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A More Excellent Way

Here are a couple of interesting articles: one titled "A More Excellent Way" in ChristianityToday by Charles Colson and another by Tony Campolo titled "Is Christianity a Casualty of War?" in The Huffington Post. They both draw attention to some of the down sides of the strong association between faith and politics. I've observed that many (most?) Christians are glad to have a president who wears his faith on his sleeve. I guess I have a different perspective. I'm glad to live in a secular society. I have no desire to force my faith on anyone else nor to have anyone force theres on me. I'm glad president Bush is a man of faith, just like I would be for anyone, but not so much in his role as a head of state. Sometimes countries have to do things in their own interest, perhaps, that aren't the best P.R. for the faiths of their citizens. Frankly, I'm not eager for the rich white guy who drops bombs to be the face of Christianity that the rest of the world sees. From Colson's article:

I shudder every time I hear triumphalistic statements by Christian leaders, because they feed such fears - and understandably so, when a Christian leader predicts God's wrath on the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, for rejecting alternatives to evolution in their school curriculum. If we are honest, we must admit that we often act as if we're powerful because we have - or say we have - big constituencies. For example, after President Bush's 2004 reelection, Christian leaders argued they deserved payback for delivering the votes for his victory. Some even warned the President that if he didn't support a ban on gay marriage, they wouldn't support his Social Security reforms. These leaders may have been well intentioned, but this was pure power brokering - the kind that allows our critics to say we're equating the Christian faith with a political agenda. We have to remember that we owe whatever influence we have to the moral authority we derive from serving God, not from the number of names on our mailing list. To seek political victories in this heavy-handed way is not only a bad witness; it's also unwise. Ultimately, we need both political victories and cultural support. Even if President Bush's judicial appointees tip the Court into reversing Roe v. Wade (as I pray will happen), would there be fewer abortions? Not immediately. The issue would then return to the 50 states, and we'd have 50 battles instead of one. Of course, the law is a moral teacher, but changing the law is an empty victory unless we also change the moral consensus. To change the culture, therefore, we must learn how to engage the political process more winsomely. It will require a different mindset. We'll need to recognize that we're appealing to hearts and minds, not twisting arms. In fact as well as in appearance, we are not seeking to impose, but rather to propose. We're not demanding something for ourselves; we are inviting a hungry and needy world to come to Christ and find goodness and fullness of life. The Christian church makes a Great Proposal, inviting everyone to the table - regardless of ethnic origin, background, or economic status. We're inviting people to consider a worldview that's livable, that makes sense, in which people can discover shalom and human flourishing. This means, first, loving those we contend against in the political process. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Whom you would change, you must first love." Some Christian leaders do get this. Jerry Falwell, whatever else he has done, has gone out of his way to engage the gay community protesting against him. James Dobson set a similar example when protestors surrounded the Focus headquarters. Second, we offer our strongest witness when we demonstrate that we do love others by fighting AIDS in Africa or the worldwide sex-trafficking trade, or by reforming prisons and prisoners, loving the most unlovable. One New York Times columnist who vehemently opposes our political efforts has nonetheless praised Christians for the work he's seen us perform around the world. When the world sees us working for human rights, we earn moral authority that blunts the "imposing your morality" attacks in the public square. Our cultural mandate requires us to work for justice and righteousness so that God's creation reflects his majesty and goodness. That includes engaging in politics. But we must remember as we do this that we are proposing a more excellent way to a needy society, and that we do so in love, no matter how much abuse is heaped upon us.

From Campolo's article:

Recently, I sat in dismay as I watched a television show that featured a prominent Christian author defending the use of torture in the war against terrorism. I was outraged that this man could try to make a case for followers of Jesus condoning such an immoral practice. I shared my feelings with a group of fellow Evangelicals and was stunned when the consensus that emerged from this group of Christians was in agreement with this author. One of those in the group was wearing one of those WWJD bracelets that proposes that when facing any decision and in every circumstance, the question should be asked, "What would Jesus do?" He evaded the question as to whether or not Jesus would torture a terrorist. The question is would Jesus ask, "What doth it profit if you gain information from a tortured terrorist and lose your own soul?" I came away from that discussion with a sense that many of us Evangelicals have given up our moral compasses and wandered into an ethical wasteland where we are not only losing our souls, but also losing our testimonies as good people. Checking around, I found very little condemnation of America's use of torture from those pundits of Christian Fundamentalism who usually can be counted on to speak out with righteous indignation whenever our government provides even the appearance of evil. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "Beware when you fight a dragon, lest you become a dragon," and I wonder if we are becoming as despicable as those evil terrorists who are our declared enemies. Secondly, I am asking if we evangelicals are not only losing any moral authority we once had, but also are losing our opportunity to carry out what we believe is our Biblical imperative to preach the whole Gospel to the whole world. One of the distinguishing traits of we Evangelicals has been our zeal to carry the good news of Christ's salvation to every nation--even as our Lord directed us to do. Sadly, one of the consequences of our support of our nation's foreign policies is that the doors for missionary work are being shut. Because Christianity, throughout the Muslim world, is associated with America, anti-Americanism has heated up anger against Christians in many parts of the Islamic world. In Iraq, Christians, who even during the evil days of the Hussein regime had the privilege of boldly worshipping and evangelizing, are now being threatened. There have been churches in Baghdad that have been burned down, and tens of thousands of Christians have been fleeing the country in fear of persecution. Undoubtedly, missionary endeavors are losing ground in Iraq. Furthermore, if democracy comes to Iraq it is not likely to bode well for Christians there. The new government probably will be Shiite and, if history is to be trusted, Christians will not fare well under Shia law. More than 300 missionaries who had been serving in Pakistan have lost their visas. Christianity is so identified with American power and politics that in some places missionaries are being sent home, not only because they are thought to be people who denigrate Islam, but also because of suspicion that they might even be CIA agents. Again the question must be raised as to whether or not Christianity is becoming a casualty of the war on terrorism.

