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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Word For The Week

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.
He must turn from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:8-16
A couple weeks ago Senator Barak Obama spoke at the Call to Renewal Conference sponsored by Sojourners made some poignant points about the thorny issue of religion and progressive politics. Senator Obama gave his personal testimony, detailing his journey from skepticism to faith in Jesus Christ (something, by the way, that we are yet to hear from a certain president - "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible"), giving the reason for the hope that he has in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what all Christians are called to do - with gentleness and respect - so that people will have to address the claims of Christ and not our behavior.

This is the single biggest problem with the Religious Right from a Christian point of view - they sully the cause of Christ with their in-your-face politics and attaching such politicking to the name of Christ. I have said it before that the Religious Right must be opposed directly by those who believe in the authority of Scripture and who believe that Scripture mandates a progressive view of politics. Those who believe that the Bible authoritatively commands us to live in harmony with one another - to be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble - and to pursue political policies that reflect those values need to speak up in such a way that those who speak maliciously against our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. Those who speak maliciously against the Religious Right often have no reason to be ashamed because the behavior that they see from so-called Christians is anything but good. Too often people are forced to reject association with so-called Christians rather than dealing with the claims of Christ Himself, and that is the fault of the Religious Right and their politicking.

What shall we do?

The answer for political progressives is that we must speak from our core about what we value, what we believe, and how we apply those beliefs in private practice and in public policies. We must explain what we believe and show how our actions flow from our beliefs. People must see that our actions and policies flow from our source of authority, from our core beliefs, and that we will not waver from those core beliefs and policies. It is that character, that integrity that has been lacking from progressive politics since Clinton's third way triangulated Bill into the White House and the Democratic Party into the outhouse. Triangulation was a one-time tactic that worked for an exceptional politician, but as a long-term strategy it necessarily fails. The Democratic Party has taken a cynical view of the voting public in thinking that form trumps function, in thinking that certain traits and certain buzz-words will convince people to vote for a candidate to whom they have no other connetion.

This is why the Democratic Party nominated Senator "Milquetoast" Kerry over Governor Howard Dean, a man who would now be president if he had stuck to his guns on the Confederate flag comment and refused to try to sound overtly religious when he doesn't roll like that. Howard Dean should have stood firm and explained what he believed about appealing to guys with confederate flags on their pickups - the same thing that Martin Luther King meant in his sermon, The Drum Major Instinct:
The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I'm in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, "Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You're just as poor as Negroes." And I said, "You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you're so poor you can't send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march."

Now that's a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can't hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out.

Howard Dean firmly believed that we have kinship with such voters and that we do them harm by abandoning them to the Republican Party, a party that does not have their best interests at heart. Howard Dean was saying that the poor White has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, he is forced to support his oppressors, and that the Democratic Party was the blind bigot. Howard Dean believed that the Democratic Party had to practice tolerance and not just preach it to others, such that people who don't walk and talk like Birkenstocked liberals could call the Democratic Party home. Howard Dean believed that the Democratic Party didn't belong to NARAL or ACT UP or the AFL-CIO or the NAACP or AIPAC or the NRA or National Right to Life or any specific interest group - Howard Dean believed that we, the voting public, had the power to make the Party into a platform for progressive policies that would change this country for the better.

Senator Kerry believed that he was electible.

People vote their values - not simply a certain subset currently called "values voters" but all voters vote their values. Those who value the right of a woman to choose an abortion over all other values will vote their values, as will those who value the life of an unborn child over all other values. Those who value a living wage will vote their values, as will those who value a corporation's freedom to set its own wage policies. Those who value American Idol and XBox 360 will vote their values as well - either by not voting at all or by haphazardly voting for whomever sounds familiar. Everyone votes their values - everyone - and the challenge for progressives is to state our values in such a way that people can relate to our values even when they cannot relate to us.

The answer for the Christian is the same - we must live our lives in such a way that people see Jesus Christ in our every word and deed. People must associate our every action with Jesus Christ, be that in how we carry ourselves at work, how we interact in politics, or how we present ourselves online, our every action must flow from our faith in Jesus Christ. That must be evident to everyone who witnesses our activities because if we call ourselves Christians then we are indeed witnessing about our faith in Jesus Christ and what that means in our day-to-day living. The question is this: what are we testifying about Jesus Christ in our daily lives? That we cherry-pick the commands that we'll follow? That we're good with the loving-you-neighbor thing but the sexual purity thing is for the birds? That we're good on the sexual purity thing but the rendering-unto-Caesar thing is addressing someone else? That we're good on rendering unto Caesar but some of our neighbors are simply unlovable? What are we witnessing about Jesus Christ?

For too many Christians, and I am no exception, there is too much "me" in our faith - our faith is not centered on Jesus Christ, it is centered on ourselves. We don't submit to His will, we expect Him to conform to our will. We don't want to work for His Kingdom, we expect Him to help build up us and ours. We have too many self-centered saints playing in the Kingdom, such that in many instances our hope lies not in Christ Jesus our Lord but in ourselves. In our hearts we have not set apart Christ as Lord, we have set Christ apart as Lackey: "Go get me this, get me out of that, do for me!" It's all about self for too many saints, and this is why many people who call themselves Christians will find themselves saying, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" just to hear Jesus plainly say, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

Our testimony is more than just some words out of our mouth, it is the life that we live and we must live in such a way as to let our light so shine that people will see our good works and glorify God in heaven. People are quick - lightning quick - to demand that nobody judges them, but the truth is that if you call yourself a Christian then the world is already judging you, and it is the responsibility of fellow Christians to inform you - with gentleness and meekness - of your error, of my error, or of our errors. I am not my brother's judge but I am my brother's keeper - and he is mine - and we have a responsibility to each other to help each other to walk the straight and narrow way that leads to life, because we are living stones, living testimonies to the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. It's not about you doing your thing or me doing my thing, it's about us doing God's thing, and that must be the testimony of the Christian if we are indeed to be Christ-like. Senator Obama gave his testimony for all to see, to match his talk against his walk, and while we may disagree on some minor details we certainly agree on the big picture: we must submit to His will and dedicate ourselves to discovering His truth.

What's your testimony?

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to be a living testimony,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 11:00 AM

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