Mainline Church

'Come Let Us Reason Together'

The public discussion between evangelicals and progressives has been dominated by too many false choices and too much mutual misunderstanding. It is time to work for common ground on some of our most critical issues. There is a compelling vision we can address to the many Americans who are actually more “purple” than “red” or “blue.” What could evoke their convictions, reflect their values, summon their commitments, and change America? What would a broader and deeper moral politics or values politics begin to look like?

To ground that new politics, we need a better understanding of the role of faith in public life. Political appeals—even if rooted in religious convictions—must be argued on moral grounds, rather than as sectarian religious demands, so that the people, whether religious or not, may have the capacity to hear and respond. Religion must be disciplined by democracy and contribute to a better and more moral public discourse. Religious convictions must therefore be translated into moral arguments, which must win the political debate if they are to be implemented. Religious people don’t get their way just because they are religious (in a nation that is often claimed to be a Judeo-Christian country). They, like any other citizens, have to convince their fellow citizens that what they propose is best for the common good—for all of us and not just for the religious. Clearly, the work to be done includes teaching religious people how to make their appeals in moral language and secular people not to fear such appeals will lead to theocracy.

This kind of effort could result in a new political agenda that doesn’t fit the standard right/left battles of American politics and is more consistent with our deeply held values. That new agenda would be good news for the majority of American who are alienated by the political extremes and are hungry—not for a soulless centrism—but for a new moral center in our public life.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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One in the Spirit

Today one of every four Christians is a pentecostal, comprising an estimated 580 million persons, and growing by some 19 million every year. Some estimate that by 2025 there will be 1 billion pentecostal Christians in the world. In Latin America and Africa, pentecostal growth has been nothing sort of astonishing, and many of these churches take root among the poor and the marginalized.

Some months ago I was asked by the World Council of Church’s general secretary if I could be part of a small delegation representing the WCC at the centennial celebration of the Azusa Street Revival, where modern pentecostalism is said to have been born. I agreed because I had heard of the plans for this historic event from pentecostal colleagues involved with Christian Churches Together—the broadest, most inclusive fellowship of Christian churches and traditions in the U.S.—who had also encouraged me to attend.

One of the evening services was held in the West Angeles Cathedral. This 6,000-seat sanctuary is part of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the primary African-American pentecostal denomination in the country. Its lead pastor, Bishop Charles Blake, is a key figure in COGIC and well known among the leaders of historic black churches. We arrived early as instructed and were seated right in the front of the sanctuary. (I later learned we were near Whitney Houston, whom I didn’t recognize.)

The three-hour service combined the culture of worship in the black church with all the features of pentecostalism—speaking in tongues, explosive music, riveting preaching, fervent prayers, ecstatic utterance, and heart-felt yearnings for the Spirit’s healing and cleansing power. The ministry of this congregation has an impressive social outreach as well. Bishop Blake has a particular passion for the HIV and AIDS crisis in Africa, and he founded Save Africa’s Children. With partners in 23 countries in Africa, it now cares for 100,000 AIDS orphans.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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