Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brian McLaren's Open Letter to Conservative Christians in the U.S. on Healthcare

Reposted from http://brianmclaren.net


Dear friends,
Although today I would not call myself a political or social conservative, I am grateful for my heritage as an Evangelical Christian: my faith is rooted in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I honor and seek to live in harmony with the Scriptures, and I love to share the good news of God's love with others. Since my teenage years when I decided to follow Jesus, I have pursued wholehearted discipleship, and my life has been shaped by that commitment. After completing graduate school and teaching college English, I became a church planter and pastor and served in the same congregation for twenty-four years.

But for almost that many years, I have been growing more and more deeply troubled by the way so many from my heritage in conservative Christianity – in its Evangelical, Charismatic, and Roman Catholic streams - have allowed themselves to be spiritually formed by various conservative political and economic ideologies. It's been disturbing to see how many Christians have begun to follow and trust leaders who live more by political/media/ideological codes than by moral/spiritual/biblical ones.

As a result, I sometimes think that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Fox News may now influence many conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Catholics even more than Billy Graham, Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Pope Benedict, or even the four gospels.

Now in a free country, people certainly have the right to choose their ideology. But Christians of all sorts, I think we all can agree, have a special calling - to increasingly harmonize our lives (including our lives as citizens) with the teaching and example of Jesus. My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference.

Thankfully, many Christian leaders are far more thoughtful and nuanced in their integration of faith and public life. They don't jump on talk-radio's latest conspiracy theory bandwagons, nor do they buy flippant talk of "death panels" or inappropriate comparisons to Hitler and so on. But still, so many of them remain silent about what's going on, and thereby grant it tacit approval.

I too was silent for a long time during my years as a pastor. But during the lead-up to the Iraq War, as I saw how little discernment was being exercised regarding the moral logic of pre-emptive war, I began taking risks that I hadn't taken before. I was similarly moved to speak out when, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, relatively few Christians in America took a stand against torture. (In fact, according to survey data, Southern White Evangelicals were the group most likely to support doing unto others as they would never want done to themselves.) And when I heard Christians (mis)using the Bible to argue against environmental responsibility, again, I could not be silent.

Now, in the debate about health care, I am similarly disheartened to see the relative silence of thoughtful Christian voices as counterpoint to the predictable rhetoric of the more reactive voices. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been getting mass-emails and weblinks from Evangelical and Charismatic organizations that present frightening and outlandish claims about what President Obama is planning to do regarding health care. I’ve checked into these claims, and in case after case, they are simply false. They’re based on rumors spread by certain dramatic radio and cable-tv personalities, but they are not based in truth.

Again, people are free to disagree humbly and respectfully with their fellow Christians and their government. (As readers of my books know, I take this freedom seriously in my own life). But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to "the just and the unjust": how can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda – even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling.

So, without going into health-care reform specifics (which is still difficult to do, since there are many fast-changing proposals in play and the process of developing a vote-able proposal is far from over), I would simply like to plead with conservative Christians – conservative Evangelicals, conservative Charismatics, conservative Catholics, and so on – to take a stand for integrity and civility in the health care debate, alongside and in solidarity with those of us who love Christ just as you do but do not rally around the conservative political banner.

If you take this stand, you will be heard by your fellow conservatives in ways that some of the rest of us can’t be heard. And lives could be saved as a result of our joint calls for Christian integrity and civility: we've already seen what happens when people translate religious and ideological passion into violent action. Recalling the words of that great 19th century British conservative Edmund Burke, think of what could happen in the next few years if too many good conservative people sit back and do nothing ... while less scrupulous and more desperate conservative people whip their followers into a frenzy through fear and inaccurate information.

I will continue to speak out on these issues as I have done in the past. But I don’t expect the most extreme Christian conservatives to listen to me much. Since I was an outspoken supporter of President Obama’s candidacy, and since before that I was equally outspoken against torture, against the invasion of Iraq, for environmental stewardship, etc., many of them have written me off (sometimes with quite spicy language). But if you are a conservative Christian who cares about integrity and civility in communication and debate, perhaps they will still listen to you when you call them to a higher standard. I hope you will take the risk of speaking out with that in mind.

As my friend Jim Wallis recently said so eloquently (http://blog.sojo.net/2009/08/06/truth-telling-and-responsibility-in-health-care/), we may have honest differences with our fellow Christians on the issue of health care and many other issues too, but even in our differences we can agree that debates should take place in the light of truth and civility, not in the shadows of misrepresentation and prejudice.

Be assured, I am no uncritical supporter of health care reform. I am no more in favor now of rushing into expensive health care reform without sufficient debate than I was a few years ago when we rushed into an expensive pre-emptive war without sufficient care and discernment. I’m eager, like many of my conservative friends, to see the kind of reform that encourages small business and entrepreneurship. I'm interested in the kind of reform that reduces the power of both unaccountable mega-corporations and unaccountable government bureaucracy. I’m eager to see the kind of reform that doesn’t pave the way for powerful health insurance companies to do to the public in the next few decades what "too big to fail" Wall Street debt-repackagers did to us over the last few. I’m eager to see the kind of reform that in the long term reduces rather than increases our growing national debt and that truly helps our poorest neighbors without creating reductions in real service for our more prosperous neighbors.

