I recognize this man …
February 22, 2011
I recognize this man …
August 19, 2010
Just read a well-written and thoughtful piece by Rev. Jennifer Kottler, director of policy and advocacy at Sojourners, so I figured I’d share it with you in its entirety. Of course, one should never estimate the ability of humans to bring a lofty argument down into the gutter — and you can see the ridiculous comments of other people here. But if you’d like to stick to the high road, read on:
In Sunday school many many years ago, I learned the Beatitudes. And I think that my very favorite one has always been, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I wasn’t exactly sure what it really meant to be a “peacemaker” other than that I shouldn’t start fights on the playground, and while I think I might know better now, it’s not easy. Peace is not just the absence of conflict. Jesus was talking about the Hebrew understanding of peace as “shalom,” which means health and wholeness and reconciliation in our hearts and in our communities. It is not just the absence of conflict, but also the presence of well-being and compassion. Blessed are you who bring about shalom — for you will be called children of God. It’s no small feat to be a peacemaker, but I would venture that, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, there is no higher calling.
I’ve been thinking about this calling a great deal in terms of my Christian response to the controversy swirling around the proposal to build Cordoba House two blocks from Ground Zero. What does it mean for Christians to be peacemakers in this midst of this controversy? What would that look like?
Unfortunately, many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are opposing this construction, or the construction of other mosques or community centers in communities across the country, have not had much exposure to Islam or Muslims. Too many people’s only conscious experience with Muslims is 9/11. And so their response comes from a place of anger and pain when they consider the thought of the construction of this building or any building that represents that faith. And while I think that is unfortunate and misdirected, it is understandable. But even so, how does Christ call us to be peacemakers in this context?
For American Muslims who are not extremists, who are devoutly observant and who want to be able to practice their faith in peace, backlash of this kind is similarly painful. It’s not just people saying, “You can build your community center, but not here.” In too many places now, “not here” has become “not anywhere.” Protests have broken out in communities across the country where Muslim community centers and religious buildings have been proposed for construction. (The controversy surrounding Cordoba House is not an isolated incident.) There has been a serious case of NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) syndrome in many places throughout the U.S. since 9/11. Even those who agree that Muslims have the constitutional right to build houses of worship and community centers want them built “somewhere else.” Again, how is Christ calling us to be peacemakers in the midst of this?
As someone who has Muslim friends with a devout faith, I want people to understand that it is not the religion, but a perversion of that religion that fueled terrorists on 9/11. But I know that for many it is difficult to distinguish between the two. The only Muslims that we usually hear about on the news are those who are terrorists, but they do not represent the Muslim faith, any more than Timothy McVeigh represents Christianity. However, I do believe that intentional interaction can lead to mutual understanding if both parties are willing to be in a true dialogue with one another. My friend Eboo Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core on the principle that through service and cooperation, youth of diverse faiths will form relationships that allow for understanding and appreciation of religious difference. I have other friends who have spent their entire careers in Christian ministry striving to achieve interfaith understanding, responding to Christ’s call to be a peacemaker. This is difficult work, and its ability to come to fruition has been tested—never more so than in the past nine years.
The issue of whether or where to build the Cordoba House is not as black and white as the media would like it to make it out to be. Questions of whether this building should be allowed to be built are not the same as whether or not it should be built there, or where it should be built. With all my heart, I know that as an American I will stand up for religious freedom and freedom of assembly for people of all faiths, and so in my mind there is no question. The people of good will who desire to build Cordoba House should be able to build it. But I also understand the deep-seated pain and grief that many Americans feel about 9/11, emotions that unfortunately turn into anger toward Muslims. And that anger is particularly acute on this issue because of the close proximity of the proposed construction site to Ground Zero. And yet, we are called to be peacemakers.
