God's Politics by Jim Wallis

I have collated what I believe are some key thoughts from the first few chapter of Jim Wallis' book God's Politics Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn't get it.

I write this post now, because it is not before, but after an election that the real work of governing begins.

I haven't even read half the book, so I'll reserve judgment. However, thus far he is saying that the progressive distaste for religion is historically short sited, (Martin Luther King Jr., Woman's Suffrage, etc...) and from his perspective, dead wrong as he himself is an evangelical. The conservatives on the other hand, while extremely adept at speaking the language of faith, are myopic in their understanding of the Hebrew scriptures and their relationship to the Biblical mandate for social justice.

What I appreciate most about the book so far is its intelligent, nuanced and insightful critique, of both the left and the right. Many people are saying what Wallis is saying, but few as well or as thoughtfully as he does.


On Protest
We need more than critique, we must ask what’s wrong, but also what the answers are?

Instead of trying to strike an elusive balance between private piety and the social gospel, we must go to the heart of prophetic religion in which a personal god demands public justice as an act of worship.

Saying no is good, but having an alternative is better. Protest is not enough, it is necessary to show a better way. The aim of effective and transformational protest should be to illumine a society to its need to change. In other words, protest must be instructive rather than destructive. It should at its best, point the way to an alternative rather than just register the anger of its demonstrators. The power of protest is not in its anger, but in it’s invitation to something better.

On War
Those who seek alternatives to war, must not underestimate the problem of evil in the world… it must be admitted that the peace movement sometimes underestimates the power of evil… (In the run up to the war in Iraq), the public perception was that the peace movement was not determined to appose Saddam Hussain or remove him from power. So those who did clearly propose to deal with Saddam Hussain appeared to be stronger than those who didn’t. When a peace movement appears to be soft on the problems that war claims to be able to solve, alternative solutions will seem week. To avoid or prevent war, we must have answers that effectively deal with the problems and threats, but are better than war.

On Poverty
The conservatives are right when they say that cultural and moral issues of family break down, personal responsibility, sexual promiscuity, and substance abuse are prime reasons for domestic poverty.

The liberals are right when they point to the need for adequate nutrition, health care, education, housing, and good paying jobs as keys to overcoming epidemic poverty.


Calling and Convictions

I'm in this on-line church planting class called Missio which approaches things from a "missional" perspective. (yes that over-used word again, I know)

Here are my answers to a recent assignment.

1) What is your best understanding to date of what you sense God is asking you to 'be' and 'do?'

I feel called to create communities that worship Christ, love each other, and make the world a better place through tangible acts of service. I still wonder about the extent to which I should do this vocationally. I'm glad my current calling allows me to "work" part time in a way that is highly integrated. I know this is where I'm supposed to be right now, but will I always be a "pastor"? I don't know.

2) What are your top 3-5 conviction statements (Zer0 page 9 worksheet)?
  • The world as we know it is not acceptable!
    • We need to calibrate our actions for change. We need to operate in a sustainable emergency mode.
  • Knowing Christ is paramount.
  • Sustainability is paramount
  • No one lives in a bubble, our actions are interrelated.
  • The autonomy and conscience of individuals must be respected.
    • In other words, disagree with out being disagreeable. We need to have convictions, but we need to learn to see things from other peoples perspective as well. In theology and politics, people somehow impute "sin" on people that don't see things their way. Pastors in particular have the potential to do great harm in this respect. I want to create a community where people are free to question the status-quo, including my personal convictions, but in a loving and respectful way. No doubt this is a reaction to dogmatic leaders, a problem I see in the missional community as much as anywhere.
  • An improved Christian understanding of calling, particularly as it concerns vocation, has the potential to radically change the world for the better.
    • From a macro perspective, I see governments and non-profits (including the organized "church") as givens when it comes to eradicating suffering. (that's not entirely true, but bear with me.) Google's motto: "Don't be evil", the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, these are examples of a force that if radically multiplied, could substantially improve the quality of life for millions. Therefore, empowering Christians to take ownership of their vocation, and see it as more than just a way to pay the bills, is something I am very passionate about.
  • Sin warps the ability of individuals to completely know "the truth". Therefore we ought to operate with a great deal of humility.
  • Critical thinking is paramount.
3) How does your understanding of your calling connect or disconnect from your primary convictions (from question 2 above)?

For the most part it connects. I'm very comfortable with where I'm at right now as it relates to my sense of calling. However sometimes I wonder if I couldn't do more good if I was involved in a for-profit (i.e. sustainable) enterprise that also uniquely contributed to making the world a better place, and then sought to join with others in a faith community, possibly taking on some leadership roles, but without the pros and cons of a salary.


Lack of funding denies the accused proper defense

Exodus 23:6 - Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

Check out this article in the New York Times: Citing work load, public defenders are refusing new cases

My title reflects what i think is a more appropriate title for this story.

Here is what is happening. Work loads for public defenders are going up, and budgets are going down, and experienced public defenders are quiting due to low pay.

This results in a realty in which one person, the public defender, is being asked to "defend" a ridiculous number of people, putting them in an impossible position.

This is just yet another example of how this nation abuses the poor for the sake of the wealthy. (Though the poor who are actually guilty also contribute to the problem.) And granted it is more of a local issue, as various jurisdictions have various levels of resources. However the reality is that people who we say are innocent until proven guilty, do not have adequate defense, and this in a nation with the largest GDP in the history of the world.

