Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pastoral Politics

[CNN ran a news piece on 30 pastors who will be telling their congregations who to vote for on Sunday morning in open defiance of the law. See the news video below.]

In America we confuse our politics with our faith. Certainly their is some overlap, in that all people should vote according to their beliefs and convictions. Yet our political parties do not represent faith or any particular religion. They are secular. You may find that you share some common values, but it is impossible for a secular government to be "Christian". Therefore, it is impossible for a political party to be the "Christian" party. This is why Christians are divided amongst themselves along partisan lines.

That being said, the pulpit is no place to back a political candidate as "God's choice". Whatever happens in our personal conversations is open for personal opinion, but what happens from the pulpit ought to represent the teachings of Christ for all people. When you back a politician from the pulpit you are now using it as a platform to endorse the message of a human being, who you don't even truly know beyond campaign adds and a partial voting history.

Instead the pulpit is to be used to bridge the 2000yr gap between text and culture, in order to clearly demonstrate the meaning of the ancient message for today. It is from that oration the individual or group is to meditate on how to live out the teaching as God directs and leads. When we start specifying who it is others ought to vote for based on select positions, we are overthrowing the role of the Word and Spirit and going beyond what the text allows.

Again, what you say in the context of any ordinary platform is open to personal opinion. But when you speak from the pulpit you are not speaking for yourself, and if ever you feel the need to, you must lay out that disclaimer clearly.

It is interesting that James Dobson declared he could not back McCain because it would conflict with his biblical values. Later he changed his mind and was determined to go for the lesser of two evils. Now the Evangelical Right is boldly proclaiming McCain as God's pick and pastor's are stepping up to the pulpit challenging the laws of separation of Church and State under the false presumption that they are speaking for God. So when they have their tax exempt status pulled from them they will praise God as though they were martyrs for the cause. The problem is, half the Church thinks they are hearing impaired.

Let's stop pretending to be prophets anointing the new King. This is really a desperate attempt to back a candidate they see as having a strong likelihood of losing an election and they just can't stand to see their team get beat. This mixture of fear and anger they mistakenly identify as the inner voice of God.

Let's stop doing God a disfavor by advocating our partisan politics from the pulpit, and thereby embarrassing ourselves and putting ourselves in contempt of the One True Throne.

If you want to state your political opinions, get a blog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New American National Version (NANV)

(Sample Text)
Matthew 5: 38 You've heard that it was said, 'eye for eye and tooth for tooth', but I say to you, 'launch a preemptive strike upon your enemy and there will be no need for retaliation'.

Note: They say this translation is based on the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts, but they only cited secondary sources. Got to be careful these days.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Non-Violent Retaliation toward Transformation

We usually think of Exodus 21:24 an "eye for an eye" as a common justification for our mistreatment of others. Yet in the Ancient Near East, this was a very conservative retribution code. It was not a code to answer the question of what is permissible and excusable, but a code that didn't allow us to retaliate beyond what was called for, thereby continuing the vicious cycle of violence. We know that "getting even" usually means hurting the person who hurt us in a way that they'll regret what they did.

Still, Jesus tells us that this Law code is no longer in play (Matt 5:38-48). Instead we ought to use non-hostile forms of retaliation which do not attack, but instead expose the crime in such a way that it allows the offender to recognize the shame of the offense.

"If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well". In other words, if someone backhands you (a most grievous form of humiliation in the ANE) turn to them the other cheek which forces them to strike you as an equal.

"If someone takes your tunic (underclothes), give them your cloak (coat, outer clothes) as well". It was illegal to take someones cloak, because it would leave the poor person completely naked. Jesus tells them to hand it to the person as well so they can be disgraced by their actions of taking the "clothes off our backs". Expose the exploitation for what it is.

"If someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles". Roman soldiers were allowed to force civilians to help them carry burdonsome supplies for up to a mile. This law was suppose to be to help the soldiers during difficult travel circumstances. Instead these soldiers exploited and humiliated the people by forcing them to carry even light loads that they didnt' need help with. Going the extra mile actually puts the soldier in danger of breaking the law. It also takes away the humiliation that was intended.

