Friday, October 31, 2008

Essential reading before casting your vote

My Personal 'Faith Priorities' for this Election
by Jim Wallis

In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of "non-negotiables," which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word "poverty," only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of "non-negotiables." The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.
I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of "faith priorities" that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of "faith" or "moral" priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.

After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that "God’s Politics" will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be "values voters" but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.

In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call "the common good," and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.
I am in no position to tell anyone what is "non-negotiable," and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the "faith priorities" and values I will be voting on this year:

1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.

2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having "their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid," as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.

3. "Choosing life" is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and "pro-choice" and "pro-life" mantras from either side.

4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new "green" economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.

5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to "welcome the stranger."

6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a "countercultural activity" in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

That is my list of personal "faith priorities" for the election year of 2008, but they are not "non-negotiables" for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next 12 days. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Greed is wishful thinking that turns sour!

One is reminded of the Hebrews who during their escape from Egypt were provided ‘bread from heaven’ as they thought. It sustained them through the forty years of wilderness wanderings but when they tried to gather and store the manna they found to their alarm that it went bad.

How true of the materialistic goals we often aspire to have and at any cost. The recent financial market and share market collapse is testament to such creed and its destructive consequences. Interesting that the modern use of the word ‘manna’ now relates to the ‘bread’ of commerce – money.

Our obsession to have more than we need and to secure our future is to live in a fool’s world. Jesus said, ‘What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul’ (Mark 8: 36) Or, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth , where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. (Matt. 6: 19-21).
Seems to me that there is a definite link between greed and idolatry. Our ‘god’ can be defined as that value to which we devote most of our time and effort.
Frederick Buechner puts it well ....
“Idolatry is the practice of ascribing absolute value to things of relative worth. Under certain circumstances money, patriotism, sexual freedom, moral principles, family loyalty, physical health, social or intellectual preeminence, and so on are fine things to have around, but to make them the standard by which all other values are measured, to make them your masters, to look to them to justify your life and save your soul is sheerest folly”.

- Frederick Buechner - Wishful Thinking

A New Kind of Question

A dazzling and disbelieving display of “dumb and dumber” is how I’d describe the anxious “crisis-management” and “problem-solving” of the international community faced with its current financial meltdown. Every economist, market guru, head of state or politician I’ve heard seems to be hurrying and scurrying to fix something that is inherently flawed, panicking to preserve a history of consumerist entitlement, a legacy of exploitative grasping and hoarding that is never going to be sustainable. Is there no alternative? Isn’t this hurrying and scurrying simply changing the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic? No one I’ve heard seems to be asking the hard questions, the real questions. We seem to be simply reactionary, stuck.

The crisis we face is a crisis of a “solution deadlock” (Brian McLaren). We’re trying to madly force/squeeze something different from the same old same questions, something new from the same old same stinky-thinking. A new kind of question is needed:

“... one of our first and most important activities will be to ask a new kind of question, because the right questions cause people to think rather than react. Perhaps questions like these can dislodge us from our conceptual ruts and ideological reactions - and inspire some creative imagination: what benefits will come to the rich if the poor are better off? what dangers and negative consequences will follow for the rich if the poor are not better off?... what kind of world will we who are comparatively rich and powerful bequeath to our children and grandchildren if we do not redirect our energies from accumulation, and self-protection toward compassion, service and equity? And what kind of world will we bequeath to future generations if equity becomes our sacred passion and personal ambition?" Brian McLaren, 2007, Everything Must Change.

Something fairer, something new is possible with these alternative questions: what could our global economies look like if these were the questions that drove our financial markets? what could our international community look like if these were the questions the politicians debated? what could our local churches and neighborhoods look like if these were the questions that framed how/where we lived in community? what could these questions mean for how we see others/ourselves/the planet we share?

Try them on for size today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Enough is Enough

The girls have graduated (at least momentarily) from Barbie (see Barbie gets a gun, 25th of Sept) and with the school holidays, I had the perfect excuse to drag them off to "Wall-e", a magical little film that explores the massively critical issues of globecity - the chasing of "ease" and "ever-more", our deadly fascination with "info-tainment", our greedy and needless over-consumption, and our indifference towards scarcity. I loved how the film got the girls to naturally grapple with these complex issues facing the future of our planet.

Kiana (6) claimed in mature tones:
"... its interesting... the people have to stop being lazy... we have to do something."
Makayla (11) declared, with a hint of parochialism:
"... we have enough... we have to keep New Zealand green...."


Now there is a little word that can say something of real value to the crashing financial markets, a little word that counters the greed and politicized fear that drives our economies, a little word that can speak volumes to our worrisome world.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone's need, but not everyone's greed."
(Mahtma Ghandi)

There is enough, isn't there?