MUSINGS

As I listen to or view news reports and read newspaper articles, essays and books, I can often distinguish between those who are committed to respectful conversation from those with whom they disagree and those who will have none of that. From time to time, I will share some thoughts on what I hear and read. I welcome your comments on my musings.



POLITICS IN THE TRENCHES: LOCAL ADVOCACY FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM IN IOWA

Promoting public justice in a dysfunctional political system is not for the faint of heart. Systemic obstacles are enormous, such as closed primaries that minimize the number of moderate voters and candidates participating in the nominating process; gerrymandered voting districts that protect or harm the political interests of incumbents and parties; winner-take-all elections that militate against the diversity of voices within our pluralistic society, and the inordinate political influence of those with wealth since Citizens United (See Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. It’s Even Worse Than it Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. New York: Basic Books, 2012, 143-160).

These seemingly intractable obstacles are enough to tempt a Christian to give up hope, or succumb to a truncated view of God’s redemptive purposes that focuses exclusively on modeling Christian values within our Christian communities. To be sure, such modeling is important. But if we wash our hands of the messy business of political engagement, we ignore our calling as Christians to plant seeds of redemption in all areas of life, including the political realm (Colossians 1: 19-20; Matthew 13: 31-32).

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LEADERS, DISSENTERS AND TRUE COMMUNITY

It is not uncommon for leaders to allow little or no space for dissenters within their  organizations; the result often being an erosion of any sense of community. 

A radically different approach to effective leadership has been proposed by Parker Palmer in his book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work Creativity, and Caring (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), in which he suggests that Jesus exemplifies such leadership.

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POLITICAL ADVOCACY FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM IS A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT

The message in my title is not original with me. I have heard it stated a number of times by Mark Prosser, the Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police in Storm Lake (IA), based on the results of his tireless efforts to promote immigration reform and his experiences “in the trenches” of the enormous obstacles to accomplishing these goals (which the Advocacy Group at CASA has also experienced).

One such obstacle is the current brokenness of the political system, where the primary goal of too many politicians is to get elected, and then re-elected, rather than to govern well in a manner that promotes the well-being of their constituents.

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THE SCANDAL OF CHRISTIAN DISUNITY: A BROKEN WITNESS

Why are there strife and angry outbursts and dissension and schisms and conflict among you? Do we not have one God and one Christ and one spirit of grace which was poured out upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ? Why do we tear and rip apart the members of Christ, and rebel against our own body, and reach such a level of insanity that we forget that we are members of one another?

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TRUTH MAY BE THE CASUALTY

As my good friends have known for a long time and as readers of this web site are getting to know, I have a passionate commitment to facilitating respectful conversations among Christians who disagree about contentious issues. That commitment is based on my strong belief that to create a safe space for persons who disagree to talk respectfully about their disagreements is a deep expression of what it means to “love others,” to which Jesus calls all who aspire to be his followers 

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RESPECTFUL CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DIVISIVE ISSUES: A PLACE TO START

To get to know someone well enough to create a safe, welcoming space for that person to express their beliefs and their reasons for holding to those beliefs, and then having respectful conversations in an attempt to uncover our agreements and illuminate our disagreements is, for me, a deep expression  of love for that person

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RESPECTFUL CONVERSATION AS A DEEP EXPRESSION OF LOVE

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope you  have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

Over the last few years, I had the opportunity to engage other Christians in conversations regarding the following controversial contemporary issues: American politics; the evolutionary creationist/young-earth creationist debate; immigration reform; and same-sex marriage.

Christians hold widely divergent views on these “hot-button” issues. One of the most important results of my in-depth conversation with Christians who situate themselves at opposite poles on these issues was to dispel a very prevalent, pernicious myth.

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LOCAL RESPONSES TO WASHINGTON GRIDLOCK ON IMMIGRATION REFORM

The current legislative gridlock in Washington is devastating. Severe societal problems persist because D. C. politicians can’t find common ground to effect solutions that will promote the common good.

As I have argued in earlier musings and in my recent book Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation, the root problem is fixation on either/or solutions rather than the necessary both/and solutions.

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LOSS OF TRUST IN GOVERNMENT IS DEVASTATING

A common theme emerged in the reflections of the political pundits on the three recent sources of political crisis: the administration’s talking points on the Benghazi attack; The IRS targeting of conservative organizations seeking 501 (C) 4 tax-exempt status; and the Justice Department’s subpoenas of the phone records of Associated Press reporters. In each case, there was a devastating effect on the level of trust in government.

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THE ELUSIVE QUEST FOR BALANCE IN POLITICAL LEGISLATION

The biggest obstacle to politicians actually governing rather than posturing is the erroneous belief that my side has a monopoly on how to solve the public policy problem at hand and the views of the opposition have little or no value. It’s my way or the highway.

This “either/or” rather than “both/and” thinking typically leads to the proposal of inadequate one-dimensional solutions to multi-dimensional problems, when what is needed is to strike a proper balance that addresses the various dimensions of the problem. Examples of the failure of political legislation that refuses to seek a proper balance are legion.

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THE FUTURE OF EVANGELICALISM

I invite all my web site readers to follow along and contribute to a new electronic conversation that I will be hosting, starting on May 1, on the topic “American Evangelicalism: Present Conditions, Future Possibilities.” I am guessing that the views that will be expressed on this topic will range from “there is no viable future for Evangelicalism” to “Evangelicalism can have, and should have a vibrant future”. Allow me to conjecture as to why such a wide range of viewpoints may emerge.

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ENGAGING POLITICIANS ABOUT IMMIGRATION REFORM

Those of us who have been advocating for immigration reform have been encouraged by the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is being discussed by the Senate. But what is the best way to make our political representatives aware of our support of this proposal? I submit for your consideration some strategies that we have tried in northwest Iowa, the potential success of which remains to be seen.

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IT'S NOT MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

The surest way to shut down a conversation, or to prevent one from beginning, is to believe that “I have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” and everything that the person on the other side of the aisle or table believes about the topic of conversation is “false.”

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THE GREAT REVERSAL ON IMMIGRATION REFORM

I have often expressed my dismay at a political system where politicians focus on getting elected rather than on governing. That brokenness reached new levels in the recent great reversal on the part of numerous leaders of the Republican Party relative to immigration reform. But let me start at the beginning.

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INDIVIDUALITY OR COMMUNITY: A FALSE CHOICE

One-dimensional political commitments, on both sides of the aisle, have made “middle-ground politics impossible.” That is a concern expressed by E. J. Dionne Jr. in his splendid book Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury, 2012, p. 248).

Dionne traces the root of our current political gridlock to a faulty reading of American history. He asserts that the “true American trajectory is defined by balance,” which includes “an understanding of the indispensability of both the individual and the community” (p. 123, italics added). Dionne maintains that “our quest, from the very beginning of the republic, [has been] to achieve individual liberty rooted in a thriving sense of community and mutual obligation” (p. 242).

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