Employer-Backed Health Care

Kind of boring, but not for 45 million Americans nor for more and more of us in the coming years. From "Employer-Backed Health Care Is Here to Stay, for Lack of a Better Choice" by Reed Abelson in the NY Times:

The number of uninsured Americans is about 45 million and climbing. Companies like General Motors, with large numbers of older or retired workers receiving generous benefits, are struggling under ever-higher health care bills. More companies are abandoning their role in providing health insurance to their employees, and some people worry the federal tax overhaul now being discussed could scare away even more employers. So, are we in the final days of the company health plan? Probably not. Frustrations with the status quo notwithstanding, the current system of providing insurance to most working Americans through their employers is not likely to disappear, according to policy analysts and consultants in Washington and around the country. That is mainly, they say, because none of the other possibilities, like a government-run plan or some new private-sector solution, have enough support to serve as a replacement. Employers "are not about to get out of the business of providing health insurance to employees, even though they complain so loudly about it," said Paul B. Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, an independent research group in Washington. Inspiring the latest round of debate is the proposal introduced last month by the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, as part of a sweeping effort to overhaul the tax system. Under the proposal, tax breaks for both employers and their workers for health benefits are limited to $11,500 of coverage for a family and $5,000 for an individual. Under current tax law, there are no limits to how much coverage is exempt from payroll and income taxes. Many say the proposal is a political nonstarter. But some critics see it as a threat to a system that is already unraveling. Only 60 percent of employers now offer coverage, compared with 66 percent as recently as 2003, according to annual survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research group in Menlo Park, Calif. In 2000, the percentage was 69 percent. If the tax advisory panel's recommendations on employer-sponsored health care went into effect, they would "dismantle our current health care system," Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, said in a news release. That might be an exaggeration, and the proponents of the plan assert that they are not trying to take away the entire tax advantage of providing employer-based coverage. Instead, people may view it as "a tax on excessive health plans," one of the panel members, Representative Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, said in a news conference.

H-1B Visas


Working in R&D at Dow, a large fraction of my friends and colleagues were born outside the U.S. I enjoy working in such a place. The diversity of backgrounds and points of view is a good thing to experience. From an article in The Washington Post:

President George W. Bush Thursday called on Congress to raise the cap on the so-called H-1B visas that allow companies to fill high tech jobs with foreign workers. "The problem is, is that Congress has limited the number of H-1B visas," Bush said in a speech. "I think it's a mistake not to encourage more really bright folks who can fill the jobs that are having trouble being filled in America, to limit their number. So I call upon Congress to be realistic and reasonable to raise that cap," he said. High-tech businesses have pushed Congress to increase the number of such visas, currently capped at 65,000 per year. Workers are allowed to stay in the United States for six years. Some labor groups have opposed an expansion of the program, saying it takes away jobs from Americans.

Lefty Religious Protest

Here's a link to an article from mid-December from The Washington Post titled "A Religious Protest Largely From the Left. Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority." It describes plans of left-leaning Christians to protest proposals in the government's budget planning for cutting programs for the poor. It boils down to that same old debate: can the government effectively meet the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless or is "the government not really capable of love?"

Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts? Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices. Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical." At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor. At the same time, House and Senate negotiators are hashing out their differences on a tax-cutting measure that is likely to include an extension of cuts in the tax rate on dividends and capital gains. To mainline Protestant groups and some evangelical activists, the twin measures are an affront, especially during the Christmas season. To GOP leaders and their supporters in the Christian community, it is not that simple. Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday that the activists' position is not "intellectually right." The "right tax policy," such as keeping tax rates low on business investment, "grows the economy, increases federal revenue -- and increased federal revenue makes it easier for us to pursue policies that we all can agree have social benefit," he said. Dobson also has praised what he calls "pro-family tax cuts." And Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Christian group Concerned Women for America, said religious conservatives "know that the government is not really capable of love." "You look to the government for justice, and you look to the church and individuals for mercy. I think Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that. FEMA just failed, and the church and the Salvation Army and corporations stepped in and met the need," she said. Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts. "There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact," he said. "But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility."

There are links to press coverage of the "Civil Disobedience for a Moral Budget" on the sojourners web site. There's also more info on the "call to renewal" website, "a faith-based movement to overcome poverty."

Troop Support

Joel Stein recently published a provocative article in the LA Times with the first line "I DON'T SUPPORT our troops":

I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on. I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas. And I've got no problem with other people - the ones who were for the Iraq war - supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of. But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken - and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward. Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there - and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake. Besides, those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach." The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.

He goes on to make what may be the most controversial assertion of the article...that the soldiers on the ground bear some of the blame for the mistakes that have been made:

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood. But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.

Hewitt and Malkin ripped him a new one over it. Admittedly, I don't really get why soldiers bear any more responsibility than the politicians who give them marching orders or the public that elected the politicians. But I think there is a point to be made about supporting the troops. Ribbons and decals and bumper stickers probably do have some meaning to a soldier that sees them, but in the grand scheme of things, trinkets and slogans aren't that useful. There are a bunch of more meaningful suggestions at the web site such as donating a computer, donating frequent flyer miles, supporting scholarship funds, sending a care package, etc. It reminds me of how annoying it is when in a time of trajedy some says "keep them in your thoughts and prayers" but often prayers are left out for the more PC version "keep them in your thoughts." Thoughts won't make much of a difference. It's the actions that can make a difference. From 1 John 3:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.


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