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To Volunteer or Advocate?

How can a concerned, caring individual bring about change? Is it better to volunteer and help one-to-one or to advocate for change in a way that benefits whole groups of people?

Is it enough, for example, to volunteer at a food pantry that meets the needs of one person at a time, or to advocate for changing the food stamp program which serves millions, or better yet, funding job training, or education to equip people to become self-supporting?

Immediate relief vs. systemic change.

It’s a question that requires honest self-critique. I’ve observed for a number of years how individuals and organizations work to bring about change and I don’t see an easy resolution to the question. And it’s not a false dichotomy, though I wish it were. Individuals who volunteer to build a school in a remote village in Africa don’t necessarily move from individual engagement to support foreign assistance that addresses regional economic development. It’s a leap too far.

In my early years of working in this arena I thought it was possible to do exactly this, move people along a continuum from individual involvement on the ground to engaging in policy change. At the very least, I thought, it should be possible to get those who have seen with their own eyes how damaging poverty is to write a letter to request more funds for health care for the poor, or for economically strapped schools, or for foreign assistance for development initiatives. Not so.

It’s a jump some can’t make, or don’t want to, for a long list of reasons. It’s a move from the concrete to the complex, from one to many, from the personal to the impersonal. Some want to see immediate change as a result of a direct, hands-on relationship while others see policy change as the most effective means to create long-term change for whole groups of people.

I heard a polite but pointedly uncomfortable debate about this recently. One person who is ardently committed to advocacy claimed that some volunteers enjoy being in a superior position to those they help. They set up a donor-recipient relationship that is threatened when the "receiving" person becomes self-sufficient. Another, from an economically depressed community, said he wanted people from outside his community to stay away. They try to impose behaviors and solutions upon his community without understanding the obstacles they face nor the culture in which they live. Can’t even speak their language, he said. Better to stay away.

And so it went. Strongly felt opinions shot through the air like lightning bolts, landing with force and exploding preconceptions around the room. And they fell unresolved.

In fact, it’s not a new debate. It’s been around for years. The positions are predictable and more than a little tiresome after decades-long repetition. Worse, this is only an elementary starting point. When the debate takes form as competition for solutions pitting one against another, it becomes destructive. HIV/AIDS vs. malaria. Water development vs. education. Agriculture vs. economic empowerment. Thinking in polarities. Thinking small.

But there is value in the discussion, I think, because we’re at a hinge point in history and this dialogue is likely to shape both public policy and the fabric of our social community into the future. It’s more important now that people of goodwill find accommodation to many methods of change and to comprehensive solutions than to assert the correctness of a single way or a single problem.

The political dialogue we’ve had for the past several years hasn’t modeled a constructive approach to problem-solving. Rather, it’s demonstrated that a polarized, divided community isn’t healthy. If we learn anything from this, it’s that polarizing rhetoric and critical characterizations don’t yield constructive results. I don’t think creating divisions between people of good will about how they can best help bring about change is healthy either.

It should be possible for those with a common desire to make life better to agree that there are many pathways to the good.

In a commentary on the need for a strategic consensus on foreign assistance, Carol Peasley, President of the Center for Development and Population Activities, identifies how differences in priorities have fragmented approaches to health. The result is several "stovepipes" which result in a "mish-mash of vertical programs" that have actually had a negative effect on health systems in a variety of ways.

Peasley calls for bringing the stovepipes together and creating a truly global health approach to health. And she says it’s not enough for development organizations to provide direct services, they must also develop local capacity, yet another issue in this long line of change-making concerns.

What will be needed going forward is a give and take conversation among many actors and a spirit of concern that gives support for holistic, comprehensive problem-solving.

The Gospel of Wealth:Televangelists, Culture and Authority

As I travel, I continue to be impressed with the global reach of television evangelists based in the U.S. propounding the gospel of wealth. I also reflect upon the cultural context in which these evangelists bring their messages. More often than not the message and the context are totally out of sync. The places I’m in are vastly different from the U.S. context and its economic realities, even considering the extreme stress the U.S. economy is presently experiencing.

The occasion for this reflection came when I turned on the television while in Geneva and up came a program by a televangelist in the U.S. He was mining the New Testament with a mix of behavioral psychology and scriptural explication that connected the sacred text to support for creating individual wealth. When I hear this it is so far removed from my understanding of scripture and faithfulness to it that I think I live in a parallel universe to the televangelist.

