Conservative Christians and immigration reform

A group of Bible-believing Christians has formed the Evangelical Immigration Table to promote immigration reform. It is promoting what it is calling the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge.  They give you 40 Bible passages that have to do with how we should treat immigrants.  They ask you to read, meditate, and pray about each one, one a day, over 40 days.  And then see what you think about immigration reform.  After the jump, read the details and see the 40 Bible passages.

The organization includes lots of religious conservatives, though also some on the evangelical left. (See this.)  At any rate, it is clear that the Bible tells us to be kind to “sojourners.”  One could make a case that Christians should champion immigration reform because it is the right thing to do and also because the immigrants in question tend to be religious, pro-family, pro-life, anti-homosexuality, and potential cultural and political allies.  Do you agree?  If not, could reading the 40 Bible passages at least in theory change your mind?

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Inauguration Day

Today is the second inauguration of Barack Obama, who will be sworn into his second term at 11:30 a.m. ET.  (Actually, he took his oath of office on Sunday, in accordance with the date specified in the Constitution, in the White House, but the public ceremony will be on Monday, in commendable respect for the Lord’s Day.)

The Bible tells us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2).  That would include President Obama.  As would the command to “honor the emperor,” (1 Peter 2:17).  Many of us, especially those of us who aren’t big fans of the president politically, are probably guilty of violating those particular passages.  How should we honor him, even if we don’t like his policies (as Peter surely didn’t like the policies of the Roman Emperor)?  What should we pray for on behalf of the President?

(Meanwhile, see after the jump how the President is being hailed on the cover of Newsweek.) [Read more...]

Spiritualizing the election

I am astonished to hear how so many Christians are talking about the election.  They are interpreting the Obama victory as a sign that America is no longer a Christian nation, struggling to understand how Christians could have been denied the victory, questioning God’s will and raising questions of theodicy, and on and on.  May I remind everyone that Christians were not defeated, even in the most literal level.  The candidate evangelicals became so spiritually invested in is not a Christian.

Perhaps the real spiritual significance of the election is that Mormons were denied their Constantinian moment.

One fifth of Americans have no religion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has published an important new study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.

One-fifth of U.S. adults say they are not part of a traditional religious denomination, new data from the Pew Research Center show, evidence of an unprecedented reshuffling of Americans’ spiritual identities that is shaking up fields from charity to politics.

But despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.

Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades, according to the study released Tuesday. About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are “nothing in particular,” agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990. One-third of adults under 30 say the same.  . . .

But the United States is still very traditional when it comes to religion, with 79 percent of Americans identifying with an established faith group. . . .

Members can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent.

By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.

The study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa.

Some said the study and its data on younger generations forecast more polarization.

“We think it’s mostly a reaction to the religious right,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has written at length about the decline in religious affiliation. “The best predictor of which people have moved into this category over the last 20 years is how they feel about religion and politics” aligning, particularly conservative politics and opposition to gay civil rights.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

I’m struck by the comment that a typical congregations would include people of different political beliefs and how that isn’t the case so much anymore.  (My impression is that churches that don’t mingle politics with the gospel, such as Lutheran congregations, still generally contain both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s evident in the commentary on this blog, which has people who are very conservative theologically representing different political positions.)

I am also struck by the contention that churches getting involved in politics seems to be a major factor in the rise of the “nones.”   I wonder how many pastors who want their churches to be ‘missional” and who make a point of adopting all of the church growth methodologies designed to make their congregation more attractive to the “unchurched” endorsed a candidate on Political Freedom Day, not realizing that this kind of political activism is exactly what is driving people away from churches.

 

Changes in the Orthodox church

Metropolitan Jonah, the evangelical convert who became the head of the Orthodox Church of America (one of several Eastern Orthodox denominations in the U.S.), has been ousted from his office.  The reason, reportedly, is his aggressive public stands against abortion, homosexuality, and other controversial moral issues.  (Metropolitan Jonah was one of the signatories of LCMS president Matt Harrison’s open letter opposing the Obamacare contraceptive/abortifacient mandate.)

