Voices of Hope in the Season of Despair
These are dark days, festering with fear and deliberate manipulation of the masses into a frenzied rage against “the other”. Post Cordoba House drama, Jones Qur’an burning and Beck Palin using 9.11 to rail against our President, America has seen better days.
Battered and beaten as we all were by the time 9.11 rolled around this year, I deliberately chose not to write anything about the Beck Palin rally on 9.11, as an ode to peace prevailing. I simply couldn’t bear it. I listened to it the next day, with a shrinking heart and deep pity for my country. This is not who we are.
The President and First Lady guided us on 9.11, but only the sane were listening and these days, the insane have the microphone. Crazy gets the eyeballs. This is a time when faith leaders can guide a nation, if only they hadn’t been co-opted by political forces.
If you were brought up to believe that Jesus represented love, it’s dismaying to listen to the ideas being presented as mainstream Christian ideology right now. From gay bashing to Muslim hate, Christians are on the wrong side of love in these battles. Christians have been co-opted for political purposes for so long now that any notion of genuine faith appears to get lost in the shuffle of the culture war.
But there are some voices speaking out against politicized hate; voices speaking out for the power of love, tolerance and acceptance. Their names may not be as recognizable as say, Frank Schaeffer, who is also doing plenty to speak out against hate as espoused by the modern day evangelical movement, but they are committed to peace via dialogue.
Rev. Richard Cizik is an ordained Evangelical Presbyterian minister and was Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), – basically the chief lobbyist for the NAE, representing approximately 30 million constituents across the United States.
Cizik, who had supported California’s Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage, was forced out of his job after appearing on a December 2, 2008 radio broadcast NPR, during which he said he supported civil unions for gays, believed the Bible called for Christians to be stewards of the land, and supported government supplying contraception for women. In other words, he rethought his position on civil unions, would be happy to work with Obama to reduce abortion, and believes in climate change, which he refers to as “creation care”. To this end, he went so far as to suggest that Sarah Palin’s positions on global warming were “like burning the Bible.”
He is now leading the charge toward reforming the church, and is being hailed as the “new moral center” by some.
Back in 2008, this movement was finding new life and hope, culminating in Obama’s election. ABC reported in Dec of 2008 about the shift from the old guard of politicized Christianity to the younger, new guard of Christianity which did not wish to be defined by cultural wedge issues.
Lending credence to this shift is Chris LaTondresse, the son of white evangelical missionaries. LaTondresse is a young evangelical who voted twice for Bush, but supported Obama. He cheered Cizik on, saying:
“He’s one of the guys who speak for the current generation of evangelicals, most of them my friends. My generation cares more about the fact that 30,000 kids died today of hunger, poverty, preventable disease than about gay marriage amendments in California. We are pro life, but for us that definition is far broader than abortion. It includes poverty, AIDS, human trafficking and the war in Iraq.”
American evangelical Reverend Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Soujourners magazine, hailed Cizik as “the new moral center” of the church, and rather infamously claimed “God Is Not a Republican”. He been named to serve on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. You might know Wallis better from his frequent appearances on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard as a force of evil. ABC reported on Wallis:
“In his books, “God’s Politics” and “Great Awakening,” he argues that Christianity is not synonymous with the religious right and that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. “The Bush administration was not pro-life,” said Wallis. “The administration fought a war in Iraq that violated the ethic of life consistently. We don’t accept that narrow, political partisan definition of life. This has been conservative politics put forth in a religious context.””
But what has happened to all of the hopeful faith exhibited in 2008? The far Right has since then jumped off the cliff, entrenching themselves in a sort of last ditch Thelma and Louise blaze of glory as they dig in deeper to issues that the younger generation simply do not see as black and white.
These voices are still urging change. Cizik is still going; still talking to NPR about civil unions, helping unwed mothers care for their babies and climate care. Speaking with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air about how evangelicalism has changed, Cizik said:
“It became perceived by millions and millions of Americans as captive to a conservative ideology. Not captive to Jesus or to the Gospel but captive to an ideology that has departed, in so many ways, from historic evangelicalism. The movement has always been a reactionary movement. It was born out of reaction to the 19th century biblical criticism in biology in which evangelicals reacted to that and moved away. The new evangelicals of the 20th century saw the fallacy of that kind of approach towards society but after a number of decades, that kind of neo-evangelicalism that was founded by the National Association of Evangelicals — well it’s fallen back into the same kind of subservience to reactionary-ism. Evangelicalism is [seen] today by what it’s against, not what it’s for. And we’re trying to say, we’re for these things. And among those is this command to first and foremost follow Jesus — not the Republican Party or Rush Limbaugh or anyone else, but to follow what the Gospel says.”