When I’m in Africa, the distance seems even greater. The culture of a televangelist in the U.S speaking about the gospel of wealth to African audiences living in grinding poverty, for example, is strikingly fantastic. It presumes that by individual initiative alone an individual can overcome the systemic chains that keep people locked in economic inequity and drag down, if not prevent, upward economic mobility. It places upon people who are already burdened with huge disadvantages yet another weight, that of individual responsibility for what are clearly social and systemic constraints.

Hope and optimism are precious motivators and one should not deny either to those who yearn for a better life. To do so would be cruel. At the same time, to hold people individually responsible for circumstances that are structural and  systemic is also cruel.

For example, to achieve successful participation in an economic system an individual must have access to the system itself. This requires a system open to individual initiative. Many systems around the world are not open. They are based on patronage and cronyism. They require capital and knowledge that an individual may not possess.

Meaningful participation occurs when people have access to training, capitalization to allow them to be competitive, market information, marketing and accounting skills and a host of other tools, including access to credit and fair trade policies and pricing. (Mohammad Yunus lays out a blueprint in Creating a World Without Poverty that puts the challenge and the incredible potential into focus. His proposal leaves the gospel of wealth in the dust as it puts structure and system to work on behalf of individual entrepreneurs.)

Thus, it seems to me narrow and short-sighted to advance a gospel of wealth theory based on individual initiative rooted in Western entrepreneurialism resting on the claim that this is the Christian gospel. The hope raised by the gospel of wealth preachers is just that convoluted and circuitous, it seems to me.

If it is not rooted on scriptural authority, it’s reasonable to ask what gives authority to the claim? The televangelist will most certainly object to the critique that his theory is not scriptural. But that claim is only possible by ignoring the historical tradition of Christian theology and the accumulated body of scholarship that defines the gospel as a call to discipleship and servanthood, a far cry from market capitalism and behavioral psychology. It is a tradition that recalls the graciousness of a loving God manifested in human form, a God who, according to the apostle Paul, emptied God’s own self and took upon the fragility and pain of human life in order to offer healing, wholeness and meaning.

This is a far cry, I think, from the pleas of a televangelist for funds to sustain a television broadcast that enriches the broadcaster and offers an ephemeral hope to the audience.

If authority does not rest in scripture, the next best thing I see is the legitimating role implied by being on television, and by the support base of a local congregation who believe the claims being made by the preacher. This isn’t much. It’s a pretty thin reed, but in the world of global media and uncritical theological reflection, it’s enough for him.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Where Are You When we Need You?

An economist on Marketplace this morning referred to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s worldview as a familiar frame of reference for both presidential candidates. Niebuhr’s view of ethically ambivalent individuals yearning for perfectibility, yet caught in a sinful state and working in a fallen world, is found in the attitudes of both John McCain and Barack Obama, according to the Marketplace commentator.

Niebuhr’s theology was formed in the Great Depression and he taught applied Christianity in the New Deal era, a time that saw the depths of human depravity and greed, as well as the heights of sacrifice and service. He brought theology into the wider public conversation as a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York and as a social activist. He helped found Americans for Democratic Action and was politically involved throughout his life, giving particular attention to the rights of workers.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. asked in a 2005 essay in the New York Times why Niebuhr isn’t remembered and provides an overview that demonstrates why his worldview remains salient.

Schlesinger cites Neibuhr’s cautionary view of religion in public discourse: “religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.”

Never the less, Niebuhr also saw the religious claim of human willfulness and fallibility as a corrective to the modern argument that things were “getting better and better in every way.”

Niebuhr understood our capacity for evil is matched by our capacity for good and claims to moral behavior are a corrective necessity, and more.

Schlesinger says the tragedy of 9/11 revived the “myth of  our national innocence,” a concept Niebuhr called into question with substantial critique based on religious teaching.

Since Schlesinger’s essay, Niebuhr has received increased attention, mostly because Barack Obama has referred to him. It’s striking that a theologian who died in 1971 remains relevant on social analysis thirty years later.

