Compassion Forum and Faithful politics

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A number of friends saw my daughter and I on CNN, sitting in the VIP section at the Compassion Forum hosted by Messiah College on Sunday night.  As you most likely know, the Faith in Public Life folks—we know and respect nearly half their inter-faith board—were joined by the ONE campaign, Oxfam and a few other groups wanting to ask questions about faith and public policy sponsored a discussion with Senators Obama and Clinton (John McCain chose not to attend.)  They each talked about their faith journey, how they’ve experienced and describe God’s presence, and how their sense of Christian social principles might guide them as they confront incredibly complex and urgent social issues such as AIDS, peacemaking, poverty, torture, creation-care and abortion.  The talk was earnest, it seemed to me, and the moderators—CNN’s Campbell Brown, and Newsweek’s Jon Meacham—did an admirable job asking questions in fair and candid ways.  Other previously prepared questioners, representing Jews, Muslims and others, were in the audience (we were happy to see some of our acquaintances, folks like Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Lisa Sharon Harper, former IVCF staff friend, and now Director of New York Faith & Justice, the always-interesting NAE policy guy, Richard Cizik and teacher and author David Gushee.) 

Marissa and I enjoyed watching how a TV show is produced, and the opening remarks, music and prayers from the generous hosts at Messiah were inspiring.  Of course the conversation could have gone in other directions, and it is clear that there was a progressive bias to most of the questioning. (Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins was invited and never replied; he later complained that he wasn’t involved.)  I enjoyed meeting new folks, authors, think-tank wonks, and policy activists, Republicans, Democrats, people from various faith traditions. Next to me was a sharp staffer from a Washington agency that is working on “third way” common ground strategies—just hearing about these different groups as projects made being there a delight.

I kept thinking of the writing I’ve done this season on books like Ron Sider’s Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker; $15.99)–I hope you read my review in February’s website column—and how important it is to have this kind of consistent and comprehensive Christian framework for thinking coherently about a “faith-based” orientation to our citizenship duties and the role government.  The candidates are good and thoughtful people, I think, and they each have had church involvement over the years, but I suggest that if you read a few popular level books of the sort I’ve described in that column, you may have a more integrated and wise perspective than half the folks who showed up for the Forum.  It is easy these days to critique the hard Christian right; the last year or two saw way too many repetitive and often mean-spirited left-leaning diatribes against conservatives, books that too often trafficked in the same sorts of one-sidedness and glib overstatement that they criticized  on the other side.  Yuck.

 We hope to promote books that will engender deeper conversations among faith-driven citizens, who are seeking a true alternative to left and right, rooted in a radical Christian worldview. It is the sort of perspective documented in David Gushee’s great new book, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center (Baylor University Press; $I24.95.)  I’ve often mentioned David Koyzis smart work, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies  (IVP: $20) and it would be well worth working through this balanced and perceptive history of the ideologies that have shaped American political discourse in this season of election-mania.  Do we even know what words like “liberal” or “conservative” or “progressive” mean, or where they’ve come from?  I know that political philosophy isn’t for everyone, but for anyone who is feeling called to enter serious civic discussions or be involved in campaign work, I couldn’t recommend a serious book more urgently.

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And, enjoy this: I often appreciate the great reviews over at The Discerning Reader and their interview, here, with Os Guinness, around the themes of his new book, The Case for Civility and Why Our Future Depends on It (HarperOne; $23.95) is stellar.  Congratulations to Tim Challis for asking good questions and to Os for once again speaking clearly and significantly into the issues of the day.  I really hope you read the interview.

At the Compassion Forum, I spoke to a few activists, journalists, and scholars and I had the opportunity to bring upcase for civility.jpg Dr. Guinness’ urgently needed book in no less than three different conversations.  Clearly nonpartisan, The Case for Civility is what I sometimes call a foundational text.  That is, he is framing conversation in ways that are basic, reflecting on “first things.”  I hope you print out this interview and, if you know anyone who finds it helpful, that they will spread the word about this profound, foundational study.  We explained our appreciation for it in that same monthly column where I reviewed Sider’s book, by the way, making us one of the first sites to comment upon it–although Challis’s Discerning Reader review is much better.  I wish we could sell a bunch, helping not only make the case for civility, but shaping a movement of those who care as deeply about American survival as does her generous critic, Dr. G

Watch CNN archieved video of the Compassion Forum here and various questioners from the Faith in Public Life website, here.  You can read transcripts of the event here. Messiah College has a great slideshow, from several days before up through the big evening, here.

