians might vote for Barack Obama. The letter was very revealing when it suggested that "younger Evangelicals" became the "swing vote" that elected Obama and the results were catastrophic. You make a mistake when you assume that younger Christians don't care as much as you about the sanctity of life. They do care—very much—but they have a more consistent ethic of life.
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"The other day, we were traveling and went through one or another of the airports," Tutu told the diverse audience that included several other Christian bishops, rabbis, imams, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others. "And the [television] screens showed some illustrations or cartoons of Barack Obama wearing Arab clothes, Muslim garb. I didn't see all of it because we were passing through, but there was something about it ... he was holding a gun and 'terrorist' was something that was put down there." "I felt incredibly sad for this country," Tutu said, his sparkly eyes flashing with emotion behind wire-rimmed spectacles. "I thought, how obscene. How repulsive. And also, how dangerous!"
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When false prophets proclaim apocalypse and ask us to live by fear and not by faith, we can rest assured knowing that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind." As we consider priorities for our nation and approach a critical election, I pray that this will be a time of reflection for us all -- a time to allow God's "perfect love to cast out all fear." I pray that all of our prayers will be to seek the heart of God and that, in turn, our hearts will be changed.
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I recently saw a promo piece on The History Channel for their show Cities of the Underworld. At first one sees an overview of a busy commercial street teeming with professionals and consumers. The captioning states, "A pagan ritual is taking place on these streets. Can't see it? Look deeper." The premise is that some secret society once met in the abandoned tunnels below the city that you can hear all about on the show, but the irony of the commercial struck me. Of course there is a pagan ritual taking place -- the daily oblation of ourselves to the idols of money and stuff.
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Listening to Those Who Sacrificed for the Right to Vote
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I read with interest Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's post on voting last week. He asks us to listen to the black churches. Indeed, it would have been good to listen to members of those churches as they waited in early voting lines last week in places like North Carolina—lines that reminded people of the first South African election. I was with John Lewis last week, the now congressman and veteran civil rights leader who was beaten almost to death to secure voting rights for black Americans. John had just been to North Carolina and Georgia, and was almost moved to tears when he saw the long voting lines.
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Everyone Is Called to Serve
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While the church today (and the world as a whole) seems preoccupied with leadership and the achievements of leaders (with endless books and seminars on how to become a better leader), it leaves me wondering whether anyone might purchase a book or attend a conference on "Becoming a Servant." ... In correcting error, in offering encouragement, or sending praise, Paul rarely writes directly to leaders. Likewise, he rarely singles out individuals as leaders. What does that tell us about authority and gender in the early church?
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Spreading the Wealth
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Some pundits and politicians have pounced on Barack Obama's statement to the iconic Joe the Plumber that a healthy society "spreads wealth around." They dangle this as evidence of Obama's pro-tax socialistic tendencies. But the conversation about "spreading the wealth" goes to the heart of several ethical questions: What kind of society are we becoming? How much inequality can we handle? And have we completely forgotten the lessons of the last 70 years? A mass confession is in order. What I'd really like to see is a parade of all the people who benefited from the massive "spread the wealth" programs in the 30 years after World War II.
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Fireproof Marriages?
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The women in this movie play the silent victims as the heroic firefighter rushes in to save the day -- or in this case, the marriage. The message conveyed is that women need a strong man to guide their lives. ... The husband is implored not just to love his wife, but to take control of both his and her lives. In the name of safeguarding the marriage, the sacrifice of the personality and identity of the wife is assumed.
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'A Movement Requires Sacrifice'
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I sat next to men who bled for social justice and watched their friends be killed in the midst of the civil rights movement. One panelist stood and began to count his personal friends who were killed during that movement; he got to four when he choked up and tears filled his eyes. Another panelist, radio talk-show host Joe Madison, asked the assembled group a profound question: "What is the difference between a movement and an event?" He noted that their certainly seemed to be a lot of events lately. But he questioned if there was yet a movement. "The difference is simple," he said. "A movement requires sacrifice."
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A Tribute to Gayle Williams, Christian Martyr
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Gayle Williams was a 34-year-old aid worker walking to her job to help children who had lost limbs because of landmines when she was shot down by men on motorcycles in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Joe the Pastor
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John McCain heard about Joe the plumber, raised his name in last week's presidential debate, and has turned him into one of his campaign's central themes. Joe is now famous. The whole incident and the media coverage surrounding America's newest political celebrity has made me think of another figure who may also influence this presidential election: "Joe the pastor." The views of Joe the plumber and Joe the pastor provide a sharp contrast in moral and political philosophies that may be in conflict this -- or any -- election year.
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Why Does God Need a Starship?
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One of the biggest problems I encountered while writing The Gospel According to Science Fiction was Star Trek V. The film is the franchise's most explicit statement about religion, but it's also held in generally low regard—partly because of its finale, in which the Enterprise crew meets a being that claims to be God and wants to steal their spaceship. I knew I needed to say something about Star Trek V, but I didn't know what—its religious ideas seemed too shallow and unsubtle. Finally it hit me—in his confrontation with the malevolent God, Captain Kirk grills the deity, demanding to know: "What does God need with a starship?"
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