Paul Tillich said that religions are beliefs that deal with “ultimate concerns.” And while the pain of 9/11 is very real for so many, it should never become a religion in the sense Tillich describes. And at some level, we as a nation must move beyond our pain to healing and reconciliation. And I think that reconciliation and healing must come from being willing to open our hearts and our minds to our Muslim neighbors. It is my prayer that Christians all over this country would make a concerted effort to get to know the Muslims in their communities, or to learn about Islam’s tenets and beliefs. Now, don’t think for a minute that I am asking anyone to give up his or her faith or what that faith teaches. But maybe I am asking us all to remember and respond to Christ’s call to be peacemakers, bridge-builders, shalom-bringers in communities that are not experiencing God’s vision of shalom. Above all else, as Christians we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while loving our neighbors doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to agree with them, it does mean that we need to seek to understand them, and acknowledge their pain. Unfortunately, on this issue, there is more than enough pain to go around.
September 21, 2008
Because, on occasion, I can be a little OCD, I’ve been cleaning out old draft posts that, for whatever reason, never got published. But I’ve been discovering some posts that are still relevant and interesting (if I do say so myself). One of those posts appears for you here — I wrote it shortly after a McCain interview with BeliefNet was posted in September 2007.
Riddle me this!!
Where in the Constitution does it say God?
Answer: Uhhh, nowhere.
As of Sept 2007, 55% of Americans think the Constitution establishes the United States as a Christian nation. They are wrong. All that really exists is the well-known clause that establishes the separation of church and state — ““No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But, as Oliver Thomas writes in the USA Today, let’s be clear on who and what exactly is restricted:
The separation of church and state does not mean the separation of God and government or of religion and politics. The First Amendment limits only the power of government — not the power of the people or of the church. Religious organizations are free to speak out on the issues of the day. They can preach, pray, proselytize, promote and, yes, even endorse candidates if they are foolish enough to do so. (They will, however, have to forfeit their tax exemption if they use church funds, since we don’t allow a tax deduction for monies given to partisan causes — just charitable ones.) Again, it is government — not religious organizations — that is restricted by our Constitution.
I really appreciate Thomas’ writing and often invoke such statements when talking with friends who are adamant about removing all faith talk from politics and policymaking. For a similar take on this topic, also check out James Carroll’s column in the Boston Globe.
August 24, 2008
Back in my Boston days, when I wasn’t in graduate school, when I could actually read for pleasure, I belonged to a fabulous book club (hi guys! I miss you!) that came across a book called Blue Like Jazz, by a guy named Don Miller. I loved the book because of it told the real story of a person who struggles with issues of faith, doubt, life, the blurry greyness of life that just doesn’t fit a black-and-white mold. Turns out, our little group wasn’t the only one who enjoyed Miller’s book — it’s now sold more than one million copies and Don Miller has been asked to give the benediction at the Democratic National Convention.
I think he makes an exciting pick and reflects the willingness of an emerging Democratic party to not shy away from issues of faith and social justice that many of its younger members care about. Good for them! (I’m also super interested to see what kind of tone the Republicans will strike in their convention). In a Christianity Today article, Miller recently answered a few questions about his decision and his views on politics … and I think his answers, while not always consistent, continue to reflect the struggle that so many people, including me, face. No matter how strenuously I may hold to my own beliefs, I’m always working through my faith. I always have more questions, need to seek more answers, searching for the truth against which to interpret the grey areas of life. I like that Miller is real about this aspect of being a person of faith, and I hope his story encourages others who don’t always see the world as a right-left, black-white, red-blue divide.
August 15, 2008
I don’t normally reprint articles in their entirety on my blog, but I really enjoyed this and didn’t want to give you any excuse to avoid reading it. The following article was actually on the front page of today’s Washington Post — and it does a great job of showing how diverse the political perspectives of the “evangelical” community are becoming.
My favorite quote: “Truly, if you are an evangelical Christian, no political party should be able to fully represent you because you are doing something counter-cultural.” YES!
GOP Loyalty Not a Given For Young Evangelicals
By Krissah Williams Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008; A01
DULUTH, Ga. — Jonathan Merritt is a Baptist preacher’s son with a pristine evangelical lineage. It was his dad, the Rev. James Merritt, who reportedly brought President Bush to tears in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks when he called the president “God’s man for this hour.” The Rev. Jerry Falwell was like a grandfather.
