Friday, August 27, 2010

An Alliance for Health and Life

AIDS activists are protesting the unsafe sex practices of Larry Flynt's pornographic films. They argue that the failure to show condom use will encourage dangerous practices that allow AIDS pathogens to spread.

Concurrent with these protests are feminist concerns about the dehumanizing and objectifying consequences of pornography for female dignity and equality. Some of these same groups are courageously protesting female mutilation.

For all kinds of reasons, we are also more aware of the appalling levels of child abuse and other forms of domestic violence. Just under the surface of some of the most conservative geographies is a cauldron of pain that is unspeakable. Social workers tell me that they are overwhelmed with their case loads and the depth of the challenges.

Pornography and promiscuity, violence against women, and families in crisis are causes we can all agree need attention. Solutions involve much more than money and programs - they involve a reordering of body and soul, a renewing of personal and community responsibility and rethinking how we can work together.

AIDS activists and feminists face serious moral and social challenges as they (rightly) lift their voices against self-destructive behaviors. Their problem is that you cannot have "safe" promiscuity. The half-century battle against traditional heterosexual (and married) monogamy has not brought liberation, but two generations of hurt, lonely and infected people who believed that "dating" meant sexual intimacy and "celibacy" equalled repression.

Rather than demean these activists, I want to suggest a new Alliance for Life. I invite all people of conscience and faith to join together to eliminate - not just by laws, but by disuse, marginalization, protest and positive partnerships - the scourges of pornography, promiscuity and violence. These are causes that Christians, Jews, Muslims, AIDS workers, feminists and all people of social concern can get behind.

We are not talking about violating First Amendment rights or barging into consenting adult bedrooms. In fact, we are moving way past legislation to something even more powerful - our American ethos of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The last fifty years have taught us a painful lesson that true happiness is not found in consumption, but in community. We have learned that self-indulgence needs to give way to service. Empirical studies abound affirming the physical and psychological blessings of fidelity in marriage and self-restraint in sexual behavior. The "me generation" has sown to the amoral wind and reaped the whirlwind of anarchy.

Our new Alliance for Life will aim to expose the lies of the purveyors of promiscuity and the perpetrators of violence. We will protest, refuse to consume such wares and call on all people to "seek the good of others more than their own." Oh yes, we will argue among ourselves concerning morality and religion, but we will find common cause against these clear evils and work for a safer, saner world.

Our new Alliance for Life will not excoriate Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious traditions for affirming their stance of heterosexual monogamous marriage. Conversely, deeply religious folks will not try to impose a theocracy. Will will argue and debate civilly and passionately, living with deepest differences. We are allied for common goods that are clear.

Let's make celibacy and monogamy good again. Let's refuse to call female mutilation a "cultural" practice. Like the burning of widows in India, it is simply wrong. Domestic violence in all forms has no place in civil society.

Simplistic conservative and liberal solutions must give way to integrated solutions that bring everyone to the table, locally and globally. Yes, we do need to fund education and social services more - but make sure we are funding the real work on the ground and not a federal system that takes 3X dollars to provide 1X of services. We must also stress personal responsibility and the consequences of life-choices. While providing a compassionate landing for the hurting, we must also empower them with disciplines that will alter their destiny. Social enterprise from the private sector can be united with legal enforcement and service provision from non-profit sector to deliver real help.

Will you join this new Alliance? The membership fees are reasonable: unplug from all products connected with pornography. Make a friend across philosophical and religious lines. Find out what you can do locally to help the hurting. Mentor a child or young adult and help them inculcate values that will keep them safe and help them flourish. Make your voice heard against all forms of intolerance and violence.

Reality brings truth into focus and unleashes new possibilities. Let's go "back to the future" and find the bedrock upon which to build a better society.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ad Hominem Attacks: The Refuge of the Thoughtless

We live is a world of data points, sound bites (or bytes?), twitter updates and instant analysis. What is lacking is the rare combination of compassion and critical thinking, the love and respect we need if we are going to solve the global and local problems we confront.

In recent days I have been deeply disconcerted by the behavior of two Christians - one from the Left and one from the Right side of ideological spectrum. Jim Wallis is the leader of the Sojourners Fellowship and the author of God and Politics and other left-leaning critiques of American economics, culture and policy. Ann Coulter is a best-selling author whose blond hair and scathing jabs make her the object of great hatred on the Left.

Jim Wallis lashed out at Marvin Olasky, comparing him to Glenn Beck (the man "who lies for a living") and accusing Olasky of lying about a $200,000 contribution Wallis' group received from a George Soros group. When researchers unearthed proof of the donation, Wallis' representatives issued a bleak apology, citing how busy they were. We should expect better from one of Barak Obama's spiritual advisers.

