Beau Underwood, Faith in Public Life’s Partnership and Outreach Coordinator, holds graduate degrees in religion and public policy and worked on several political campaigns before joining FPL. He blogs about faith in the public square, public theology, and workers’ rights and other economic issues at Bold Faith Type.
The biblical challenge to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17) is subject to an array of interpretations but clearly claims that government has legitimate purposes that place real obligations on individuals, while also providing a reminder that the dictates of one’s faith and the demands of one’s government often create tension.
Despite this injunction, Washington abounds with examples of faith being subverted, dominated, and used by political ideology for partisan gain by organizations and individuals who claim the Christian faith. Perhaps the most severe example of this is the embrace by conservative Christian legislators of economic policies that protect tax breaks for corporate special interests and the wealthy at the expense of funding for programs which serve the neediest and most vulnerable members of society.
While I have significant disagreements with the conservative theology and political beliefs of Chuck Colson, I also must give him credit for this recent commentary calling out ideological extremists on the right who refuse to raise taxes, even on the wealthy, as we address our nation’s economic challenges. He writes:
I see no biblical warrant for the two positions being embraced in Washington today – a total refusal to raise taxes on one hand; a total refusal to cut government spending on the other. They are both based on man-made ideology.
Unfortunately, Colson recently failed to put his principle into practice by his signing onto a letter that advocates steep budget cuts while promoting the same anti-tax extremism he criticizes. I’m glad to see Colson call out the ideological extremists, now I hope he remembers to follow his own advice.
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When people of faith enter public life they face the challenge of speaking authentically about the policy implications of their religious beliefs without being compromised by the political process. Faith speaks to politics, but should not be co-opted by those seeking partisan gain. As the need to raise the debt ceiling looms and detailed policy debates around the federal budget are ongoing, religious leaders are testifying to the power of their faith by holding daily prayer vigils for the next two weeks outside the United Methodist Building, which is across the street from the Capitol.
These vigils, which take place each weekday at 12:30 pm, witness to the fact that the budget is a moral document and our nation’s fiscal priorities should embody justice and compassion. They also serve as a reminder that God has no political affiliation, but stands steadfastly with the vulnerable and cares deeply about the least among us. Getting caught up in the day-to-day politics is an easy temptation in Washington, but these vigils are an important reminder that faith calls us to transcend partisanship while remaining prophetic.
As a pastor, I invite you to stop by the vigil either this week or next.
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In response to Rep. Todd Akin’s recent, insensitive comment that “at the heart of liberalism is a hatred for God,” a group of clergy from Akin’s district visited his office today. In light of his failed attempts to justify his statement yesterday, the group of faith leaders sought a real apology from their Congressman for the disrespect his remarks showed towards their religious commitments. Instead, the Congressman sent a staff person to meet the group, while refusing to address the substance of his offensive remarks.
Rev. Kevin Cameron, senior pastor of Parkway United Church of Christ in St. Louis, described his disappointment with his own Congressman’s remarks:
“Congressman Akin continues to insist that liberalism is anti-religion. As a pastor and a constituent of his, I find this deeply offensive. I hold my liberal political views because of my faith.”
While Akin’s remarks were in reference to a decision by NBC to remove “under god” from a video of people saying the pledge, Rev. Krista Taves, minister of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville, noted that the substance of faith is more than just symbolic displays of belief:
“Congressman Akin needs to understand that there’s more to faith in the public square than mentioning ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. Akin recently voted for a federal budget that would deprive the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable of healthcare while giving tax giveaways to millionaires. Mainstream people of faith reject these immoral priorities.”
Akin’s comments demonstrate a real lack of understanding of liberal people of faith, including many his constituents. Rev. Jeffrey Whitman, Conference Minister for the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ stated:
“Congressman Akin is dealing in political stereotypes that malign his liberal religious constituents. As a liberal and a person of faith, I’m quite certain that the Congressman is mistaken when he says liberalism is anti-religion.”
The delegation of faith leaders delivered the letter from local clergy expressing concerns about his comments, as well as 200 petition signatures from Missouri members of Faithful America, an online community of people of faith standing up for social justice and the common good.
UPDATE: Progress Missouri has video of the delivery and subsequent press conference here:
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In a modest but important victory for workers’ rights, the National Labor Relations Board announced a rule change today that will protect workers’ ability to hold democratic elections to form a union. The ruling limits the opportunities for corporate lawyers to unfairly influence elections, a common union-busting tactic.
Diverse faith traditions affirm the dignity of labor and support the rights of workers to organize for just wages, fair benefits, and safe working conditions. Several national religious leaders spoke out in support of the NLRB ruling.
Highlighting how attacks on workers undermine the common good, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, said:
“This sensible rule change is an important victory for workers and should be applauded by anyone who believes in fair union elections. Catholic teaching and diverse faith traditions support the vital role of unions in serving the common good and defending the dignity of work. The growing attacks on workers’ rights across the country are a moral scandal. CEOs and politicians attempting to demonize unions and hurt working families are wrong. We know that our nation is better when all have a seat at the negotiating table. This is a step in that direction.”
Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, praised the ruling for strengthening fair union elections:
“The United Methodist Church supports the rights of workers and believes both workers and employers have a responsibility to bargain in good faith, including during the period when workers decide whether to form a union. Stall tactics and intimidation undermine workers’ rights and have no place in the process. I’m pleased with the NLRB’s ruling that will help ensure free and fair elections while protecting the rights of hardworking Americans.”
Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, added:
“I applaud this terrific ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, which will make it easier and more fair for workers to decide whether they want to form a union. Without this step forward, anti-union employers have too much power to intimidate workers and stop them from expressing their voice on the job.”
The NLRB decision helps level the playing field in labor relations between workers and corporate leaders, according to Rev. Nelson Rivers III, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Vice President for Stakeholder Relations at the NAACP:
“Even in the 21st century, too many American workers face barriers to justice and dignity in the workplace. Overcoming these obstacles requires not only hard work and prayer, but also rules that allow workers to exercise their right to organize. The NLRB’s new ruling on union elections serves this noble purpose, and I commend it.”
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The Texas Freedom Network is doing a fantastic job of covering Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s upcoming Christian prayer rally “on behalf of a troubled nation.” The Perry event is troubling not only in content, but also because it is sponsored by the American Family Association, a Christian Right group with a history of using religion to promote intolerance and division.
As TFN’s blog reports, religious leaders in Texas are starting to speak out, noting the event raises troubling questions about the state’s endorsement of a specific (and narrow) faith perspective. Organizers of the event have explicitly stated that the purpose of the rally is to show people that “there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.”
As a pastor and citizen, I find this alarming. There’s nothing about being elected Governor that qualifies Rick Perry or anyone else to speak authoritatively on matters of religion. Winning an election to political office is not a mandate to become preacher-in-chief. Nor is it appropriate in a democracy that protects the right of all Americans to practice their faith for a government entity or official to sponsor events whose purpose is converting people to any specific faith.
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