The Conversation is Changing, Part 2

It’s good when polarized, paralyzed arguments are re-framed so that stalemates and win-lose scenarios open up, making more equitable and mutually satisfying outcomes possible.
It’s even better when our attention shifts from secondary to primary issues. In other words, if you’re going to have a conversation, it makes sense to choose the subjects that most need attention and engagement.
My sense is that among people of faith in America, we’re eager to do both: improve our discourse on stalemated issues, and simultaneously, to reinvest a portion of our energy in other important or higher-level issues that have been largely ignored. I’m especially thinking of five issues that our faith communities have an obligation to consider prayerfully (first) and address carefully.
First, the environment. While the economy, the Middle East, and the latest noisy political scandal may seize the headlines, the ice caps quietly continue shrinking, the atmosphere quietly continues to accumulate CO2, rainforests continue to shrink, soil quietly continues to erode, fresh water quietly continues to be depleted, and precious species continue quietly going extinct. The ecological crisis calls for real lifestyle change, self-discipline, frugality, and rejection of consumerism, and that kind of change in values and behavior requires the commitment of our faith communities.
Second, the economy. As Jim Wallis often says, we need to go – not just left or right – but deeper. And on one level, it’s no surprise that politicians must deal with the surface “presenting problem” of recession and possible depression. But shouldn’t the community of faith be bringing together – and then bringing forward – its best minds and voices who apply the best of their faith traditions to economics? And shouldn’t those best minds be addressing the deeper issues – not just of how to save the economy from depression or shorten the recession short-term – but also longer-term deeper issues of how to transform an unsustainable consumptive economy into a more equitable regenerative economy? Shouldn’t we people of faith be asking, not just how to save the economic system as it is, but how to let parts of it die that need to die, and in their place, bring better parts into being – for the benefit of the majority of people on our planet who have been living in extreme poverty for decades and longer?
Third, Palestine. I believe it’s time for Christians of good will to speak out more directly against the kind of Christian Zionism that treats the Palestinians with the same disregard that Jesus refused to be part of in his day regarding Samaritans. That kind of theology of divine favoritism needs to be abandoned as a moral embarrassment. It’s time for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to come to the back fence and start conspiring together how to bring pressure on all parties, so that neither Israeli nor Palestinian children need to wake up day after day to the sounds of bullets, sirens, broken glass, exploding bombs, falling missiles, and mothers wailing in their grief.
Fourth, nuclear disarmament. What if the only way to keep nuclear weapons from spreading is for the nation who has the most of them to lead the way toward a new day? What if now is the time to imagine a world where nations agree to turn the tide on nuclear weapons? Shouldn’t people of faith be at the forefront of a movement like this?
Fifth is our own understanding of our core message. For Christians, this means a far-reaching engagement with Jesus’ good news of the kingdom (or reign, dream, dance, mission, or movement) of God. We need to surface the covert framing stories that underlie our various systematic theologies and then subject them to critical scrutiny. In the words of Bob Dylan, we need to “get our message straight now.”
Those are new conversations, worthwhile ones, I believe. As I explained in Everything Must Change, there are times when we need to sort through the many issues to find the high-leverage critical few. The right questions, raised and addressed in the right way, can open doors to a better day.

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