Thanks to Surry Hills Library, I have this as my current reading. Jim Wallis is more of a fundamentalist than I could ever be, but that aside we are in agreement on so many things. Here is a person who rings true. Here is what Americans, and all people of faith, or even of little faith or none, need to hear in 2006.
The link above takes you to Jim Wallis’s open letter to wrestler/politician Jesse Ventura, which gives you a good idea of what to expect. It is in fact reproduced in God’s Politics.
You and I have never met; we’ve lived in different worlds. I’ve never been a biker or boa-feathered wrestler. And you, I’ll guess, have never led a prayer meeting. But you’ve been preaching a lot of sermons lately. Even one on religion, in Playboy magazine no less! I read the interview and thought I’d write to straighten out some of your misunderstandings, just to be helpful. There’s probably a lot you don’t know about religious people, but now that you’re governor you’ll want to find out.
You said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers….” Well, you’ve got a point if you mean those who just go to Sunday services and treat it like a nice club. But there are quite a few religious folks who try to live their faith between Sundays, 24/7 as they say.
First, you might want to visit your own inner-city pastors in Minnesota. I know a lot of them, and they’re pretty tough minded, even though they’ve got big hearts. You see, they live and work in urban war zones where one has to demonstrate the love of God and not just talk about it. I’ve seen you wrestler guys strut around the ring, but I doubt if many of you would make it in a neighborhood like mine. Anyway, I’ve been with some of your pastors at gang peace summits, no place for the weak-minded, and they could teach you some stuff.
I’m sure you’ve already been reminded about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who were pretty tough. Just ask the Southern governors or the British. I remember watching South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu face down armed security police inside his cathedral in Cape Town. And did you know Nelson Mandela, who was probably the strongest political leader on the planet, is a religious man?
I wish you could meet my friends Daniel and Phillip Berrigan. They’re Catholic priests who’ve been fighting against nuclear weapons for decades and have spent years in jail for their often lonely protests. I guess they don’t need strength in numbers. Ever spent any time in jail, Jesse, I mean for doing something right? Lots of us religious folks have.
Most of the people I’m thinking of are not famous. I also know the streets of Olongapo in the Philippines — you know, that place you said you had fun with young girls. What you probably didn’t know was that they were poor, rural girls lured into prostitution with the promise of urban jobs. They became virtual sex slaves, drugged and forced to live in barracks-like quarters for the profit of businessmen. I’ve walked those streets with a Mennonite relief worker who helped the girls overcome their addictions and diseases. You can imagine how tough-minded a person has to be to open a shelter for the girls and take on the pimps. You wouldn’t want to cross her, Jesse.
Many of the folks I wish you could meet are close to home, in neighborhoods all over the country. They take in refugee families, run homeless shelters and soup kitchens, mentor at-risk kids, and walk alongside poor families making the transition from welfare to work.
I suspect you’re the kind of stand-up guy who would want to know when you got it wrong. So I thought I’d drop you a line. Hope I’ve been helpful. Maybe we could arm wrestle some time.
Read on that same page “45 Predictions for the New Millennium.”
I debated Jerry Falwell yesterday on Tavis Smiley’s National Public Radio show. The subject was the current talk about “values” in the presidential election campaign. Tavis first asked Falwell to name a “short list” of the values issues that were important to him. It turned out to be a very short list indeed. All the Religious Right leader could talk about was the gay marriage amendment. That was it.
I pointed out that overcoming poverty was a values issue, as was protecting the environment, as was fighting unnecessary wars on false pretenses, as was the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. As he often does when he fears he might lose a debate, Falwell eventually began to interrupt what I was saying and moved into personal-attack mode, saying that I was “as much an evangelical as an oak tree.” The television preacher from Lynchburg has such a way with words.
But then he really got vicious. He challenged me: “You voted for Al Gore, didn’t you, Reverend? Admit it! Admit it!” he demanded. “You didn’t vote for George Bush, or George Bush Sr., or even Ronald Reagan!” He had me. I was finally exposed on National Public Radio – a Christian who hadn’t consistently voted for Republican candidates. How could I ever again claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who, as we all know, was pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?…
I happen to think that both abortion and gay marriage are important issues, but they are not the only issues. Many Christians are getting tired of the tirades of the Jerry Falwells who repeatedly claim that all values issues have to do with sex and that every Christian must vote for their Republican friends. Family values are important to many Christians, but so are social values. And many Christians are pro-family without being anti-gay the way Falwell is. And many of us believe that a deep commitment to the sacredness of human life requires a consistent ethic of life, which also regards the destruction of war, the death penalty, and the scandal of global poverty as deeply moral concerns, not just abortion.
The future of American politics should be a real discussion of values; that would be a very welcome development. And we may be reaching a “tipping point” when many other Christians and the media who cover faith and politics will decide that the Religious Right should no longer dominate the discussion. Let them have their say, but let other Christian voices be heard. The control of right-wing fundamentalists over the “values” conversation may be coming to an end. And the uncritical alliance between the Religious Right and the Republican Party should be named a theocratic mistake and idolatrous allegiance (as is any religious left’s uncritical alliance with the Democrats)…