All posts tagged “Democrat

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Religion, politics, and unintended consequences


Back in 2008 I had a memorable conversation with a prominent leader of the Evangelical Left. He’d just returned to the east coast from Denver, where then-senator Barack Obama had officially been nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. Over the years I had come to respect this Christian leader for his advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized, and because he’d never shied away from preaching the gospel. But I wondered about his close (and seemingly unquestioning) alignment with the Democratic Party.

Knowing he had been critical of the ways the Religious Right had overextended itself in American politics, I pushed him a little bit, asking what assurance he had that the Evangelical Left, given the opportunity, wouldn’t proceed to make all the same mistakes. As a man who had never been short on words, his reply was telling – he said, in effect, that he wasn’t sure.

I distrust the Evangelical Left for the same reason I distrust the Religious Right. The main reason for this distrust is that whenever a group of Christians aligns itself so completely with one political party that it becomes unwilling or unable to voice critique, it forfeits its capacity to be prophetic, and instead becomes a pawn. The Christian leaders whose politics I most respect are those who are willing to deviate from the party line when the party line clearly deviates from the dictates of the faith. This goes for politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens alike. A little nuance and humility go a long way.

15015Earlier this month when I put together a list of my favorite books from 2012, you may recall that I included Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Convervatism (Penn) by David Swartz, a history professor at Asbury University. I wasn’t the only one who liked it. The New York Times praised it as “a vivid topography of a little-understood corner of evangelical thought.” Christianity Today gave it five stars, writing, “Swartz gives a richly textured narrative of some of evangelicalism’s brightest thinkers, most creative activists, and most controversial provocateurs.” And Scot McKnight named it the book of the year.

When I first heard about the book I was intrigued but I have to admit I was also skeptical. I was intrigued because I’m fascinated by a lot of the main characters in its pages, people like Ron Sider, John Perkins, René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Carl Henry, and Rich Mouw, and I have an ongoing interest in the relationship between faith and politics. But I was skeptical, at the same time, for all the reasons I mention in the paragraphs above.

What I found when I dug into the book, however, was a carefully researched and exceptionally-written work of history about a really fascinating period in time. Swartz compellingly shows that while the rise of the Religious Right is now often considered something that was always bound to happen, the political leanings of evangelicals in the 1970s were far more up in the air. Further, he argues that progressive evangelical activists laid the very groundwork for political engagement that the Religious Right soon employed for their own far different agenda.

The focal point of the book takes place at the YMCA in Chicago, Thanksgiving 1973, where a group of evangelicals with progressive politics gathered to forge a consensus about social concern, confessing a failure to truly address injustices, and pledging to change course. The first section of the book introduces the main characters, who in various ways and with a myriad emphases, represented an evangelical concern for social justice. The second section shows how they emerged as a coalition leading up to the Chicago workshop, and the final section shows how the coalition unraveled, receding into relative obscurity coinciding with the meteoric rise of the Religious Right.

Whatever your political leanings, I think you’ll find this to be a truly fascinating book with plenty of lessons for our time. Most importantly, perhaps, is the reminder that evangelicals are not, and never have been, a monolithic voting bloc:

The many ways evangelicals read the Bible every day do not fit comfortably within the American electoral system. For instance, researchers found that evangelicals who read the Bible every day are more likely to favor more humane treatment of criminals, to be more concerned about issues of poverty and conservation, and to oppose same-sex marriage and legalized abortion more than evangelicals who do not consistently read Scripture. Evangelicals, anticonfessional and revivalist in sensibility, are more religiously and politically creative than the electoral structures that try to contain them. The flexible, fragmented nature of evangelicalism itself, then, helps explain the convoluted political history of the movement.

It stands to reason, I might add, that the fragmented nature of evangelicalism will also lead to a convoluted and unpredictable future in political engagement. For those quick to disparage the excesses of the Religious Right, this book should cause you to think critically about the tenets of the Evangelical Left you may have taken for granted. And for those of all political persuasions, it serves as a sobering reminder to be careful what you wish for.

