Gentle Fudge
religion, politics, current events, and other fashionable dinner conversation.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
A Kinder, Gentler Nation
The following commentary was published in my local paper this past Sunday. Of course, I was not able to find any links. The paper rarely archives any commentaries regarding religion and politics, thus I decided to retype it in its entirety here. Mr. Whitehead is the local watchdog for religion, politics, law, and civil rights, the founder and president for The Rutherford Institute. Fabulous organization.

When Pastor Rick Warren decided to hold a 'forum' on August 16, 2008, at his mega church Saddleback and invited both presidential candidates to avoid losing his tax-exempt status. This I'm certain of. Due to millions of Christians leaning away from the Religious Right and becoming more 'loving' and 'forgiving' -- thus of the evangelical persuasion -- Warren saw his opportunity and took it. The Purpose-Driven Pastorprenuer opened his arms and welcomed both sides -- surely a thing Christ would do, right? -- and asked questions... and charged tickets, to make sure this was not confused with a church event. Some went as high as 2 grand, from my limited websurfing.

was truly pointless, spineless, and lacked purpose, something Warren should really have some knowledge, considering his empire of books. I agree. Warren should have asked the tough questions instead of worrying about offending the evangelical masses. He is known for avoiding hot button issues and instead focuses on uniting the peoples. He avoids the issues of abortion, or specifically what causes abortions, and instead focuses on world poverty. A wonderful thing when you live in a rich country and the American Way is to fix problems with your checkbook... when the problems are thousands of miles away... when we are known for ignoring our neighbors down the street who are struggling financially or emotionally.

Christ was never worried about being offensive when it came down to it. He confronted the church leaders of his day who lived lavish lifestyles. He went out to find the poor and oppressed. He challenged the comfortable who thought they had done 'enough'. He wasn't afraid to die for what he believed, for those he cared for, which is what ultimately happened. So why is this pastor afraid to lose his earthly kingdom when he should be more concerned for his soul?

Commentary from "The Daily Progress" (Charlottesville, VA)
Sunday, August 24, 2008

by John W. Whitehead

America, meet your new evangelical leader

I have never been considered a part of the religious right, because I don't believe politics is the most effective way to change the world. Although public service can be a noble profession, and I believe it is our responsibility to vote, I don't have much faith in government solutions, give the track record. --Rick Warren

The recent Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency was a wash. Both candidates, who claim to be Christians, spent much of their time pandering to the nearly three million television viewers who tuned in. But in terms of what presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama had to say, their responses were largely lacking in content.

However, the Saddleback Forum wasn't insignificant. Its significance has less to do with what the two candidates had to say than in what the person asking the questions, Rick Warren, signifies for the future of Christianity.

The fact that it was Warren and not James Dobson, the Christian Right's de facto Godfather, is particularly telling. It speaks of a decided shift away from the rigid, right-winged mindset that has dominated evangelical Christianity in America over the last three decades. Warren, pastor of the 23,000-member Saddleback Church in California and the best-selling author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," seems to be about as far as you can get from the stigma of the Christian Right while still calling himself an evangelical Christian.

The Christian Right, represented by such prominent figures as Dobson, Pat Robertson and the Late Jerry Falwell, among others, has long stoof for the erection of a Christian State. As David Kuo, who served as special assistant to President Bush documents in his book "Tempting Faith," these Christian leaders worked hard to maintain ties to the Bush White House, complete with weekly conference calls to keep them updated on ever facet of the president's policy and political agenda.

However, the dismal failure of the Bush presidency has led inevitably to the decline of the Christian Right -- and can be credited with contributing to Warren's rise to prominence. According to a 2005 Nation article, Warren "disassociates himself from the religious right, noting that he shares its position on social issues but doesn't want to focus on them. He focuses on poverty, disease, and aid to Africa."

It's not difficult to see why Warren, a mainline evangelical in the Billy Graham mold, is enjoying such popularity. Disillusioned by the power-hawking, war-mongering of the Christian Right, the nation's 80 million evangelical Christians would have little trouble with the feel-good Christianity that Warren sells -- non-confrontational, congenial, and polite. That isn't to say that it lacks substance, merely controversy.

As a recent time article observed, like Graham, Warren "projects an authenticity that he helped him forge an exquisite set of political connections -- in the White House, on both sides of the legislative aisle and abroad. And he is both leading and riding the newest wave and change in the Evangelical community: an expansion beyond social conservatism to causes such as battling poverty, opposing torture and combating global warming.

"The movement has loosened the hold of religious-right leaders on ordinary Evangelicals and created an opportunity for Warren, who has lent his prominent voice to many of the new concerns."

Warren has avoided much that is controversial, such as abortion and gay marriage (what he refers to as "sin issues"). Instead, Warren focuses on issues that "unite," such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and human rights. Warren is, whether consciously or unconsciously, shifting the national faith dialogue back to a pre-Regan era, before the small group of leaders that have come to dominate the Christian Right turned Christianity into a synonym for right-wing theocracy.

Sidestepping the siren call of politics, Warren has taken aim at what he calls the "five global giants": spiritual emptiness, selfish leadership, hunger, sickness, and illiteracy. Empowered by his publishing success and with the support of his megachurch, he launched his PEACE initiative -- an acronym for Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Educate the next generation. Since coming up with the plan, he has taken his PEACE plan global, with Rwanda as his testing ground.

