liberal ["liberalis" L - suitable for a freeman, generous; "eleutheros" Gk - free] (adj) generous, open-minded, not subjugated to authoritarian domination; (n) one who believes in liberty, universal suffrage and the free exchange of ideas. elite ["eslire" Fr -- to choose fr.L "eligere" -- choose] (n) the choice part; best of a class; the socially superior part of society.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

NY free press

The New York Free Press is an interesting little weekly that is distributed free in New York City.

Their cover story this week examines raising environmental consciousness in the U.S. Christian political voting block.

Alexander Zaitchik pens a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of why environmental stewardship hasn't been a big issue to mainstream Republican Christians. In one of the most well-crafted pieces of journalism I have found on this emerging concept, Zaitchik deftly steers a path through the layers of subject matter, from the Biblical mandate in Genesis 2:15 to the UN Climate Change conference in Buenos Aires. He shows some very incisive evidence about the divisive nature of Christian denominations in America, especially as such divisions apply to reasoned discourse, the larger community of faith and political wedge issues, such as Environmentalism.

Zaitchik eases us along in the transitions from issue to issue and interest group to interest group, pinpointing hopeful spokesman Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), who points out how the minds of evangelicals are opening up, slowly and cautiously.
"Care for the created order is indeed one hallmark of evangelicalism," he says. "If we outline a policy that says that climate change is real, and that it poses a sincere threat to the earth, then you can no longer say, 'This is just hokum,' if you're an evangelical and you want to be with the leadership.

As optimistic as Cizik's view may be, as illustrated in the above paragraph, Cizik sets off a couple of deafening alarms. The first one screams that Cizik seems to be drawing a distinction between 'evangelicalism' and "Christianity." The second red-alert is the familiar paean that Cizik doesn't consider 'evangelicals' to be capable of thinking critically about important social issues without guidance from other 'evangelical' policymakers.

All Christians are evangelical. Anyone purporting to be a follower of Jesus Christ is charged with the "Great commission": "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

Although Protestantism in the United States has become divided and subdivided between a spectrum of more or less autonomous groups, all are "evangelical" by virtue of being Christian. Common parlance refers to Baptists, non-denominational Congregationalist or independent Protestant churches and most fundamentalist denominations, such as Pentecostal, as the "Evangelicals." This is a misnomer. The more moderate, liberal "main line" or mainstream Protestant churches, such as the Presbyterians and the Methodists. Evangelism or, spreading the gospel, is the sine qua non of the Christian life. For "evangelicals" to refer to themselves as such, in opposition to other Christian denominations, speaks volumes -- as Cizik does in Zaitchik's quotation, above, about how uninformed Americans are about religious groups, politics, and probably everything else (alarm no. 1).

The second cause for concern in Cizik's statement is the "Big Brother" paternalism among so-called evangelical policymakers who want to tell their unthinking, uneducated or otherwise naive brethren how to think and vote. After all, anyone who calls some Christians "evangelicals" based on their denomination is clearly in the habit of peddling falsehoods and stereotypes. Therefore, the Ciziks of the Christian universe have to micro manage the thinking of their lambs lest they stray into the swamp of Reason and Enlightenment. Under the current organization of Protestantism in America, this would be catastrophic. Artificial distinctions between believers and non-believers would no longer frighten church members into unquestioning loyalty to pulpit and party.

This is one of the powerful trademarks of this Zaitchik piece. He pinpoints people, organizations, cultural tendencies and thought patterns by laying them delicately and plainly before the reader, like an onion waiting to be diced on a gourmet chef's cutting board. The reader is free to behold the facts in all their living, palpable horror.

Zaitchik caps this missile with a monstrous warhead. In piecing together a "chicken or egg" question to ask if it is industry or religion that drives the Republican right, he mentions that Christian Right advocacy groups' favorite Republicans are the League of Conservation Voters' nemeses. But he probes this dichotomy further.
A better explanation of this synchronicity between God and chainsaw is found in Michael Lind's pithy description of the current Republican Party coalition: "A Frankenstein operation [has] stitched the bodiless head of Northeastern neoconservatism onto the headless body of Southern fundamentalism. Though incomplete, the image explains the rough flow of ideas in today's Republican Party. Southern evangelicals set the social agenda at the grassroots level, while secular forces in the north (and west) set he economic and foreign policy agendas. These policies are then fed back to the religious base through industry-subsidized Christian Right leaders in Congress and the media, who reinforce the idea that pollution controls are part of the same godless liberal plot that wants gay porn and home-abortion kits distributed in the public school system.

Instead of using Madison Avenue to sell democracy to Islamic fundamentalist cultures, we're packaging Corporatism to God fearing, law abiding Americans.

Zaitchik doesn't mention television and the corporate media publicity and information monopoly on behalf of corporate interests. But again, he shows the reader the soft underbelly of the Republican axis.

Christians such as the Reverend Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) started the "What would Jesus Drive?" campaign. Zaitchik reports:
This past July, Rev. Ball gathered evangelical pastors to a weekend conference at Chesapeake Bay, VA.... The conference concluded with attendees committing to the goal of forging an official evangelical consensus on climate change within the next year.

"In dismissing environmental activism, many Christians are just going along with what their allies are telling them," says Ball. "They haven't really taken a serious look at issues like climate change. but when they hear people ... who can talk to them as a brother and a scientist, they think, 'Well if a brother is saying it, there's gotta be something to this.'"

The New York Press shows the kind of clout, reasoning and informative value in this piece that are so desperately lacking in mainstream media. Another hopeful facet to this article is that we're all waking up to reality. If more Americans read articles like Zaitchik's and supported newspapers like the Press, maybe then more progressive Christians could sing gospel overtures to the secular, unsaved progressives.

He who has ears, let him hear (Mt 13:9).


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