Sunday, June 10, 2012

Faith and Freedom in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin recall elections are over, and Scott Walker was successful in retaining his position as governor. Some may not realize, though, that the lieutenant governor was also up for recall and was also successful in keeping her position.
Rebecca Kleefisch (b. 1975), a former television news anchor, was elected the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in November 2010. She attends the evangelical Crosspoint Community Church in Oconomowoc, WI, and in June of last year she was one of many U.S. political leaders I heard speak at the Faith & Freedom (F&F) Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C.
Early this month, the F&F Coalition launched a voter education campaign in Wisconsin utilizing a sophisticated mix of 100,000 voter guides distributed in churches as well as “virtual voter guides” sent by email and text message, mail pieces, GOTV phone banks, over 25,000 door knocks, and social media. The campaign was expected to total over 600,000 voter contacts statewide and in key State Senate districts.
According to the F&F Coalition’s June 1 press release, “Evangelicals, faithful Roman Catholics, and Tea Party voters have been targeted to receive ‘virtual voter guides’ via email and on their mobile phones with banner ads and text messages.” Their goal, of course, was the re-election of Walker and Kleefisch.
The Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference will be held again this week (June 14-16) at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown D.C. As I wrote on this blog last year, the head of the F&F Coalition is Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition. The F&F Coalition is also ostensibly a Christian organization. This week’s speakers include Christian spokesmen such as Richard Land, Tony Perkins, and Jonathan Falwell.
But this week’s F&F Coalition conference also includes some politicians you may have heard of: Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Marco Rubio among many others. The marriage of conservative Christianity in the U.S. and the Republican Party seems to be quite healthy still.
Just two days ago (on June 8), the F&F Coalition announced, “Fresh off of her win in the Wisconsin recall election, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is confirmed to be a keynote speaker at the Patriots Awards Gala Banquet in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 16th!” (That banquet is the climax of the three-day conference; registrants can attend the banquet for an additional $99.)
So, this is the Faith & Freedom Coalition that helped decide the Wisconsin election in favor of the incumbent governor and lieutenant governor. The faith they propound is an ultra-conservative form of Christianity. The freedom they espouse is particularly that of (nearly) laissez-faire capitalism, which greatly benefits the wealthy people in society.
The faith of the F&F Coalition stands in opposition to many other people of faith, though, such as my Wisconsin friend Bob Hanson, who worked for the defeat of Walker and Kleefisch. And the freedom sought by the Coalition stands, for example, in direct opposition to the freedom of public labor unions being able to engage in collective bargaining.
Bob recommends the Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC), whose motto is, “We pray and work together for the unity and renewal of the church and the healing and reconciliation of the world.” Last month the WCC issued “The Call for a Seasonof Civility in Wisconsin,” a fine statement signed by many pastors and faith leaders across the state. Lieutenant Governor’s pastor was not among them.
I am grateful that Christian faith and freedom in Wisconsin is much broader, and much more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ, than that exhibited by the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
{Bob Hanson (b. 1940) is an ordained Lutheran minister and now also a Buddhist practitioner. We became friends many years ago in Fukuoka, Japan, where he was also served for a time as a missionary. For those of you who would like to read more of what Bob wrote about the situation in Wisconsin, please see the following (edited) e-mail received from him on June 7.}

We had our weekly breakfast on Thursday after Election Day. It goes without saying that the people who sought the recall of Scott Walker are disappointed, sad, and a bit angry. But the people of Wisconsin are resilient, strong folks.
As the reality of the night became clear, I headed for the meditation chair for some quiet time and some letting go. It was helpful. I have been reflecting and here are some things that have come to mind.
1. The spirit of the demonstrations, the signing of more than a million people to bring on the recall itself was wonderful and necessary.
2. Many of us voted for K. Faulk in the primary elections. She would have been stronger than Tom  for many reasons: she is a woman, and she would have articulated the issues and the vision more clearly. Tom just attacked Walker.
3, Now that we (Democrats that is) did take over the leadership of the State Senate, I have been wondering if the unions rushed us into the recall instead of focusing on the State Assembly and Senate. Sure would have saved money.
4. When we saw the money, 8 to 1, Walker had mostly from out of state (the Koch Brothers are big here, Walker has given them some State industry here already), we knew it would be almost impossible to win.
5. Finally, I am telling myself, this is a democracy, roughed up, falling apart, but for a period of time it was really awake, active. The only sad part is Walker and his minions have divided the state, communities, families and this has rolled over into some congregations, I am sure. But groups like the WI Council of Churches, the Faith Based Organizing groups, and religious leaders have been encouraging civil conversations.
 Please visit this site and see the fine, fine statement on civility signed by a vast majority of religious leaders in Wisconsin.
Parker Palmer’s new book, The Healing of Democracy will be one thing used and there will be training in the fall to bring this into congregations across the state. I know, even though I am not leading a congregation now, I am going to the training.
Hope this helps, Leroy. Of course in many ways, the right wing church and the scared clergy of others, including the Lutherans around here, by saying nothing supported Walker and his tactics. There was no encouragement for conversation, listening, so that we could become more unified as communities, even though we might not vote the same way.
There is need for a lot of healing here, and I feel for myself as well. I guess we find ourselves between “it was a waste of time, the bastards would have won anyways” and “this is and was a defining moment for us and in a sense we all won, the system works even in its brokenness.” I do not like being in that tension, but where else should people of spiritual practice be, whatever the name you give your practice? We let the ego go, turn to our neighbor, embrace and live out our lives in compassion and wonder.


  1. Leroy and Bob, I am humbled with your insights and wisdom. Thank you for that, and may we all adapt to this new economic and political environment. And may our faith and spirituality equip us to engage our brave new world . . .