“I grew up believing an evangelical couldn’t be a Democrat,” said Merritt, 25. “The two were mutually exclusive.”
But in the past year, as the presidential campaign has focused on the country’s problems, Merritt has begun to question the party of his father. There was his recent revelation that “God is green,” a mission trip to orphanages in Brazil that caused him to worry about global poverty, an encounter with a growing strain of politically liberal evangelicalism that has taken off online, and a nagging sense that Bush’s unpopularity has been an embarrassment to the evangelicals who overwhelmingly voted for him.
“When you look at the political party that has traditionally championed poverty, social justice and care for the least of these, it’s not been the Republican Party,” said Merritt, who now considers himself an “independent conservative” and is unsure whom he will vote for in November. “We are to honor the least of these above even ourselves. It’s very difficult to reconcile totally.”
He is part of a growing group of young born-again Christians standing on one of the many generational breaks surfacing in this election cycle. Merritt still shares his parents’ conservative convictions on abortion, a core issue that forged Falwell’s Moral Majority and brought evangelicals firmly into the Republican camp, but he says they are no longer enough for him to claim the Republican Party.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that while a majority of young white evangelicals describe themselves as conservative on social issues, slightly more identified this year as either independents or Democrats than as Republicans. In 2001, about the time that Merritt was working as precinct captain for the Republican Party, an overwhelming majority of young evangelicals identified with the GOP.
Merritt may no longer, but neither does he consider himself a Democrat. He is just the kind of young evangelical voter whom Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has targeted and Republican Sen. John McCain cannot afford to lose. In 2004, nearly eight in 10 white evangelicals supported Bush, according to exit polls. They accounted for a third of the president’s total votes. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll of registered voters last month, McCain led Obama 67 percent to 25 percent among white evangelical Protestants. Obama’s campaign is hoping that young evangelicals such as Merritt will be a way in.
McCain and Obama will try to appeal to them Saturday, when they sit down with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California and one of the most influential evangelicals in the country. Warren, whose best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” helped shift the conversation in evangelical circles beyond culture wars to serving and loving others, is expected to ask the candidates about global poverty, the HIV/AIDS crisis and climate change. He is one of a new generation of evangelical leaders who have shaped Merritt’s worldview.
“There’s a shift in issue focus,” said Joshua DuBois, 25, who was associate pastor of a small evangelical church and is responsible for Obama’s faith outreach. “I don’t think any young evangelical is ignoring the traditional values issues, but they are adding other issues, including poverty and war, and they are also looking at integrity and family.”
Six months ago, after gaining national attention for publicly pushing Southern Baptists to become more environmentally aware and acknowledge climate change as a reality, Merritt received a call from an Obama staff member.
“They tried to feel me out and see where I stood,” he said. “They weren’t pushy.”
The outreach surprised and impressed Merritt, and he told the staffer that he was unsure whom he would vote for, but that he had concerns about Obama’s support of civil unions for same-sex couples, universal health care and abortion rights. Merritt said he is open to further conversations but he has not heard back from the campaign.
He has also been watching from afar as Obama’s camp has continued to try to pull along the willing in other ways. Saturday, the campaign will roll out a “Believers for Barack” Web site to blog about Obama and for visitors to volunteer for service projects.
McCain’s campaign is quietly fighting back. Staffers are visiting churches and telling people that though Obama speaks freely about his faith, he “takes extreme positions on certain issues that are not in sync with the evangelical population,” said Marlys Popma, who oversees evangelical outreach for McCain. She acknowledged that a lot of evangelicals are undecided because of Obama’s extensive faith outreach, but she said that when they hear McCain’s message and understand Obama’s liberal views, they will support the Republican.
This week, Popma’s team will add pages to McCain’s Web site targeting evangelicals, emphasizing his desire to see the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling overturned, his conservative views on same-sex marriage, and his plan to appoint conservative justices. An interactive section on the site targeting young evangelicals will outline McCain’s plans to address climate change and world poverty.
