Archives For DC

1. What’s so great about the common good?
Andy Crouch has an essay in the November issue of Christianity Today calling for a revival of “common good” language:

All by itself, “the common good” is as vague as fine-sounding phrases tend to be. And being fine-sounding and vague, it easily becomes political pabulum to promote whatever policies the speaker wants to advance. Not surprisingly, it arises at times when politicians want to justify imposing costs on some part of society, as when Hillary Rodham Clinton told a group of donors in 2004, “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.” To some ears, “the common good” echoes communism’s demands that all lesser goods yield to the construction of a people’s paradise. At the least, when we hear that some sacrifice will serve “the common good,” it’s reasonable to ask, “Sez who?”

2. A post-election prayer
My friend (and remarkably prolific blogger) Paul Burkhart shared a great prayer on his blog for President Obama, other newly elected/re-elected government officials, and those who lost their races.

3. Principled pluralism
The video of Gideon Strauss’s talk from Q earlier this year went online this week, and it’s wonderful. For those made nauseous by the political rancor on Facebook leading up to and following the election (and for those causing the nausea), I commend this talk to you. Here’s the blurb:

From debates about the hiring practices of churches to rumors of community adherence to Sharia law, Americans have long been facing questions regarding the role of various religions in public life. As our nation grows increasingly diverse, can we coexist without compromising those principles we hold dear? Gideon Strauss says the answer lies in “principled pluralism,” a paradigm that allocates enough freedom of conscience, worship, and practice that all faiths can flourish rather than compete.

4. Guatemala earthquake
Guatemala suffered its worst earthquake in 35 years this week, with San Marcos in the western part of the country hit especially hard. A family friend in the town where we used to live nearby let me know things were fine there, but many in other towns weren’t as fortunate. The death toll is up past 50, and these photos show some of the structural damage. Please keep victims in your prayers.

5. DC without people

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: theblaze.com]

1. Advent and excess
Today being Black Friday, Alissa Wilkinson shares some timely perspective on excess and the season we’re about to celebrate:

[E]xcess is only good if we have something to compare it to. Celebration in this world can only be a taste of what is to come in the resurrection; a grand and sumptuous supper makes us long for the final, unending Supper. But if we only practice excess, we come to deprive others of their needs. This is a tough concept for us Westerners, who can eat what we want, pretty much when we want it, buy something on credit if we need or want it badly enough, and rarely have to spend long periods of time with our desires unfulfilled. Fasting is a way for us to better appreciate the fulfilled desires through restraining ourselves. It’s a lot like when you were a child and asked your parents why it couldn’t be Christmas every day. The answer was not because Christmas is bad for us. It’s because if Christmas were every day, we wouldn’t appreciate it. We would grow weary of it. The magic would be gone.

2. Totem pole values
Steve Haas reflects on the iconic Native American totem poles throughout the Northwest which “make values visible” and asks what our totem poles would look like:

What if I cut down the massive cedar standing sentinel over our home, notching our own values into its fragrant bark? What legacy would I instill for both my family and future generations? Crowded by the competitive values of strength, smarts and speed, would the less dominant traits of love, mercy or reconciliation make it into the wood? What about compassion or grace, would they make the cut?

3. Largest Christian gathering in Egypt in 1,000 years
Andrew Jones, super-blogger from New Zealand, has a couple of interesting posts from time he recently spent in Egypt (where, incidentally, the #Jan25 revolution appears to still be underway). On 11/11/11, Jones joined 71,000 Egyptian Christians in an enormous cave church for what is apparently the largest such gathering in that country in a millennium. Here’s a fascinating video of the gathering that he posted:

4. Religious lobbying in DC
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a new report saying that “religious groups spend $390 million a year to influence U.S. domestic and foreign policy.” The most common domestic issues these groups are pushing have to do with the relationship between church and state, civil rights for religious minorities, bioethics, and family/marriage. Meanwhile, religious freedom, human rights, debt relief, peace and democracy are the international issues these groups focus on.

5. NGOs and big business
Brendan May writes for Ethical Corporation that NGOs can have more influence when they work closely with large businesses, but that they also run the risk of “selling out.” He offers a blueprint for NGO-business partnerships and concludes:

Collaboration between NGOs and business is critical in the effort to tackle the planetary crisis. Engagement is essential, not least because government is so fundamentally useless on so much of the sustainability agenda.  But increasingly vocal questions about how engagement happens are risking a return to old debates about whether to engage at all. It’s up to the NGOs who choose to work with business to stop that happening.

