Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vote Common Good

Last Sunday afternoon I drove over to a church in Overland Park, Kansas, and attended a meeting of a group touring the country under the name Vote Common Good (VCG). It was a very small, but quite interesting, meeting.
Introduction of VCG
“Evangelical Christians against Trump are trying to 'flip Congress' with bus tour ahead of midterm elections.” That is the title of an October 9 article in Newsweek (see here) that describes the activities of the Vote Common Good (VCG) group. (Their website is here.)
Led primarily by Doug Pagitt, the founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis and a prominent emergent church leader, speakers at some of the VCG rallies also include such well known Christian authors as Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Frank Schaeffer.
The latter was at the meeting I attended on October 14, and I enjoyed hearing him and chatting a bit with him again. (My blog articles of 9/25/11 and 8/20/14, see here and here, were mostly about Schaeffer.)  
Between October 2 and today (Oct. 20) VCG has held 17 rallies in ten different states. At least 12 more rallies, mostly in Texas and California, are scheduled between now and the midterm elections.
Appeal of VCG
In what seems to be a self-contradiction, VCG claims to be non-partisan while at the same time strenuously seeking to “flip” the control of Congress by electing Democratic candidates to the U.S. Congress.
As Schaeffer emphasized, they are not trying to make Democrats out of Republicans. Rather, they are just trying to get a Democratic Congress (or at least a Democratic House) to counter what they consider a President who is grossly acting in opposition to central Christian values.
They, most likely, agree with the October 12 Washington Post op-ed article by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.): “How a Democratic House would check this erratic president.” Here is Schiff’s opening sentence:
Our democracy is broken, and President Trump is only one reason. Congress is the other. It has failed to serve as an equal branch of government, failed to play its essential role as a check and balance and, most glaringly, completely abdicated its oversight responsibilities.

Suggestion to VCG
There are some who agree with the activities of VCG but think they are being too overtly political. I share some of those feelings. That is why at the meeting I recommended to them, and to the pastor of the church where we met, that attention be given to the “Reclaiming Jesus” document, which was drafted on Ash Wednesday this year.
That document, which was produced by people such as Walter Brueggemann, Tony Campolo, Richard Rohr, and Jim Wallis, is well worth reading and taken seriously. (Here is the link to it—and, yes, there were also women and people of color who were part of the group that drafted it.)
There are pastors, and others, who wish to stay out of the political fray and who perhaps don’t want to be identified with VCG even though they may personally agree with what they are trying to do.
Use of the Reclaiming Jesus document is one good way to emphasize the values being promoted by VCG without overt political statements or identification. I am pleased with the way my pastor has done that over the past few weeks.
Since I am not an active pastor—or on anyone’s payroll—now, I am happy to identify with the work and the goals of Vote Common Good. Many knowledgeable people are saying that next month’s election is the most important midterm election of our lifetime—and they may well be right.
That is the reason to vote and to Vote Common Good!


20 comments:

  1. The first response received this morning was from an esteemed local Thinking Friend who wrote,

    "I would like to see a less timid approach, such as a listing of the 'Ten Commandments' and other biblical passes such as 'the love of money is the root of all evil,' and corresponding violations by Trump and Congress, documented. The long and lofty 'Reclaiming Jesus' statement is long and boring and a waste of time if you are looking for something to be effective."

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    1. Well, it seems to me that various approaches are necessary. To mention "Trump and Congress" from the pulpit would be counter-productive in many "purple" churches, but some (few) congregants might sit up and take notice by hearing the following paragraph from the "Reclaiming Jesus" document.

      "THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain that we have seen. In the face of such bigotry, silence is complicity. In particular, we reject white supremacy and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage. Further, any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin--one that goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. Racial bigotry must be antithetical for those belonging to the body of Christ, because it denies the truth of the gospel we profess."

      It seems to me that that is a rather bold, not timid, statement to be made in the presence of Trump supporters or strong Republicans.

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  2. The next response I received was from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky, who commented briefly:

    "I don’t identify with evangelicals, but I’m glad to hear about some who think differently than the 81% who voted for Trump."

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    1. I don't usually identify with evangelicals anymore, but I don't have difficulty identifying with three people mentioned in my article: Claiborne, McLaren, and Schaeffer.

      Also, the 81% are by no means all committed Trump supporters. There is quite of variety among those 81%, as indicated in an article in Christianity Today this week: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/october/why-evangelicals-trump-vote-81-percent-2016-election.html

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  3. Then this from another local Thinking Friend: "If only voters would listen to this plea to Vote Common Good. We’ll see. As to reshaping the movement to the Ash Wednesday 'Reclaiming Jesus,' I have trouble seeing the relevance of such a connection."

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    1. It seems to me that the "Reclaiming Jesus" document has much the same aim as the Vote Common Good activities--but the latter is clearly partisan and would be quite divisive in churches, for example, where there is a large percentage of, or a sizable group of vocal, Republicans.