Getting the kind of reform we need won’t be easy, especially with so many powerful interests spending huge amounts of money to achieve their own ends, with too little concern for justice, the common good … or the truth. That’s why, for there to be the kind of debate that produces good results, we who call ourselves Christians - conservative or otherwise - need to stand for full integrity in communication, whatever our political leanings. We need to be sure that the best arguments on both sides are heard ... not being satisfied to compare "our" best with "their" worst, as unscrupulous politicians and media personalities so often like to do, and not reducing the views of others to absurdity, even if we disagree with them vehemently.

The moral authority of Christians has been severely compromised in our culture in recent years. The most serious kinds of sexual scandals have rocked the Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic communities, not to mention financial scandals, ugly denominational lawsuits, and high-profile divisions. Studies have shown that some kinds of Christians are not only more likely to support torture - they are also more likely to hold racist views, to engage in domestic violence, and to end their marriages in divorce. No wonder young people are turned off as never before to a hypocritical face of Christianity that radiates shame, anger, and judgment rather than grace, love, and truth.

Even if we disagree on health care reform and other political issues, I hope we can agree that it is time for us to start walking - and talking - more worthy of the calling to which we have been called, to use Paul's words, to speak the truth, and to do so always in love. Or as James said, we must remember in this fire-prone political climate that the tongue can set off tiny rhetorical sparks that create huge flames of unimagined and unintended destruction. It can spread a false wisdom that sounds good on the surface, but beneath the surface is driven not by love but by bitter envy and selfish ambition. In contrast, he said (3:13 ff),

"The wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise of harvest of righteousness."

Wise and needed words to guide us in the weeks and months ahead as health care reform is debated for better or for worse. May both the debate and the outcome bring us to a better place.


By the way, if you’d like to do some fact-checking about the health care debate, here are some faith-based sources that I believe can be trusted to avoid uncritical and inaccurate reporting about health care. I understand they will be offering correctives to rumors and misinformation in the months ahead.



Mike the Eyeguy said...

This article is a much-needed MRI of the American conservative Evangelical psyche. I do hope that many will take this to heart before Christianity is DOA in the minds of the Millennials and the generations to follow.

brian said...

Where was the integrity and civility in communication and debate during the Bush administration?

Chris said...

There may have been a liberal Democrat with integrity and civility towards President Bush--I just never met one. On the contrary, they were likely to hang him in effigy.

Adam said...

brian and chris,
Out of curiosity,do you consider yourselves to be Christian?

Chris said...

I absolutely consider myself a Christian but I would not consider following Billy Graham, Rick Warren or the Pope any more than I would consider following Brian McClaren.

If McClaren believes what he says regarding health care reform,(reducing national debt, helping poorest without reducing services to the rest, encouraging small business, etc.) then he had better run as fast as he can from Obamacare. Obama wants total control over our lives. With him it is not evem about health care, it is about control. America will not stand for it and rightly so.

Adam said...

I was honestly not trying to imply anything by my question. All I have to go on to discern where you are coming from is a first name, and the sentence you typed. I was trying to discern where you were coming from in order to properly be able to engage with your comments.

Could you provide s link or two to non-partisan sources that verify your claim about what you call "Obamacare"? Help me understand where you are coming from.

I can recommend the following two sites as excellent non-partisan sources, but I can't find anything there that verifies your claims. Take a look and tell me if you see something I don't.



P.S. I would like to talk more about how Christianity should shape our discourse later, but I want to understand what you are saying and where you are coming from first.

Chris said...

I don't rely on "sources," partisan or not because one can never tell if someone has a bias. I like to get information straight from the person in question.

For example, consider Obama's words from a speech to the AFL-CIO IN 2003.

"I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan, that's what I would like to see. But as you all know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House." (So much for keeping your own private plan.)

Then consider the people who surround him as advisors. He has
more than 30 czars at my last count who do not need confirmation by the Senate. Some of their statements are truly frightening.

Adam said...

I find your statement "I don't rely on sources" fascinating. What do you mean by this? Are you implying that you attended the AFLCIO Speach or that you watched a broadcast? Or are you saying that you searched for the information until you found statements directly from Obama on the subject? Did you read or listen to the entire speech or just this segment? Does this single comment settle the matter for you, or did you look for additional (and possibly later) statements on the subject? Did anyone direct you to this segment of this speech, or did you find it through your own research? How do you attain information with no sources? BTW, here is the factcheck piece on the speech you quoted: http://tinyurl.com/opf8m5

As for how to tell if someone has bias...I have a theory on how to tell. Check to see if they are breathing. We are all biased...every one of us (myself included). As individuals, we are all embedded in our own perspectives. Individually we all re-craft reality (and even God) in our own image. When we admit this about ourselves, and are willing to listen to the perspectives of others (not blindly accept, but also not merely tolerate), then we can get to something closer to truth. That's why I like the fact-checking sites I linked to before. They are collaborative sites with lots of checks and balances from all sides to help with integrity. They are equal-opportunity, calling out distortions on all sides. (For a great example of this, check out the interesting, if cheesily named Pundit Fact-o-meter: http://tinyurl.com/p9p2x6 )

I'm not necessarily a proponent of this particular version of Health Care Reform as proposed by the President. Given your stated (and admirable) preference for going directly to the source, I was wondering if you have read the actual health care bill in its entirity? My wife also feels strongly about going to the source, and she has read it. Here's a link where you can download it: http://tinyurl.com/nqj8bc I'm still making up my mind.