Warren is now being looked upon as America's pastor. Suddenly, Christianity appears somewhat appealing again. Yet while there is so much to commend this so-called New Evangelicalism, with its rejection of politics as the answer and its emphasis on carrying out Jesus' mandate to care for the poor and helpless, there is also an important lesson to the learned. The rise of the Christian Right came about at a time when the evangelical church in America was doing its best to be non-controversial an inoffensive. The evangelical church's subsequent failure was to morally impact the culture and the legalization of abortion can be directly attributed to the emergence ot the Christian Right.

The Christian Right was, without a doubt, a semi-militant reaction to a society that seemed to be lacking a moral compass. And as journalist Chris Hedges points out in his book "American Fascists," if a real crisis rises again across this country (such as another terrorist attack), it would not take much for the country to revert back to such a militant fundamentalism.

This brings us to the current presidential election. No matter who ascends to the White House, it's clear that Christians will not enjoy the kind of access that laid claim to during the Bush administration -- whatever good it did them. For example, abortions didn't decline under Bush, and it's doubtful that whether they would under either Obama or McCain.

The lesson to be learned is this: what is needed now is not a return to the overly polite Christianity of the pre-Regan era. Nor is it the politically charged Christianity of the Religious Right, but a brand of Christianity that does not shy away from speaking truth to power. In other words, the type of Christianity Jesus practiced.

John Whitehead is president and founder of the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties organization. He can be reached at

Labels: , , , , , , ,

posted by Sara @ 4:06 PM   1 comments
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's There If You Look For It
Being raised with exposure to the Chinese culture while growing up in the Midwest is hard to explain to the average American. You don't really fit in either world. Especially when none of your family is Chinese. Except your cousins. Your half-Chinese cousins. While everyone else is either all Finnish or an American mix.
Try to buy fake Olympic merchandise... ?
"The police say it will destroy the reputation of the Olympics," said one vendor.
So the Beijing Olympics were a mix for me. The culture was as I remember from my childhood, visiting my grandparents. The respect, the culture toward foreigners, the 'strange' food. Giggling while watching anchors and reporters attempting to eat with chopsticks. And all the red. Everyone was talking about how polite the Chinese were. Of course. That's how you act. You respect your elders. You put others first. And -- if I dare say -- the government can and will make play nice to your visitors. They spent billions of dollars putting on this show. They have the people power to pull this off. If you do not follow along, you are expendable. Do not protest. Do not talk poorly about the government. Remember that. You are only one of a billion people. Remember that. After the earthquake, the government dished out paperwork to grieving parents, making them sign so the parents wouldn't investigate if there was shoddy workmanship in the schools that had collapsed. They also reminded parents that they could have another child, as the only one that they had had died. Their flesh and blood was, yes, replaceable, just like that.

I saw subtle (and not-so-subtle) propaganda in the imagery. There were posters around Tienanmen Square that got very little face time. I was able to see them a bit longer in design magazines that I subscribe to. It would take a little longer to explain to those unfamiliar to Chinese culture, where image, color, and tone all have meaning. But if you are familiar with Communism, you can pick up on some of the nuances. One article I would recommend is Party Games from Print Magazine, which describes Beijing's carefully calculated iconography, incorporating both ancient meaning with governmental propaganda. The main icon, the Dancing Beijing logo, is one such icon. It is taken from the second Chinese character for the city, jing (below left), which is often used shorthand for 'capital'. Beijing itself means literally 'North Capital' (bei = North, jing = Capital). The Dancing Beijing logo is made to look like a chop, or block, which is a seal. Governments use them to stamp official documents. I personally own one that my grandmother used to sign her paintings. Every artist had a chop made specially to signify his or her work and to prevent counterfeits. They are highly prized and not duplicated. They are still used today, from business to government work.

Also, religion is still not tolerated in this 'progressive,' modernizing city. Churches are driven underground. Tibetan monks are imprisoned and tortured. Buddhists practice... hesitantly. To a degree. And all without question of the infallible government. Big Brother knows best.

You can buy anything you want in China, especially on the black market. Even the police and government officials. Corruption is everywhere. There is question about the age of the Chinese girl gymnasts, which government workers could have can easily altered certificates and official papers. But if try to buy fake Olympic merchandise? Nope. "The police say it will destroy the reputation of the Olympics," said one vendor from the Print article.

The good side to the Olympics were the athletes. Pure, unadulterated sport. No background or superimposed banners for Nike or Adidas or Budweiser. Yeah, you still have to sit through commercials. And the opening ceremonies were done in the spectacle and grandeur that I expected (constantly interrupted by the freeking commercials). Artistry, imagery, music, ancient instrumentation, illuminating light, technology never seen before, everything incorporating all senses. Plus the elements of wind, water, fire, wood, metal... Holistic, that everything is interconnected. And reminding the world -- and the Chinese -- of the power of the human. The sheer mass. The largeness. One of many -- so very many --and yet, just one of many. And more subtle propaganda woven in here and there. You wouldn't see it if you weren't familiar with the history or culture of China. Proud history. Thousands of years. Luxurious costuming and fantastic attention to detail -- jewels, posture, makeup, facial expression. Then we incorporate the new with old, strength with weakness, power with control, chaos with order, balancing opposites without clashing. Americans have a terrible time of doing this. We tend to forget our past or forget to set time aside, remembering that the dishes can wait for tomorrow -- we want to leave it behind and just live in the future. We forget about today. China accepts its past and brings it forward, incorporating it into today.

Now if it would let its people forward instead of letting the few rule the many under an iron fist.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Sara @ 8:17 AM   2 comments
About Me

Name: Sara
Home: gypsy wanderer, United States
About Me: Those who know me find me stubborn, opinionated, open-minded, strong-willed, of some intelligence, and yet they still hang around.
See my complete profile
Previous Post

Love God. Love all. Serve both.

There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Powered by

Free Blogger Templates