Sunday, December 6, 2009

God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis (Religious Leaders and Political Power)

There is a fascinating passage of God’s Politics where Wallis compares “the two major faith-inspired movements of the last fifty years that have tried to influence national politics: the black-church-led civil rights movement of the 1950s and the 1960s and the religious Right movement of the 1980s and 1990s, exemplified by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.”

Wallis’s comparison is based on part of his reading of Blinded by Might by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, who were former leaders of the religious Right. Wallis writes in God’s Politics that the religious Right “bristled with pride” when the media publicly gave them substantial credit for Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. Shortly thereafter, Falwell entered a packed auditorium with an ecstatic crowd on their feet as “Hail to the Chief” was played. Wallis states, “All of a sudden, conservative evangelicals who felt ignored and ridiculed for so long in the cultural backwaters of American life, almost since the infamous Scopes trial in the 1920s, were now in the national spotlight and getting their pictures taken in the Oval Office with the president.” Falwell and Reagan spoke regularly, and when Reagan was about to nominate Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, Reagan asked Falwell to “trust my judgment.” Wallis states, “Perhaps anxious to be a player, a winner, an insider, Falwell went along, and a series of compromises began. Direct mail strategy and fund-raising came to dominate the religious Right’s political agenda over previous moral concerns. Political success defined as keeping political power, eventually became more important that the issues that initiated the formation of the religious Right in the first place. It’s an old story.” Thomas and Dobson lament in their book that little of their Christian agenda has actually been accomplished, and the religious Right have failed in their mission.

Wallis also noted that liberal religious leaders have also been “mesmerized by political power.” He observes that many were “reduced to defending Clinton’s indefensible moral behavior in a sexual and political scandal (or at least maintaining an awkward silence). Access clearly has its price.”

In contrast to those religious leaders who seek access and proximity to political power, Wallis observes that the civil rights movement succeeded because it was morally based and politically independent. The movement’s strength and base was not primarily inside politics, but rather at the grassroots. This helped its efficacy; it changed the way the American people thought about race and sought to affect the values of the culture. Wallis concludes, “The religious Right went wrong by forgetting its religious and moral roots and going for political power; the civil rights movement was proven right in operating out of its spiritual strength and letting its political influence flow from its moral influence. Other great social causes led by religious communities—abolition of slavery, child labor reform, women’s suffrage, and so on—all followed the same strategy.”

John 12:24-26 (The Message)

"Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal.
"If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you'll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment's notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

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