Advocacy sometimes means getting off the fence!

You know by now that I am a passionate advocate for human rights which include dignity and justice. I don’t however put my name on very many public petitions. But this one I felt needed my participation, especially in light of so many other conflicting statements from we Christians regarding healthcare.

Here is what I signed today-

As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the “image of God” and deserving of respect; to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor; and to balance the rule of law with the call to oppose unjust laws and systems when they violate human dignity.

These biblical principles compel me to support immigration reform legislation that is consistent with humanitarian values, supports families, provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers already in the U.S., expands legal avenues for workers to enter the U.S. with their rights and due process fully protected, and examines solutions to address the root causes of migration.

I believe the current U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is necessary. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the above elements by the end of this year.

Signed by: John Paul Todd, Berea, Kentucky

Confessions of A Liberal Christian Churchman.

I really didn’t have to listen to our President’s State of The Union address to get that it was about the “ECONOMY”. So what’s new in 80 years of progress- from 1930 to 2010?

In trying to live up to the “prophetic” part of the E4Unity blog, I went in search of a prophetic voice from the 20th century and found this tasty morsel from Paul S.Minear. As I started reading this essay which was written in 1980, I was blown away by what he said about his experience and convictions about the hard times of the 1930’s.

Paul S. Minear 1980

“In 1930 I was at Yale, beginning my graduate study of the Bible. The Great Depression was in its early stages; it would be ended only by World War II with its employment of millions of the unemployed, and with its armaments’ explosion and the subsequent development of the military- industrial-technological empire.
 But in 1930, millions were unemployed and hungry. There was immeasurable destitution, disillusionment, despair. The American dream had turned overnight into the American nightmare. Political anarchy and economic civil war were daily possibilities. There were explosive demands for economic justice; each of these demands touched off reactionary forces that were in a position to use the powers of government to fend off any substantive change in the social structure.
In New Haven, I was in constant contact with workers’ families whose only protection from extinction was to stand in endless breadlines or to work the streets peddling apples or pencils. I was kept from sharing their plight by the fact that I was a student, and my wife was in the employ of the university.
 The Depression signalled a cold war between economic royalists and radicals, both seeking to use the powers of government to fulfill self-interests. No one can tell how near the country came to revolution, but it was near enough to create an anti-Communist hysteria from which the nation has never since been free. To a great degree the cold war between America and Russia has been one of a pair of identical twins: the other twin being the internal cold war within America, between left and right.
What role in this struggle was played by Christian congregations? Two answers can be given. (1) The life of congregations appeared to be totally irrelevant to the solution of the critical issues. Nothing they did, or could do, had the slightest effect. (2) When congregations did take up positions, they lined up solidly on the side of economic and political reaction. Right-wing forces could count on their fears of radical change. The acronym WASP was an accurate symbol of actual collusion between religious and political establishments. Or so it seemed to me. This collusion was nowhere more obvious than in those sections of the country where Protestantism was, in effect, the state religion.

And the Bible? In many ways, the Bible appeared to be wholly irrelevant to finding ways of dealing with the successive crises. But where it did become relevant, it was in support of the collusion between religious and political establishments. The more reactionary the congregation, the more it gave recognition to the authority of the Bible. Loyalty to the Bible contributed directly to loyalty to Mammon, to Mars, to Caesar. “Bible-Belt” became a term referring to a region simultaneously super- patriotic, economically reactionary, militaristic, anti-union, and racially exclusive. All these were solidly identified with Christianity, and this Christianity was solidly identified with the Bible.

In 1930, I was convinced that before Christian congregations could be emancipated from such idolatries, their dependence on the Bible must be dynamited. I held the authority of the Bible at least partly responsible for the stance of the churches; therefore that authority must be undermined.”

 

Excerpt from “The Bible’s Authority in The Churches”.

Full text available as Authority-in-the-Churches

 

THIS YEAR, PLEASE BEGIN at THE BEGINNING

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 12, 1919. The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926, requesting the President issue another proclamation to observe November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”

(From WIKIPEDIA)

This summer I had the incredible experience of going through the only official NATIONAL memorial in the United States dedicated to World War I, the Great War. I truly wish that every citizen of these United States could have that experience- especially NOW, at the point in history that we find ourselves. Most of us have been thrown into the MIDDLE of a great EPIC TALE. The subject of this tale just happens to be our National heritage. World War I just might be the event in this tale that we can still get an understanding of which in turn will help us immensely to understand just what it is we have of lately inherited and will help us to better understand what our part in the ongoing tale is and how to best prepare for the future.