This is the way of Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. Yet it is a difficult path to follow in a culture which clings to its personal rights and freedoms. Yet this type of response has the ability to transform the oppressor and exploiter. The question is, do we want retaliation or transformation?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Moving the Abortion Debate Beyond Partisan Purists (by Tony Campolo)

In books and speeches, I have often said that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I have contended that to make either party "The God Party" is idolatry. This, however, does not mean that Christians should abandon political activism. It has been said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Consequently, I have long called for Christians to be involved in both political parties, striving to be the "leaven" that permeates both parties with biblically-based judgments and values derived from Christian beliefs.

Taking my own advice, this year I played a part in framing the abortion plank of the Democratic Party's platform. I helped the party to take what some have called a "historic step" by having the party become committed to abortion reduction.

More than 60 percent of all abortions are economically driven. The reality is that without provisions for hospital coverage; pre- and post-natal care; maternity leave so that a woman giving birth will not lose her job; and nursing assistance to help single mothers transition into parenthood, millions of women who want to carry their pregnancies to term will not do so.

The good news is that, with help from Jim Wallis and others, the party platform now calls for these needs to be met. It also calls for educational programs to reduce unwanted pregnancies, with room for the teaching of abstinence, and asks for government agencies to make adoptions easier.

These achievements were lauded by Democrats for Life and by the Catholic Alliance for Life. While at the Democratic National Convention, religious leaders of other faith traditions personally thanked me for my efforts. Even leaders of some pro-choice organizations hailed this compromise, claiming that at last they could find some common ground with pro-life advocates.

Purists, on the other hand, have had hard words for me, claiming that I should not have been involved in any way with a political party that is pro-choice. While I understand their desire to settle for nothing less than the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, I nevertheless believe that my decision to work for abortion reduction was a good one.

Consider these questions: If 10 children are drowning in a swimming pool, and you can only save six of them, should you save the six? Or, should you wait until help arrives that can save them all, even if you know that the six you could save will be lost in the meantime?

To my Christian brothers and sisters who are part of the party that has a pro-life platform, I have to ask whether they are willing to hold the Republican Party to its pro-life commitments. For several years, the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, and had a Supreme Court wherein seven of its nine judges were Republican appointees. Yet no effort was made to overturn Roe vs. Wade -- and very little pressure to do something about this was put on Republican leaders by Evangelicals who had given them 82 percent of their votes in 2004. And, are they willing to demand that provisions such as I worked for in the Democratic platform become policies of their party? To fail to do so would be to protect the unborn child and then abandon that child and the mother in the delivery room. And do not raise the matter of how much money these proposals will cost. We all know better than that.

For those who condemn any compromise on this divisive issue of abortion, may I suggest that they consider not paying their taxes since they are financing a government that supports a woman's right to have an abortion -- and in some instances even puts money into organizations that perform them.

There are legitimate concerns about my actions, but I decided that if some of the unborn could be saved, it would be wrong for me not to do what I could to save them.

Tony Campolo
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

This post originated from the God's Politics blog.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

We Need to Find that Little Black Book

i've always been involved in social justice related work. i've worked in drug/alcohol rehabs and groups homes for the developmentally disabled. Currently i'm a pastor with a social justice emphasis, which is simply a part of advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. Yet i've always helped minister to the problem, not alleviate the problem. These are two different objectives.

As Martin Luther King once said, "It is a good thing to help the battered man who has been left for dead on the side of the road. But after you've pulled countless numbers of people out of the ditches, you start to think that maybe something needs to be done concerning the road itself." (This was my rendition. See here for a transcript.)

So my question is, how do we fix the road? How do we get organized enough to reclaim a government "of the people, by the people, for the people". How do we encourage the great majority to stop viewing themselves as a minority and reclaim their voices to shape our society for the common good?

i find the most difficult part about becoming a social activist is not simply knowing where to begin. This is the most difficult part of being a citizen as well. Every four years we vote, but after the vote, we feel powerless. We don't know the names, phone numbers, or avenues to advance our causes.

i believe the beginning of effective social justice at the grassroots level is simply connecting the common people to the issues and pathways of political pressure. Big Business has a little black book that we need to get ahold of.