Regarding the politicization of faith, he brings up his suspicions regarding the Tea Party:
“The Tea Party movement is irreligious and significantly so. It’s got lots of problems. I wouldn’t join it if I were an evangelical and I would urge others not to or at least to be suspicious of it because it doesn’t bring with it the whole biblical concept of responsibility and the rest to God and so I’m not a Tea Party fan.”
At one point, he even challenged evangelicals, asking if they were fighting for oil and gas for the Republican Party or for their faith? Good question.
Wallis is still fighting the fight, as evidenced by his latest letter to Glenn Beck regarding Glenn’s 8.28 rally:
“In an interview the day after your rally you said that you would like to “amend” your statement in which you accused President Obama of being a racist and said he had a deep hatred in his heart for white people. I commend you for that. But a simple and straightforward apology would have been better. All of us say things we shouldn’t sometimes, but you have consistently mischaracterized the President’s faith. You also said in that interview that you would like to have a conversation about it. I’d like to do that…
I also think it would be a good thing to stop attacking people and churches you label as “social justice Christians,” not just because I’m tired of being on your blackboard, but because I think you genuinely don’t understand the concept and how central it is to biblical faith, and how essential to the whole gospel….”
In another post, Wallis speaks out about the Qur’an burning threat in Florida, taking a firm stand on Jesus’ message to love our neighbors. Recounting the story of the Memphis church which offered its space to its Muslim neighbors, Wallis goes on to point out:
“Pastor Steve Stone didn’t threaten to burn the Quran but said, “I don’t know a lot about Islam, and I know only one fellow who is a Muslim. It was going to be a learning process for me, but we follow Jesus, and he tells us to love our neighbors.”
“Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.” This story is our light at the end of the tunnel; it is evidence of who we can be. And let’s remember, this happened in a red state (albeit blue area in Memphis, where Obama carried the city in 2008).
A reminder for those who missed this story:
And then we have Brian McLaren, an intellectual leader of what many are calling “the emergent church.” McLaren has written a book entitled “A New Kind of Christianity”, in which he encourages an approach of humility to controversial issues. In an April 2009 article in Soujourners he wrote:
“The need to confront the terrible, deadly, distorted, yet popular theologies associated with Christian Zionism and deterministic dispensationalism. These systems of belief — so common among my fellow evangelical Christians — too often lead people to act as if Jewish people have God-given rights but Palestinians do not. They use a discredited hermeneutic (way of interpreting the Bible) to imply that God shows favoritism — that God is concerned for justice for one group of people and not for others. They create bigotry and prejudice against Muslims in general … and in particular against Palestinians, many of whom are Muslim but many of whom are Christian too. These doctrinal formulations often use a bogus end-of-the-world scenario to create a kind of death-wish for World War III, which — unless it is confronted more robustly by the rest of us — could too easily create a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
God’s Own Party posted a sermon from Pastor Howard Bess in Alaska (believed by evangelicals to be the end-times portal through which they will go to Heaven, leaving the rest of us sinners here to fry and please note the relationship between Palin and the evangelicals who call her Queen Esther and the North Star), who recently addressed the ideas in McLaren’s book:
“Jesus came down very clearly on the love side of the argument. Jesus did not live a life of fear, and his recurring advice to his disciples was “Fear not!” Even enemies were to be loved.
Early in the 21st century, America is being gripped by xenophobia….The United States should be the world leader in calming the fear of new neighbors. We are the great melting pot nation. With great pride we inscribe e pluribus unum on our coins. “Out of Many, One”.
These folks speak with softer voices, but they are here; speaking into the wilderness, and often being overlooked in the 24 hour news cycle. These are the voices of our future, the voices of religious tolerance, human growth and evolution of thought, and social justice.
Sharing our diversity, learning from one another instead of fearing one another, is inherently the best of our collective identities as Americans. While the extremes feed the beasts of hate, let’s hope and pray to our god or gods or no gods that it is the voices of reason that prevail during this season of despair.
Image Courtesy of http://www.christmastrees.co.nz/newmessage.htm