Isaiah 5:23 - Woe to those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.

Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor. Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, many of the government-appointed lawyers say that state budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.

The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, Mr. Lefstein and Mr. Carroll said, is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted — which means the real offenders would be left untouched. Appeals claiming inadequate defense are very difficult to win, experts say.

Here in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, the defenders’ office has had its budget cut by 12.6 percent in the last two years, said the elected chief defender, Bennett H. Brummer, and the workload has climbed by 29 percent over the last four years.

State Senator Victor D. Crist, chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, is a vocal critic of the Miami-Dade lawsuit, saying Mr. Brummer is “blowing things out of proportion.”

Mr. Crist said the judicial system had faced smaller cuts than other parts of government. Although no defendant should be denied due process, he said, the courts, state’s attorneys and public defenders must all tighten their belts.

Michigan requires counties to protect the indigent without providing state funds, resulting in large disparities. In some counties, those charged with misdemeanors are not even offered a lawyer; in others, the judge hires one for a flat fee, creating a conflict of interest and incentives to skimp on defense.

A few weeks earlier, he had to tell a 53-year-old man who was charged with grand theft, for stealing a few locks from a Home Depot, that the state was offering five years because earlier convictions made him a “habitual offender.” In a discussion in a holding pen, his client asked, “Won’t they take one year?” Mr. Jones went back to the prosecutors, who calculated that the minimum sentence, under a scoring system here, would be 2.6 years. But Mr. Jones had no time to check their math.

The man was already resigned to taking that sentence when the prosecutors discovered their calculations were mistaken: the correct minimum was 366 days.

“You see how easily accidents can happen?” Mr. Jones said. “He easily could have gotten three years instead of one.”

Amos 2:6-7 - They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.


Decesions Decesions

Who to vote for tomorrow is the decision in front of many of us. And for the Christ follower, I don't think it's an easy one. Two candidates and two parties each seek my vote, each representing Christ in some ways, and assailing him and his creation in others. So, who to vote for?

To help me make my decision, I'm looking at what some Christian organizations have to say, specifically the Sojourners - Voting Guide (Left), Focus on the Family - Citizen Link - (Right) and Christianity Today - How to Pick a President Article (centrist) as well as the candidates themselves.

Having looked over the material of these organizations, as well as the candidates, I think what I'm going to do is simply list the candidates and make a list of the top pros and cons for each one, from my perspective.

John McCain pro
  • Pro-Life on the rights of the unborn child.
  • Conservative judiciary philosophy. I believe in writing laws written by the people's representatives, and/or amending the constitution, not legislating from the bench. (Though both the "Right" and the "Left" are guilty of this from time to time.)
  • Will divide power between Democrats in Congress and a Republican in the White House, which among other things should limit spending.
  • Centrist (Examples: emigration, torture)
  • Will limit spending. (Hopefully. W certainly hasn't, but that is primarily because with a Republican congress for much of the time, there were no checks and balances.)

Barack Obama pro
  • Pro-Life on capital punishment, war and genocide.
  • Comprehensive health care plan addresses Biblical issues of justice and may put the nation on a better economic footing. People absolutely should not die simply because they can not afford their medicine or a procedure. Additionally this will set the nation on a better footing economically, because it will allow American multinational cooperations as well as small businesses to compete on an even playing field with their international competitors.
  • Has an appropriate view of Americas place in the world, and understands that God loves the whole world.
  • Will limit defense spending.
    • This may put us on a better footing economically, depending on if the savings get spent or not.
    • The chief threats to our "way of life" as well as our ability to help the less fortunate is economic, as we have seen in the last few months. Yes we need to defend ourseleves and fight terrorism. However we do not need the ginormous profit driven military industrial complex that the Bush administration has enriched at the expense of economic security and the poor and needy.
  • Understands the Biblical mandate to care for creation.

John McCain con
  • Many economic policies cater to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. This is a "values" issue.
  • Choice of campaign style does more to tear down, and caters to an "us vs them" mentality, which is inappropriate.
  • Choice of Sarah Palin was a poor choice because there are others who are much more qualified. Even from a conservative perspective, there are much smarter people out there, who are just as conservative. This choice placed his campaign to become president ahead of the good of the country, and that is a moral problem.
Barack Obama con
  • Association with some aspects of the far Left.
    • Homosexual agenda
    • Secular Anti-Faith agenda
    • Overly socialistic agenda, that while well intentioned will not work economically. (We must pay for whatever "good" things we want to do, and stop putting it on the backs of future generations.)
  • In conjunction with a Democratic congress will provide no checks to spending in general or a far left agenda.
For both candidates I could list things already addressed as pro's for one candidate, as con's for the other since they don't address them, but that would just be redundant.

So who to pick? - Fortunately I still have over 24 hours to decide.

: )

Let me just say this in closing. The country will be just fine on November 5th, and Lord willing will be a better place to live four years latter, no matter who gets elected.

I hear a number of people say they don't like either candidate. I like them both. Barack's choice to work with people in the inner city, and John's 5 years in a prison camp, gives me confidence that both of these men "get it", an while you are I may not agree with every policy position they hold, I think they are both fundamentally seeking the good of the nation.