Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Evangelical Swing Vote

Here is a major story being ignored by the press and pundits or being misunderstood by them.  Christine Wicker shows that Democrats can win the majority of American evangelicals by being “moderately pious” (her words–I would prefer to say they should advance a moral vision and, if they are people of faith themselves, let it show without making it an implied reason to vote for them; if they are not people of faith, they should let their respect for such be shown) and by emphasizing healthcare, jobs, and clean energy.

I largely agree with this perspective. Wicker’s data comes from evangelicals themselves (as reported in Christianity Today no less!), but I think she underestimates evangelicals in some respects. She suggests that Democrats downplay the war in Iraq because no one knows what to do about it. Wrong. That led to failure in ’04.  68% of Americans want the troops home within 6 months (and 85% of Democrats want this). There is no reason to think that evangelical Christians, who must, at least on some level, know that peacemaking is supposed to be a major Christian concern, are not part of that 68%.  Democrats should be honest in saying that some chaos will probably follow–as it will whenever we leave Iraq.

Evangelicals are also interested in stopping the spread of AIDS, in the environment, in ending poverty, in stopping human rights abuses at home and abroad.  We don’t need to short change them on this.  Neither the Religious Right, nor the Southern Baptist Convention speaks for the majority of “born again” Christians in the U.S.  It’s time we woke the press up to this–and long past time we woke up Democrats to this.

As an Anabaptist-leaning Baptist, I am never sure whether or not to call myself “evangelical.” Like the late John Howard Yoder, I think it depends on the definition and I do not fight it when others put me in the category. I don’t fit well in the Evangelical Subculture (with a capital E) as I found when I taught at Fuller Theological Seminary (but that could have just been my reaction to Southern California). But I can affirm the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds (although my tradition is against creedalism) with no finger crossing and only a few mentle footnotes. I was converted and am evangelistic and Scripture (with Jesus Christ as the interpretive key) is my final authority in all matters of faith and practice.  That seems to be what most people mean by “evangelical.” It’s not a sufficient definition of my faith (Where is discipleship? Where is justice? Peacemaking? Liberty of Conscience?), but it is certainly part of it. 

So, I hope evangelicals continue to break with the Religious Right, not to form a Religious Left voting bloc, but to be an independent voice–a swing vote that is courted by serious moral politicians from all parties, but whose ultimate allegiance is to God in Christ and the Rule of God.


May 16, 2008 Posted by | evangelicals, U.S. politics | Comments Off on The Evangelical Swing Vote

Talking to Enemies is NOT Appeasement!

Well, Bush, who gave up golf as a sacrifice for the troops in Iraq (you can’t make this stuff up!), betrayed the American political tradition of refusing to criticize other politicians while abroad, intervened in the election process after promising not to do so, shamed the presidency (again) and has single-handedly angered and energized and united the entire Democratic Party by going to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and saying that Barack Obama would appease Israel’s enemies like Iran and Hamas, comparing him to appeasers of Nazis!  John McCain immediately echoed this. 

Of course, this is incredibly hypocritical.  Bush’s own Defense Secretary advocates citizen diplomacy with Iran.  And, as that same article notes, in ’04, he urged official U.S. engagement.  McCain advocated talking with Hamas two years ago.  He has also previously backed diplomatic talks with Syria.  (You can see McCain’s hypocrisy in video on those links.) That was when conservatives were attacking then-Sec. of State Colin Powell for going to Syria and McCain’s approval of Powell’s actions came despite his admission that Syria was a sponsor of terrorism!

As Obama has remarked often in his foreign policy speeches, one should never negotiate out of fear (THAT’S appeasement–trying to buy off an enemy as Chamberlain did with Hitler), but one should not fear to negotiate. So, Eisenhower negotiated with Kruschev as did Kennedy. Nixon went to China when it was declared our enemy.  Carter brokered the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty (not one line of which has ever been broken) and continued the SALT II nuclear talks with the USSR.  Reagan negotiated with the USSR (as well as arming Iraq and Iran!). Even Bush II negotiated with North Korea–after being dragged to do so.

