Jim has a little credo at the end of the introduction which I can pretty much agree with, if I carefully fail to notice all the button pressing.1
We believe that poverty- caring for the poor and vulnerable- is a religious issue. Do the candidate’s budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries?
We believe that the environment- caring for God’s creation- is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it?
We believe that war- and our call to be peacemakers- is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ policies pursue ‘wars of choice’ or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats?
We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies?
We believe that human rights- respecting the image of God in every person- is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners?
We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies?
We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS- and other pandemics- and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life?
(God’s Politics, pp. xxix-xxx)
Marco has already noticed what is wrong with this list. It is just like the grab bag of environmental problems presented to us by the media. There is no attempt at prioritisation. The rhetoric a candidate uses is placed as a dot point of equal significance to their position on abortion, HIV/AIDS, genocide, etc. In a fallen world, clearly all candidates will have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In order to judge between them, we need to rank the issues Wallis lists. We need a spiritual Lomborg2 to do an ethical cost/benefit analysis and decide which are really worth worrying about and which can be placed to one side.
At the beginning of the next chapter, Jim Wallis nominates the two issues that he sees as the most important. He hasn’t justified his nomination yet, but I hope he will later. His two most important issues are:
* Poverty reduction
* The war
I agree with Jim about the importance of reducing poverty, but I think there is good evidence that the policies he advocates don’t work. I may be blinded by spin, but I think that the ‘welfare to work’ policies Clinton was forced to sign by the Republicans have been a success in reducing domestic poverty over the past decade, and that the surest path to reducing poverty globally is free movement of goods and people, which the Republicans are stronger on than the Democrats.
Obviously, I disagree with Jim (and with the Pope, sadly) about the war.
Anyway, back in 17th century Transylvania, ‘God’s Politics’ had a slightly different meaning. We all think of Transylvania from the movies, as a sort of dark and superstitious generic Eastern European sort of place. But (I’ve only just learned this) in the late 16th century it was practically the most tolerant and progressive country in all of Europe. Its princes, vassals of the Ottoman Empire, were among the first Reformed3 rulers in Europe and extended toleration to their Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant subjects, including many extremist sects persecuted most everywhere else. Transylvania became a teensy bit less tolerant over time, and became unstuck when Prince György II Rákóczi invaded Poland in 1656.
..the aim was no less than for Rákóczi to seize the throne of Poland-Lithuania to promote the cause of Protestantism, as Istvan Bathóri had once done. Rákóczi went against all precedent for a vassal of the Turkish Sultan in pursuing his crazy campaigns in Poland without any authorisation from Constantinople, and he persisted in the face first of strong warnings from the Ottomans and then of catastrophic defeats at the hands of Polish, Tartar, and Turkish armies. He died of battle wounds in 1660, his death preventing him from witnessing the complete humiliation of the principality by the Ottomans. Historians have been puzzled by the apparently suicidal foreign and military policies of a prince who was clearly intelligent and effective, but Rákóczi was motivated by religious zeal. The princely Court resounded as it had done for half a century with sermons proclaiming that Transylvania was the Israel of its day, destined to lead God’s Protestant people all over Europe to victory against false religion whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Muslim. In this story Rákóczi was cast as King David, who might usher in a golden age for humanity. The preacher at his funeral called him ‘Israel’s illuminating candle.’
(Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, p.463)
Er, I’m not sure what my point is. But there must be some sort of lesson to be learned from this.
1: I could add two or three more dot points that immediately leapt to mind, but I won’t now.
2: NB: Catholics have one of these, called ‘The Pope’. He clearly said that ‘wars of choice’ were bad, but the whole ‘culture of death’ was very bad.
3: Using the word in its technical sense, as a sub-group of Protestantism including, but not limited to, Calvinism.