Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Diversity that Overcomes Culture Wars (extra credit blog)

In my research on Conservative Christians I came across an interesting frontline interview with Jim Wallis. Although the interview is a few years old, I still found the information valuable to our class discussion on Evangelicalism and also on what McGraw discusses as culture wars. Jim Wallis is editor and founder of the liberal evangelical magazine Sojourners and the head of “Call to Renewal,” a faith-based anti-poverty organization.
In the interview Wallis discusses the evangelical community and its response to poverty, claiming that “it's not a political question. It is impossible to be an evangelical Christian and ignore the vast teaching of the Bible about poor people.” In responding to a question about why there are so many conservative Republican evangelicals who support more conservative economic policies he criticizes those evangelicals who are like “affluent, upper-middle class suburban dwellers” rather than faithfully following the Bible in its teaching on poor people. As an evangelical himself, liberal however, Wallis criticizes American fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for not truly being in the evangelical tradition, but nevertheless, often serving as the stereotype for most Americans who think of the term “evangelical.”
This article directly speaks to the diversity within the evangelical tradition, just as it is seen within any other religion. Reading Neusner we read that in Islam, for example, the term Muslim can have several different connotations. Primarily, the division between Sunni Muslims and Shiia Muslims, which goes back to Islamic beginnings and historical events, that divided Muslim thought and ideology and has created two very distinct communities. Divisions among religious traditions are often overlooked when huge umbrella terms are employed, such as the term “evangelical” or even “fundamentalist.” In researching Conservative Christians I have found it very valuable to read about liberal evangelicals such as Jim Wallis, who seems to unite the evangelical religion on the basis of biblical teachings.
It is at this point that I see an opportunity for overcoming the negative term “culture war.” While Wallis may be an evangelical, his strongest argument for his religion is the duty to fight poverty as in accordance with the biblical scripture. Wallis views it in terms of a biblical duty, but it can be broaden to be seen more as a social issue. In this sense, it is a social issue that can be fought by people of all religions. McGraw’s chapter on Catholicism, for example, highlights the religions focus on helping those who are in need and an emphasis on the global fight against poverty. It is with issues such as poverty that I see hope for the union of different religions. Or at the very least this is an opportunity to begin to recognize similarities among different religions rather than to divide and differentiate. Perhaps the answer is to focus on issues that can unite people of different religions and less upon specific biblical interpretations. By recognizing the diversity of viewpoints within different religions and denominations the lines of division among different religions become less clear and there is opportunity for education and growth and, perhaps, even an end in sight for the culture war debate.


  • Diversity that Overcomes Culture Wars-
    I really liked your blog post. I think far too often people in general, and I am certainly guilty of this myself, mistake and stereotype religious beliefs with political ones. The idea of certain religions being generally conservative or liberal seems to me probably only holds up as a broad and likely inadequate stereotype. One of the themes throughout my blogs has been the modern take on and workings of the separation of Church and State. No where, I think, does this separation break down more than when religion becomes categorized into political labels. It was very good to be reminded that even the most stereotypically Republican religion (Evangelicals) can and maybe often do believe in certain "liberal" or Democratic ideals. Ultimately it is my belief that if most Christians followed the teachings and message of Jesus they would be somewhat, if not entirely, less Republican and more Democratic- i.e. Welfare, Social Security, Healthcare and possibly education (taking care of those less fortunate). However, not being intimately familiar with said teachings this is mostly speculation. Regardless of what might be was good to hear what is, namely that all people religious or not do not always fit into stereotyped roles and will and can think and act for themselves- thank you for the reminder and enlightenment. -Stephen

    By Blogger stephen, at 9:30 AM  

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