Boston Globe, July 13, 2004
Recovering a hijacked faith
By Jim Wallis
MANY OF US feel that our faith has been stolen,
and it's time to take it back. A misrepresentation
of Christianity has taken place. Many people
around the world now think Christian faith
stands for political commitments that are almost
the opposite of its true meaning. How did the
faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich,
pro-war, and pro-American? What has happened?
How do we get back to a historic, biblical,
and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from
its contemporary distortions?
That rescue operation is crucial today in the
face of a social crisis that cries out for
prophetic religion. The problem is clear in
the political arena, where strident voices
claim to represent Christians when they clearly
don't speak for most of us. We hear politicians
who love to say how religious they are but
fail to apply the values of faith to their
leadership and policies.
When we take back our faith, we will discover
that faith challenges the powers that be to
do justice for the poor instead of preaching
a "prosperity gospel" and supporting
politicians who further enrich the wealthy.
We will remember that faith hates violence
and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental
presumption against war instead of justifying
it in God's name. We will see that faith creates
community from racial, class, and gender divisions,
prefers international community over nationalist
religion and that "God bless America"
is found nowhere in the Bible. And we will
be reminded that faith regards matters such
as the sacredness of life and family bonds
as so important that they should never be used
as ideological symbols or mere political pawns
in partisan warfare.
The media like to say, "Oh, then you must
be the religious left." No, and the very
question is the problem. Just because a religious
right has fashioned itself for political power
in one predictable ideological guise does not
mean those who question this political seduction
must be their opposite political counterpart.
The best public contribution of religion is precisely
not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal
partisan. To always raise the moral issues
of human rights, for example, will challenge
both left- and right-wing governments who put
power above principles. Religious action is
rooted in a much deeper place than "rights"--
that being the image of God in every human
Similarly, when the poor are defended on moral
or religious grounds, it is not "class
warfare," as the rich will always charge,
but rather a direct response to the overwhelming
focus in the Scriptures, which claims they
are regularly neglected, exploited, and oppressed
by wealthy elites, political rulers, and indifferent
affluent populations. Those Scriptures don't
simply endorse the social programs of liberals
or conservatives but make clear that poverty
is indeed a religious issue, and the failure
of political leaders to help uplift those in
poverty will be judged a moral failing.
It is because religion takes the problem of evil
so seriously that it must always be suspicious
of too much concentrated power -- politically
and economically -- either in totalitarian
regimes or in huge multinational corporations
that now have more wealth and power than many
governments. It is indeed our theology of evil
that makes us strong proponents of both political
and economic democracy -- not because people
are so good but because they often are not
and need clear safeguards and strong systems
of checks and balances to avoid the dangerous
accumulations of power and wealth.
It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers
and the righteousness of empires in any era,
especially when their claims of inspiration
and success invoke theology and the name of
God. Given human tendencies for self-delusion
and deception, is it any wonder that hardly
a religious body in the world regards the ethics
of unilateral and preemptive war as "just"?
Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming
the military might, the more dangerous its
capacity for self and public deception. Powerful
nations dangerously claim to "rid the
world of evil" but often do enormous harm
in their self-appointed vocation to do so.
The loss of religion's prophetic vocation is
dangerous for any society. Who will uphold
the dignity of economic and political outcasts?
Who will question the self-righteousness of
nations and their leaders? Who will question
the recourse to violence and rush to wars,
long before any last resort has been unequivocally
proven? Who will not allow God's name to be
used to simply justify ourselves, instead of
calling us to accountability?
In an election year, the particular religiosity
of a candidate, or even how devout he might
be, is less important than how his religious
and/or moral commitments and values shape political
vision and policy commitments. Understanding
the moral compass a candidate brings to his
public life and how his convictions shape his
political priorities is the true litmus test.
Jim Wallis is convener of Call to Renewal
and executive director of Sojourners.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
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