The Good News from Iowa

I will admit, I’m a little disappointed.

Where was my invitation???

After all, I am a pastor of a congregation – an excellent congregation too! – and I am interested in the intersection of faith and politics. Only now am I hearing about this whole convention that was free to clergy and their spouses up in Iowa! (It must be because I don’t live in Iowa…)

It’s not just for ministers to discuss faith, politics, and policies such as what Emory University will do every now and then. This convention actually has some influence with real, live, politicians and potential presidential candidates for 2012 (if they will ever stop teasing us and just commit!). Yes, Bachman, Gingrich, Barbour, and Huckabee were all there! (Obama probably didn’t get an invite because he doesn’t live in Iowa either…)

The convention was created to address what David Lane, the main organizer of this event and others like it, described as a national descent “because pastors won’t lead from the pulpits.” Well this is a fair observation. Too often, pastors turn from the whole of life to focus on the spiritual; they talk of the after life instead of the here and now; they talk about salvation for the individual soul and neglect salvation for the community and world. So yes, Mr. Lane, I concur! Let’s get right to the substance of the matter!

From the NYTimes:

They heard Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and like Mr. Huckabee a possible 2012 presidential candidate, say that constitutional liberties like the right to bear arms were ordained by God. They heard how to promote “biblically informed” political advocacy by churchgoers within the confines of federal tax law.

He told the crowd that it was their Christian duty to fight for the “truth,” exposing threats like overreaching by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama health care law that may put the country “on the road to dictatorship.”

Speakers at the conference described what they called the biblical roots of American government and a rich early history of political engagement by the clergy. They exhorted the pastors and their flocks not only to fight harder to have same-sex marriage and abortion banned but also to follow God’s word by opposing activist judges, high taxes, explicit sex education and assaults on private property rights.

The audience heard how to push their flocks to register and vote along “biblical principles” without running afoul of tax laws against endorsing candidates from the pulpit.


Supposedly, the country is headed to “hell” – literally – and it’s because we don’t own enough guns, the EPA is actually doing its job, people are getting health care, taxes are supposedly “too high” (even though they haven’t moved upwards in a long time), reasonable sex education, and assaults on private property (a divine right?).

Oh, and let’s not forget that dudes are marrying dudes and the issue of abortion.

Now… I’ll give them one: the issue of abortion. It is extremely weighing on the woman and the man involved in the decision; options are often on the margins of the view; no one takes the issue lightly nor their decision lightly. If I retain a view that I would likely not (after all, it’s only hypothetical until we come face to face with the issue) encourage an abortion, but do feel obligated to allow each person to make the decision, perhaps there are some ways we can come together to reduce the leading factors that contribute to unwanted pregnancies? Perhaps we could look at sexual ed… oh wait. I forgot, that’s one thing that’s taking us to hell. Perhaps we can find other ways by looking at the consequences of poverty and look to find ways to help families and individuals emerge from it? What solution do you have in mind?

Beyond presidential politics, the main focus of Iowa conservatives next year, many said, will be taking control of the State Senate, which has blocked their drives for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and stronger anti-abortion laws.

Oh. Ok. Well, maybe next time.

But let me get this straight. We live in a country with a poverty rate around 15% and that’s being generous because our definition of “poverty” is extremely low – many millions more earn an income above the poverty rate of $22,350 for a family of four – and you are worried about high taxes? We live in a country where gun-violence takes the lives of thousands of people every year, and you are concerned that we have too few guns? We live in a country where creeks turn blue, oil washes onto the coasts, fracking and mining poison water all across the country, and ghg emissions spew into the skies, and you’re concerned that the EPA might start to regulate? Where 40 million were uninsured and you have an issue with providing healthcare? Where 12 year-olds get pregnant and you want to reduce their sexual education? Where millions are facing foreclosure created by a recession caused by unfettered risk-takers that continue to go un-punished and you’re concerned with the people who still own property having enough rights? (Does this include the right of current home-owners facing foreclosure to further review the claims against them and review the history of the process whereby many engaged in an effort to adjust the mortgage, only to then be encouraged to default on their payments to hurry the process along, and then finally learn that they are being foreclosed on? Cause if so, I’m in!)

But this, along with dudes marrying dudes, is what’s taking America to hell?

Because, I thought it might be something more like the drastic level of inequality in income, the collusion between government and money, the negligence and indifference towards the poor, the blindness to human trafficking, the abuse of immigrants, our insane imprisonment rate, bigotry and hate crimes, domestic violence, pollution, an economic system that adds stress to the family unit, the dismantling of labor and environmental rights, the marginalization of our veterans, the unwillingness to invest in our youth and in our neighborhoods, and the denial of rights to people who wish to marry by a government that is supposed to treat everyone equally (just to name a few).

And the main concern coming out of this conference is how to better organize the evangelical vote, while maintaining tax-exempt status – to bring about the Republican Christian vision for America?

I think that part of the road to hell – figurative, of course – features a unit of the Church body that is seemingly more concerned with upholding a political platform than the gospel we have received, and more concerned with securing a seat in the halls of power, than offering a word to those who hold power. Because a body that holds so close to a party or platform does not leave room for God to enter in; a body that only listens to a hegemonic group does not leave space for God to speak a new word. And when you’re heading in a direction other than the way you need to go, it always helps if you have a guide and if you listen.


p.s. I eagerly await an invitation to the next event David Lane is hosting.


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