Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

I had the honor & privilege to stand with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on behalf of The ONE Campaign to announce that Philadelphia has proclaimed itself a “ONE City”. Cofounded by U2’s Bono and other campaigners, ONE was launched five years ago in Philadelphia.

With Mayor Nutter signing the ONE City proclamation, Philadelphia joins more than 130 cities across the nation working to mobilize public support behind initiatives to fight poverty, combat diseases like AIDS and malaria, put children in school and increase opportunity for those living in extreme poverty around the world.

Click here for video of news coverage of the event from NBC 10 & ABC 6.

Video of My Remarks 

Video of the Mayors Remarks

Advertisements

Dr. Tony Campolo speaks about faith, political partisanship, and the kingdom of God.


As I reflect back on the inauguration of President Obama, the invocation by Saddleback Church’s Pastor Rick Warren provides an interesting opportunity to continue the discussion of the public role of faith in a world that is overflowing with diversity of belief and opinion and struggling every day with harmful divisions that build walls between political parties, nations, religious traditions, and subgroups and factions within each of them.

Here’s a video clip of the invocation:

I’ll begin by saying that I love Rick Warren. I’m not a fan of his books. I disagree with him often on matters of politics and theology. That being said, I’ll begin by stating that I love Rick Warren. It saddens me that the voices speaking loudest in response to Warren being included in the inauguration have fallen into the all-too-predictable camps of the critics that think Warren is too conservative or too evangelical and the defenders who are (no surprise) mostly conservative evangelicals. On some level, it’s time for “the church” to be “the church”. It’s time for the “body of Christ” to be the “body of Christ”. I’m thinking of Paul in Ephesians chapter 4:

“I…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

I don’t always agree with Rick Warren, but we are both a part of the growing community of people following Jesus in the world today. We are in the same church. We are in the same body.

Back to the matter at hand…
Warren’s invocation was genuine and included some important things to pray for (or at least hope for). He prayed that President Obama will possess “the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.” He went on to call our nation to a lifestyle of daily repentance and unified purpose:

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you—forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone—forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve—forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.

And then the invocation concluded with words that invite us into the conversation of how to be people of faith in this pluralistic nation and interconnected world: “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesús, Jesus—who taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven…”

This is the part that leaves me with a swirling vortex of thoughts on how we are to live together in today’s world and how faith ought to interact with public life. Some thoughts:

  • The question is often raised if such “religious acts” are appropriate at civil events. I think this is a good question and agree that there is a lot at stake in terms of civil liberties on both sides of the question. While I support a civil life that is not restricted by religion (and a faith life not limited by the state), it seems that a complete removal of all things religious from public life is a futile, if not harmful, pursuit. To define the ideal as the complete absence of the expression of belief (or, I would add, expression of unbelief) would fail to recognize the role of faith in the lives of citizens. It also emphasizes faith and religion as the activity of individuals and cloistered communities. This concerns me as a firm believer in a faith that must be neither individual nor cloistered.
  • Warren’s intentional naming of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of the prayer seemed like an attempt to assert his own belief as superior (or even dominant). Warren did change his use of pronouns from “we” to “I” before invoking the name of Jesus. I appreciate this shift for it’s recognition that there were many wishing to pray along who would not do so in the name of Jesus. At the same time, the prayer became individual instead of corporate.
  • We are still far from completing the journey to living together in the midst of diversity. If we are to become pluralist people, we must respect and recognize the voices of others, including Rick Warren. There is also a need, however, for people across the political, religious and theological spectrums to move away from exclusivism and beyond mere inclusivism or tolerance. It seems to me that our culture struggles to see pluralism as something other than being inclusive and non-offensive. This is evidenced in the way that we continue to struggle with “political correctness” or wandering off into uncentered relativism.

The place we need to continue journeying toward is described wonderfully by Diana Eck in her 1993 book Encountering God. It is the journey toward “pluralism”. Eck includes the following in her definition of “pluralism”:

  • Pluralism is not simply the existence of diversity, but active engagement with diversity.
  • Pluralism is more than tolerance. Tolerance is too minimal an expectation, it can even be a form of passive rejection or hostility. Pluralism is the seeking of understanding.
  • Pluralism is not simply relativism. Pluralism expects commitment to a defined truth.
  • Pluralism seeks commitment that does not descend into dogmatism. Pluralism seeks to be distinctively ourselves while remaining in relationship with one another.
  • Pluralism requires dialogue. The goal of dialogue is not to arrive at agreement, but to arrive at mutual understanding. Points of agreement can be affirmed, points of difference can be better understood.

