Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Evangelicals moving left

More good news from the unlikely source:

The New York Times reports today on Mark Earley, former tough-on-crime crusader attorney general of Virginia, who changed his mind about drug laws and has now become president of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship.

The vice-president of Prison Fellowship is Pat Nolan, a former California legislator who served two years in prison in the 1990s on a corruption charge. Nolan testified to the reporter, "I went into prison believing in God, and I came out knowing him. I understood how much he loved us, even in a dark place."

James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who gets worse and worse with his power-hungry, domineering ways as other evangelicals get better, opposes the reforms that Christian prison advocacy groups support.

It's a good article, by Samuel G. Freedman. For the whole thing, click here:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Zimbabwe, continued

This morning's New York Times (June 26) has a large color photo covering most of the top of the page. I have not been able to post it because it is not linked to any article. It shows a wailing little 11-month-old African boy with his legs encased in plaster casts. His legs were shattered by Robert Mugabe's young thugs. They wanted to coerce his mother into revealing the whereabouts of her husband, a member of the opposition. She did not know where her husband was in any case. She had to walk for two days to get treatment for her child. Her breast milk has dried up because she herself is so malnourished.

We must not turn away from this misery--there is so little we can do, but we can at least be aware. The editors, to their great credit, wants us to SEE. They are asking us to take our eyes off Brangelina and Britney and even the new hot ticket Michelle Obama for a while, to view the suffering of the world and take action where we can. The Christians of Zimbabwe have been beseeching God to aid their country for years (as noted in past blogs). In God's name, we can't do everything, but we can do something. As Thomas Mann wrote somewhere, very little can be very much. There's World Vision, there's prayer, there's reading and being aware. (The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop has a very good column along these lines, regarding the Philippines, this month in Episcopal Life.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

John F. Kennedy, Unitarian (!!!??)

Here's an interesting new angle on JFK's famous church-and-state speech:


Obama, Religion and the Public Square
Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2008
by William McGurn

Barack Obama is no John Kennedy. And that may turn out to be a good thing. At least with regard to reversing one of the unintended consequences of Camelot: the idea that religious voices have no place on the public square...

...there is more to Mr. Obama and religion than the recent headlines might suggest. Nowhere is that more clear than in the thoughtful address he delivered two years ago to a Sojourners/Call to Renewal conference. In that speech, the senator made clear his distance from religious conservatives, and called for an end to faith "as a tool of attack." Yet the thrust of his remarks was directed squarely at liberal Democrats. Their discomfort with all things religious, he said, runs against American history, and robs progressives of the ability to speak to their fellow citizens in moral terms.

Here is how he put it: "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

How remarkable these words are – and how much they depart from the views of the man whose torch Mr. Obama is now said to carry. In his now-famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, John Kennedy called for "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." He went on to state that a president's faith should be "his own private affair," by which he seemed to suggest that it ought to have no influence at all on any policy...

...In time, the reassurances Kennedy gave about his Catholicism hardened into a new orthodoxy which denies those motivated by religious principles a place in public debate. Even one of the Catholic intellectuals who had been consulted on Kennedy's Houston remarks, the Jesuit priest John Courtney Murray, would later say that Kennedy took separationist principles further than he would have.

We now have a better idea why. In his just-released memoir Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Ted Sorensen gives some background to the Houston speech. In a fascinating account, Mr. Sorensen notes that the Unitarian Church in which he was raised stood at the "opposite ends" of the Catholic Church on most understandings about faith, doctrine, church-state relations, etc. He goes on to say that "many of the speeches that I drafted reflect Unitarian principles." And he implies that this is precisely how JFK regarded these writings as well.

Whether or not Kennedy intended it, his remarks at Houston have fostered a view that has driven many Democrats out of their own party. And whether or not he intended it, Barack Obama has put the Concordat of 1960 up for a rethink.


What's really important in life, by Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan is almost always interesting and thoughtful, but she really excelled in her article about Tim Russert. You have to have a subscription to The Wall Street Journal to read the whole thing, but the first half of the piece is the most important and here it is:
A Life's Lesson, by Peggy Noonan

WSJ Sat/Sun June 21-22, 2008

When somebody dies, we tell his story and try to define and isolate what was special about it—what it was he brought to the party, how he enhanced life by showing up. In this way we educate ourselves about what really matters. Or, often, re-educate ourselves, for "man needs more to be reminded than instructed."

I understand why some think that the media coverage surrounding Tim Russert's death was excessive—truly, it was unprecedented—but it doesn't seem to me a persuasive indictment, if only because what was said was so valuable.

The beautiful thing about the coverage was that it offered extremely important information to those age 15 or 25 or 30 who may not have been told how to operate in the world beyond "Go succeed." I'm not sure we tell the young as much as we ought, as clearly as we ought, what it is the world admires, and what it is they want to emulate.

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires. That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about Joe was he took care of people."

The young are told, "Be true to yourself." But so many of them have no idea, really, what that means. If they don't know who they are, what are they being true to? They're told, "The key is to hold firm to your ideals." But what if no one bothered, really, to teach them ideals?

After Tim's death, the entire television media for four days told you the keys to a life well lived, the things you actually need to live life well, and without which it won't be good. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they're loved, which involves self-sacrifice; holding firm to God, to your religious faith, no matter how high you rise or low you fall. This involves guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field. And enjoying life. This can be hard in America, where sometimes people are rather grim in their determination to get and to have. "Enjoy life, it's ungrateful not to," said Ronald Reagan.

Tim had these virtues. They were great to see. By defining them and celebrating them the past few days, the media encouraged them. This was a public service, and also what you might call Tim's parting gift.

I'd add it's not only the young, but the older and the old, who were given a few things to think about. When Tim's friends started to come forward last Friday to speak on the air of his excellence, they were honestly grieving. They felt loss. So did people who'd never met him. Question: When you die, are people in your profession going to feel like this? Why not? What can you do better? When you leave, are your customers—in Tim's case it was five million every Sunday morning, in your case it may be the people who come into the shop, or into your office—going to react like this? Why not?

Friday, June 20, 2008

A conservative young Christian makes a surprising witness

You find remarkable things hidden away in The New York Times occasionally. A young military lawyer, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, is described this way:

At 37, he is in some ways deeply conventional. Married to the first girl he ever dated in high school, he is a self-described born-again Christian and conservative who has “never voted for a Democrat.” Tom Fleener, a former Guantánamo military defense lawyer, described Commander Kuebler, saying, “Take the average conservative guy in the street and multiply that by a million.” But he [Kuebler] has emerged recently as one of the Pentagon’s most persistent challengers....

Here is the payoff:

However scrappy he may appear, Commander Kuebler does not claim the typical lawyer’s zest for a fight for its own sake. Instead, he said, his faith and his work are intertwined.
“It is a powerful way to be a witness for Christ,” he said, “by demonstrating your capacity to not judge the way everybody else is judging and to serve unconditionally.”

Read the whole article:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quote of the week

Can't resist this:

Republican strategist Ed Rollins to George Packer of The New Yorker: “Today, if you’re not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great.”

(from Packer's article called "The Fall of Conservatism" in this week's edition of The New Yorker)

Signed: a non-rich born-again Southerner :-)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Young evangelicals in the New York Times

For an interesting, somewhat hopeful (with cautions), most emailed article about young evangelicals, click here: