Sunday, June 5, 2011

Whose Freedom? Which Faith?

Faith and Freedom are two of my longtime commitments and present concerns. But I have serious questions about the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
The past two days (June 3-4) I attended the Faith & Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing at a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel. The conference was organized by Ralph Eugene Reed, Jr., and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which he founded in 2009.
Ralph Reed (b. 1961), as many of you remember, was the first executive director of the now-defunct Christian Coalition of America, which was founded by Pat Robertson in 1989 and which Reed headed until 1997.
The speakers at the D.C. conference were mostly conservative Christians, and some were Republican presidential candidates (or potential candidates, past and present), such as Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump. The keynote speaker at last night’s banquet, which I did not attend, was Herman Cain.
Other top Republican leaders who spoke at the conference include House Speaker John Boehner, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and several other U.S. Senators and Representatives. It was a star-studded list of speakers.
But the speakers were all Republicans. And the Christians on the program were all conservatives or fundamentalists. The reported marriage of conservative Christians and the Republican Party appears to be true, and each partner seemed to promise fidelity to the other.
Further, the freedom emphasized was also limited in scope. So the questions arose in my mind, Whose Freedom? Which Faith?
The faith touted at the Faith & Freedom conference was not that of another prominent Christian politician: President Obama. Nor was it the faith of his former pastor, the vilified Jeremiah Wright, or of Wallace Charles Smith, the recently vilified pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in D.C. (where the Obamas attended Easter worship) and former president of Palmer (originally Eastern Baptist) Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
The latter all have faith in the same God and the same Savior. But their faith relates differently to the world, and especially to the poor and suffering people of the world and nation. Compassion and help for the needy and the discriminated against is not an apparent concern of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
The faith of the Coalition seems different than that of the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, and most “mainline” Protestant denominations including sizable segments of Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists who are not Southern Baptists. 
Whose freedom was emphasized at the meeting? Not a lot more than the political freedom of U.S. citizens and, surprisingly, the freedom of the nation of Israel, which the U.S. was called upon to protect.
And, predictably, there was also strong emphasis on the freedom of the “unborn,” as nearly every speaker staunchly opposed abortion. The freedom of women to have the choice to terminate unplanned for and unwanted pregnancies was not only not recognized, it was repeatedly condemned.
Nor was there any recognition of the need for freedom by gay and lesbian persons to have equal civil rights, including marriage. Same-sex marriage was also repeatedly rejected.
At the Faith & Freedom conference, there was also a strong Tea Party emphasis (“debt = slavery”) and even talk about “Teavangelicals,” Tea Party evangelicals, but that is a subject for a future posting.


  1. Clear and concise, Leroy. Thanks.

    Here's a thought, which will link this blog with an earlier one on war: In theory and sometimes in practice, the U.S. has separation of church and state. So our military actions and wars are seen as secular affairs. And we rightly condemn radical Islam for resorting to the sword in the name of Allah. However, in so far as our Christian religious bodies bless our military actions in national affairs, are we not rightly seen as Christian militants and thus duplicitous in our condemnations of radical Islam?

  2. I appreciate this e-mail from a Thinking Friend in Canada:

    "Thanks for your comments on the Faith and Freedom conference....I wonder about this title of the conference.....scary stuff!

    "There is also a parallel here in Canada ... the Conservative Party of Canada got in with a majority on May 2nd (Federal Election) ... some of the top leadership are strongly connected with the right wing fundamentalist Christianity here in Canada.

    "You know, once upon a time, liberal denominations i.e. The United Church of Canada had a lot of influence among the senior leadership of government in Canada but not so in recent years. The right wingers have taken over ... many influenced by the likes of Chuck Swindol (don't get me wrong, there are some things I like about Chuck but, on the whole, he is very narrow and cannot see the big picture!)."

  3. We always seem to migrate to our separate camps within the Christian spectrum (oh, oh, mixed metaphor). When I was the Baptist Chaplain at Howard University, I met regularly with the chaplains of the mainstream churches (Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic) as well as the Pentecostal chaplain. We thought of ourselves as representing "all" of Christianity. Then one day notices begin to appear advertizing a joint planning meeting of "all" the Christian groups: Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity, and several others that were non-denominational and evangelical. It fell my lot, since the planners "just knew" that as a Baptist I was "one of them", to insist on their inviting a wider spread of Christian leaders. Felt funny to be introducing people to one another who had for years been working the same campus for the cause of Christ.

  4. I am in very much agreement with you Dr. Seat. The Christians on the right all profess to be Christian and Christian like, but cannot forgive and not accepting of much of anything. I don't think Jesus was like this at all. I cannot understand them. I don't think they want any freedom for others unlike them. Their lack of forgiveness, acceptance and tolerance doesn't seem Christian to me at all.

  5. A Thinking Friend, who was a longtime missionary colleague in Japan wrote, "Why did you address Pres. Obama as 'Prominent Christian Politician'? I'm very curious as I scratch my head."

    Here is my answer:

    Since surely there is no question about the President being prominent or a politician, I assume the problem is with my reference to him being a Christian.

    Since we Baptists are big on honoring people's "profession of faith," I refer to President Obama as a Christian because I have heard him say publicly that he is a Christian and that he believes in "the Lord Jesus Christ."

    I see no reason to doubt the sincerity or the authenticity of that profession.

  6. Since the days of Cain and Abel, there have been competing factions divided by their concepts of God. Jesus taught in a world divided into multiple factions. Paul wrote his letters to various factions in the early church. A thousand years ago Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox wings of Christianity went their separate ways. A few hundred years later the Protestant Reformation separated from Roman Catholicism. Since then Protestantism has been repeatedly dividing into new groups. Some thirty years ago a fundamentalist movement launched an aggressive takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. As it consolidated power within the SBC, it turned its sights onto the larger society around it.

    So what was this particular blog about? I doubt much of anyone was surprised by what Leroy found at the Strategy Briefing. This is the latest gathering of what once billed itself as "the conservative resurgence." Strategy was exactly what it was about. What is left except to sort out, except the mixed motives of theocracy, libertarianism, and cultural chauvinism?

    Somewhere in that sorting out, we might find one more question. What are the rest of us going to do? Well, Jesus repeatedly said "Pick up your cross and follow me." I do not think He was trying to tell us it was going to be easy. So, knowing that the wheat must grow with the tares, we try to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. We remember that faith, hope, and love endure to the end. And we freely confess that we believe that we shall know the truth, and the truth will make us free--even if the truth comes with unexpected prophets like Darwin, Einstein, Freud, and King bringing unexpected truth like evolution, relativity, psychology, and civil rights. If fundamentalism is a city built on sinking sand, it cannot stand. If we are true to our faith, we will seek a quantum theology worthy of the new millennium.