Tuesday, September 21, 2004

down, dowdy, and disaffected

Before I publish this post, I must add this preface:
Stop right now and pray for the family and friends of Jack Hensley, so brutally murdered today in Iraq.

"The first thing I want you to do is pray.
Pray in every way you know how,
for everyone you know.
Especially pray for rulers
and their governments to rule well
so we can be quietly about our business of
living simply,
in humble contemplation.
This is the way Savior God wants us to live."
I Timothy 2 The Message

Are you a staunch Republican? A new prosperity independent? How about staunch conservative—that must be more conservative than Republican. Are you a liberal Democrat? These are rhetorical. You don’t have to answer. Try this assessment from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. My government students have been doing this all day today.

Ideology, partisanship, and elections have been the topic of my classes for the last several days. I attempt to create a climate of civil civic dialogue. My Dad emerged from five generations of Republicans—does the name Herbert give you a clue? And mom? A yellow-dog Roosevelt Democrat. I’ve warned you about her. She’s the one who said she loved Bill Clinton. At a church service no less!

I happen to believe people of good heart and good mind can disagree about policy.

Guess how I came out on the Pew assessment? Disaffected! Hmm. The vitriol of the partisanship this season drives my disaffection. Meanwhile, I feel a moral obligation to educate and not indoctrinate students about politics. So, as much as I work at non-partisanship and at critical thinking, I am feeling---disaffected.

Would you?

A Christian friend put a message in my mailbox which he urges me to share with my friends. So I am. The piece rages over the Communist Party’s deep desire to defeat Bush resulting in an endorsement of John Kerry. One of the alarms sounded is that Kerry’s theme “Let America be America Again” comes from the poet Langston Hughes, who in another poem exalts Marx.

Wonder what drove Langston Hughes to disaffection?

Another fellow Christian sent me an email asking for my reflections on an article that explains how the left bases their reasoning on law whereas the right bases their reasoning on morality, because the left has no moral compass--only secular relativity as a basis. He has asked for my response in a collegial and respectful tone. I want to reply in that manner. This is not a "line by line" response as we sometimes give in debate, but it is response to the tendency of those on the right to assume that all those who see things from a different perspective have no moral or spiritual basis for doing so.

Is there not a place for a thoughtful Christian to see a role for activist government in areas such as healthcare, the environment, and affirmative action? Is questioning the legitimacy of the war in Iraq only a matter of inane legal allegiance to UN? Are abortion and gay rights the only issues moral consequence? Hear another perspective.

Recovering a hijacked faith
By Jim Wallis
July 13, 2004
The Boston Globe

MANY OF US feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. A misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? What has happened? How do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

That rescue operation is crucial today in the face of a social crisis that cries out for prophetic religion. The problem is clear in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians when they clearly don't speak for most of us. We hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but fail to apply the values of faith to their leadership and policies.

When we take back our faith, we will discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor instead of preaching a "prosperity gospel" and supporting politicians who further enrich the wealthy. We will remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war instead of justifying it in God's name. We will see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions, prefers international community over nationalist religion and that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we will be reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare.

The media like to say, "Oh, then you must be the religious left." No, and the very question is the problem. Just because a religious right has fashioned itself for political power in one predictable ideological guise does not mean those who question this political seduction must be their opposite political counterpart.

The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal partisan. To always raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left- and right-wing governments who put power above principles. Religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than "rights"-- that being the image of God in every human being.

Similarly, when the poor are defended on moral or religious grounds, it is not "class warfare," as the rich will always charge, but rather a direct response to the overwhelming focus in the Scriptures, which claims they are regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent affluent populations. Those Scriptures don't simply endorse the social programs of liberals or conservatives but make clear that poverty is indeed a religious issue, and the failure of political leaders to help uplift those in poverty will be judged a moral failing.

It is because religion takes the problem of evil so seriously that it must always be suspicious of too much concentrated power -- politically and economically -- either in totalitarian regimes or in huge multinational corporations that now have more wealth and power than many governments. It is indeed our theology of evil that makes us strong proponents of both political and economic democracy -- not because people are so good but because they often are not and need clear safeguards and strong systems of checks and balances to avoid the dangerous accumulations of power and wealth.

It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers and the righteousness of empires in any era, especially when their claims of inspiration and success invoke theology and the name of God. Given human tendencies for self-delusion and deception, is it any wonder that hardly a religious body in the world regards the ethics of unilateral and preemptive war as "just"? Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming the military might, the more dangerous its capacity for self and public deception. Powerful nations dangerously claim to "rid the world of evil" but often do enormous harm in their self-appointed vocation to do so.

The loss of religion's prophetic vocation is dangerous for any society. Who will uphold the dignity of economic and political outcasts? Who will question the self-righteousness of nations and their leaders? Who will question the recourse to violence and rush to wars, long before any last resort has been unequivocally proven? Who will not allow God's name to be used to simply justify ourselves, instead of calling us to accountability?

In an election year, the particular religiosity of a candidate, or even how devout he might be, is less important than how his religious and/or moral commitments and values shape political vision and policy commitments. Understanding the moral compass a candidate brings to his public life and how his convictions shape his political priorities is the true litmus test.

Jim Wallis is convener of Call to Renewal and executive director of Sojourners.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


JAW said...

Bev - great post. Again. :)

I think your mom is the best. I wish she could come visit us in Malibu...but I also wish that for your sister, your niece, YOU, etc....

Jim Wallis is speaking tomorrow night at Westmont College in Santa Barbara (about 70 miles away). Some of us from here will probably go.

God bless,

(Disaffected) James

Anonymous said...

Mrs Dowdy,

I very much agree with Mr Wallis article. I myself have wondered since when did 'religious' mean right leaning, or left leaning equaled moral-less. I can recall an old Ray Steven's song that had the lyric "Would Jesus be Political?" In past presidential elections, I remember when the supposed moral leadership of our country did not support a man whom was an avid Christian and taught sunday school. That seemed to be awfully partisan. I also remember how we called a man who never went to church in his life religous, and a man who's family hated him a 'family man'. All because he was the leader of a particular political party. Religion should influence politics, but religion should not be partisan.

B. S. Denton said...

Bev --

Fabulous post. Again, you've made me squirmy about the vacuous emptiness over at my blog.

This is interesting to me. Jami and I both took the Pew Survey: Jami finished as a "Populist Republican," and I finished as "Partisan Poor." Interesting mix, eh? I wonder how many other "Partisan Poors" you'd find on the campus of GACS? Do we have a lot of single moms, or African-Americans?