If I am to become pluralist, I will embrace the presence of Rick Warren as completely as the presence of someone I align with politically and theologically. I will also embrace the presence of someone who holds a commitment to a different religious tradition, or a non-religious ethic. A few moments after Pastor Warren concluded the invocation, the president that was prayed for challenged us to continue the journey:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

We journey on together…

The text of Pastor Rick Warren’s Invocation:

Almighty God, our Father: Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our
freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans—united not by race or religion or blood, but by our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you—forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone—forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve—forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations–and all people–will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesús, Jesus—who taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Below is an article by a professor of mine, Jon Pahl, reflecting on President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech. It was posted at the interesting blog “Religion in American History”. The president challenged us immensely during his first moments in the office. The debate on how religion fits into public life and politics will certainly continue. Jon Pahl offers a worthwhile contribution to the conversation.

Religion’s Role in the “New Era of Responsibility”
by Jon Pahl

Barack Obama’s inaugural speech signaled a fascinating new twist on an old role for religion in American culture. Platitudes of civil religious discourse, exploited so effectively by recent administrations–“sacrifice,” “God’s gift of freedom,” and the ritual invocation of God’s blessing on America–were present, but muted. Obama’s chief theme was that religions provide people with spiritual strength to be responsible citizens; to work for the common good.

This was not a speech about mystical union with some millennial destiny. Indeed, Obama’s clear articulation that “God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny” means that history is up to us. What America will be depends upon what we do, not what some hidden hand might provide.

This was a speech about the spirituality of work. “What is required of us,” the 44th President intoned, “is a new era of responsibility–a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” The President here argued that it is through our common work that humans find spiritual fulfillment, this side of eternity.

No less than ten times Obama invoked “work,” “works,” or “workers.” “Everywhere we look, there is work to be done.” It is not in “worn out dogmas” that one can find the American spirit, he asserted, but “the faith and determination of the American people” is evident in “the kindness to take in a stranger . . . the selflessness of workers . . . [a] firefighter’s courage.” “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

The last line–an oblique reference to a Langston Hughes poem, might seem to invoke the old Horatio Alger version of the Protestant ethic. In fact, Obama’s religious foundation was intentionally pluralistic. ‘We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus–and non-believers.” Such a “patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.” But if and when people of faith commit to work together with unbelievers toward a vision of a more just and virtuous common good, we might see how “old hatreds shall someday pass;” how “lines of tribe shall soon dissolve;” how “our common humanity shall reveal itself;” and how “America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

“There is in such a vision plenty of the old American millennialism. But the stronger voice was this practical assertion: “greatness is never given. It must be earned.” And this pragmatic question: it is “not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

The world Barack Obama addressed with this speech was not just the American nation and its future. Invoking George Washington’s words at Valley Forge, it was “the future world” broadly envisioned that he had in mind. And that meant that Americans needed to “set aside childish things,” in the words of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth. It was time to get to work enacting the substance of faith, hope, and love–beyond mere rhetoric of sounding gongs and clanging cymbals that had merely sustained the wealthy–“those who prefer leisure over work”–under a cloak of religious pretense.

The Lutheran Zephyr posted about Clinton’s Troubling Politics of Choosing Church:

“We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.”- Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a reporter’s question about Barack Obama, his church, and its fiery former pastor, The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. (from AP article Clinton Would Have Left Obama’s Pastor)

These words sent a chill down my spine.

“We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.”

It wasn’t enough for Senator Clinton to critique Pastor Wright. It wasn’t enough for Senator Clinton to critique Pastor Wright’s role as an unpaid adviser to Senator Obama’s presidential campaign. No. These words are much more than that. These words go to the core of religious and political identity, and suggest that religious identity should answer to political identity.

Take the time to read the entire post if you can, but here’s where it ends:

“Yes, we have a choice whether to listen to preachers shout ‘God damn America,’ or who sing ‘God bless America.’ And Senator Clinton and I would make different choices, it seems to me. Give me the preacher who calls the nation on its sins any day over the preacher who confuses God and country. Give me the preacher who stands in the tradition of Old Testament prophets calling political leaders to task rather than the one who fails to be moved by the suffering this great nation often leaves in its wake. Give me the preacher who considers Religious Faith before National Patriotism, Creed before Pledge, God before Country.”

These words from Senator Clinton have troubled me ever since I read them. They troubled me for the reasons that Chris (Lutheran Zephyr) mentions. On another level, beyond politics, it suggests that your participation in a church, or decision to “hightail it outta there” can be based on whatever fiat or preference you might have, even if it is rooted in self-absorption (i.e. “sin”). There is also the importance of the true community that a congregation is called to be. God’s kingdom is built as we are in relationship with other people…real people…as they are. Even if they don’t jive with what I want, what I think, what I expect. Bonhoeffer, in Life Together (pg. 27) puts it this way:

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. … Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

Bohoeffer’s insight would suggest that Senator Obama has taken the more faithful approach by voicing his disagreement with his pastor while maintaining his embrace of that community, including the one with whom he differs. Senator Clinton’s suggestion to find a different pastor and church misses the gift of what a congregation is: real people, sinners and saints each one of them, in relationship. That doesn’t sound politically rewarding. It sounds messy, actually. But that’s how God seems to want to build this kingdom “on earth as in heaven”.

I’ve been contemplating this as I’ve been reading Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul by David L. Goetz.