  2. Leroy and Bob, as another Fukuoka resident in the past, i am very happy to see such enlightening thoughts coming from you two. thanks for the background information which helps us to understand what happened. i am sad to see our democracy is manipulated by the money, not by peoples' opinions and the rich peoples' idea sways the lives of people. Leroy, i enjoy reading your blogs.

  3. Pip and Ed, I appreciated you posting comments yesterday. I also received an e-mail from a Thinking Friend in Kentucky who said, in part,

    "The election turned out sadly from my point of view, Leroy. I think you assess accurately what has happened-- the marriage of the Republican Party with right wing Christianity. I would pray that the long range consequences of what happened in Wisconsin will be to expose further the reliance of the Republican Party on such groups as the Faith & Freedom Coalition."

  4. A Thinking Friend, who is a retired Baptist pastor in Arizona), wrote (again, in part):

    "Thanks for the well-done blog on 'Faith and Freedom in Wisconsin.' Probably the rank and file of the supporters are well-intentioned people who don’t understand the implications of their view of religious liberty. The leaders do understand and shame on them. The moment we label or envision our country as 'Christian America' we shut out a large section of our citizens. I don’t believe we should deny our religious roots, but neither should we do anything that would disenfranchise others who hold other religious worldviews or none at all."

  5. Another (other than Bob H.) Thinking Friend in Wisconsin wrote (by e-mail):

    "The 'marriage' of Christianity and the GOP is not really about faith or freedom; at least not in the way those who advocate that sort of marriage imply. According the the actions (vs. the high sounding fluffy words) of our governor, the only 'faith' he exhibits is trust in dirty/by off/pay off politics coupled with his lust for P$W$R. The only freedom is for the richest to have all things their way and for corporations to be free from any accountability for their actions - other than for their profits."

  6. I also appreciate comments from Thinking Friends who do not agree with what I write, such as this e-mail message:

    "I am confused! You have used your influence as a Christian leader in nearly every blog to get your 'Thinking Friends' to vote for Democrats and I've seen numerous events held in black churches promoting Democrat candidates as well. The difference: you are promoting government imposed charity and they, the F&F, are promoting government imposed morality. Both of you have failed in your Christian call to promote and inspire Christ-like responsibility in the private sector, from the pulpits and in the living rooms of those caught in the downward spiral of greed, both personal, union and corporate greed, and those caught in the downward spiral of freeloading, promiscuity and illegitimacy, both being paths of irresponsibility to the greater community and its sustainability. Don't change laws, inspire and change hearts. Keep the government out of my wallet and my bedroom and deal with those issues in church!"

    1. The prophets of Israel, many times, warned the leaders to change their way. That is tantamount to our desire to change the laws as the royalty in ancient Israel - was the law. (I'm not referring to Torah.)

      The current tax code favors the richest individuals and biggest corporations. (Exxon-Mobil & GE pay no taxes and Exxon-Mobil, recently, received a "refund" of $138 billion - for taxes not ever paid. The richest 1-2%, by income(income that is nearly as much as all other incomes combined) enjoy an effective tax rate of less than zero - also known as the negative tax bracket.) That info is from non-ideological sources.

      That situation is labelled, by some theologians, as "structural evil." While it was created, piecemeal, by many individuals (good/bad/ugly) it is the resulting structure that favors the big/rich over all others - and demands that the bill (for revenue loss) be sent to all others - who do not have the power to fight back.

      Simply changing hearts/minds cannot fix structural evil. Fortunately, our system - as cumbersome/irritating as it is - allows for changes in policy which lead to changes in the structure.

      I see no remarks by Leroy, or any others here, that imply that voting for Dems is the be-all, and end-all, of Christian responsibility. That is in your heart/mind.

      It seems you have an either/or attitude about what to do about what is undesirable. That strikes me as myopic. Biblical work in this world is carried out by people of many different gifts. My "job" is to understand how things are and how the got that way.

      I am convinced that a far more constructive, and humble, approach to fixing ungodliness - is not either policy or personal conversion - it is both-and.

      After all, Jesus focused primarily on the individual heart/mind. But, he engaged in structural change when he cleared the Temple of the monopolists of currency exchange and sacrifice supply.

      Do please think on these things...

      All the best!

  7. From McGovern in 1972 to Walker in 2012, we have in successive blogs gone 40 years without going much of anywhere. What many of us on this blog take to be right has been defeated by what we take to be wrong. Same story both times. The only thing that has changed for me is me, I have gone from age 22 to 62 in the twinkling of an eye.

    Now the amazing thing is that in America I have had the privilege of seeing what I believe to be right being successful, at times. Many have spent whole lifetimes without that opportunity. From them we must learn perseverance and clarity. We must not lose our vision in heady times of victory, nor our hope in our darkest hours.

    We live in new axial age. The world around us is changing deeply and rapidly. The world within us is changing, too. Forms of government, economics, and, yes, even religion are, as Obama recently said concerning his views on homosexuality, "evolving." Are we content to be rolling stones in the stream of history? Or, do we feel a fire burning within us, calling us to be something more? As humans we can do more than evolve, we can re-invent. Now invention has historically been a two-edged sword, not all the would-be prophets who pick it up succeed. Some inventions have been truly terrible. I believe that in the end ideas are more powerful than politics, and that our first civic duty is to clarify and improve our ideas. Our second duty is to do what we can to improve politics. Bad ideas can be very powerful, so we must focus our ideas to be even stronger.

    Our faith calls us to New Being in Christ. Sometimes the old and the new are one. We have our cloud of witnesses, with names like St. Francis and Martin Luther King. We also have Copernicus and Einstein, Adam Smith and Freud. Something beautiful is out there calling us. What would Jesus do?