Sunday, September 4


I came across a fascinating Frontline interview with Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics. Wallis lends great insight into the "evangelical" movement's conversion to conservative politics over the past several decades. It's of particular interest to those who wonder how denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention could switch from championing the separation of church and state to being one of the foremost advocates of obliterating that doctrine.

There's also a revealing statement by Dubya: "Afterwards, [when] he was talking to us, George W. took me aside and said, "'Jim, I don't understand poor people. I don't live, never lived around poor people. I don't know [how] poor people think. Frankly, I'm a white Republican guy who just doesn't get it'...I said, "You need to listen to poor people, and people who work and live with poor people.'"

That's as good an explanation as any for why Bush et al failed to respond to the desperate plight of the poor in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina struck and the levees failed. He just doesn't relate to, or consider, that poor people might not be able to afford to evacuate, that they might not own their own transportation, be able to afford hotel rooms and high gas prices, that their income might not stretch to the end of the month. So to Dubya, Chertoff, Michael Brown and their ilk, it's the people's fault that they didn't evacuate. "They" just didn't listen to or take seriously the warnings. But the truth is, it's the Bushies who weren't listening.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Then Sept. 11 came. I think his role changed dramatically, his notion of himself and his place in history, and he became commander in chief of the war on terrorism. The self-help Methodist became now almost a messianic American Calvinist, speaking of the mission of America, and even of his perhaps divine appointment to be president at a time such as this.

This raises some deep and unsettling theological questions, I think, whether there's a confusion now in the role of church and nation -- the body of Christ, the Christian community, what its role is versus the role of the nation.

Hymnology is often used in the president's speeches, and his 2003 State of the Union. There's "wonder-working power" in the faith and values of the American people. Well, that's not what the song says. Those of us who are evangelical hear that song, "Wonder-Working Power" -- it's a hymn. "There's wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb," the song says, which means the salvation in Christ, not in the values of the American people. It's not what the song says.

Or Ellis Island, on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. He talked about how America stands as a beacon of light to the world, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Well, that's in the Gospel of John. But the light there is the word of God, and the light of Christ, not the beacon of American freedom. So hymns are being altered and put in a different context. I think what you see now is more an American civil religion than evangelical biblical faith.

… That's bad theology. It confuses American civil religion and biblical faith. It confuses church and nation. It confuses God's purposes with the best interests for American foreign policy, so there's a confusion here. It's bad theology and bad foreign policy at the same time.
[emphasis mine]


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