Joseph Farah and others hosting a Tea Party event dropped Ann Coulter from the speaking menu when they found out she is speaking at a Republican group that advocates gay marriage and gays in the military. Instead of expressing regret and perhaps giving a trademark one-liner, Coulter goes on the attack in public and calls Farah and WorldNet Daily "fake Christians" and 'publicity whore[s]" who foolishly pursue the "birther thing" that "no conservative takes seriously." Ann, you have gone too far and your libel of fellow-conservatives is uncalled for, especially when unity is vital to winning upcoming elections and returning America to her roots.

Ad hominem arguments are the last resort of thoughtless people who, instead of arguing their points with class and precision, choose to attack the character of their opponent. Now character does matter and Jesus of Nazareth himself had choice words for the hypocritical and the proud. But most of the time, these specious attacks obscure our failure to confront the hard choices we must make.

Wallis and Coulter go to church. How can they receive the Eucharist with what is on their tongues? Is "love your enemies" only for a few saints, or does it contain the kernel of what can become an ability to love compassionately and argue critically?

I am deeply upset about our nation's course and there is almost no policy of this current government that I agree with. That does not give me license to hate or spew venom all over the web. I will make my case on principles, careful analysis and thoughtful reflection. I invite all thoughtful people to join with me and start a civil and passionate movement of hope.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some Hot August Thoughts

Amidst the final days of a surreal summer and in anticipation of the election propaganda about to be unleashed, I offer the following observations for my thoughtful audience to contemplate:

It is easy to caricature and criticize, but difficult to think critically and act wisely.

In the absence of solutions, attack your opponents character and motives. It will veil your superficiality.

The world is changing daily while our educational and governmental enterprises are still stuck in decades-old systems.

The way forward for the global economy is unleashing wealth creation, not taxing the productive. This said, wealth creation without compassion and ethics is one more form of exploitation as dangerous as increased government bureaucracy.

Changing our politicians without moral and spiritual change in the populace at large is simply replacing one ruling elite with another.

St. Peter wanted to build a monument to an ecstatic experience; Jesus invites us to build people with faith, hope and love.

The "new atheists" recycle the old, unsuccessful arguments with better promotional material. The Preacher was right, "There is nothing new under the sun" - including attacks on faith.

When we make the exception the rule, there are no more rules. In the ensuing moral anarchy, the way is paved for dictatorship.

Failure to self-regulate allows others to run our lives.

When a Palestinian leader of repute stands and proclaims Israel's right to exist within reasonable borders, and with real exchange of commerce and diplomats, there is a chance for peace.

Do not ask people of deep faith to promote lifestyles contrary to their convictions. Conversely, the call to faith is an invitation, not a coercive calculation. We are freest when we defend for all others the rights we desire for ourselves.

No one wins with a mosque at the 9/11 site. Bitterness is amplified and religious tradition obscured by political agendas. A place for all to pray and remember is the only way forward.

Every leadership guru advises, "Begin with the end in mind." My challenge to the Left and the Right is simple: what is the 'end" you have in mind for the USA and the world? On the Left, is it some kind of Star Trek-inspired global federation ruled by a politically correct elite? On the Right, are you trying to bring back the good old days that never were?

Solving BIG problems begins with "small" acts of personal courage and kindness. Mother Teresa did not begin with grant money and media campaigns - one child at a time was rescued from the ash-heap.

We can improve our economy and rebuild our infrastructure with private-public partnerships. We need private initiative and profitable ends. We also need oversight for ethical and structural integrity.

If you journey around the globe, you will find a direct connection between the level of political freedom and the historical influence of Judeo-Christian values. Except for some movements in Indonesia and Turkey, no Muslim-dominated state has ever been a pluralistic democracy with complete freedom of conscience, religion and speech. Of course, it took about 1200 years for Christendom to cease its infighting as well.

The either/or fallacy rules too much thinking. Churches divide over musical and sermon styles instead of creating mosaics of the best of the past and future. We need head and heart. It is not freedom or oversight, but liberty with accountability.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Awakening and Revolution

America and France have a long love-hate relationship. French help was critical in our War of Independence. Many Americans were initially excited about the anti-monarchical tendencies of the nascent French Revolution in 1789. The implosion of the secular left and the rise of Napoleon cooled affections for awhile. America's help in WWI and WWII is appreciated and resented by French elites, who consider most Americans ignorant and too religious, while we Yankees shake our heads at the arrogance of a second-rate power that will be an Islamic state in less than half a century.

The American and French Revolutions of 1776 and 1789 share some similarities, but the difference is instructive concerning the nature of social transformation. Both nations wanted a new order of liberty and representative government, with more equality and opportunity. Both nations were suspicious of traditional monarchy and state religion. Both nations were impacted by the Enlightenment, an assortment of ideas and personalities ranging from common sense Scots to radical disciples of Rousseau and Voltaire. Both nations were on a mission to bring their enlightened visions to the rest of the world.

