Friday, January 21, 2005

God's Politics

Jim Wallis has a new book out called God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Wallis came to Eden to speak while we were still living in St. Louis and I passed on an opportunity to see him, but I did catch him on The Daily Show the other night plugging the book. Anyway, Chuck is also talking about him today, and I thought I would as well, because books like this and Tony Campolo's Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?: and 14 Other Polorizing Issues give me more hope for 'fair and balanced' looks at America's theological and political landscape than people who actually claim to be 'fair and balanced.'

One important issue to be considered here is the 'imagination' (Curtis White is shuddering right now) of those currently running the government. Those who oppose policies and proclamation from the UCC's national office partially make their argument on the grounds that in opposing war, for instance, no alternative is suggested for dealing with terrorism 'besides talking about it.' Does that give Mr. Bush credit for having all the imagination? Not necessarily. It's not like war is a brand new concept to the world. But at least he's doing something that 'works.' That's the point. Of course we can debate how well war really works on a case by case basis (Crusades, Vietnam), but let's move on, shall we?

This quote from Mr. Wallis in a recent issue of Christian Century is appropriate for the discussion as well: "The conventional liberal political wisdom that people who are conservative on abortion are conservative on everything else is just wrong. Christians who are economic populists, peace-making internationalists, and committed feminists can also be 'pro-life.' The roots of this conviction are deeply biblical and, for many consistent with a comitment to nonviolence as a gospel way of life." The larger truth in this quote is that one issue does not a 'conservative' or 'liberal' make.

So first we hear that perhaps one 'side' of the debate on some issues need to offer up more than pessimistic platitudes claiming the moral high ground, and second that taking a stance on one issue does not guarantee that some sort of party line will be towed in every case. Ultimately Campolo will say that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. I have yet to read Wallis' book but have every intention of doing so. From the excerpts included on Chuck's site, however, it looks to me like the basic argument is that 'liberals' have allowed 'conservatives' to co-opt God without issuing a response for fear of stepping on theological toes, dictating right and wrong to a pluralistic public (I speak more in political terms now, as 'liberal' Christians--at least the ones I know--have plenty to say about right and wrong this day and age). The Right is not afraid to wear its faith on its sleeve. The Left either avoids it or mumbles something about it and then changes the subject, immediately alienating millions of Americans (see Kerry, John). This is one of many reasons I, among millions of others, am hoping for nothing but good things from Barak Obama (a proud UCC member!).

I've intertwined two different issues here. First is the idea that The Left avoids taking a theological stance (not without some understandable concerns). The second is that for some time The Left has also been unable to offer true alternative solutions other than to say that current methodology is wrong (ironically a moral stance). The latter, I think, should not be ruled out. It's a good start, anyway. What those of us who lean left on more issues than right (you like how I worded that?) need to do in addition to naming what is wrong is naming how to do better. In some cases we have. In others, we're still seeking.

Consider this Part 1 of a two-part commentary. There's a third issue concerning what I've talked about in this post and I don't want to let it slip by unaddressed. Remember how I mentioned a growing divide in the UCC? Yeah, it has to do with that, too.

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