Perhaps it’s because Niebuhr brought perspective to individual responsibility and the state of human fallibility as well as insight into the way we organize systems that perpetuate injustice and privilege. This tension between individual culpability and systemic injustice has been largely overlooked in the emphasis on extreme individualism that is found across the culture in the U.S. The evangelical right has focused on individual responses to a few key issues of moral concern, the so-called culture wars issues, and the mainline has been largely absent from the public dialogue or torn apart internally so it didn’t reach outside its own walls to engage in public discussion.

Niebuhr operated from a position in the academy and he was not seen as having an affiliation with a denomination. His relative independence gave him the room to engage in social movements and offer commentary free of the institutional constraints that denominational connections impose.

He also wrote in a pre-electronic age. Television was in its infancy and the written word remained influential. He edited The Christian Century from 1922 to 1940, for example. His ideas, while provocative enough to attract attention in their own right, did not face the kind of competitive overload we face today.

But this begs the question why we don’t have a theological basis for mainline dialogue today. In the final analysis, Niebuhr engaged the culture he found and spoke to people in language they could understand. He connected with people who had real issues that called for the application of theology in a practical way. And finally, he used the tools available and he acted. Perhaps that’s the difference.

Values Votes

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is ambivalent about making absolute religious claims in the mix of faith and politics. He notes a few conservative Roman Catholic bishops and megachurch pastor Rick Warren set out a list of “non-negotiables” that were raised around the time of the event Warren hosted for John McCain and Barack Obama.

In contrast, actor Martin Sheen on the Matthew 25 Network website points to his religious roots in the Roman Catholic tradition as the source for his progressive activism.

Of the evangelicals, Wallis writes, “None of them even included the word “poverty,” only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of ‘non-negotiables.’”

He questions what is non-negotiable for Christians and asks why so many prominent and clear biblical claims for combating poverty and ending injustice were not included in the lists of the bishops and Warren.

Sheen’s comments are less absolute, but no less resolute. His lifetime commitment to progressive positions is widely known, as is his long-time willingness to speak from his faith perspective. It’s a positive contribution.

Mixing the geography of faith with the political process takes you into pretty complicated, if not murky, territory, one that calls for far more care and far less boisterous rhetoric than what we’ve heard the past eight years.

In place of non-negotiables, Wallis offers a list of “faith priorities” and calls on each of us to do the same. We would do well to consider his suggestion and reflect deeply on our own faith priorities, or values, and decide for ourselves how they will influence our choices at the intersection of faith and politics. It would be more than startling if we were to take the biblical injunctions about poverty and well-being and apply them to social policy. This would take us far beyond the culture war issues very deeply into the territory of social change.

The Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle--The Great EmergenceEvery five hundred years the Western world goes through a period of re-formation. It’s an across the board change that affects the entire structure of society. In our day, according to Phyllis Tickle, it includes globalization, the flattening of the world, technological changes that result in lifestyle changes.

It is a great upheaval, a time when cultural accretions are cleansed, dropped and clarified as the culture moves into new expressions of community, power, meaning and values. This process has deeply shaped human thought and the progress of the humankind as it provides new ways for perceiving the world and our place in it.

As it happens, it isn’t only about socio-economic, political or scientific ideas, it’s also about theological, or faith, understandings of life. The Great Emergence is underway in our time and it portends fundamental changes in how we live our faith, and faith itself, according to Tickle and others who are thinking theologically about the great upheaval in our day.

In the Christian faith community Tickle equates it to a great “great rummage sale” in which much that has shaped the life of the church and faith is put on the table and liquidated as new faith expressions emerge.

It’s understatement to call ours a fascinating time of change. It’s so much more profound.  Tickle describes the contours in a video promoting her new book about the Great Emergence. She says it’s radically Jesus oriented, resting on the belief that he meant what he said and what he said should form how we live if we are to follow his teachings.

It’s communal, post-denominational, post-Protestant, largely virtual and organizes itself on the Internet. It is developing a theological perspective that is not exclusivist and that reaches back to the liturgical life of Christian communities in the first, second and third centuries to discover the passion that enlivened them under persecution, and to recover it today.

Neither Tickle, nor others, hazard a guess about where the Emergence is leading the Western world, and more particularly Judeo-Christian communities. But Tickle believes whatever change is afoot is the work of God, and a new thing is coming.

Matthew 25 Network on Palin

The Matthew 25 Network calls Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican convention “sarcastic, divisive and often deceptive.” As it happens, I am preaching Saturday evening at a worship service using Matthew 25 as the text so I was interested to read their email.