10 thoughts on “Compassion Forum and Faithful politics

  1. I stopped by yesterday and picked up Jesus for President. It reflects my interest in counter-imperialism, but I’m not entirely sure where it intends to take me as far as engagement with the political arena goes. It certainly is captivating, though.
    What are some of your thoughts?

  2. Speaking of books, I’ve been wondering about your take on “Pagan Christianity.”
    Thanks for the brief article; it was very interesting.

  3. I look forward to picking up Guiness’ book and reading it. Looked at the review over at Discerning Reader.
    I agreed with Guiness that pluralism is a sociological fact.
    I disagreed with him when he says that Emergent is relativist. It is, in fact, the grappling with *how* to believe in the context of pluralism that is the issue. So often we focus on *what” we believe that it distorts *how” we believe.
    Of course, the *how* and the *what* are brought together in the *Who,* the Crucified and Risen Lord. *How* we believe is a Way- the cross, love for the enemy, justice for the poor, trusting in undeserved grace…
    Again, I look forward to reading the book!
    Peace, Tim

  4. Tim,
    Thanks for these perceptive comments…good stuff. I’m honored that you wrote!
    Just out of curiosity, where did you see/hear Os say that about Emergent? I don’t doubt that that is his concern, but wondered if you saw an interview or citation?

  5. Byron,
    I read the Emergent comment (re: relativism) in the Discerning Reader interview. Double check if I read the interview correctly.
    I look forward to reading about how to be civil and Christian and walking in the Way in a pluralistic world.
    Peace, Tim

  6. Tim,
    I really appreciated your comments on your post, here, as I said. I did go back and check that, since I hadn’t recalled it, and it seemed somewhat “in passing”, and not a well-developed claim (the way the rest of the interview is). I don’t mean to suggest you and he may not have some disagreement, nor want to put too fine of a spin on it, but he said that statistics show (not sure what statistics, but I trust that he follows this stuff) that contemporary Christians tend to be relativistic, and then said especially in the “emergent” movement. So he wasn’t exactly saying Emergent as a movement or tradition or body of thought IS relativist, period. But that many of the folks who might be in that conversation/movement are. And I’d guess that may be true. Whether that is natural—comes with the fascination with postmodern perspectivalism, or because emergent churches tend to reach those already disillusioned with traditional orthodoxy—I don’t know. I would suggest that mainline protestants and Catholics and pentecostals all have had their share of capitulation to the ethos of the culture, in part do to a privitization of faith due to some measure of relativism. We haven’t figured out how to live into your good question, or how to embody that basic posture of being “in/not of” the surrounding culture.
    I know Guinness has large concerns about the emergent movement but I am not sure his comment meant that “they” (?) are relativistic, period. Some may be, so he may be making a fair observation, but I would want to distinguish between a postmodern appreciation for the finite and limited nature of all human knowing (breaking with modernist epistomology of rationalism) and nihilistic relativism. One can adopt the former without falling for the later.

  7. Bryon: I’m sorry we missed a chance to meet. Diana and I were at the Compassion Forum too. Thanks as always for the ways you find to broaden the conversation.

  8. Byron,
    Thanks for your reflections on the Guiness interview!
    And… I really appreciated your last paragraph- the distinction between appreciating certain elements of postmodernism (= the limits, as finite, flawed beings of our knowing Truth)versus a self-absorbed relativism.
    Peace! Tim

  9. I was astonished at the lack of American History and arrogance during a recent talk by Os.
    Where he has criticized the founders and the Constitution (the Williamsburg Charter) he needs to debate the issue with someone who actually knows American History. e.g. Dave Barton. Will Os be willing to do that? I don’t think so. My daughter asked him a simple question and assumed she knew Dave Barton and arrogantly dismissed him as unqualified! Wow! For the record I’m not a heretic hunter of someone who normally writes something like this. Further, I’ve read three of his books and enjoyed them so this is not personal but he needs to get the facts right.

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