      But the "Reclaiming Jesus" documents raises the issues without calling out the Party supporting those issues which seem to be anti-Christian. Everyone might not catch on who is being criticized and who is being supported, but at least the emphasis is on principles rather than political parties. As I mentioned above, pastors of "purple" churches would, no doubt, be strongly criticized if they publicly endorsed Vote Common Good, but it is hard to see how they could be so easily criticized for endorsing the "Reclaiming Jesus" statement. And, again, it seems to me they both have very similar purposes with regard to the upcoming election.

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  4. In contrast to the previous comment, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago comments,

    "Thanks, Leroy, for this blog. I agree with your comments.

    "Incorporating the 'Reclaiming Jesus' principles in the VCG program seems to make sense as it might help to promote the VCG objectives by giving those objectives more of a Christian perspective. That may motivate undecided evangelical Christians to support the VCG objectives. One can hope."

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Eric.

      In their comments at the meeting I attended, there was considerable stress on a Christian perspective. But the publicity they have gotten is primarily about their efforts to "flip Congress," so they appear to be highly political in a partisan sense. As I wrote in the previous response, the "Reclaiming Jesus" statement has much the same goal, it seems, as VCG, but it is couched in non-partisan statements.

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  5. A Thinking Friend in Maryland has within the hour sent the following (and much appreciated) brief comments:

    "I thought this was a very helpful article and was glad to hear about the 'Reclaiming Jesus' effort. I’ve forwarded your full article to my church listserv."

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    1. Thanks! I much appreciate the article being called to the attention of a wider audience.

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  6. A few minutes ago I received the following brief comment from a Thinking Friend in south Missouri:

    "I agree with you Leroy, and I really appreciate the Reclaiming Jesus statement."

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  7. Churches need to stay at arm's length from partisan political activity, but that does not mean that churches cannot condemn bad and dangerous theology that is being misused. From the economic and social horrors of the prosperity gospel to the imperialist urges of nationalistic state churches to the environmental crisis of quiverfull theology, there are plenty of theological disasters to be resisted. These theologies are different from each other, so the corrections will need to be different as well. Jesus lead the way, ready both to explain the kingdom of God, and the failings of the scribes and pharisees of his day. The problem we have at this time is that we have a President who rather well meets the definition of an Anti-Christ, and a Congress that backs him up. The vast majority of evangelicals (and not a few others) have been lead into a "transactional" relationship with a transactional President. In this transaction the rich get richer, and the evangelicals get to shout some empty platitudes. Abortion, for instance, is not even directly mentioned in the Bible, yet all manner of other evils are being overlooked as long as anti-abortion judges are confirmed to US courts. I hope both VCG and Reclaiming Jesus help to right the ship, but both seem quite unequal to the task.

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    1. Thanks, Craig, for your significant comments.

      Yes, VCG and "Reclaiming Jesus" may be "unequal to the task," but at least they are speaking out and doing something. Do you know of other groups/organizations (especially in the Christian, rather than political, world) who are doing more than these two? And do you think there will there be enough action by people of goodwill on all fronts to make the necessary changes in Congress next month?

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    2. Well, I just discovered VGC has managed to step up its game. Executive Director Doug Pagit of VCG (mentioned above in main blog) has a new editorial posted on USA Today at this link: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/21/donald-trump-abortion-cost-evangelicals-moral-high-ground-column/1686348002/

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    3. Thanks, Craig, for posting the link to Pagitt's USAToday article; I have posted the link on my Facebook page.

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  8. Saturday evening I received these comments from local Thinking Friend Andrew Bolton:

    "Thanks for this blog issue: Vote for Common Good.


    "I liked the 'Reclaiming Jesus' document very much. It is very well written. It reminds me of the Confessing Church Barman Declaration."

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    1. Here is the updated comments from TF Andrew:

      "I liked reading the 'Reclaiming Jesus' document very much. It is very well written. It reminds me in significance of the Barmen Declaration in Nazi Germany in 1934.

      "Your M. L. King quote I like very much. It is very Baptist and very important: 'The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.'”

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  9. And then Sunday afternoon a Thinking Friend in Arizona shared the following comments:

    "I wish this message could be shouted from the rooftops. It is on target. The message captures the very essence of our national crisis. However, how can a prophetic note like this be separated from partisanship. The Republicans will say it is more lies by Democrats trying to damage the Republicans?

    "I have relatives who are strong, active Christians who think Donald Trump is saving America. When I remind them of Trumps moral bankruptcy, they simply reply that all of us are sinners and some of us just have our sins more exposed to the public. They cite the moral shortcomings of several past presidents as if that makes everything Trump does okay. Satan must be rejoicing at the success he is having on our political scene.

    "Thanks for a great blog."

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  10. Here's a LINK to an NPR segment about "Vote Common Good" which was broadcast this morning.

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    1. Thanks, Clif, for posting this link. I just now listened to that segment and thought it was well done.

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