These similarities only underscore the key difference that makes all the difference, then and now. In 1685, Louis XIV, the autocratic "Sun King" who uttered, "L'etat ce moi" and "Apres moi, Le deluge" ("I am the state" and "After me, the deluge"), issued his famous Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The original Edict, dating from 1598, ended more than 30 years of civil war by granting religious toleration to the Huguenots (Reformed Protestants) and protecting their properties and cities. This was not complete freedom to evangelize, but a significant step toward liberty.

Between 1598 and 1685, numerous Huguenots found positions of influence and leadership as artisans, bankers, merchants and prosperous middle-class farmers. Hundreds of thousands helped the nation thrive. This modicum of religious toleration created an environment for the free thinking of French intellectuals, both religious and anti-clerical. Even the Roman Catholic Church of France (always a bit independent of Rome) improved her apologetic skills as she had to be more competitive for the allegiance of some of the population.

All this changed in 1685. With the stoke of a pen, between 150,000 and 200,000 Huguenots fled France for refuge in England, Holland, the Americas and even South Africa. The economy suffered and there was no middle ground between the ancien regime of very traditional Catholicism and the rising elitist skepticism and outright anti-Christian perspectives. By the time the tinder box was lit in 1789, the way was paved for the tragedies of the guillotine and Napoleon.

In contrast, England and her colonies in North America were increasingly tolerant in matters of conscience and religion from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the Evangelical Awakenings of the mid-18th century. The variety of religious options, coupled with genuine inner renewal in the faith communities, created much different futures for England and the emerging American nation.

The "Great and General Awakening" in the Colonies from the late 1730s to the 1750s saw about one-eighth of the population experience some kind of conversion and renewal. Another important consequence was the birth of an Evangelical (Protestant) ethos that united communities across denominational and theological lines. One of the interesting sub-stories of this era is the wide divergence in style and theology among the leaders of the Awakening.

The Awakening also polarized religious communities. Not everyone identified with the "religious affections" that Jonathan Edwards eloquently defined. This said, the important sociopolitical consequences of the Awakening in the Colonies were 1) the birth of an American identity distinct from the Old World yet rooted in the liberties of English common law; and 2) a deep commitment for compassion and social change from many revived believers, including nascent abolition movements (John Woolman) and care for orphans. In one meeting, revivalist George Whitefield convinced freethinking Ben Franklin to empty his pockets for the orphans!

Even among those not directly impacted by religious fervor, a sense of personal reverence for God, responsibility for one's neighbor and a deep distrust of centralized institutions took root. When the conflicts with England arose during the 1760s, many radical leaders appealed to the past evidences of God's grace as affirmation of the justice of the Colonial cause.

Why does this matter in the post-Christian West of the 21st century? The answer is profoundly simple. Political revolutions, whether they are Left, Right or Center, without authentic moral and spiritual awakening in a critical mass of the populace, will simply displace one oligarchy with another. People who covet power do not care about principled policies or ideology - for them the masses are there to manipulate, whether it is an appeal to conservative or progressive ideas.

America 2010 is imploding. The current economic policies are bankrupting our future. Moral anarchy is rampant and compassionate and intelligent voices are drowned out amidst the noise of accusations from both extremes. We must have an authentic and holistic spiritual awakening or our Republic will be consigned to the ash-heap of history within one generation. Here are some facts that transcend simplistic ideology:

* Islam is not a democratic world-view and the aim of current leaders is not a land of pluralistic debate and liberty, but the gradual submission of all to a particular version of Islamic Law. I challenge all "moderate Muslims" to unequivocally affirm complete freedom of conscience and religion, regardless of what percentage of a population is Muslim. Please note that Islam has never produced a pluralistic republic in history.
* 21st century Christians of all traditions are not agitating for an undemocratic theocracy; in fact, it is Judeo-Christian values that set the table for the current freedoms we enjoy.
* Self-regulation, within a context of reverence for God and personal commitment to truth and virtue, is the best guarantee of liberty. The fact that we have a population expecting the federal government to solve all their problems is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The election of 2008 was a mini-revolution in the tradition of 1789 - contemptuous of traditional Christianity, radical in policy and destructive to our long-term future. Today's policies are so bad that some are willing gives up their freedoms for a government handout. The same mindset pervaded France in the 1790s, Russia in the 1920s and Germany as Hitler came to power.

Electing compassionate and intelligent conservatives in 2010 is a good start to reversing our current course, but it is inadequate to secure lasting change. We must have a Third Awakening that stirs religious commitment and stimulates social transformation. A rebirth of reverence and responsibility, local community action and real love for our neighbors - of all faiths or none - is our only hope.

Join me in praying for God to grace our land with holy love, humility, moral strength and sacrificial service. Then perhaps, in the Providence of the Almighty, we can see "a new birth of freedom" and aspire to the values of Washington and Lincoln.