3/10/2005

What Jesus wouldn't do

Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes on AlterNet:
The politics of Jesus is a problem for the religious right. In Matthew’s 25th chapter, Jesus speaks of the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, prisoners, and the sick and promises he will challenge all his followers on the judgment day with these words, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” James Forbes, the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, concludes from that text that, “Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor!” How many of America’s most famous television preachers could produce the letter?
The hardest saying of Jesus and perhaps the most controversial in our post–Sept. 11 world must be: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Let’s be honest: How many churches in the United States have heard sermons preached from either of these Jesus texts in the years since America was viciously attacked on that world-changing September morning in 2001? Shouldn’t we at least have a debate about what the words of Jesus mean in the new world of terrorist threats and pre-emptive wars?
Christ commands us to not only see the splinter in our adversary’s eye but also the beams in our own, which often obstruct our own vision. To name the face of evil in the brutality of terrorist attacks is good theology, but to say they are evil and we are good is bad theology that can lead to dangerous foreign policy. Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings also created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners. The words of Jesus are either authoritative for Christians, or they are not. And they are not set aside by the very real threats of terrorism. The threat of terrorism does not overturn Christian ethics.
The issue here is not partisan politics, and there are no easy political solutions. The governing party has increasingly struck a religious tone in an aggressive foreign policy that seems much more nationalist than Christian, while the opposition party has offered more confusion than clarity. In any election we choose between very imperfect choices. Yet it is always important to examine what is at stake prayerfully and theologically
...Any serious reading of the Bible points toward poverty as a religious issue, and candidates should always be asked by Christian voters how they will treat “the least of these.” Stewardship of God’s earth is clearly a question of Christian ethics. Truth telling is also a religious issue that should be applied to a candidate’s rationales for war, tax cuts, or any other policy, as is humility in avoiding the language of “righteous empire,” which too easily confuses the roles of God, church, and nation.
War, of course, is also a deeply theological matter. The near unanimous opinion of religious leaders worldwide that the Iraq war failed to fit “just war” criteria is an issue for many Christians, especially as the warnings from religious leaders have proved prophetically and tragically accurate.
...The religious right’s grip on public debates about values has been driven in part by a media that continues to give airtime to the loudest religious voices, rather than the most representative, leaving millions of Christians and other people of faith without a say in the values debate. But this is starting to change as progressive and prophetic faith voices are speaking out with a confidence and moral urgency not seen for 25 years. Mobilized by human suffering in many places, groups motivated by religious social conscience (including many evangelicals not defined by the religious right) have hit a new stride in efforts to combat poverty, destructive wars, human rights violations, pandemics like HIV/AIDS, and genocide in places like Sudan.
In politics, the best interest of the country is served when the prophetic voice of religion is heard—challenging both right and left from consistent moral ground. As the religious Right loses influence, nothing could be better for the health of both church and society than a return of the moral center that anchors our nation in a common humanity. If you listen, these voices can be heard rising again.

And in another Alternet piece, he writes:
Budgets are moral documents. They reflect the values and priorities of a family, church, organization, city, state, or nation. They tell us what is most valued to those making the budget. It’s time to do a “values audit” of this budget, and a “moral audit” of our priorities. Who benefits in this budget and who suffers, who wins and who loses, what things are revealed as most important and what things are less important? America’s religious communities are required to ask of any budget, what happens to the poor and most vulnerable, especially the nation’s poorest children. President Bush says that his 2006 budget "is a budget that sets priorities." Examining those priorities is a moral and religious concern. Just as we have "environmental impact studies," it’s time for a "poverty impact statement", which would ask the fundamental question of how policy proposals affect low-income people. Such a moral audit might reveal unacceptable priorities for many of us, including in the religious community where the president finds much of his political base. But it is happening. In this budget, the cost of deficit reduction is mostly borne by those least able to bear the burden—the lowest-income families in America, rather than by those most able to afford it—the wealthiest Americans who benefit from the largest tax cuts.

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