Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Conservative Christian voices, once again, omit major Biblical imperatives

THE X-FACTOR. Pundits tell us George W. Bush was re-elected President in 2004 because of moral issues. This was the X-factor which many credit Karl Rove for masterminding. Informed and enflamed by religious voices in the news media, those who opposed abortion and gay marriage turned out in larger numbers than those who opposed Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and pandering to greed.

FAILURE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP. What disturbed me in 2004 was that the same Christian groups that made the election a referendum on abortion and gay marriage failed to emphasize--or even mention--broader moral challenges at stake for the nation and world. In not doing so, I believe those leaders and groups failed to lead Christianly.

A GROSSLY NARROWED FIELD OF MORAL ISSUES. Here we are, four years later. In another election season, conservative Christian leaders have again grossly narrowed the field of moral issues that they consider “in play.” It is not so much what is included as moral issues when they challenge their constituencies as much as what is excluded that unsettles me. One must intentionally ignore core concerns of Jesus and the New Testament to come up with voter’s guides that do not mention poverty, war and violence, a mammon spirit, honesty, or prideful use of power.

SILENT ON POVERTY. I have not heard any moral-issue candidate or Evangelical leader mention concern for the poor, the specter of structural poverty in America and the world, or the devastating personal and household impact of the lack of basic health insurance for millions of Americans. The bealeagured and belittled people who Jesus invested the majority of his life in are again bypassed on the righteous road to Washington.
SUB-CHRISTIAN AGENDA. Any political agenda is crudely sub-Christian if it does not give priority to the poor and challenge structural poverty at home and abroad. Moreover, given the socio-economic construct of America, to ignore, diminish, or marginalize this moral issue is to foment poverty, demean the poor, and fuel a culture that is systematically forcing millions more of its own citizens into desperation and despair with every passing year.

SILENT ON WAR AND VIOLENCE. I have not heard any moral-issue candidate or evangelical leader even second-guess the Bush Doctrine of “pre-emptive war.” No conservative Christian voter’s guide challenge this historically unprecedented “strike first” policy that was immediately used to justify the American-led attack on Iraq. I have not seen morally-bold Evangelicals in any official capacity denounce war or violence in the past eight years. And yet Jesus’ witness and instructions could not be more clear regarding the rejection of such violence and militarism for his followers and church.
SILENT ON A MAMMON SPIRIT IN THE LAND. Candidates of all stripes continue to play flagrantly to the mammon spirit that is a pervasive scourge on our land and now threatens financial stability at multiple levels. So consumed are Americans by consumerism and self-advancement that we think better of any candidate who--at whatever cost to others, the fabric of society, the workplace, or the stability of the world--promises to relieve our tax share and increase personal wealth. A care-less, bullying aggression in the local and world marketplace has been raised to the level of patriotism and a religious duty. The god that is now served most dutifully in America is Free Market (financial crisis notwithstanding). Yet the “morally bold” remain mute.
SILENT ON PURPOSEFUL MISINFORMATION ABOUT IRAQ. Over the past five years, it has become clear that governmental leaders deliberately used discredited intelligence and questionable sources, and employed pressure tactics on its own agencies, to concoct a distorted scenario regarding Iraq to justify war to the United Nations, Congress, and the American public. It is has become increasingly clear that the major rationales used to attack Iraq were illegitimate and misleading at best and deceptive half-truths and lies at worst.

TRUTHFULNESS MARGINALIZED. There are no links between the attack on the World Trade Center and Iraq. There is no evidence terrorists were being trained in Iraq. Not only has no evidence of weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq, it is now clear the regime did not even have the capacity to develop them. Have there been any calls from the morally bold for accountability? For full disclosure? Any calls to basic honesty? Any calls for a corrected course based on truth?
SILENT ON AMERICAN ARROGANCE. Those who are morally bold during the election campaign have been curiously silent about the growing world-wide concern for American arrogance. It isn’t just the “go it alone” approach to combating terrorism, it’s the “we’re right and you’re wrong,” “we’ll define the reality you will live with,” “we can, so we will,” and “who needs them?” words, actions, and policies that have been perpetrated around the world by our government. “Empire” is a word now frequently used by both allies and enemies. Our President said he had “political capital” to spend at home, but American actions over the past eight years have placed our nation in major “international diplomatic deficit” and “goodwill liability.”

CHRISTIAN WITNESS AT STAKE. My lament and concern here is threefold.

First, by advancing too narrow a set of moral issues, Evangelicals are undermining their own moral leadership in the larger world.

Second, folks who do not even give assent to Christian morality still have moral sensitivity enough to know that issues like poverty, war, greed, and domination are moral and are important--even if the religious right has abandoned them for narrower political agendas.

Third, the Christian gospel and witness of the church to a sinful and hurting world is diminished when it succumbs to ideological persuasions or political parties that in turn use its trumpet voice to sway governmental election outcomes. No Christian or Christian group has the privilege of selling the gospel piecemeal or choosing which parts of the Christian witness and mission are crucial and which are marginal.

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