Meet Joe, the Veteran. jo-the-veteran

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who had been killed in the Korean War.     

Did you happen to notice this phase in the original purpose of  the day? “A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”   I believe that this original purpose has been kept in mind in every detail of the official Memorial to World War I in Kansas City, Missouri, and one of the main reasons why I believe every American should visit it. 

The Memorial has been “rebuilt” in recent years and an underground museum complex has been added. My congratulations to the citizens of Kansas City and to American Century Investments for under-taking this very ambitious project for the American people and their epic story.

Sample what you will see (slide show)

View the intro Video

  

Be Ready for Every Good Work

3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. election-2

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ( Saint Paul,letter to Titus)

This is just one of many scriptures that would make an excellent “exit poll” evaluation for Christians in America to do a little self-evaluation in light of this campaign which comes to an end today. I found it most humbling in light of our calling to be light and salt in the midst of just such a situation.

THE CHRISTIAN VOTERS GUIDE (2004) 

Many of you know that Civil Religion is a favorite topic on this blog and that I consider it incredibly essential that all of us understand its function in the American society. Today I received a copy of Modern Reformation’s “special political issue”. I felt my pulse begin to pick up intensity as I quickly looked through to see what in the world they had to say.

The first article that grabbed by complete attention was a reprint from the 2004 regular September/October issue entitled, “The Christian Voter’s Guide”. Needless to say, they had my undivided attention as I quickly begin to read hoping for a miracle in time for the November election. I was not disappointed. In fact I have to say that this article by a layman, ranks right up there with some of the best that I have found over the years in this magazine. You ask, how did I miss this in 2004? I was on a self-imposed sabbatical of several years from being a paid subscriber. Don’t misunderstand me, to get a working grasp of how American Civil Religion functions in our day to day lives, and function it does, it is not sufficient to read only a few articles. It requires an on-going committment to research it for yourself and keep on until you are able to see it for what it is. It is like the concept of “culture” which defies any one kind of definition but which is a very powerful force in every area of our lives. William Inboden has done his research and brings impressive credentials to the task including, serving as director for Strategic Planning on The National Security Council at the White House.

A FEW EXCERPTS

Reared in a small town in the verdant rolling hills of the Bluegrass State, he is as red-blooded an American as you will find, possessed of a deep and abiding love for his country. He will with gratitude and pride salute the flag when given occasion to do so. So why remove it from the sanctuary? Most simply, he wanted to brook no confusion that the church offers its worship only to Christ-and not to America. More deeply, he saw the flag’s prominence in the pulpit, even its very presence in the sanctuary, as potentially obscuring the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. He sought to make sure that there was no confusion over his primary calling and our primary identity. As a minister of Christ’s church, he is charged with preaching the Word of God to our congregation, holding our consciences captive to God’s revelation as our ultimate authority and to God’s name as our ultimate loyalty, no matter our earthly citizenship or nationality. The mere presence of an American flag does not necessarily defy this distinction, of course. But it may confuse or undermine it.

This is not to say that the virtually ubiquitous American flags in sanctuaries across the United States necessarily indicate some sort of latter-day “Babylonian captivity of the church”-in this case a “captivity” to jingoistic nationalism. No doubt some, perhaps even many, congregations keep a flag in their church while also keeping a clear understanding of the distinction between the church and the world. Nevertheless, the pervasiveness of pulpit flags should give us pause. Especially because they serve as just one visible manifestation of a deeper problem: the frequent confusion of civil religion with biblical Christianity.

On February 1, 1953, at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., the Rev. Edward Elson baptized the newest member of his congregation. Elson also made history, of a sort. The person baptized was Dwight D. Eisenhower, just inaugurated as president of the United States-and the only president to be baptized while in office. Besides its spiritual significance for Eisenhower’s faith, his baptism also represented a new era of public religiosity in American life. From Eisenhower’s unprecedented offering of his own prayer before his inaugural address, to his decision to have Cabinet meetings open with prayer, to the creation of the National Prayer Breakfast, to adopting “In God We Trust” as the United States’ motto and printing it on the nation’s paper currency, to adding “one nation, under God” to the pledge of allegiance, the Eisenhower administration oversaw the reinvigoration, even the reestablishment, of American civil religion.