I'd really like you to help me understand how you have come to the conclusion that Obama wants "total control over every part of our lives". It's a pretty large claim, and I assume you wouldn't make it without a mountain of evidence.

I didn't take McLaren's article to be particularly arguing for a certain version of health care reform as he was arguing for honesty and civility from those who disagree with each other on this issue or any other. I happen to know that he has quite a track record of practicing what he's proposing here.

Chris said...

First of all, thanks for being civil. Not many liberals are.

Throughout history individual freedom has been the exception rather than the rule. America has been the near perfect exception---until now.

The federal government is grabbing up the private sector at an alarming rate, the mortgage industry, the banks, the car industry, the energy sector and now the health care industry. A lot of things are happening before our eyes and not according to the Constitution.

As to your assertion that factcheck.org is non-partisan I hardly think so. The Annenberg Public Policy Center, the sponsoring agency behind Fastcheck.org is itself supported by the same foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, that terrorist Bill Ayers secured the 49.2 million dollars from to create the Chicago Annenberg Challenge "philanthropic" organization in which Barack Obama was the founding Chairman of the Board for and Ayers served as the grant writer of and co-Chair of for its two operating arms.

As Ronald Reagan said, "Freedom is a fragile thing and it never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again."

We are dangerously close to losing it.

Adam said...

Why do you assume that I'm "a liberal"? Is it it because I don't hold a particular view on one particular issue? (I haven't actually stated an opinion besides "I'm still making up my mind"). Or, have you observed this blog over time and come to this conclusion?
As a point of clarification, I don't claim to be "a liberal" (or "a conservative" for that matter). I find these categories to be deeply unhelpful. They are completely relative to the person applying the catagory, while passing themselves off as objective and totalizing. Additionally, as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said "If you label me, you negate me." It seems to me that these categories function as shortcuts that seduce us into sidestepping alternate perspectives on issues, and frankly sidestepping the people who hold such perspectives. Such sidestepping of others, if we aren't careful, can become demonizing of others.

I have heard of the alleged Obama, Factcheck.org, Ayers connection before. Because of the persistence of the allegation, I always make a point to include other websites with a similar mission. However, I would note that Factcheck.org actually mentions it on their own website:

"Contrary to suggestions we've seen in some conservative blogs, there is no connection between the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and FactCheck.org, save for the fact that both received funding from the Annenberg Foundation. The foundation supports a wide variety of charitable causes – a total of 5,200 grants during its first 15 years of operation. It was founded in 1989 by Walter H. Annenberg, a newspaper and magazine publisher who died in 2002.

FactCheck.org is funded by, and is a project of, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which was established by the Annenberg Foundation with a $20 million endowment in 1993. The Annenberg Foundation also made additional grants to support our work. We also receive funding from the Flora Family Foundation to help support our educational offshoot, FactCheckED.org. We receive no other outside funding.

FactCheck.org came into being in late 2003. Director Brooks Jackson states: "Our mission is to be as neutral and nonpartisan as humanly possible. Annenberg supports that, and nobody at the Annenberg Foundation has ever tried to influence anything we've written."

For the record, the Annenberg Foundation's president and chairman is Leonore Annenberg, the founder's widow. Public records show she's given $2,300 to the McCain campaign, which announced on Oct. 8, that she has endorsed him for president."

In my opinion, this allegation is analogous to saying that Fox News Network reflects the political views of Rupert Murdoch (which it doesn't...even remotely).

Chris said...

Your comments duly noted.

I found this over the weekend.


Public Option Will Pull Plug on Medical Innovation

MichaelPolutta said...

With http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/ I have to wonder why anyone considers this a "truth filter" of any kind.

They state very clearly their support of reform. As one example, here is a quote from the 7/27/2009 post:

"Ps, for an excellent observation on the Scriptural support for universal care, check out Oliver Thomas' excellent op-ed in today's USA Today."

I have a hard time trusting this site as any kind of "truth watchdog."

Adam said...

I had similar thoughts when I looked at that site. I still like the overall idea that McLaren is promoting here to re: civility.

MichaelPolutta said...


I agree completely with being civil. IMHO, neither side in the argument has a monopoly on incivility. It is sad that it apparently has to be an argument. However, vehemence is not the same as violence.

It is trite, yes, but perhaps Christians should approach the topic from a "How would Jesus discuss this?" perspective.

Adam said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

craig said...

Thanks Chris, Michael, and Adam. Good discussion. Good info.