Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Time's reflection on the passing of Jerry Fallwell and the current state fo the religious right

Maybe it was inevitable that the movement he had done so much to create would grow up, stretch out, even rebel against his strong paternal supervision. Part of this was the much chronicled disillusionment of some Christian soldiers who had duly marched onto the field, gone door to door and pew to pew in search of new voters, placed their faith in politics and politicians to promote their most precious values, only to find those values were a currency that could be traded away behind closed doors. After six years with a born-again evangelical in the White House and the GOP dominant on Capitol Hill and spreading through the judiciary, the religious voters who believed they exalted these leaders for a purpose had reason to believe they'd been betrayed. It was a bitter irony to see the bookstores filling with accounts of the rise of a new American Theocracy: what many conservative Christians saw was that the boardroom, not the sanctuary, was Republican hallowed ground. When their interests clashed with the GOP business wing, the money talked: concerns about persecution of Christians in China, disgust with internet pornography, alarms about global warming, respect for workers' right to wear religious clothing, would not translate into policies that might inconvenience American business.

But even more important was a spiritual and generational change that was occurring that made Falwell a less representative voice of people of faith in public life. The path twists and widens: It was not just his tactics the next generation rejects, but his political theology as well. Today's young evangelicals on campus still have their heroes and their causes, but it's less likely to be Falwell and James Dobson fighting abortion and gay marriage than Bono and Rick Warren leading the way on addressing poverty and "creation care" and AIDS in Africa When Falwell talked of AIDS, it was about God's punishment of homosexuals. When Rick Warren, who also views homosexuality as a sin, talks about AIDS , he's talking about how to stop its spread and minister to the suffering. When he hosts a global AIDS Summit, he invites both Barack Obama and Sam Brownback.

It will be tempting to call Falwell's passing the end of an era, but that risks missing the larger point. The movement he helped lead was never monolithic, or as tidy as its critics imagine — or obedient to earthly powers. In every generation, Christians have wrestled with the question of whether their efforts are better spent changing laws or changing hearts, and how to proceed when those goals seem to conflict. Falwell enthusiastically practiced the politics of division, flinging damnation at those who disagreed with his vision of a Godly America. Now a rising generation of Christian leaders is looking for ways to bring people together: the politics of division may be a shrewd electoral strategy, but it's a shallow spiritual one. Their God is bigger than their party, more mysterious, more forgiving and more embracing. It is only partly wishful thinking when a progressive evangelical counterforce to Falwell like Jim Wallis declares, "The Evangelicals have left the Right. They now reside with Jesus."

Read the entire article here. I've very encouraged by the current national discussion between left leaning and right leaning Christians. I think it's a healthy diologue for the church to be involved in. I pray the next election cycle spends more time on the real issues and not mud slinging and sound bites but I expect we'll be wallowing in mud sooner than later.

As I've said before here and in other venues, I believe the church is the answer to the world's problems both in the 'now' and eventually in the world to come. We must be salt and light in the political arena yet understand that we are not of this kingdom.

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