News Intelligence Analysis
[Editor's Note: Here are two articles that reveal a trend in America where Christians who believe social justice programs reflect the teachings of Jesus to a far greater degree than the corporate controlled agenda of the Republican party are being attacked as anti-Christian. The articles examine the fallacy of thinking that God is a Republican.]
The GOP: God's own party?
by Jim Wallis
Several weeks ago, Episcopal priest and former Republican Senator John Danforth began an op-ed in the New York Times by writing: "By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." And, I would add, some Religious Right leaders are trying to transform the church into the religious arm of conservative Republicans. Either way, these partisan attempts to hijack faith and politics are wrong.
Yet each week brings a new outrage. This week's news was of a Baptist church in North Carolina, where nine members, including three deacons, say they had their membership revoked because they were Democrats who supported John Kerry. According to the Charlotte News-Observer, the nine walked out of a church meeting when Pastor Chan Chandler asked them to sign documents agreeing with his political views. When they left, members remaining voted to terminate their membership.
While the pastor has attributed it to a "misunderstanding," the former members say that last fall he told the congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Kerry should either leave the church or repent. One, a 75-year-old deacon, told the News-Observer: "He went on and on about how he's going to bring politics up, and if we didn't agree with him we should leave. I think I deserve the right to vote for who I want to." News reports today indicate that Pastor Chandler is resigning.
It's the latest outrage in a continuing pattern. Last year, news stories included Republicans seeking church membership lists and mailing postcards implying Democrats wanted to ban the Bible. Just a few weeks ago, Religious Right speakers held what they billed as "Justice Sunday - Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith" in support of President Bush's judicial nominees. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was quoted in the New York Times as saying Democrats "have targeted people for reasons of their faith or moral position."
Because many other religious voices spoke to challenge the attempt to make God a partisan, President Bush, to his credit, repudiated the equation of faith with his policies. He was asked at his recent press conference whether he thought filibusters against nominees were "an attack against people of faith." He replied: "I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated.... I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith."
Then, on ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Pat Robertson about his statement that "the out-of-control judiciary, and this was in your last book Courting Disaster, is the most serious threat America has faced in nearly 400 years of history, more serious than al Qaeda..." Robertson replied: "George, I really believe that. I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together...the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
This latest news from North Carolina is the logical, inevitable result of the road the Religious Right and some Republicans have taken.
It is the assumption that Christians must accept one partisan political position on issues, or be accused of not being Christian. This is an assumption we must reject. Rather, we must insist on the deep connections between spirituality and politics while defending the proper boundaries between church and state that protect religious and nonreligious minorities and keep us all safe from state-controlled religion. We can demonstrate our commitment to pluralistic democracy and support the rightful separation of church and state without segregating moral and spiritual values from our political life. Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Second Inaugural Address, said of the two sides in the Civil War: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He would say the same today.
The Republican Party is not God's own party, as the Religious Right and some Republican leaders seem to be suggesting. And, of course, neither is the Democratic Party. We must say it again and again until it is heard and understood: God is not partisan; God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for its political agenda, it makes a terrible mistake. God's politics challenge all our politics. Our faith must not be narrowed to the agenda of one political party.
Jim Wallis is the editor of Sojourners magazine.
News Intelligence Analysis
Presidential commencement conundrum at Calvin College
by Elise Elzinga
The announcement of President Bush as Calvin College's commencement speaker disappointed me not only because of my serious concerns about many of Bush's policies, but because my final day at Calvin will now reflect what has been my hardest struggle as a student. I have often felt in the minority because of my political ideology, and have had to defend both my political beliefs and personal faith. Coming to Calvin I never imagined the isolation I would feel from my brothers and sisters in Christ because of my political opinion. My faith has shaped my political passion, but I have battled with the feeling that my faith is being judged as less sincere because of my political ideology.
I've been deeply concerned as I've watched the political atmosphere divide religious people, causing a downward spiral of Christian civility across the country - and in the Calvin community. All too often, our loyalties have shifted us from fighting independently for issues of real concern to simply putting our complete trust and support in a political party. It is important for all people of faith to recognize that there are devoted Christians in both political parties and Christian values displayed on both sides of the political spectrum.
One of the things I value most about Calvin College is that, despite political divisiveness I've experienced in the student body, it has challenged me to think critically about issues and how to respond to them in the world. I believe that Calvin strives to guide and prepare students to live out their faith and to deeply discern political and world issues with a Christian heart. Jim Wallis' recent visit to Calvin is one of the many ways in which the college has promoted dialogue among students about the integration of our faith into culture and politics. Wallis called on students to broaden their idea of moral values and the meaning of the word pro-life to include a better standard of living for the poor and marginalized.
The majority of Calvin students support President Bush and are honored to have him as our commencement speaker. I have repeatedly heard, "regardless of your political views, you should still respect him as the President of the United States." I believe that I can oppose Bush's policies without disrespecting him as a person. As the most powerful leader in the world, Bush has an enormous responsibility. But his actions have not always reflected the Christian values I believe in - such as being a good steward of the environment, alleviating poverty, and pursing peace.
I can disagree with a leader who has unleashed an unjust war - an act I feel deeply contradicts pro-life values. I want Bush to know that I am a person of faith who doesn't support a war that has resulted in the deaths of 1,748 U.S. men and women. This number doesn't even begin to portray the unknown loss of innocent Iraqi civilian life and the disastrous toll that war has on the environment. I strongly respect and support the Christian pro-life values that President Bush defends, but I also recognize the fact that not all Bush's policies are consistently pro-life in their stance towards the poor in America and abroad.
For me to sit silently on the sidelines as Bush addresses Calvin and not stand up for what I believe about these issues would be to ignore my personal faith convictions about working for justice. The goal of Calvin student dissent at graduation is not to be disruptive, disrespectful, or unpatriotic, but rather to apply the lessons we've learned about engaging the world as responsible and informed citizens. That's why I - along with other students and some administration and faculty members - will be wearing an armband or button as a non-disruptive display of disapproval.
Calvin College has offered me a wonderful community and provided me the opportunity to build lasting relationships with genuine people committed to their faith. I want my commencement ceremony to be in the same spirit of community. To me, that community represents a diversity of people and thought - one that encourages all students to actively engage life from a Christian perspective and conviction. We can all pray for God's guidance for the president, just as we can hold him accountable when his actions are inconsistent with our Christian beliefs.
Elise Elzinga served as a volunteer with Sojourners while participating in the Calvin College Semester in Washington, D.C.
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