Monday, December 7, 2009

God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis (Wallis's View on Fundamentalism)

Jim Wallis states that at heart he is a nineteenth-century evangelical born in the wrong century before the movement was “humiliated as a result of the famous Scopes trial in 1925.” Before that time, fundamentalism was often socially allied with the Left to support economic reforms that would benefit its mostly working-class constituency. However, Wallis observes that modern fundamentalism has moved to a theocratic movement, which “is really a betrayal of the biblical faith that regards political power much more suspiciously.” Wallis states that like the Taliban and al Quaeda the religious Right “desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state.” Wallis characterizes this as “primarily, a religious mistake.

Wallis expresses that with the move to theocracy, modern fundamentalism too easily justifies violence as a tool for implementing its agenda.” He also notes that “fundamentalist arguments for violence quickly become more political than religious.” He notes, “It’s always striking to me that when I listen to the Christian fundamentalist justifications for violence I don’t hear them asking that question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ From a fundamentalist Christian point of view, shouldn’t that be the key question to ask? What is more ‘fundamental’ to Christianity than Jesus? Perhaps the teachings of Jesus most unpopular with Christian fundamentalists (and other Christians too) are his statements about loving our enemies and not just seeing the ‘specks’ in your adversary’s eye, but also the ‘log’ in your own.”

In reflecting on our nation’s reaction to 9/11, Wallis criticized “American Bush theology” consisting of a struggle between “good and evil—we are good, they are evil.” Wallis stated, “we are not the good. That’s bad theology. Jesus teaches us to see the beam in our own eye, and not just the mote in our adversary’s eye. George Bush is a Methodist, but he sees no beams in the American eye.” Wallis contends, “We must act so that the world will not be remade in the image of the terrorists; and we deny the terrorists their victory when we refuse to be changed into people of God has not called us to be.”

Wallis also gives examples to support his conclusion that George Bush has made the same mistake “over and over again of confusing nation, church, and God. The resulting theology is more an American civil religion than Christian faith.” For example, at Ellis Island, making a speech to mark the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush stated, “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind...That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” Wallis points out that the last two sentences are derived from the Gospel of John in the New Testament. However, in the Bible, the light is the Word of God and the light of Christ. By contrast, Bush’s reference of light is to America and its values.

Wallis suggests that this “bad theology” is being used to justify empire building and that the United States is beginning to resemble the Roman Empire. Of course, such an analogy is particularly poignant coming from a Christian like Wallis. The Roman Empire persecuted Jews in Jesus’ time, and also persecuted Christians after Jesus was crucified. Wallis repeatedly uses the term “Pax Americana”—a play off the term “Pax Romana.” As a more effective and theologically more enlightened approach, Wallis suggests following the prophet Micah, who emphasized that common security was the most effective means of self-defense.

Micah 4:3-4 (New Living Translation)
The Lord will mediate between peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far away. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has made this promise!

John 1:1-5 (New American Standard Bible)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

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