Sunday, August 29, 2010

Olasky vs. Wallis -- who's really the divisive one?

You may have heard about the recent flap between two Christian magazine editors -- World's Marvin Olasky and Sojourners' Jim Wallis. As reported by, Olasky recently asked Wallis if he had received money from George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire who has financially supported liberal and progressive causes since 2004 (and, of course, since has been designated a bĂȘte noir by the political right). Originally Wallis said no but, after consultation from Sojourners' staff, later admitted that his D.C-based ministry to the poor indeed had.

Well, that was all World and other conservatives needed to brand Wallis as not only a liar but also someone who shared responsibility for the political polarization that we see in this country today. Trouble is, that description is completely unfair -- and I would also say that World, not Sojourners, deserves more of the blame, if not all of it, in this case for such "polarization." I mean, can't a guy make an honest mistake from time to time?

Apparently not if you're ideologically progressive, if you read World (which is ideologically hard right and even leans toward heretical "dominion" theology) on a consistent basis, which I used to on-line until about six years ago -- it seems that the magazine targets even Christians who stray from the standard conservative line. The magazine damned Wallis' 2004 best-selling book "God's Politics" as "Democratic talking points" and for not being sufficiently evangelical, never mind that its intended audience was other Christians alienated from the "religious right" for not addressing what Wallis might consider a consistent Biblical vision.

Some years ago interviewer Gene Edward Veith tried to paint Evangelicals for Social Action's Ron Sider, who had recently published "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience," as a "socialist" for similar reasons. (Ironically, 90 percent of what Sider actually wrote would have gotten an "amen" from those same conservatives, and Veith made no mention of the contents of the book in the interview.) Also some years ago, an article also chided students and faculty at Calvin College for protesting an appearance by President George W. Bush.

Now, that last item is more problematic than at first glance. Olasky, a longtime journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has regularly attacked the media for liberal bias; however, Olasky himself served as an adviser to Bush when he was governor of Texas. Ten years ago, in the midst of the presidential campaign, the late New York Times columnist William Safire reported that a copy of World -- with what he considered an unflattering, front-page story about candidate John McCain -- was sent to every member of Congress; Safire, a McCain supporter, called it "religio-political sleaze." The magazine's response? Essentially, "Shove it." It certainly appeared that the magazine was a shill for Bush, all the while conservatives have complained for years -- without merit -- that the major media are in the pocket of the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, Wallis has had to weather other attacks from the political right, such as the late Jerry Falwell insulting him as "as evangelical as an oak tree"; however, on Sojourners' "God's Politics" website he even eulogized Falwell as a man who brought issues to the table. (I doubt that World will be so charitable when Wallis goes to his reward.)

Interestingly, had the reviewer from World read the book "God's Politics" more closely he or she would have noted a story of reconciliation, which to me was as important as anything Wallis has ever written.

In the 1970s, due to a story that Sojourners had published, Wallis had a falling out with the late Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International whose politics leaned right; the resultant feud lasted for decades. But it was Wallis that made the first move toward Bright to heal the breach -- and those men, after sharing each other's conversion stories, became fairly close friends.

One day Wallis received a check for $1,000 from Bright, who wrote in a note that "I wish I had the means to add three more zeros" -- and learned just moments afterward that Bright had died. He said that he couldn't hold back the tears, not just because a friend was dead but because he personally witnessed God at work bringing former enemies together for the sake of the Gospel. (In fact, I'm also tearing up as I write this.)

I have never seen any of that desire for reconciliation from either Olasky or World -- it seems that they would rather be right (in both definitions) than reconciled. Remember, World has a theonomist streak to it, which means that, from their perspective, "compromise" is not only unwarranted but undesirable. Which I find to be sad, because while the magazine may maintain a loyal readership base by taking on "enemies" it may miss what God really wants to do with His Body. Such as turning "enemies" into friends.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More on the 'mosque' ...