The group, made up of a mix of religious leaders from across the Christian community, takes Palin and John McCain to task for making a public display of Palin’s Christian convictions while violating them in her speech. The Network says she “went far beyond what could be considered acceptable disagreement and into what seemed like open contempt for a political opponent.” They also say she spoke falsehoods about Barack Obama’s positions.

While Matthew 25 Network identifies the public presentation of Palin as harmful to the faith, others have made an even stronger case that the merger of religious dogma with political ideology is a dangerous mix. The political operators who have assembled this coalition of right wing politics and evangelical religion may be clever but they are manipulating emotions and deeply held convictions beyond the ability of anyone to responsibly control.

There are too many examples of religion blessed oppression, and equally appalling, of civil wars with religion as a pretext to take the mixture of religious dogma and political ideology lightly.

In his forward to Sarah Posner’s God’s Profits:Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, Joe Conason describes an underside of the evangelical right–the gospel of wealth preachers–as “irrational, avaricious, xenophobic, exploitative, and hostile to freedom.”

In his Christian Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges quotes Rod Parsley, the Ohio gospel of wealth preacher, speaking in Washington in 2006. “Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! They say this rhetoric is so inciting. I came to incite a riot. I came to effect a divine disturbance in the heart and soul of the church. Man your battle stations. Ready your weapons. Lock and load!” (p. 33)

Heges warns about exploiting the frustration of those who feel the cultural and political institutions have failed them, a theme prominent in the politics of the religious right. “These carefully cultivated feelings of persecution foster a permanent state of crisis, a deep paranoia and fear, and they make it easier to call for violence–always, of course, as a form of self-defense.” (p. 29)

Heges sees danger in preachers and politicians who exploit the frustrations born of social dislocation and personal disruption that are sparked by our current economic downturn and cultural changes. Citing William James’ description of Tolstoy’s and Paul Buynan’s conversions to Christianity, which were born of alienation and frustration, “neither…could become what we have called healthy-minded.” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 184)  “They had drunk too deep from the  cup of bitterness,” writes James. (James, p. 184, Heges, p. 59)

The Matthew 25 Network’s  critique of Palin’s speech merits serious attention. They suggest Palin’s elevation to the national stage now makes her the most visible face of Christian faith in the nation. That places a greater responsibility upon her than, perhaps, she or the political operatives recognize.

As the Matthew 25 Netwok implicitly says, sarcasm, diviseness and deception hardly reflect the spirit of Matthew 25.

CBN on CNN

This morning I note that CNN has brought into its Sunday morning Late Edition program a commentator from the Christian Broadcast Network to comment about politics and evangelical voters. This is the same CBN owned by Pat Robertson who declaimed that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for abortions in the U.S. and who, according to the blog Yurica Reports, employed Blitzer as a Middle East correspondent when he was beginning his journalism career.

The watchdog site MinistryWatch describes CBN as follows, Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc. (“CBN”) uses mass media, especially television and visual media, to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of God on earth.”

The religious right continues to shape public perception of Christian faith. In his Sunay column, Frank Rich notes that 5.5 million turned to the Saddleback appearances of John McCain and Barack Obama while 32 million tuned into the time-delayed reports of the Olympics on NBC, suggesting, perhaps that the media attention given to religious conservatives might be a bit much, but never the less, it was a debate whose questions were framed by the evangelical wing of the faith.

However you feel about that, nuance and substance in reporting about religion have long since been abandoned by most U.S. media. And now CNN has decided to give legitimation and voice to an expression of an evangelical enterprise that is, in its most generous description, a fringe on the hem of the mainstream fabric of the faith.

All of which brings me to my on-going concern about the absence of mainline voices in the media and, because you’ve seen it before here, I pledge I’m going to just stop writing about it. I’m coming to the conclusion it’s futile to continue to point it out.

What this means is quite simple. Until some leaders emerge who can express theology in the public square from the Mainline tradition the Mainline will not shape public perception of Christian faith and its social reponsibilities through media as it once did.

We don’t have the likes of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., or Fr. Malcom Boyd, who some readers won’t even know, and there is little value in writing about that which only causes me continuing heartburn. So, I think I’ll swear off.

Del McCoury Sings of a “Forgotten America”

Moneyland by Del McCoury“Over the last couple of decades, you have turned Rural America into a scene of devastation which can now best be described as ‘Forgotten America.'”

