Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Faith and Hypocrisy

A Washington Post this morning reads "Church Is Urged to Disinvite Obama." Apparently Obama (along with some sixty others) is scheduled to speak at a conference on AIDS at a California megachurch this weekend, at the request of prominent evangelical author Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life). However, some of Warren's colleagues don't believe Obama should be allowed to speak at the conference ... because he believes in a woman's right to choose. Eighteen other evangelical 'leaders' signed a letter to Warren saying in part "You cannot fight one evil while justifying another."

Warren responded by saying that while he "completely disagrees" with Obama on the question of abortion, "Our goal has been to put people together who normally won't even speak to each other. We do not expect all participants in the Summit discussion to agree with all of our Evangelical beliefs. However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by Evangelicals alone. It will take the cooperation of all - government, business, NGOs and the church."

Obama said he plans to attend the conference, where he will take a public HIV test (as I believe he's done in the past). "While we will never see eye-to-eye on all issues," Obama said, "surely we can come together with one voice to honor the entirety of Christ's teachings by working to eradicate the scourge of AIDS, poverty and other challenges we all can agree must be met."

Good for Rick Warren and Barack Obama for not putting up with the short-sightedness of the "all or nothing" crowd. But the "we must agree on everything before we can agree on anything" patrols are out in force this week: as CNN reported yesterday, the president-elect of the Christian Coalition, Rev. Joel Hunter, has resigned before taking office after the organization's board refused to allow him to expand the agenda beyond abortion and same-sex marriage. Hunter said "I wanted to expand the issues from only moral ones ... to include compassion issues such as poverty, justice, and creation care [i.e. environmental protection]. We need to care as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb. After initial willingness to consider these changes, the board of the CCA decided, 'that is fine, but that is not who we are.'"

Taken together, these two stories are really an incredibly telling statement about the leadership of the evangelical movement in this country - and I say the leadership because I'm certain many rank-and-file evangelicals do not share this single-minded obsession with knee-jerk, inflammatory issues. There are so many areas - including health care, poverty, the perhaps most importantly the environment - where common ground can be found, why on earth should a dialogue be rejected simply because universal agreement is not possible? It's hard to wrap my hope-springs-eternal mind around the idea that progress and justice are really second to fundraising ability and reactionism to these people ... but I find it even more difficult to draw any other conclusion.

Last night I was reading from a new selection of Ben Franklin's words, Not Your Ordinary Founding Father (edited by the great historian Edmund S. Morgan). Appropriately in hindsight, I read the religion section last evening, and in reading the headlines this morning was reminded of this passage from a letter Franklin wrote to his friend Joseph Huey in 1753:

"Your great Master [i.e. Jesus] tho't much less of these outward Appearances and Professions than many of his modern Disciples. He prefer'd the Doers of the Word to the meer Hearers; the Son that seemingly refus'd to obey his Father and yet perform'd his Commands, to him that profess'd his Readiness by neglected his Works; the heretical but charitable Samaritan, to the uncharitable tho' orthdox Priest and sanctified Levite: and those who gave Food to the hungry, Drink to the Thirsty, Raiment to the Naked, Entertainment to the Stranger, and Relief to the Sick, &c. tho' they never heard of his Name, he declares shall in the last Day be accepted, when those who cry Lord, Lord; who value themselves on their Faith tho' great enough to perform Miracles but have neglected good Works shall be rejected. He profess'd that he came not to call the Righteous but Sinners to Repentance; which imply'd his modest Opinion that there were some in his Time so good that they need not hear even him for Improvement; but now a days we have scarce a little Parson, that does not think it the Duty of every Man within his Reach to sit under his petty Ministrations, and that whoever offends them offends God. I wish to such more Humility, and to you Health and Happiness ..."

Some things never change, it seems.


At 6:35 PM, Blogger wvarner said...

Excellent post. In fact, just a couple of days ago I made very similar connections in this post: The Narrow, Narrow Vision of the Old Guard of the Religious Right. I tried to give it a slightly more positive spin, though.

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