It was such a creed that in part prompted Eisenhower’s most infamous, yet revealing, comment on religion. On December 22, 1952, Eisenhower, then president-elect, met in New York with his old counterpart and friend from World War II days, Marshal Grigori Zhukov of the Soviet army. Describing their discussion at a press conference afterwards, Eisenhower delivered fodder for critics of civil religion-and of his own intellect-for generations since. After quoting the Declaration of Independence’s recognition that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” Eisenhower offered this interpretation: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept but it must be a religion that all men are created equal. So what was the use of me talking to Zhukov about that? Religion, he had been taught, was the opiate of the people.”

This quote by Eisenhower illustrates the worst and the best of civil religion. At its worst, doctrine and theological truth-claims are rendered largely irrelevant. Of particular concern to Christians, the redeeming work of Christ is wholly disregarded, replaced by moralism and a crude, nonredemptive natural theology. At its best, it unites a society around a few basic truths, including the distinction between creature and Creator, the supremacy of God over government, and the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. If Irving Kristol could muster “two cheers for capitalism,” in the same spirit we might say that civil religion merits just one cheer.

Surveying our present situation, Wilfred McClay describes civil religion’s “inherently problematic relationship to the Christian faith or any other serious religious tradition. At best, it provides a secular grounding for that faith, one that makes political institutions more responsive to calls for self-examination and repentance, as well as exertion and sacrifice for the common good. At worst, it can provide divine warrant to unscrupulous acts, cheapen religious language, turn clergy into robed flunkies of the state and the culture, and bring the simulacrum of religious awe into places where it doesn’t belong.”

The civil religion of the Eisenhower era is essentially the version still with us today. Blandly patriotic, optimistic, therapeutic, more spiritual than confessional, it reinforces much of the pervasive “religiosity” in America that is as resilient as it is amorphous. As Herberg observed, “religion” and “faith” are often seen as ends in themselves, and doctrine is regarded as unnecessary and divisive rather than as essential to determining truth. Moreover, this civil religion too often reassures us of the favor we enjoy from God while eschewing any call to repentance from our sin. Hence Irving Kristol’s acerbic insight that “when Americans sin, we quickly forgive ourselves.”

Do these confusions mean that American Christians shouldn’t be patriotic? Not in the least. Indeed, an honest assessment of the considerable abundance of common grace goods that the United States enjoys might appropriately inspire a robust love of our country. Not for nothing did Lincoln, recognizing the uniqueness of the American experiment, famously describe Americans as an “almost chosen people.” Yet any biblical Christian will recognize that there is, quite literally, a world of difference between being “almost chosen” and being “chosen.” The former may make good citizens on earth; only the latter will be citizens of heaven.

For ENTIRE ARTICLE

Besides the posts in my archive on Civil Religion, you may be interested in my article for NEWSVINE, entitled, “The POWER of the AMERICAN FLAG

Recommended article by Jon Zens, “God and Country or Christ’s Kingdom “.

 

A CLASSIC From The PAST

The present political environment has for some time included as never before the religious element. I view this as a necessary part of our national reality and have already spoken about the urgency of addressing it openly and with civility. At a critical time in the English Revolution, what we now enjoy as separation of Church and State was being debated before Parliament by giants such as John Milton. His side did not prevail, and soon England returned to the Monarchy, which among other things, placed the Church under the rule and power of the Crown, and brought men like Milton and John Bunyan prison time for their convictions, which was judged to be HERESY by the State Church.

But the brief freedom once tasted and thoroughly discussed was used to launch what has been called the Free Church movement (Baptists, Congregationists, and Quakers,among the best known) and was largely responsible for America’s founders to insure the Liberty of Conscience among the other basic liberties for all American citizens. Those who would in any way try to undo this separation simply do not understand history and specifically, English/American history of the 1600’s.

A TREATISE OF CIVIL POWER IN ECCLESIASTICAL CAUSES

                                                          As a primer on the subject which I find incredibly applicable to our present age of confusion both in the churches and in the Nation as a whole, I submit that we can do no better than to read and study great classics such as this treatise by JOHN MILTON presented to Parliament in 1659. Only the dedication follows with the hope that you will get yourself a copy of the entire treatise which is available on the web.                                                                               

                                        I have prepared, Supreme Council, against the much-expected time of your sitting, this treatise; which, though to all Christian magistrates equally belonging, and therefore to have been written in the common language of Christendom, natural duty and affection hath confined and dedicated first to my own nation; and in a season wherein the timely reading thereof, to the easier accomplishment of your great work, may save you much labour and interruption: of two parts usually proposed, civil and ecclesiastical, recommending civil only to your proper care, ecclesiastical to them only from whom it takes both that name and nature.