I realize that Eastern Christianity is more quiescent on cultural issues than that of the West.  Metropolitian Jonah is being accused of being political, but I suspect that’s more on the other side, since far more Orthodox are Democrats than Republicans.  But then I read that part of the conflict has to do with a movement within the Orthodox Church, including some bishops, to change the teaching about sexual morality, including accepting same-sex marriage.

Now wait a minute.  One of the major arguments I keep hearing from advocates of swimming the Bosporus is that Orthodoxy never changes.  Has never changed.  Can’t change.  Has an uninterrupted universal doctrinal agreement among its members that goes back to the early church.  Can it be that Orthodox Christians have theological liberals among them just like other traditions?

Some people convert to Catholicism because of the glories of Medieval theology only to find in their local parish feminist nuns, leftist priests, and treacly guitar masses.  Or to Lutheranism only to find that the local congregation has sold out to the worst excesses of the church growth movement.  Such disillusioning experiences do not invalidate the conversion.  Inconsistencies, misbehavior, and doctrinal indifference do not mean that the underlying theology is necessarily wrong.   It does, though, perhaps prove the Lutheran distinction between the visible and the hidden church.  Though attacking that doctrine in favor of the notion that the church must be fully manifested in the visible institution is another major argument of both Catholics and Orthodox.

Covering warfare in a Byzantine maze — literally » GetReligion.

Christianity and politics, reconsidered

E. J. Dionne is a Catholic who is liberal politically.  I wonder, though, if all sides could find some agreement in what he says about Christianity recognizing the “limits” of politics:

It’s hard not to notice that Christianity hasn’t been presented in its own best light during this election year because Christians have not exactly been putting forward their best selves.

My colleague Michael Gerson wrote recently about the “crude” way religion has played out in the Republican primaries, including “the systematic subordination of a rich tradition of social justice to a narrow and predictable political agenda.”

Gerson is exactly right, but I don’t propose to use his admirable column as an excuse to pile onto the religious right. Instead, I want to suggest that what should most bother Christians of all political persuasions is that there are right and wrong ways to apply religion to politics, and much that’s happening now involves the wrong ways. Moreover, popular Christianity often seems to denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry. This not only ignores Christian giants of philosophy and science but also plays into some of the very worst stereotypes inflicted upon religious believers.

What I’m not saying is that Christianity should be disengaged from politics. In fact, the early Christian movement was born in politics, in oppositional circles within Judaism fighting Roman oppression. There is great debate over how to understand the relationship between Jesus’s spirituality and his approach to politics, but his preaching clearly challenged the powers-that-be. He was, after all, crucified.

But because Christians have a realistic and non-utopian view of human nature, they should be especially alive to the ambiguities and ambivalences of politics. The philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain captured this well in reflecting on Augustine’s writings. “If Augustine is a thorn in the side of those who would cure the universe once and for all,” she wrote, “he similarly torments critics who disdain any project of human community, or justice, or possibility.”

Christians, she’s saying, thus have a duty to grasp both the possibilities and the limits of politics. This, in turn, means that the absolutism so many associate with Christian engagement in politics ought to be seen as contrary to the Christian tradition. And that’s the case even if many Christians over the course of history have acted otherwise.

via A kinder mix of religion and politics during Holy Week – The Washington Post.

Now liberals keep bashing conservative Christians for their relatively recent interest in politics.  They don’t say much, though, about the overtly political agendas of the liberal churches.  I grew up in one of them and attended their conferences.  It has been said (by sociologist Peter Berger) that the best way to understand what the American left is up to is to attend meetings of the National Council of Churches. That agenda, by the way, is utterly utopian.

So I can appreciate what Dionne says, especially if he is willing to apply it to his own side.  (Liberal Catholics, by the way, are just as politically focused with a leftwing ideology as the Protestants in the National Council of Churches, if not more so, what with the revolutionary ideology of liberation theology.)

At the same time, all of this talk about “social justice” strikes me as rank hypocrisy as long as it excludes the justice due to babies being killed in their mother’s wombs.  In fact, I would argue that much of the “Christian right” is animated primarily by horror at legalized abortion.  And that if the issue of abortion were taken off the table–either by Democrats tolerating pro-lifers or Republicans embracing pro-choicers–the Christian right would diffuse its presence politically, though they won’t go away as long as this grotesque social evil continues.


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