Last week CBS News brought up that 10,000 Muslims live and nearly 90 Islamic organizations exist in the immediate area of Ground Zero in Manhattan, where planes "piloted" by Islamic extremists flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, collapsing both buildings and causing thousands of deaths.

And that got me thinking, especially because of the controversy over Cordoba House, the Islamic-oriented community center planned for an old Burlington Coat Factory store 2 1/2 blocks away and not even visible from Ground Zero: 9/11 happened in their own neighborhood.

It seems to me that, if those Muslims really were terrorists, they would have participated, or at the very least rejoiced, in the act -- but they didn't; as Jim Wallis of Sojourners mentioned, 59 Muslims were known to have also perished in that disaster. Moreover, more than a few Muslim leaders, including one I interviewed in the aftermath, denounced the terrorist attack as opposed to the message of Islam; that message, however, seems not have gotten through to much of the public.

And perhaps that's why Cordoba House, whose planners seek interfaith understanding, really needs to be built.

We can debate all we want as to whether Islam is a religion of peace or violence, but it should be clear that American Muslims are indeed Americans; two-thirds of American Muslims are African-Americans, most of which have no direct ties to the Middle East. (In fact, they followed the late Malcolm X right out of the Nation of Islam, now led by Louis Farrakhan and which most orthodox Muslims consider a cult.)

Anyway, it also seems to me that, as long as we treat Muslims with the respect and dignity they deserve as fellow human beings they would not likely turn on us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now, about that 'mosque' ...

I need not remind you that the "mosque" going up at Ground Zero in Manhattan, site of the World Trade Center that was destroyed by Islamic extremists on Sept. 11, 2001 has been a hot topic in today's news, with all kinds of concerns about "terrorism," "appropriateness" and "sensitivity."

As they say, the first casualty with such controversies often is the truth, and that's certainly the case here. Some facts:

1) There is actually no mosque being erected at Ground Zero -- it's a Muslim-oriented community center called the Cordoba House, which is named for the city in Spain where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace several centuries ago and, if my facts are correct, on whose board non-Muslims also will sit.

2) The location is an old Burlington Coat Factory store which is two blocks away. There actually is a mosque in the vicinity, four blocks away, and I understand that there used to be three.

3) The group building it comes from the peaceful Sufi sect of Islam, not the violent, radical Wahhabis that blew up the WTC; in the process the Sufis actually consulted with Jewish and community groups beforehand.

Oh, and if you haven't heard: This process has been going on for about a year; it became an issue only when it came before a zoning hearing board in New York City last month -- and suddenly the Fox News Channel, among others, smelled blood. Does anyone suspect that some folks are trying to turn it into an election issue?

Well, what about Muslims putting of what would amount to being a "signal" to the rest of the Muslim world? Well, that might have some validity if it were being built on the very same site, but it isn't (an Episcopal church is located even closer). Or that it would become a haven for terrorism (not likely). Or that it would insult the families of the victims of 9/11 (some of whom actually support it -- after all, other Muslims died too).

And it's not only Muslims who have done the kind of thing they're being accused of. Let's remember that Jerusalem was itself a conquest by King David and didn't originally belong to ancient Israel. In Northern Ireland, part of the "Troubles" were connected to several Protestant groups, the Orange Order the best known, sponsoring an annual march in Catholic neighborhoods on the anniversary of their victory.

Some Christians have even said that it shouldn't go in because Islam is a "false religion." Well, I agree that Islam is a false religion -- but, the last time I checked, we do have freedom of religion here and not everyone will subscribe to Christianity. Besides, cultural supremacy should never be the goal of any follower of Jesus, the danger being that we Christians end up acting just like we say the Muslims do, whether true or not (and in fact become more of a danger to our faith than they ever could).

So, let's not get all heated up about such things for the sake of making a cheap political point. The zoning board overwhelmingly approved it, and I think it's time to turn the rhetoric down. If we don't, we'll actually give ammunition to the radicals who do want to kill us. But even if they try, remember that God will preserve His people.