jeudi, novembre 02, 2006

Sharing Faith in "The Common Good"

November 2, 2006
Democrats Find Religion, Churchgoing Voters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic politicians have found religion and that may help explain why they are suddenly more popular among churchgoing Americans.
As they push to win control of the U.S. Congress in Tuesday's elections from
Republicans, who have long enjoyed support among conservative religious voters, more and more Democrats have shed a reluctance to talk about their faith.
``What we're doing is paying real dividends in the faith community,'' said Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, who heads the House of Representatives Democratic Faith Working Group, an outreach effort by lawmakers to ministers from the left and right.
``We're framing issues in religious terms and getting our members to be comfortable with it,'' said Clyburn, the son of a fundamentalist minister.
His and other similar groups were formed after the 2004 elections when the religious right was a major force behind President
George W. Bush re-election and the Republicans keeping control of Congress.
Bush was perceived as a man of faith after he called Jesus Christ his favorite philosopher during the 2000 White House campaign. Republicans have been seen by some as representing ''family values,'' mainly because of their opposition to
abortion and gay marriage and support for school prayer.
Until recently, Democrats have been reluctant to mention religion, but that has begun to change with some now even quoting scripture.
In Georgetown, Ohio, recently, Democratic congressional challenger Victoria Wulsin slid easily into biblical talk at a National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
``Paul's letter to Timothy sets the stage for doing what's right,'' said Wulsin, the granddaughter of preachers.
A popular phrase for Democrats this year is ``the common good,'' essentially a shared sacrifice to help all.
``When we work together for the common good, we can overcome the great moral dilemmas of our time,'' Democratic senatorial nominee Bob Casey of Pennsylvania declares on his Web site where he is pictured standing in front of a church.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Thephrase "the common good" is not a new one in the American political world. Years ago, in what now seem to be the pre-lapsarian days of the Clinton presidency, academicians and philosophers articulated a "third way", a vision that cut across economic, gender racial, and religious lines. Terming themselves "communitarians," these women and men graphed out a fine line between the conservative dogma of individual responsibility, a liberal commitment to policies that helped the disadvantaged, and a quasi-theological call to shared sacrifice. Some of the proponents of this philosophy were clergy-but most were not. At any rate, it never really took hold of the collective imagination. After 9/11, the future of communitarianism seemed bleak indeed. We turned in on ourselves-if the world was against us (particularly the Frency) then we had to look out for ourselves didn't we? Americans, in my opinion, are capable both of generosity and a profound egotism-it may come from living in relative isolation from other nations. When was the last time, for instance, that we really gave a hoot about Canadian foreign policy or what is going on in Mexico, unless it affects the flow of illegal aliens on our borders? Yet it is possible that this time the "third way" of communitarianism may take hold of our national imagination. Several factors, coming together this election years make this more possible than it was in the dark days (hell, the dark years) after the bombing of the Twin Towers. One is that we are faced, every day with the slaughter of American military and Iraqi civilians, a witness to the idee fixe of an Administration that thought it would impose its own vision of "democracy" on a nation, Iraq, where the ethnic and religious groups have no common vision. Another is that while we have been "going it alone" various nations who subscribe to the same isolationist philosophy, notable Iran and North Korea, have come up with their own answer to our military power-nuclear weapons that will force the affluent nations, if they wish to avoid a global apocalpyse, to pursue the common good. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in this nation of faith, the idea of a "common good" sounds plausible when it is articulated on Biblical principles, rather than as a secular philosophy. It is an idea preached from synagogue and church pulpits, an issue debated in Bible Study classes and Men's Groups, a vision as old as the Hebrew Scriptures and fundamental to the New Testament. If the Gospels aren't about individual discipleship and social justice, then a lot of us have been mis-reading them. It remains to be seen if the Democrats who are now coming out of the closet (when was the last time you heard a politician use Timothy as a source?) and talking about faith-based "common ground" and "common good" are doing something more than riding the wave of the public craving for answers based on something more than fear. Let's hope they are sincere and are willing to be bi-partisan-because sometimes that old time religion is the medicine that our sin sick souls really need. Let's also hope that if the Democrats are indeed victorious, they remember why lots of white evangelical voters ended up as Republicans-because they didn't feel that their values and concerns were taken seriously. If we can truly harness the power of the Judeo-Christian vision of the "common good", we'll find ourselves sitting beside folks that look more like adversaries than friends-until we have the courage, and the faith, to really get to know them.

