Digging Deeper, UFPPC’s (www.ufppc.org) Book Discussion Series: May 2, 2005, 7:00 p.m.
God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It
(New York: HaperSanFrancisco, 2005).
. “Faith-inspired people” on staffs of Sojourners and Call to Renewal (xi). Book dedicated toson Luke, 6 (xi-xii), written in Daytona Beach, FL, at the ElCaribe (xii).
INTRODUCTION: Why Can’t We Talk about Religionand Politics?
Desire to talk about religion and politics iswidespread (xiii). “God on our side” politics (bad) vs.“asking if we are on God’s side” politics (good) (xiv).“God’s politics”: “never partisan or ideological”; mindfulof excluded; challenging to narrow self-interest; linked tocreation itself; antiwar; “choose life” (xv). Dividedelectorate (xv). “Flawed” poll produced debate on the“moral values voter” (xv-xvii). This book about twoquestions: “Where is the real debate in the moral valuesconversation? And where can we find common ground?”(xvii). Too many Democrats would “restrict religion to theprivate sphere” and too many Republicans would “restrictreligion to a short list of hot-button social issues” (xvii-xviii). Neither candidate had “a progressive and propheticvision of faith and politics” (xviii-xix). Reconciliationshould come, as for Martin Luther King Jr., in finding“common ground by moving to higher ground” (xx). HowBush could do this (xx). Invokes Micah [6:8]: “Do justice,love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (xx).Organization of book around six issues: turning away fromprivatization of faith; prophetic religion as alternativevision; war; poverty; social reconciliation; leadership (xx-xxii). Summer 2004 newspaper ad, “God Is Not aRepublican. Or a Democrat” (xxii-xxiv).
PART I: CHANGING THE WINDCh. 1: Take Back the Faith: Co-Opted by the Right,Dismissed by the Left.
Religious Right focuses religionon sexual and cultural issues; secular Left dismissesreligion (3-4). Time to take back faith from right-wingers,pedophile priests and cover-up bishops, televisionpreachers, liberal secularists, liberal theologians, New Agephilosophers, and politicians (4). The issue transcendsideological left-right divisions (4-5). Evil is not just “outthere,” it is “in here” (5). Society needs “propheticreligion” to pursue “the common good” (6). It can shapeboth personal and communal life (6-7).
Republicans manipulated religion (7-9).Democrats didn’t accommodate religion enough (9-10),need to reassess (11). Bush had an opportunity to act onpoverty but his efforts failed for lack of resources (11-13).Bush’s war was wrong; election debate showed polarizednation (13-14).
The Political Problem of Jesus.
Jesus’steachings are impossible to square with the Bush agenda(15-17). A reaction is underway (17-18). Movements forsocial change have historically been fueled by progressivereligion (18-19).
Ch. 2: A Lack of Vision: Too Narrow or None at All.
Speech on changing society not by changing wind-testingpoliticians but by “changing the wind” (20-22). E.g. MartinLuther King Jr. and the Selma-to-Birmingham march tocreate support for a Voting Rights Act (22-23). “
History ismost changed by social movements with a spiritualfoundation
” (24; emphasis in original). Proverbs 29:18(24-25). “
Values will be the most important politicalquestion of the twenty-first century
” (26; emphasis inoriginal). Symptom of its absence: “the politics of complaint, as in Habakkuk (26-28). Sources of “thevision”: “Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament writers . . . our own traditions” (28). Refocusingvision question on “the ‘God question,’ which is, ‘How arethe kids doing?’” as a corrective (29-30).
Ch. 3: Is There a Politics of God? God Is Personal,but Never Private.
Private vs. public religion (31).Prophets the place to learn about “the politics of God,”criticizing those in power on behalf of the dispossessed(32). Youthful conviction of this led Wallis to leave thePlymouth Brethren congregation where he was broughtup, in Detroit (33-34). Personal God essential to popularreligion (34). Private faith degenerates into self-righteousness (35-36). “Biblical prophets” superior to“debased spirituality” (36-37). Open letter to JesseVentura (37-39). We should not balance public & private,but “go to the heart of prophetic religion itself in which apersonal God demands public justice as an act of worship”(40).
PART II: MOVING BEYOND THE POLITICS OFCOMPLAINTCh. 4: Protest Is Good; Alternatives Are Better:What Are We For?
Lesson of the considerable interest inthe ‘Third Way’ Six-Point Iraq peace plan on eve of war asWallis’s child was born: to be effective, an alternativeneeds to be presented (43-46). To be transformative,protest must offer a better way (46-47). “That is the wayof the prophets” (47). Evil dictators & terrorism can’t beignored (47). Poverty needs a plan addressing personaland social responsibility (47-48). Spiritual componentcrucial to finding alternatives (49). Six-Point Peace Plan(Mar. 14, 2003) (50-52). Letter in British papers (53-55).
Ch. 5: How Should Faith Influence Your Politics?What’s a Religious Voter to Do?
Democrats are tooshy of using moral and religious language (56-61). Poweris dangerous (61-62). Unlike the Civil Rights Movement,the Religious Right movement of the 1980s and 1990s hassuccumbed to the temptation of power (62-64). Religionhas always been part of American political discourse (65-66). “Fundamentalism is essentially a revolt againstmodernity” (66). Best critique of fundamentalism “comesfrom faith itself” (67). “At heart, I am a nineteenth-century evangelical” (67). Modern fundamentalism hasmoved to theocracy and too easily justifies violence (68).“Secular fundamentalists make a fundamental mistake”and misunderstand the nature of faith (69-71).
Ch. 6: Prophetic Politics: A New Option.
Prophecy is“articulating moral truth” (72). Current political optionsare conservative, liberal, and libertarian (72-74). We needa “prophetic politics” option: traditional on family values,sexual integrity, progressive or radical on poverty andracial justice (74-75). This would break the deadlockbetween personal vs. social responsibility (76). It shouldcome from the churches and the religious community (77).It often has before (77-78). Politicians’ positions on issuesshould be compared to their professed religious beliefs(78-80). Political vision moral important than reilgiosity ina politician (80-81). Most religiously motivated voters actdefensively, not offensively (81-82). Religion in politics isno longer all on the right (82-83). Values should be put“at the center of political discourse” (84).
PART III: SPIRITUAL VALUES AND INTERNATIONALRELATIONS: When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?Ch. 7: Be Not Afraid: A Moral Response toTerrorism.
4-year-old Luke tells Dad Jim Wallis, “Daddy,