UPDATE: A more complete list of enemies that U.S. presidents have engaged in dialogue and debate:

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D) talked often with brutal dictator Josef Stalin of the USSR. They even formed an alliance in order to beat Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito.  Harry Truman also talked to Stalin.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower  (R)talked to the North Koreans–it was part of ending the Korean War.
  • John F. Kennedy talked to Nikita Kruschev of the USSR both before, during, and after the Cuban missile crisis. Far from appeasement, he combined tough diplomacy with a naval blockade to get the nuclear missiles removed from Cuba without starting WWIII.
  • Richard M. Nixon (R) opened formal diplomatic relations with China–which had urged the USSR to attack Alaska during the Korean War–and secured the Chinese’ help in the long process of winding down the Vietnam War.  His Sec. of State, Henry Kissinger, talked directly to the North Koreans who were killing and torturing our soldiers.
  • Jimmy Carter talked often with Leonid Brezhnev of the USSR–sometimes in mutual negotiation, sometimes in harsh reality checks, such as when the USSR invaded Afghanistan.  He negotiated the Israeli-Egypt Peace Treaty–not one line of which has been broken–ending the only real threat to Israel’s existence, though only beginning the work of making real peace in the Middle East.
  • Ronald Reagan (R) negotiated face to face with Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR–and, if he had not insisted on keeping “missile defense” could have negotiated the complete abolition of ALL U.S. and USSR nukes.  He also secretly negotiated for American hostages to be released from Iranian revolutionaries (terrorists)–but only after Carter lost the election.  Then he sold WMDs to Iraq and then to Iran and used the funds to help the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua–in violation of U.S. law.

No U.S. president has boasted of his Christianity more than George W. Bush–but few have been as ignorant of Jesus’ teachings.  Bush considers talks with the enemy a reward for good behavior. Jesus didn’t. He gave them as a COMMAND to all Christians, MATT. 5:21-26. It is a command that is even to interrupt worship–peacemaking has THAT much priority!  This, of course, builds on the Torah’s command to help an enemy’s ox out of the ditch. 

One may have to tell an enemy some hard truths: negotiating can be tough and negotiations can break down.  There is no guarantee of success.  But dissing talks with enemies as “weak” is sheer nonsense–and absolute disobedience for any Christian.

It is time the Christians of the U.S.A. STOP letting this man smear our faith with his gross misrepresentations of it. It’s also time for the citizens of the U.S., Christian and otherwise, to kick out Bush and deny the presidency to his echoing wannabe, McCain, and restore sanity to our foreign policy!

May 16, 2008 Posted by | peacemaking, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Roadblock Republicans vs. Combatting AIDS in Africa

Gentle Readers: As you know, I do not think much of the presidency of George W. Bush. However, as a Christian, I also believe that part of peacemaking and loving enemies is working hard to affirm the good they do and/or the valid points they raise, etc.  So, I have told all who would listen that one of the places Bush got things right was with the PEPFAR program–his massive ($15 billion) work to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa and get low-cost or free treatment for those with HIV/AIDS.  It has been a tremendous success and is a major reason why Bush was so enthusiastically welcomed in his tour of Africa–when he is greeted badly everywhere else in the world.  This was a true surprise because in 2000 then-Gov. Bush, candidate for U.S. Pres., told America that we had no strategic or compelling interests in sub-Saharan Africa and appeared to write off the entire continent.  For whatever reasons (Bono got to him, or Jesus came to him in a dream, or evangelicals wrote him in droves or Condi Rice had a talk or whatever), Bush’s change of heart here was massive and has been an incredible healh and foreign policy success.

So, in a year in which the Republican brand name is sinking fast in America, a year in which too many Republicans have continued to tie their own political fortunes to those of George W. Bush (whose current approval rating is a whopping 28%–lower than Nixon’s during Watergate!), you’d expect the GOP to point with pride to PEPFAR, right? And you’d expect that, with PEPFAR up for renewal, the GOP would rush to renew it (maybe even expand it) and brag in all their reelection commercials about this as a major accomplishment, right? Well, you’d be wrong.  Seven (7) Roadblock Republicans in the U. S. Senate  are STOPPING THE RENEWAL OF PEPFAR! That is, they are ending the most successful U.S. government program against AIDS in Africa ever!

For more on the PEPFAR program by an American Christian who has spent much time in Africa, see hereThanks to Texas in Africa for this urgent alert.

Here are the Seven (7) Roadblock Republican Senators. PLEASE Call them THIS WEEK and tell them that blocking the renewal of PEPFAR is NOT “pro-life!” If you have a Senator on the list, start with that one.  Call the whole list.  Then write your local paper and speak out about this.  Folks, this is too important to play political football. We are talking about 3 million lives to be saved or lost depending on this one action.

  • Tom Coburn, M.D. (Oklahoma) – Senator Coburn is leading the effort to block this program. The fact that he is a doctor makes this all the more appalling. 202-224-5754
  • Jim DeMint (South Carolina) – 202-224-6121
  • Jeff Sessions (Alabama) – 202 -224-4124 Up for reelection this year. Remind him.
  • Saxby Chambliss (Georgia) – 202-224-3521 Up for reelection this year. Remind him.
  • David Vitter (Louisiana) – 202-224-4623
  • Jim Bunning (Kentucky) – 202-224-4343
  • Richard Burr (North Carolina) – 202-224-3154
  • May 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment