Religion/Politics in Contemporary USA
Bill Long 2/5/07
A Kansas Conversation
Over dinner on Friday, Feb. 9, 2007 I will be leading a discussion on current topics in American religion and politics in Garden City, KS. I originally scheduled the topic as the "Rise and Fall (?) of the Religious Right in Modern America," and I will possibly go into that theme, but my major focus will be on three developments in the past few months that indicate to me that a change is coming over our land on issues of religion, politics and public policy.
I. Introduction--Let's listen to the words of Bob Dylan's classic
A. The whole song "Times They are a Changin'" is appropriate, but let's just say/sing these two stanzas:
"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don't criticize what you don't understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin'
Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'"
B. Previous times of Great Change in the past 40-50 years of American Life
1. 1964--The Civil Rights Act of 1964; Voting Rights Act of 1965
2. 1978--Tax Revolt in CA--property taxes in the first instance, but this led to a host of other reforms represented by the election of Ronald Reagan as President.
II. Changes in 2006/2007
A. Criminal Justice Reform--the work of Charles Colson and Restorative Justice. The issue--a growing dissatisfaction with the victims' rights movement in the 1980s, that locking 'em up and throwing away the key might not be the right answer.
B. The Joint Statement of Evangelicals and those from the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment--Jan. 17, 2007. Text of some of this agreement is below.
C. Jimmy Carter's new book (late 2006) on the Middle East: Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Below are excerpts from an interview with Carter about the book. The emphasis here is on what should happen in the West Bank and Gaza, and not in the other lands controlled by the State of Israel.
III. Themes from the 1950s to 1990s on the Rise (and Fall?) of The American Religious Right.
The themes I would mention here are elaborated in much more detail in my class on law and religion in American life (syllabi here). Five periods/themes of importance are:
1. The Tradition of Mainstream Protestantism after WWII--religious faith as a sign of being a good American, to combat "godless" communism.
2. The Emergence of Evangelical Religion, and the focus on an Experience of Grace
3. The Emergence of Fundamentalism in the Wake of Roe V. Wade
4. The Megachurch Movement in the 1980s and 1990s--with emphasis on "practical Christianity" or "Christianity you can use."
5. The Rise of Roman Catholicism as a Political Force and its Alliance in the 1990s with Protestant Evangelicals.
A Statement of Evangelicals and Scientists:
An Urgent Call to Action:
Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect Creation January 17, 2007 National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
Scientific and evangelical leaders recently met to search for common ground in the protection of the creation. We happily discovered far more concordance than any of us had expected, quickly moving beyond dialogue to a shared sense of moral purpose. Important initiatives were already underway on both sides, and when compared they were found to be broadly overlapping. We clearly share a moral passion and sense of vocation to save the imperiled living world before our damages to it remake it as another kind of planet. We agree not only that reckless human activity has imperiled the Earth—especially the unsustainable and short-sighted lifestyles and public policies of our own nation—but also that we share a profound moral obligation to work together to call our nation, and other nations, to the kind of dramatic change urgently required in our day. We pledge our joint
commitment to this effort in the unique moment now upon us.
This meeting was convened by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School and the National Association of Evangelicals. It was envisioned as a first exploratory conference, based on a shared concern for the creation, to be held among people who were in some ways quite different in their worldviews. It now seems to us to be the beginning point of a major shared effort among scientists and evangelicals to protect life on Earth and the fragile life support systems that sustain it, drawing on the unique intellectual, spiritual, and moral contributions that each community can bring.
Our Shared Concern
We agree that our home, the Earth, which comes to us as that inexpressibly beautiful and mysterious gift that sustains our very lives, is seriously imperiled by human behavior. The harm is seen throughout the natural world, including a cascading set of problems such as climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, and species extinctions, as well as the spread of human infectious diseases, and other accelerating threats to the health of people and the well-being of societies. Each particular problem could be enumerated, but here it is enough to say that we are gradually destroying the sustaining community of life on which all living things on Earth depend. The costs of this destruction are already manifesting themselves around the world in profound and painful ways. The cost to humanity is already significant and may soon become incalculable. Being irreversible, many of these changes would affect all generations to come. We believe that the protection of life on Earth is a profound moral imperative. It addresses without discrimination the interests of all humanity as well as the value of the non-human world. It requires a new moral awakening to a compelling demand, clearly articulated in Scripture and supported by science, that we must steward the natural world in order to preserve for ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and
healthful environment. For many of us, this is a religious obligation, rooted in our sense of gratitude for Creation and reverence for its Creator. One fundamental motivation that we share is concern for the poorest of the poor, well over a billion people, who have little chance to improve their lives in devastated and often war-ravaged environments. At the same time, the natural environments in which they live, and where so much of Earth’s biodiversity barely hangs on, cannot survive the press of destitute people without other resources and with nowhere else to go. We declare that every sector of our nation’s leadership—religious, scientific, business, political, and educational—must act now to work toward the fundamental change in values, lifestyles, and public policies required to address these worsening problems before it is too late. There is no excuse for further delays. Business as usual cannot continue yet one more day. We pledge to work together at every level to lead our nation toward a responsible care for creation, and we call with one voice to our scientific and evangelical colleagues, and to all others, to join us in these efforts.
Interview with Jimmy Carter on Palestine: Peace not Apartheid
Q: What has been the importance of your own faith in your continued interest in peace in the Middle East?
A: As a Christian, I worship the Prince of Peace. One of my preeminent commitments has been to bring peace to the people who live in the Holy Land. I made my best efforts as president and still have this as a high priority.
Q: A common theme in your years of Middle East diplomacy has been that leaders on both sides have often been more open to discussion and change in private than in public. Do you think that's still the case?
A: Yes. This is why private and intense negotiations can be successful. More accurately, however, my premise has been that the general public (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) are more eager for peace than their political leaders. For instance, a recent poll done by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem showed that 58% of Israelis and 81% of the Palestinians favor a comprehensive settlement similar to the Roadmap for Peace or the Saudi proposal adopted by all 23 Arab nations and recently promoted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Tragically, there have been no substantive peace talks during the past six years.
Q: How have the war in Iraq and the increased strength of Iran (and the declarations of their leaders against Israel) changed the conditions of the Israel-Palestine question?
A: Other existing or threatened conflicts in the region greatly increase the importance of Israel's having peace agreements with its neighbors, to minimize overall Arab animosity toward both Israel and the United States and reduce the threat of a broader conflict.
Q: Your use of the term "apartheid" has been a lightning rod in the response to your book. Could you explain your choice? Were you surprised by the reaction?
A: The book is about Palestine, the occupied territories, and not about Israel. Forced segregation in the West Bank and terrible oppression of the Palestinians create a situation accurately described by the word. I made it plain in the text that this abuse is not based on racism, but on the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. This violates the basic humanitarian premises on which the nation of Israel was founded. My surprise is that most critics of the book have ignored the facts about Palestinian persecution and its proposals for future peace and resorted to personal attacks on the author. No one could visit the occupied territories and deny that the book is accurate.
Q: You write in the book that "the peace process does not have a life of its own; it is not self-sustaining." What would you recommend that the next American president do to revive it?
A: I would not want to wait two more years. It is encouraging that President George W. Bush has announced that peace in the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years. On her January trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. She has recommended the 2002 offer of the Arab nations as a foundation for peace: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. Government policy, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 and 1993, and with the International Quartet's "roadmap for peace." My book proposes that, through negotiated land swaps, this "green line" border be modified to permit a substantial number of Israelis settlers to remain in Palestine. With strong U.S. pressure, backed by the U.N., Russia, and the European Community, Israelis and Palestinians would have to come to the negotiating table.