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Issue Date:  August 11, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Global concerns surface

If white, First World Catholics can sometimes have a preoccupation with, in one of John Allen’s favorite terms, ad intra, or internal church matters, then this newspaper stands accused of long aiding and abetting such interests. And, I daresay, we’ll continue to do so. See the story on the 12 women ordained as priests and deacons on a riverboat in Pittsburgh.

As always, there is much ad extra, too, in this issue. We don’t, after all, live our faith in a bubble, a point made rather forcefully by theologians, many from the developing world, during a recent conference in Padua, Italy, that Allen covered. ( See story)

What is becoming increasingly clear is the validity of an Allen thesis that he’s written about several times in his online column: that the explosion in the number of Catholics in the world’s southern tier of developing countries has begun to move the focus of conversation in the church away from such internal concerns as married priests or women priests and liturgical translations and rubrics to “issues such as globalization and economic justice, HIV/AIDS, armed conflict and genocide, violence and discrimination against women and assaults on human life in various forms.” No one expects the former to disappear, but it seems apparent that the latter will take greater prominence.

The conference itself was a feat of organization and determination on the part of Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College, who headed an effort to raise $450,000 to cover lodging and airfare for 140 theologians from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The effort paid off in a gathering of theologians that was global in more than name only. Our gratitude to all involved for this meeting of minds and beginning of a discussion long overdue.

~ ~ ~

Heading into a campaign season that will essentially go on for the next two years, I recently pulled two books out of the steady stream of new offerings on religion and politics (we’ll have a much bigger spread on the topic and the books in a near-future issue) that has been passing through NCR.

In The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, speaking to evangelical Christians, warns that in aligning Christianity with America’s ambitions and in trying to reclaim the country for God, evangelicals (and others who play to the same script) are compromising the church’s essential mission. “Instead of living to sacrifice for others, we become the official ‘sin-pointer-outers.’ Instead of gaining a reputation for being humble servants who manifest Calvary-quality love, we gain a reputation for being moralistic and self-righteous. And predictably, we drive away the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day, just as the Pharisees did, rather than attracting them, as Jesus did.”

When Boyd, founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., refused to back particular candidates or political parties, or to endorse “America’s mission” to bring freedom to the world, or to stop preaching on essential differences between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, a quarter of his congregation left. But many enthusiastically thanked him for speaking such clarity.

His language is not Catholic exegetical language, and Catholics may also find a bit too Manichaean his division of the world, but what he says about how churches compromise their fundamental purpose by aligning too closely with political strategies, candidates, programs and parties is a worthy warning to all denominations and church leaders, including bishops, and all political points on the spectrum.

Rabbi James Rudin has other concerns. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that Rabbi Rudin is a longtime friend, so I am not here attempting a critique. But I found the volume, The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us, useful for its warning about the talk of the United States as a Christian nation, this time from a Jew with a rich experience of Jewish-Christian dialogue (including 10 meetings with Pope John Paul II).

Rudin, past chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations and past interreligious expert for the American Jewish Committee, coins the term “Christocrats” to describe those “committed to converting America into a Christocracy.” Because of his long engagement in studying and discussing with Christian America in all its forms, Rudin brings a firsthand knowledge of the thinking, the literature and the conversation of many Christian leaders who remain relatively unknown in the mainstream Catholic world.

He also understands Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism. Words that might resonate with us as overwrought piety or simply playing to constituents ring differently, dangerously, in his ears. So when the now-discredited Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas declares that God “is using me all the time, everywhere to stand up for a biblical worldview in everything I do and everywhere I am. He is training me,” Rudin hears a challenge to treasured religious liberty.

When the Rev. Rod Parsley, who directs a $40 million ministry with wide outreach through cable channels, declares, “The first leaders of our government had no intention of creating the secular state that liberals would have us believe we live in. … The Founding Fathers called the nation to prayer. … The Ten Commandments are our nation’s original source of law,” Rudin hears not only ignorance of history and misuse of religion but a threat to the actual founding principles that should not be dismissed.

The books offer two interesting and informative perspectives as we head into the next season of campaign rhetoric and political God talk.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2006

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