Yet not for this cause only do I require or trust to find acceptance, but in a twofold respect besides: first, as bringing clear evidence of Scripture and protestant maxims to the parliament of England, who in all their late acts, upon occasion, have professed to assert only the true protestant Christian religion, as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures: next, in regard that your power being but for a time, and having in yourselves a Christian liberty of your own, which at one time or other may be oppressed, thereof truly sensible, it will concern you while you are in power, so to regard other men’s consciences, as you would your own should be regarded in the power of others; and to consider that any law against conscience is alike in force against any conscience, and so may one way or other justly redound upon yourselves.

One advantage I make no doubt of, that I shall write to many eminent persons of your number, already perfect and resolved in this important article of Christianity. Some of whom I remember to have heard often for several years, at a council next in authority to your own, so well joining religion with civil prudence, and yet so well distinguishing the different power of either; and this not only voting, but frequently reasoning why it should be so, that if any there present had been before of an opinion contrary, he might doubtless have departed thence a convert in that point, and have confessed, that then both commonwealth and religion will at length, if ever, flourish in Christendom, when either they who govern discern between civil and religious, or they only who so discern shall be admitted to govern.

Till then, nothing but troubles, persecutions, commotions can be expected, the inward decay of true religion among ourselves, and the utter overthrow at last by a common enemy. Of civil liberty I have written heretofore, by the appointment, and not without the approbation, of civil power: of Christian liberty I write now, which others long since having done with all freedom under heathen emperors, I should do wrong to suspect, that I now shall with less under Christian governors, and such especially as profess openly their defence of Christian liberty; although I write this, not otherwise appointed or induced, than by an inward persuasion of the Christian duty, which I may usefully discharge herein to the common Lord and Master of us all, and the certain hope of his approbation, first and chiefest to be sought: in the hand of whose providence I remain, praying all success and good event on your public councils, to the defence of true religion and our civil rights.

                                                                                       John Milton

 

OnLine LIBRARY of LIBERTY

You may be surprised, if not shocked, to see how this is playing out in RELIGIOUS RUSSIA, these days. Yep, Russsia. Our “godless” enemy of the cold war era & the main reason that President Eisenhower led congress to insert “under God” in our national pledge of allegience and on our money!

WONDER of WONDERS

Were we not a little surprised at how religious topics suddenly have been very openly discussed in the political square? On a national media event the candidates were asked to respond to some specific questions. Among the most interesting was related to the existence of evil and the determination to defeat it. I have to say that I was impressed with Obama’s fuller response than I was with that of John McCain. McCain was short and direct: evil was Alkida and terrorism and he was committed to defeating it “over there” so that it would never be able to hurt us here in the U-S-of A.

Senator Obama’s answer was much more Biblical and in keeping with the world-view of the Apostle Paul. In his answer, he made it clear that evil was not limited to Alkida, not even to the terrorists. It included a number of different forms including the Aids virus in Africa that has caused such human tragedy and suffering. Then he said that evil was present in the cities and on the streets of America. Though he did not say directly, I think the clear message was there; evil cannot be defeated by military force. Sounds exactly like the Apostle to me.

“Concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you…see that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves, and for all.” First Thessalonian letter.

“For the mystery of lawlessness  is already at work…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Second Thessalonian letter.

These two letters are generally thought to be among the Apostle’s earliest and go along way toward answering our original question. But please don’t take my word for it. Imitate the noble Bereans and do your own search in the Pauline scriptures this week-end. I’m glad the subject has come up in the run up to the elections.

REMEMBERING JOHN HOWARD YODER- Stanley Hauerwas

So in a mode uncharacteristic of Yoder’s way of working, I think it best to end with some of John’s own words. This beautiful and exacting passage, beautiful because of its exactness, comes close to the end of The Politics of Jesus. I believe that what John said in it is not only the heart of his work, but also the heart of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ:

The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

Stanley Hauerwas was a colleague of John Yoder at University of Notre Dame in the      field of Christian Ethics. He was also a very dedicated friend and this tribute to his friend in First Things  following his death in 1997, is an excellent intro to this incredible advocate for christian pacificsm. TO READ MORE 

How Did The N.T.Church Theologize?