lundi, octobre 30, 2006

The space between

Being an Episcopalian attending a Lutheran church is a piece of cake, most of the time. In recent years, thanks to our statement of common mission, American Lutherans and Episcopalians have become pretty cozy. It's nice for those of us who are sick of the fights and posturing among conservatives and liberals in the Episcopal Church to step outside the fray now and then into denomination where, by and large, people still seem to be able to love one another despite their differences. Although one of my Episcopal clergy friends terms the St. Matthew's contemporary service "Episcopal lite" it includes most of the elements that are important to me-good praise music, clergy who preach anecdotal, vulnerable and scholarly sermons, and (only every other Sunday at the 9:00 service, alas for this Eucharistically-centered believer) the Eucharist. There's not enough time for silent prayer, but as Anglicans we aren't too good at leaving space for this in worship, so I can't be critical of my sister and brother Christians. Why are we so terrified by silence? St. Matthew's has a strong dedication to social service and social justice, as well as an ongoing commitment to partner in mission with burgeoning Lutheran judicatories in Africa. It's a happy place, and a great spot for me and the kids-except on Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday, if you have never experienced it, is one on which the Lutherans celebrate the theology and life of one Martin Luther and his effect on Western Christianity. I have to admit that when I sit in the pews and hear a sermon on the topic of Luther and his" sola gratia" theology, I get tied up on intellectual, emotional and even spiritual knots. A few weeks ago I was the lector, and stood up to read a passage from the book of James-the book that Luther famously termed "an epistle of straw." James has almost a fixation on doing good works-his scorching prose is wonderfully appropriate for the materialism of today's affluent classes. I couldn't help but grin at the pastor-James is such a stick in the eye to traditional Lutheran theology. Yesterday, however, I read from Paul's letter to the Romans, and tried to do it with soul! Admittedly a much bigger guy in theological circles, Paul is the theologian of grace. Asserting that we cannot adhere to the Mosaic laws in full, even if we tried, Paul says that rescue is God's choice, not ours. The confirmation class who attended the 10:30 service yesterday wore their "Sin Boldly" T-shirts---the natural end point of a theology that is based on the idea that salvation is all about God, and not about our ability to fulfill the law. Although Catholics have been parodied for having a "works theology" they do seem more oriented towards the concrete and incarnational-saying the rosary, praying to saints, liturgy and ritual are all ways of lifting up what God has given and offering it back. One of the great things about being an Anglican (and we can't boast about lots of great things in this season of revolution) is that we do find a middle ground in this controversy. So, as usual, I sat in the congregation yesterday wondering-why do denominations always have to have it one way or the other? Why do we desire ideological purity? Why can't we live in the tension between two opposing theologies (both of which I consider adiaphora, but obviously some do not) and let the God we claim as Lord sort them out? Upon reflection, my reaction to St. Martin Luther Day could say more about me, and my craving for balance, than it does about St. Matthews and its yearly trip to worship at the shrine of the German Reformation. After all, the pages of the bulletin are crammed with opportunities for service-proving that whatever is said from the pulpit on that last Sunday in October, the leaders of St. Matthews believe in the works of justice that affirm that we have indeed been called...and want to answer by offering up that which we have, and want, and are. ################################################################################# A couple of paragraphs from the Anglican Lambeth Commission on Communion explaining how they view the notion of something being "adiaphora":
As the Church has explored the question of limits to diversity, it has frequently made use of the notion of adiaphora: things which do not make a difference, matters regarded as non-essential, issues about which one can disagree without dividing the Church. This notion lies at the heart of many current disputes. The classic biblical statements of the principle are in Romans 14.1-15.13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. There, in different though related contexts, Paul insists that such matters as food and drink (eating meat and drinking wine, or abstaining from doing so; eating meat that had been offered to idols, or refusing to do so), are matters of private conviction over which Christians who take different positions ought not to judge one another. They must strive for that united worship and witness which celebrate and display the fact that they are worshipping the same God and are servants of the same Lord.
This principle of 'adiaphora' was invoked and developed by the early English Reformers, particularly in their claim that, in matters of eucharistic theology, specific interpretations (transubstantiation was particularly in mind) were not to be insisted upon as 'necessary to be believed', and that a wider range of interpretations was to be allowed. Ever since then, the notion of 'adiaphora' has been a major feature of Anglican theology, over against those schools of thought, both Roman and Protestant, in which even the smallest details of belief and practice are sometimes regarded as essential parts of an indivisible whole.