This is the opening sentence of the liner notes on Moneyland, a new bluegrass collection assembled by bluegrass master Del McCoury. It is directed at Washington politicians under a heading of “Obligatory Disclaimer.” The words stake out strong territory, territory once inhabited by Woody Guthrie and later by Pete Seeger. It’s the role of social prophet in a musical voice.

The prophet hears the voices of the oppressed and forgotten and lifts them up, but isn’t necessarily obligated to offer a prescription for social change. The prophet seeks a hearing and calls for justice.

It’s the politicians entrusted with the responsibilities of governance who ought to serve the people and Moneyland makes it abundantly clear that politicians have failed working folks wholesale.  It frames the case in an interesting way. The opening and closing cuts are taken from Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats.

Roosevelt began his chats in 1933 when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression and radio in its infancy. The chats revealed his remarkable ability to communicate with the masses, especially working people, despite his patrician background. To put it mildly, it’s an ability that’s been long absent among politicians with roots in Roosevelt’s social vision and belief in progressive government for all the people.

Sterner and more angry voices today call the treatment of working people contemptuous neglect wrapped in hypocrisy and exploitation. And these themes are vocalized in Moneyland.

McCoury sings of greed and forgotten people. As if to nail down the point, the same week the album was released former Sen. Phil Gramm said we’re a nation of whiners concerned about a “mental recession.” He virtually ignored the real, down-to-earth dislocation that is tearing apart lives in the heartland.

Also included is Merle Haggard’s What Happened?, an unsparing critique of popular culture that asks where the America we once knew has gone.

Haggard says mainstreet has gone the way of Walmart. Jobs have gone offshore. Houses and double wide trailers are going back to the mortgage companies, and more and more families are going bankrupt. And it’s seemed as if no one is listening.

A poignant report in the New York Times by writer Michael Powell recounts the experience of Jeana Brown, a Georgia woman working two jobs. She tells Barack Obama about the sacrifices she and her husband are making to keep up payments on their double wide trailer after they went from $670 to $1,378.

Powell contrasts Ms. Brown’s story with the dissonance of Obama going from this conversation to fundraising events in elegant surroundings with wealthy patrons. Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope it’s difficult to stay in touch with the hard edge of life when wealth provides both a cushion and distance.

It’s this disconnect that McCoury focuses on with clarity and sharpness. Both McCoury’s album and Ms. Brown’s story hint at something stirring in the heartland. It’s the stewpot of betrayal that a lot of people are feeling–economic exploitation, hypocrisy, greed, a toxic culture of consumption and unresponsive politicians.

I heard a man say recently, “This is not the country I grew up in.” When McCoury and Haggard put this disaffection into song it means there’s an audience for it. Something’s afoot.

Ms. Brown told Powell she hasn’t voted in 32 years, but she’s going to vote this year. Now that they’re being directly affected by the greed and neglect, folks who have felt they weren’t being heard and have little stake in the civic process are sounding like they’re ready to join in making change.

Whether it’s hope or desperation, it doesn’t matter, this is a time of opportunity that could re-energize the democratic process if this renewed interest can be harnessed and given active expression.

But it’s not only politics that has failed these folks. (I know this essay is too long and I’ll stop after this.) Much of the mainline religious community has been equally neglectful, sometimes even holding them in disdain, our only contact being when they repair our air conditioners or tune up our cars–despite the fact that some of us are them. We are working class but we got educated and got above our raising, as another Haggard song puts it.

In the process, mainliners lost the the ability to talk with working people and they figured out that mainline churches were no place for them and, maybe, religion was irrelevant anyway. Those who did reach out to them (fundamentalists, evangelicals and religious entrepreneurs) offered biblical interpretation devoid of social justice alongside a privatized expression of faith that was in some cases coopted by political operatives who wed right wing politics to conservative religion and claimed it was family values.

As I see it, the distance of the mainline from working folks is even more serious than the politicians because it’s a fundamental betrayal of the biblical admonition to stand for justice and express concern for your neighbor, especially the excluded and forgotten. (Matt. 25:35-40.)

So McCoury’s album is a prophetic poke at mainline religion as well. Mainline theologians and preachers could do worse than listen to McCoury, Haggard and others on this album and reflect on its themes. It expresses a deeply human, and therefore, deeply religious yearning for respect, dignity and community that deserves to be heard and given attention.