[Photo credit:]

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Repaso: September 7, 2012

1. Civility and partisanship
John Seel wrote for the Cardus blog that for American voters bitter partisanship has led us to a “moderate moment” and that presidential candidates would do well to move to the center and embrace civility. Robert Joustra replied the next day, affirming the positive role political parties can and must still play:

Talk of civility in America may yet prove the political equivalent of a time out on the stairs. They earned it, no question, but with elections among Americans, religious folk need to relearn how to disagree better, not less. The peace of the culture wars must not be the post-apocalyptic quiet of high-minded independents’ partisan withdrawal. If we don’t like the rules on the playground, the lesson isn’t to storm off, it’s to change them.

2. Introducing Fieldnotes Magazine
A new online magazine was launched this week, and it looks really, really good. Fieldnotes aims to offer “practical wisdom for emerging leaders.” Gideon Strauss wrote a great introductory essay:

In Fieldnotes, we hope you will discover insights and stories that will change your life and your leadership, setting you free to be truly human in how you work, and equipping you to shape organizations in which others can be truly human—connecting, learning, contributing.

3. Suggestions for annotating books
James K.A. Smith recently shared some suggestions for annotating books (with photos!). It’s quite a sophisticated system he has developed for his own work in academia, but bits and pieces might prove helpful for the rest of us too as we make notes in the margins of our own books.

4. The cure for Christendom
Kyle Roberts writes in an essay for Q Ideas that we’d do well to get to know Søren Kierkegaard:

Next year (May 5, 2013, to be precise) will mark the bicentennial of Søren Kierkegaard’s birth. There will be scads of written tributes, conferences, and public lectures devoted to remembrance of this Danish thinker. I’d like to get out in front of it all and suggest that Kierkegaard’s most incisive relevance today may be as a prophetic voice for the Christian church in America.

5. CT comes to Phoenix
Last night we were at an event here in Phoenix put together by Christianity Today’s This Is Our City team, to celebrate the great things Christians from all walks of life are doing to seek the flourishing of this city. The cover story of the latest issue of CT features the story of Alfonso and the broader story of immigration. We got to have a nice chat with Alfonso, and I’m glad his story is being told.

6. Sigur Rós timelapse video
This one needs no introduction.

Sigur Rós: Dauðalogn from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: “Delegates wave signs during the opening night ceremonies of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.” (Brian van der Brug via Los Angeles Times)]

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Miroslav Volf on values and voting

Last week Miroslav Volf posted this on his Facebook page:

In this year of presidential elections, I decided to summarize key values that guide me as I make the decision for whom to cast my vote. It takes knowing three basic things to choose a candidate for public office responsibly:

1. values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them;
2. ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation;
3. capacity—ability and determination—to contribute to the implementation of these values.

Most important are the values. As I identified each value, I thought it important to (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a brief rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify key questions for the candidate.

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating them and adjudicating complex debates about them. In giving rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which giving a rationale would need to go than in fact strictly to offer a rationale. I have identified some 20 such values. In coming days I will post one a day.

He has now posted eight or so of those twenty values, and each is worth serious consideration, regardless of the different conclusions each of us will come to. If you haven’t already, you can see the rest of the values by subscribing to his Facebook page.

In one of his essays in The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.”

It’s imperative, in my view, that Christians think theologically about the political options with which we are presented. If we have surrendered ourselves first and most fully to God, and if we have come to view our other allegiances, commitments, and loves in their proper place under the Lordship of Christ, the way we approach politics will look different than those who find their primary identity in a nation or a party or a class.

The bottom line is this: voting matters, and it matters why we vote as we do.

[Image credit: via]

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The elefante in the room

There’s much to be puzzled by when it comes to U.S. politics, but for me one of the biggest is the underappreciated the Latino vote.

TIME’s cover recently featured a collage of Latino faces (and a Norwegian-Chinese-Irish one; oops), along with the words: Yo Decido. The cover story, written by Michael Scherer, is “Why Latinos will pick the next President.” He looks at national politics, but focuses his writing on things here in Phoenix. Simply put, Latinos are changing not only this state, but also the face of the country, and they will change its politics. Currently about one sixth of the total population, by 2050 one in three in the U.S. will be Latino. That’s a big piece of the pie.