6. Development and defense
Meanwhile, Bill Easterly warns against the dangers of US foreign aid being too closely tied to the defense department, arguing that public support for foreign aid has waned considerably as the relationship between aid and defense has become more cozy in recent years. He offers two points to help “salvage the future” of aid:

First, protect the aid that has been working against cuts, which should come instead from the areas not working. The current House proposal doesn’t get this elementary principle – aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq would be cut by 13%, but everything else would be cut by 23%. Second, recognise what the last decade taught us: there is actually a great divide separating development and defence. Announce that henceforward aid is for poverty relief and only for poverty relief, not for supporting military operations. Build a firewall between USAid and the defence department. Let defence run its programmes or counter-insurgency, but don’t be misled that this has anything to do with aid. American aid should concentrate on areas with a better track record – health, education, infrastructure, and clean water and sanitation – operating in societies where war, repression and corruption do not make it pointless for aid to operate.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

I finished reading City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been sitting on it, mulling it over, ever since. It’s an important book, warranting a great deal of careful thought, and it’s also one of those rare books on US politics that actually does more to promote civil discourse in the public square than to erode it.

The book’s authors, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, are both conservatives — and political insiders at that. Gerson, as you may know, was a top aide and speechwriter for George W. Bush. He’s also a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a senior advisor at ONE. Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a DC think tank. He previously served in the Reagan and Bush (I and II) administrations.

The central question of the book is one both urgent and timeless:

What does it mean to be a Christian citizen in history’s most influential nation; in a world marked by growing interconnection, danger, and need; in a time of bitter domestic polarization and economic stress?

The first part of the answer is that there are more than two political options, odd as that may seem to us in twenty-first century America. As Gerson and Wehner write, Christians throughout history have formulated quite an array of differing — and, in some cases, diametrically opposed — political approaches that can’t be summed up by the overly limiting categories of right and left. Here are some of the main ones:

  • Constantinian: “wanted the church to govern earthly affairs, so as to bring society better into line with their understanding of God’s will.”
  • Augustinian: “the purpose of the state is to restrain evil and to advance justice.”
  • Anabaptist: “Christian allegiance should be to the kingdom of God alone.”
  • Lutheran: “two kingdoms, one carnal and the other spiritual, each needing to remain separate from the other and each making its own legitimate demands.”
  • Calvinist: “God [is] not only Lord and Creator but ‘a Governor and Preserver…’ The sovereignty of God, in other words, extends to all spheres, including all human institutions.”
  • Kuyperian: “three spheres — the Church, the State, and Society — each distinct but interrelated with the others, all part of the created order, all governed by God.”
  • Barthian: “the state… like the church, served Christ’s divine purposes beyond simply restraining evil.”
  • Niebuhrian: “believed in the necessity of politics in the struggle for social justice.”
  • Falwellian: “restoring America’s ‘moral sanity’ as an urgent Christian imperative.”

For that survey alone, the book is more than worthwhile. But that’s just the first chapter. Gerson and Wehner go on to outline, with conviction and grace, broad principles for Christian participation in politics. As conservatives, they take predictable stances on a variety of issues, but as Ron Sider writes in his endorsement on the book jacket, “one need not agree with all the assumptions or arguments to find this book a significant contribution to Christian reflection on where our nation should go.”

Politics, they write, presents us with an “unavoidable tension”: while a politicized faith has its dangers, “there is also moral abdication when faith ignores the opportunity for ‘genuine ethical action,’” a term borrowed from John Perkins. They point out the failures of the Religious Right, and urge us not to make the same mistakes — whether on the right or on the left. Rather, they urge discernment, faithful engagement, and above all, an emphasis on persuasion rather than attack. “If you would win a man to your cause,” said Abraham Lincoln, “first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

In a polarized political climate that is anything but civil, in which demonizing and mudslinging are the norm, where cable news channels teach us that the way to discuss politics is to see who can yell the loudest, a book like this is a breath of fresh air. It’s practical, and true to both theology and history. Borrowing from Augustine, Gerson and Wehner conclude with both determination and hope: “The City of Man is our residence for now, and we care for its order and justice. The City of God is our home.”

On this day 48 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And were it not for Hurricane Irene, his monument on the National Mall would have been dedicated today. Fortunately, Irene can’t keep me from posting “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin in honor of MLK.