If you have never read anything of John Howard Yoder, for instance his PREFACE TO THEOLOGY: Christology and Theological Method ( Brazos Press,2002), you might enjoy this sample at Religion-on-line.

(From The Use of The Bible in Theology)

The fact that people are tempted to abuse Scripture by calling upon it to support whatever they believe is one of the reasons it is inappropriate most of the time to think that the primary theological debate is about whether the biblical text is authoritative or not. Too many people are affirming its authority by claiming its support for interpretations which a more adequate hermeneutic will reject. The theologian’s task is more often to defend the text against a wrong claim to its authority rather than to affirm in some timeless and case-free way that it has authority.

 

 

 

Prominent evangelicals urged Christian conservatives Wednesday, May 7, 2008, to support “an expansion of our concerns beyond single-issue politics,” angering some leaders on the religious right who have been closely allied with the Republican Party. The Manifesto was made public at the National Press Club in Washington,D.C., by a panel representing the Drafting Committee of the document that was some three years in the making.

In a 19-page document called “An Evangelical Manifesto,” more than 70 theologians, pastors and others said faith and politics have been too closely mixed. They warned against Christians adopting any one political view. The first order of business for the Manifesto is an attempt to reform the evangelical movement itself by regaining the original meaning of the label. But simultaneously they are speaking to the public through the media informing the American society at large as to what this movement has been historically and theologically rather than culturally and not reflective of any one ideology, including I might add, on a major issue like the Iraq War.

Many of us have been very hesitant to be labeled “evangelical” since the rise of the “Moral Majority” because we have seen a deterioration of the theological base on the one hand and a corresponding emphasis on certain, highly politicized agendas among leaders using the label. This is a much needed correction that I urge everyone to pay attention to. From this date on, it will be irresponsible for example, for any journalist in the country to ignore what was said emphatically at this press conference and continue to use the word evangelical to describe a specific political position. It will be very helpful for those of other Faiths, especially Jews and Muslims and Atheists to study this document clearly. In many ways it sets the “gold standard” for what biblical Christians of all stripes seek to live by, the teachings and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It also plainly announces the intention to join with others to work for the common good of the country and the world and to do so in a “gentle and reverent manner”. It is a new call to civility in the public square. It is also a not-too-subtle declaration to any political party that would try to claim the evangelicals for their own agendas.

Watch this water-shed press conference as four Prominent Evangelical leaders representing the Committee articulate for the secular press what they hope will restore the savor to the salt. VIDEO

READ the MANIFESTO (pdf)

E4Unity is not ashamed to promote the kind of things that are articulated so well in this document in our present cultural context as it relates to faithfully serving our present generation.

My Respect for Krista Tippett and her weekly program called “Speaking of Faith, continues to increase the more that I listen to her interviews from the archives available at NPR.

 

She is a rare and unusual gift for her largely American audience and a model for the art of listening to others as they share what their particular Faith is to them as a way of life; a source of wisdom, strength, comfort, and inspiration. As she interviews her guests, it is evident that she has done her homework in researching what that person or that Faith is all about- who they are. This enables her to ask incredibly precise and leading questions that in turn coaxes the person to give us the very best possible view of how that Faith functions for them. I for one, believe that is exactly a model we all could benefit from in listening to one another. That’s precisely why I have placed her program in the e4unity “Toolbox”.

 

 

 

Today I listened to her interview of three pastors at a national Pastors Conference for Evangelical Pastors, about very different views on the Church and Her Mission in society. I think you should hear this whether you are a Christian or not. There are a lot of complex issues that are in play in this discussion. For example, I found it interesting asking myself the question, “which of the four participants (Krista and three pastors) clearly demonstrate the profound respect for the one speaking at any given time, and the sense they were really listening to their unique point of view?

 

But the main subject has everything to do with this blog and my personal convictions regarding why we need each other in making a difference in our world. Listen carefully and I think you will be able to hear a lot of the very issues we have got to come to grips with; not only as American Christians who want to join others in the world from other Faiths in pursuing justice and peace and human dignity, but as people of faith in every possible human situation. There are three very different activists, three different generations, all considered within the Evangelical tradition talking about how to be a faithful Christian in the world today.

 

 

Krista’s Interview page