Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Simpsons Love Jeebus

I think it's funny how The Simpsons has gotten such a bad rap over the years from some conservative circles when it is one of the only primetime shows that depicts a sitcom family attending church, saying grace, etc. While it is sometimes irreverent, it also depicts faith in a realistic way, unlike most shows. I shamefully admit that I was one of those pairs of depising eyes until I actually watched an episode back in college and was enlightened. I am still trying to convince my Mom, who watches shows like Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, that The Simpsons isn't of the devil. Funny how effective those right wing talking heads can be in convincing people to fear things unknown...

More Encourging News...

In case you missed it, the president-elect of the Christian Coalition quit, fearing that the organization was not willing to tackle a broader Christian agenda involving more than abortion and gay marriage:

I think it is a victory. The goal is not for all Christians to become Democrats, but rather, that sincere and thinking Christians of both parties (and third parties and no parties) realize that we need to rethink what a biblical political agenda looks like. With my earlier post linking Gerson's article and now Huner's resignation, I am encouraged that many politically conservative faith leaders are standing up FOR a broad agenda of social, economic, and environmental justice while also standing AGAINST those loud voices that continue to hammer a few divisive issues.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's the Face of True Patriotism?

I got the chance to post for the Sojourner's "God's Politics" blog! Very exciting for me! Check out the entry at the link below, and feel free to leave any comments:

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Return of Compassionate Conservatism?

There have been many analyses of the election and what it means for the so-called "values voters" in this country. Although John Green reports that evangelicals voted in similar ways to 2004, there is also reason to believe - based on other polls - that a shift is occurring in the priorities of conservative Christians. Look no further than the following article in the current Newsweek by Michael Gerson:

Gerson is a true red conservative (who shares my alam mater, Wheaton College), but even he can see that a new faith-based agenda is in order. When Bono is now the hero of most young evangelicals, you know the wind is changing. And when Gerson write this kind of piece, which could almost be mistaken for something coming from Sojourners, you know that change is afoot.

Gerson certainly does not go far enough in his analysis, omitting talk of war and peace issues and certain kinds of structural oppression, and he makes clear that he still believes a conservative political philosophy is best suited to address these new "social gospel" issues. Still, I couldn't help but be encouraged to read phrases like "common good" and "narrowness of the religious right." Let's hope that the breeze continues blowing, and I hope we are starting to hear the faint sounds of the cracking of the religious right.

Letter to Dr. Dobson

Dr. Dobson and company:

First of all, let me say that I am a committed Christian whose faith is central. I believe the Bible, and one of my degrees is from Wheaton College, the "flagship" evangelical institution in the country. Let me also say that I believe in family values, but I do not think you and your cronies are protecting them. In the weeks leading up to the election, you and other similar groups were calling for Americans to get out to the polls. And when you motivated people, you used a familiar refrain: the future of the American Family depends on you. If you let the “liberals” convince you to stay home, you said, “the consequences for the country could be grave.” And now that the nation has spoken and the Dems control both houses, you again use fear to motivate: what will happen to the "pro-family" agenda with those "liberals" in office?

But who is really protecting family values? For example, if the Religious Right were really intent on protecting the nuclear family, why aren’t you pushing for legislation to make divorce difficult and rare instead of focusing on these so-called “activist judges” and “liberal courts”? My Bible has much more to say about divorce than homosexuality. God says He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), and while Jesus is silent about homosexuality, he makes clear his strong stance against divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5: 31-33). And while America’s gay population has been estimated at 5% or so (many of whom are inside the church and crying out for supportive refrains, not hateful rhetoric), divorce now affects over half of our population, and the effects of divorce on children is demonstrably negative. By any measure, biblical or sociological, it seems that divorce is much more of an issue. So why all this political emphasis about the threat of homosexuality to the American family?

The reason is because the selection of homosexuality is politically strategic, and that is the same reason I didn't hear vitriolic anti-divorce rhetoric leading up to the vote in November. The reason why Focus and others only concentrate on gays instead of divorce is obvious; divorce hits too close to home, and railing on that issue would certainly splinter your own political base. As the saying goes, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and since over half of evangelicals have divorced at one point, attacking that issue with the same force you do with homosexuality would be political suicide. So instead, your political strategy involves identifying a moral vice – regardless of the proportion of biblical support for it in relation to other things (selective literalism) – and localizing that vice in a small group. You externalize the fear, and then rally your base around it. Projecting this fear onto a small out-group has been fabulously effective in history (in fact, gays have been used before), and it continues to be effective in American politics. An attack on divorce – about which the Bible has more to say – hits too close to home, a talking point one wouldn't find in your mobilizing leading up to the November election as you seek to “protect traditional family values.”

Regardless of what one thinks about gay unions, can you make a serious case that a smattering of gay couples wanting to marry is really the problem with the American family? The America family is undoubtedly in crisis, but I hope that thinking Americans are digging deeper than the sensational language surrounding gay marriage. Real protection of family values comes – not from constitutional amendments and marriage protection acts – but from policies that genuinely support parents, support children, and support schools. Disintegration of the family and poverty are often closely linked, so if you really cared about families, shouldn’t you be willing to invest in our impoverished inner-cities, under-resourced rural tracts and failing public schools? Wouldn’t increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage help provide economic stability to our working poor and their struggling families? How about funding day care, lunch programs, and Head Start to support children and families? Instead, we find cuts in all those initiatives while money goes elsewhere, leaving the magic fingers of the market to care for our families. And how about sensible and realistic legislation to make abortion rare, not election-time rhetoric followed by years of inactivity? (If abortion were actually outlawed, I wonder if you'd know what to do with yourself, having lost your key "wedge" issue, although tapping gay marriage as your next political rallying point seems to have been effective).

Unfortunately, discussions about sensible policies that can help real families are not effective in drumming up fear and outrage or getting people to the polls, and that it is indictment upon us, the thinking American public. It is our duty to see to it that fear-mongering, demonizing out-groups, and ignoring real policy solutions do not win. Again, regardless of what one thinks about gay marriage as an issue, we owe it to ourselves and the millions of other American families to not let your sensational and shallow rhetoric obscure the need for a more robust discussion of what real, biblical family values looks like and what policies can support the American family.

I sincerely hope that this election is evidence that the Religious Right's control over Republican politics (and politics in general) is weakening and will soon be an artifact of the past. Thinking Americans, and thinking Christians, are hopefully finally seeing through the smokescreen of all of your hateful and empty rhetoric. Last I checked, Christians were called to be marked by our love, not our legalism. And many Christians are making clear that abortion and gay marriage are not the center of their politics. How is it that two things Jesus never mentioned (nor did He mention Christian America) have become the central platform of your politics? My Jesus loved the outcast, cared for the poor, and liberally gave of Himself to people. I am so sick and tired of the Christian name I proudly bear always being associated with your narrow, bigoted, and frankly, unbiblical rhetoric. I think the wind in this country is changing, and people of faith are finally starting to wake up to what a true Biblical faith looks like in the public square. And it does not look like the Religious Right.

Robert Francis