They also show us how the deepest yearnings of the human spirit can be expressed through story and sound, and in doing so point us toward recovering the ability to communicate with folks who are taking it on the chin right now and about whom we should be urgently concerned.

For some of us, “they” are us, but we need to close the gap.

Faith-based Initiatives: Just Say No

It’s hard to tell if Barack Obama and John McCain are merely clumsy in their attempts to appeal to religious voters, if they are cynically pandering to perceived religious sensibilities, if they are fuzzy-headed about religion, or if they have really good ideas about faith-based initiatives.

Obama’s statement on faith-based initiatives last week is causing me to back off and take a long, hard, skeptical look at him. If he’s pandering, he may not be what I thought. If he’s just clumsy about the risks associated with  faith-based initiatives, it isn’t a reassuring trait. And like a lot of other people I don’t think he’s come up with a more excellent way.

A faith-based initiative funded by the government is an oxymoron in the United States. Obama’s comments about having taught constitutional law don’t ease my concern.

Faith-based initiatives are something religious groups should look at carefully and with great reserve. They are a dangerous turn away from constitutional separation of church and state and toward entanglements that could be particularly harmful to them.

Do churches really want to get into a financial relationship with the government, subject themselves to program and financial audits by government auditors and become subcontractors for services that government ought to be providing anyway? See the IRS definition of partnerships here and ask if this is how you want your local congregation defined.

Do they want to set up and keep separate books to account for money and programs with all the attendant personnel needs and administration? Do they want to delineate when monies expended to repair the roof that houses a government-funded feeding program stopped where the shingles covering the worship sanctuary began?

Churches can easily support community groups organized to carry out community service and church members can provide the person power as volunteers to get the work done, but subcontracting services that government should provide has put us in the mess we’re in now with declining public schools, 50 million people outside the private health care system because they lack insurance and inadequate public transportation because government lived with blinders about our dependence on oil and did not step up to support research into alternative energy nor public transport.

In a pluralistic society in which religious expressions range from Scientologists, polygamists, snake handlers and dominionists who want to take over the government, do we want government to define what is distinctly religious in contrast to what is socially constructive and, therefore, acceptable for government funds?

If a church declares that its mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” as mine does, does it not follow that government-funded faith-based initiatives must tolerate this expression of faith, or the church must decide to hold in abeyance its mission at the behest of government restrictions?

The church has, in fact, accommodated to this neutrality by creating  organizations to carry out specialized work. So there is precedent. Entities constituted by religious organizations provide humanitarian services under contract to the government for processing immigrants, providing food aid, carrying out case management in disasters and many other humanitarian needs.

Under these contracts the services delivered are specific, non-sectarian and based on need. They are expressly free of religious conversation and the organizations are highly specialized and uniquely skilled at delivering social services.

Faith-based initiatives that extend beyond these constituted entities into congregational life at the grassroots level will create a more direct and intimate relationship between government and church, putting government funding and regulations into the halls of local congregations, synagogues, mosques or temples.

The risk is great. A faith community is first and primarily a worshipping and learning community. In my church community, worship and response to holy scripture, tradition and contemporary theological insight lead us to outward commitment to social justice, inclusive, democratic governance and concern for the common good.

When it is relevant, the church is an advocate for a government that includes all people and serves them equally but it is not a partner with government nor an agent of government. Our commitment is rooted in faithful response to a loving God, and this is not dependent upon, nor conditional to any form of governance. For us, justice is a biblical imperative.

Admittedly, we have not been nearly vocal enough in recent years about the deterioration of responsible government and have been far too quiet about the misplaced priorities that have led to spending vast amounts on war as federal and state governments cut back basic health, education and social services for those most vulnerable and at risk. But faith-based initiatives are no way to make up the difference.

We’ve already seen enough to know that the melding of religion and politics is a dangerous bond. We need look no further than the influence of the religious right on the current administration.

To preserve democratic society, theological integrity and constructive public policy our best response to faith-based initiatives is just say no.

Off to Côte d’Ivoire

I’ll be in Côte d’Ivoire for the next several days exploring community radio and health programs. I’ll blog from Abijan if possible. If not, I’ll be back here in a couple of weeks.

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