Merritt has not been in touch with the McCain campaign, and he said it seems that the senator from Arizona is uncomfortable talking about his faith and is seeking endorsements from the evangelical old guard. He calls McCain’s acceptance, then repudiation, of the Rev. John Hagee‘s endorsement “strange.” Hagee angered church leaders by making controversial comments about Catholicism.
“McCain has really used the old-school tactics of trying to snag some of those big evangelical leaders who oftentimes don’t represent young evangelicals,” Merritt said.
A Page From the Bible
The environment was the first issue that Merritt cared about passionately that did not fit his traditional Republican mind-set. He remembers sitting in a class on systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina last year and his professor saying: “When we destroy God’s creation, we are destroying God’s revelation. It’s similar to tearing a page out of the Bible.”
For a Southern Baptist, the Bible is the infallible, literal word of God, and that stuck with Merritt.
“I could feel God making my heart sensitive,” he recalls.
Merritt worries about the state of the country in a two-war, declining-dollar, post-Sept. 11 world. He has heard from Baptist missionaries who are having a hard time sharing the Gospel overseas, where opinions of the United States are so low. He is concerned about the loss of life in Iraq and the toll it is taking on families, and he is rethinking his support of the war. He recently persuaded his mom to start recycling, and he carries canvas shopping bags in his trunk so he will not add to landfills by using plastic ones.
Donnie McDaniel, a friend of Merritt’s who is studying theology and the environment in a doctoral program at Southeastern, voted for Bush four years ago but said that neither of this year’s candidates is a perfect fit. He is 32, grew up attending a Wesleyan holiness church in South Carolina and became a Southern Baptist when he married the daughter of a missionary.
“It’s probably going to be a decision I won’t make until I walk into the booth that day,” he said of his choice of candidates. “There’s no doubt that Barack Obama uses Christian language. He’s getting attention, but for the most part, I’m theologically conservative and . . . conservative on social issues,” McDaniel said. “But I look at John McCain, and he doesn’t really represent me either. I have a theological commitment to nonviolence, too. Truly, if you are an evangelical Christian, no political party should be able to fully represent you because you are doing something counter-cultural.”
Merritt has also been exposed to leaders of the “emerging church,” a youth-driven Christian movement that has grown through an online network and encourages small meetings in homes, bars and coffee shops. Merritt attended an event recently and found enlightening what one organizer called an “ironic hipster revival and book reading.” Its leaders tend to be politically liberal, and Merritt was provoked by questions they posed, such as “How did the Gospel become married to the American political system?”
Merritt weighs less esoteric questions as overseer of the College & Single Life ministry at his father’s Cross Pointe Church, which has 1,750 attendees each Sunday. The young adults meet in a room decorated like an urban loft, with dim lighting, brown leather couches and patches of wallpaper that look like exposed brick. One recent Sunday, Merritt spoke on being judgmental.
“The church has a bad reputation for being judgmental, worrying more about what people wear to church than the fact that they are coming to church,” he earnestly told the group of about 20.
The students agree, and they say some of it has to do with a politicizing of their religion. They feel the tension of their competing interests.
“I went to school with a lot of agnostic people and after Bush, they were like ‘no’ ” to religion, said Brittany Kelley, 22, who recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. She is leaning toward McCain because she shares his economic views and is afraid that Obama will raise taxes. But in a lowered voice she said she does not feel the way some of the other young evangelicals do when it comes to all social issues.
“I have a lot of friends who are homosexual, and if they wanted to get married, that’s okay,” Kelley said. “They are not going to stop it because it is illegal.”
For Merritt, the decision comes down to combining the values his father taught him and those he has discovered along the way. The more he talks about McCain and Obama, the clearer it becomes that he is dissatisfied with both. In a freelance column published recently, he wrote: “If Democrats begin championing the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage, they may capture some of the powerful Christian voting bloc; if Republicans can develop an aggressive platform on issues like poverty and the environment, they can reverse the erosion of their evangelical base.”
Merritt is not convinced that either party will go far enough to win him over in this election.
“We’ve become such an idealistic generation where our parents were so pragmatic,” he said. “I’m not ruling out third-party candidates.”
Polling editor Jon Cohen contributed to this report.