HOW THE CHURCH IS VIEWED
I have come to realize that the over-arching problem isn’t just one of narrowing the
definition of “family values,” it is the lack of an effective method for promoting the
full range of compassion principles as stated in the Gospels, particularly through the
The “Family Values” Agenda Doesn’t Include the Full Range of
Compassion Issues Stated in the Gospels
Most Americans have been led to believe that the family value issues of life and same-sex marriage are not only more important than other issues—they are the only issues that should define someone’s morality and social conscience in the public square. Missing is the recognition that, as members of the faith community, we have a shared responsibility for one another for “the least of these”, particularly for the sick, poor and oppressed, which is inherent in our beliefs.
...a biblically balanced agenda...
The Bible makes it clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom, and racial justice. While individual persons and organizations are at times called by God to concentrate on one or two issues, faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda. [From “For the Health of the Nations: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility” by the National Association of Evangelicals]
Disconnect Between Professed Beliefs & Civic Action
While the faith community does engage in serving others through volunteering and contributions, most people of faith do not think about the impact they could have by engaging in shaping and leveraging public policy. This causes a significant disconnect between what members of the faith community say they believe and what they actually do in the public square.
Faith Community Uses Anti- Language
The voice of the faith community uses “anti” language heavily (anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage). This drowns out positive alternatives like supporting infant and early childhood development, economic assistance and opportunity for mothers in social or economic distress, healthcare for the mothers and their children, and supporting biblically based commitments in marriage.
Most Don’t Know What to Do, or How to Talk About “Politics”
Although some involved in the faith community want to make an impact on the political process, they don’t know what to do or how to talk about “politics” with their friends and associates. They find it easier to ignore the issues or engage in discussions that mimic the very loud “TV talking heads.”
Many Think the Church, not the State, Should Do It
Many in the faith community think that their faith has little or nothing to do with their civic responsibility. Also, they have a significant “anti-government” and “anti-any tax” mind-set. It is not uncommon to hear believers say that the government should have nothing to do with “the least of these” issues—“the church should handle that.”
Rebecca Todd Peters and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, in their book To Do Justice, remind us that Christians have an important, even vital, role to play in public life. (See quote box below)
Christianity is also about community...
Christianity is not simply a personal and private matter between an individual and God; it is also about community responsibility and faithfulness in public life—social, political, and economic. While this principle is neither new nor radical, it ought to guide behavior of individual Christians and Christian communities.
Moreover, the Constitution does not encourage Americans to keep our faith and our public life separate. What the First Amendment says is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which means that there shall not be a single state religion, that all people of faith are free to practice their religion in this country, and that our government should not favor any one faith tradition. The separation of Christian life from public affairs creates an artificial boundary between the church and the state; it also makes an artificial boundary between our faith and the world.
Christianity is not an individualistic faith; rather, Christians are called to live in community and to be active in the world in ways that witness to our faith in all areas of our lives. [From To Do Justice by Rebecca Todd Peters & Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty (2008)]
But the hard reality is that 6/7ths of the money spent on services to people in need in America comes through government funding (federal, state & local), and only 1/7th from all philanthropic, church, charities and not-for-profit organizations. [Original source found in article by William Bennett and John DiIulio titled “What Good is Government?” published in Commentary Magazine in 1997]
In an article published in Sojourners Magazine author E. J. Dionne, Jr., wrote:
Progressives also need to challenge a core conservative view that private and religious charity is sufficient to the task of alleviating poverty. That is simply not true. In an important 1997 article in Commentary magazine—hardly a bastion of liberalism—William Bennett and John DiIulio made the crucial calculations: "If all of America's grant-making private foundations gave away all of their income and all of their assets, they could cover only a year's worth of current government expenditures on social welfare." What would happen the next year?
They cited a study by Princeton's Julian Walpole of 125,000 charities, each with receipts of $25,000 a year or more. Among them, they raised and spent $350 billion annually. That sounds like a lot until you realize that this is only one-seventh of what is spent each year by federal, state, and local governments.
Bennett and DiIulio, neither of them enthusiasts of the old welfare state, concluded: "It is unlikely that Americans will donate much more than their present 2 percent of annual household income, or that corporate giving will take up any significant proportion of the slack in the event of future government reductions."
[Sojourners Magazine, “The Overlooked Schism: America’s Religious Communities and the Battle Over Government” (April 2007) by E.J. Dionne, Jr.]
Faith Voters Embrace Extreme Political Partisanship
Partisan polarization is most extreme among the faith community. I was shocked to often hear, “You can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.” Bill Moyers wrote about this in an article in Sojourners magazine. (See quote box below)
Our times cry out for a new politics . .
Our times cry out for a new politics of justice. This is no partisan issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative; Jesus is both and neither. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican; Jesus is both and neither. We need a faith that takes on the corruption of both parties. We need a faith that challenges complacency of all power. If you’re a Democrat, shake them up. If you’re a Republican, shame them. Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple. We must drive them from the temples of democracy. Let’s get Jesus back. [From an article by Bill Moyers entitled “Democracy in the Balance,” published in the August, 2004 Sojourners Magazine]
Lack of Civility
There is a lack of civility and respect in the public square, even from those in the faith community. Believers should be known as people who will discuss important issues in a respectful, polite and uplifting way. What I found missing was a respectful, civil dialogue between people with different ideas. As a Christian, what was most galling was the repeating and distribution of unfounded or false statements by people in the faith community. Some of this may be due to the prevalence and power of the media who make it seem acceptable to use angry, disrespectful language. Greg Boyd, Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN, put it this way. (See quote box below)
...we can actually learn to disagree...
And if there's anything that I've learned from conservatives and liberals is that you can have all the right political answers and still be mean, and nobody wants to listen to you if you're mean, you know. And I think that one of the things that we can do is learn to disagree well. And I think there is a new conversation happening with Evangelicalism in post-Religious Right America that is much healthier, and we can actually learn to disagree well and wrestle with hard truth.
[This statement was made by Dr. Greg Boyd during a panel the 2008 National Pastors Conference. Dr. Boyd is Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN, and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church]
Faith Community Views Islam as the Enemy
The conservative Christian faith community expresses an extreme fear of Islam and Muslims, often saying, “Muslims are out to destroy us and we must defeat them.”