The Eclectic

Time moves in one direction, memory in another. – William Gibson

Jim Wallis on An attempt to hijack Christianity

Posted by David Leslie on April 28, 2005

It is so sad that Jim is forced to point out that Dr. King never challanged the Christianity of those pastors who stood against the civil rights movement. Yet as a Christian who is a Democrat and believes in gay marriage, I’ve been all but told that I’m either not a ‘true Christian’ or worse, not saved.

So when Jim writes in his challage to be like Christ in our dealings with the Right while understanding that they will do anything to win the day is a tough message but one of importance or else we risk becoming that which we stand against.

An attempt to hijack Christianity by Jim Wallis

Last week, I wrote about the “Justice Sunday” event held at a Louisville, Kentucky, mega-church. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Prison Fellowship’s Chuck Colson, and Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on video in the event titled “Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith.” Of course, I have no objection to Christian leaders expressing their faith in the public arena – it’s a good thing that I do all the time. The question is not whether to do so, but how. As I heard more and more about “Justice Sunday,” it felt to me like it was crossing an important line – saying that a political issue was a test of faith.

So, when I was invited to speak at an interfaith “Freedom and Faith” service at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, I agreed. On Sunday morning, I flew to Louisville, and that afternoon addressed more than 1,000 people who attended the rally. I didn’t go to say that these leaders shouldn’t bring their faith into politics; the issues concerning them – abortion and family values – are also important to me. But the way they were doing it was wrong. The clear implication of their message was that those who opposed them are not people of faith.

We can get some historical perspective by looking at how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did it – and he was the church leader who did it best. Once after he was arrested, he wrote a very famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” addressed to the white clergy who were opposing him on the issues of racial segregation and violence against black people. Never once did he say that they were not people of faith. He appealed to their faith, challenged their faith, asked them to go deeper with their faith, but he never said they were not real Christians. If Dr. King refused to attack the integrity and faith of his opponents over such a clear gospel issue, how can the Religious Right do it over presidential nominees and a Senate procedural issue known as the filibuster?

After the “Justice Sunday” event, and the controversy surrounding it, some of the sponsors are denying they ever claimed that those who oppose them are hostile to people of faith. Yet their words stand for themselves. In the letter announcing the event on the Family Research Council Web site, Tony Perkins wrote: “Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked…because they are people of faith and moral convictions…. We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith.”

So, I told the Louisville rally that when someone has stolen our faith in the public arena, it is time to take our faith back. “Justice Sunday” was an attempt to hijack Christianity for a partisan and ideological agenda. Those on the Religious Right are declaring a religious war to give their version of faith religious supremacy in America. And some members of the Republican Party seem ready almost to declare a Christian theocracy in America. It is time to take back both our faith and our Constitution.

It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation’s future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action. This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”

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