But Obama, who won in 2008 with two-thirds of the Latino vote, failed to deliver on promises to pass immigration reform during his first year in office, and instead stepped up deportations like never before. The Republicans, meanwhile, are going to great lengths to outdo each other in anti-immigrant rhetoric (without much interest in differentiating between those with documents or without) that sees immigration as a simple problem with simple, if costly and/or strange, solutions. The most creative solution proposed by a one-time leading candidate entailed an electric fence at the border, guarded by alligators; he later called it “a joke.”

While Latinos are not a homogeneous voting bloc, they tend to be young and socially conservative. And immigration is far from the only issue on the table. Latinos have suffered disproportionately during the recession, and while the national unemployment rate holds steady at 8.3% — happily a three-year low — unemployment remains above 10% among Latinos. The economy matters a lot to all of us this time around, but even more so to Latinos.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says in the TIME story, “We really look like Republicans on paper, but they don’t want us. The Democrats don’t look like us on paper, but they really want us.”

I blogged about this strange phenomenon last month, quoting Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as Republicans who seem to get it and are pleading with their party to stop being so irresponsible and foolish. A little respect would go a long way. Sensible policies wouldn’t hurt either.

Though the cover story itself is unfortunately by subscription-only on TIME’s website, they do offer a photo essay with faces and quotes from different Latino voters here, and there’s another photo essay on being Latino in Arizona here. Finally, it’s interesting to note that while Mitt Romney won big in Arizona’s primary, and while he has said he favors “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants, 63% of Republican voters in this state disagreed (36% thought they should be able to apply for citizenship, and 27% thought they should be allowed to stay as temporary workers). If the numbers are that high in Arizona, they’re certainly higher elsewhere, and if he becomes the nominee he’ll have no choice in the fall but to find a more moderate position. But by then, will he be able to rebuild the bridges he and others in his party have burned?

I’ll have more to say in future posts about civility and citizenship, two themes more timely than ever, but I’ll leave it there for now.

If you’re Latino, what do you plan to do in November?  Has any party or candidate won your vote? What do you wish politicians, or any non-Latinos for that matter, understood?

Repaso: Evangelical Latinos & immigration reform, Bakke on cities, Calvin & Hobbes, Occupy Wall Street

1. Evangelical Latinos and immigration reform
CBN News has a story and video segment on immigration reform and the role evangelical Latinos may play in the 2012 presidential elections:

“Arguably, immigration reform may very well be the most important issue in America’s evangelical setting today,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained. Rodriguez said the fastest growing segment of America’s evangelical church is in the immigrant community.

2. The city as a window on the world
One of the great pioneers of urban ministry in North America as we know it has been Ray Bakke. Here’s a great piece he wrote for Response, the magazine of Seattle Pacific University, his alma mater:

I watched in shock as the evangelical church moved out of Chicago just as I was moving in. Whole congregations relocated as immigrants and rural minorities flocked to the cities. Evangelicals were pulling their kids out of schools and running for the suburbs. Nothing influenced me and the course of my life so much as the failure and flight of Christians and churches from the cities. Most of them claimed to have right views of the Bible and theology and a long history of cross-cultural missions overseas. But the Great Commission had challenged us to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth.” And now “the ends of the earth” were coming to the city!

3. Occupy Calvin and Hobbes
Chris Blattman on his blog shared this Calvin and Hobbes comic (click on it to enlarge):

4. Gerson on Obama’s risky embrace of #OWS
Okay, for the sake of nuance here’s another take on Occupy Wall Street, from the always astute Michael Gerson:

The reaction to Occupy Wall Street reveals a gap of perceptions in America. Many liberal politicians, along with many in the media, see tent cities and clashes with the police as evidence of idealism. Many others, however, define idealism as something different from squatting in a park — as voting, walking precincts, volunteering in the community, supporting good causes and persuading their neighbors. These citizens may even share the discontents of Occupy Wall Street while rejecting its methods and culture. No presidential campaign would willingly choose the high-risk strategy of identifying with a controversial, half-formed, leftist protest. But unable to take credit for economic recovery, Obama may have no other choice. He needs an economic dragon to slay, even if he once fed and tended it.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!