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Tempting Faith - Y aconteció en aquellos días…
las aventuras de David Santiago del Bosque
Tempting Faith
So much for the Tigers.

This week I read David Kuo’s new book, “Tempting Faith.” If you’ve managed to miss the media onslaught over this book, Kuo is a conservative evangelical who was deputy director of GWB’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2001-2003. Kuo has a longstanding interest in the politics of compassion/caring for the poor. His pedigree as a compassionate conservative is both unusual and impressive – he writes of growing up Methodist, having a born-again experience in high school; being spurred into Christian political engagement, as a liberal Democrat, by Chuck Colson; working on the Dukakis ’88 presidential campaign and interning with Ted Kennedy, before becoming pro-life after his girlfriend’s abortion. He joined the Natl Right to Life Committee in 1990, then worked for Bill Bennett, wrote speeches for Ralph Reed and Bob Dole, and drafted Charitable Choice legislation for Sen. Ashcroft as the religious/social conservatives were taking over Congress. Bush asked him to become his speechwriter during the 2000 campaign, and then brought him into his administration in the Faith-Based Initiatives Office. If you think he has interesting stories to tell in this book, you are correct.

A lot of noise has been made about Kuo’s description of epithets and derogatory references to evangelicals and the faith-based initiative by Rove, Card and the White House staff at-large (“the nuts,” “ridiculous,” “out of control,” and my personal favorite, “the f*cking faith-based initiative”), but that’s relatively peripheral. Kuo’s thesis is that conservative evangelicals have been coopted by the Republican party (similarly, as an aside, to how the NAACP - once a powerful force for social and political change - has been coopted by the Democratic party) – have become identified with / defined by a particular political agenda, and are so captive to the owners of that agenda as to have lost real influence, or even an appropriate sense of themselves. He calls for a two-year “fast” from conservative religious political activism, as a time to get back to basics with God, to reorient our priorities, and to wean ourselves from the patronage of our Republican overlords.

He describes how enamored he was of Bush, as a Republican who talked freely about social and economic justice and compassion for the poor, promising $8 billion a year in compassion funding - $6 billion in tax credits for charitable donations to encourage giving, and $2 billion in new funding for specific poverty programs, and $500 million annually for the Compassion Capital Fund, to help small, local, faith-based and community organizations. He makes clear that, to this day, he respects and admires GWB the man as a person of sincere faith and unquestionable compassion, but GWB the president did not have the political will to actually implement the initiatives. After the first year and a half of the Bush administration, the heart and soul of compassionate conservatism – the charitable giving tax credit – had been replaced by the estate tax cut, and only $30 million of compassion funding had actually made it into the budget – one-quarter of one percent of the promised funding at the time. He goes on to describe how politically useful it was for Bush to make these promises, and how politically unnecessary to deliver on them. Christians trust Bush because he is an evangelical, he loves Jesus; if he says he’s gonna do something, he’ll do it – and if not, well, he must have had a good reason. So energy and political capital were spent on politically useful issues, ones that would continue to galvanize votes and dollars, wedge issues like gay marriage and strict constructionist judges, rather than caring for the poor. (Because faith-based, compassion-for-the-poor efforts are functionally irrelevant to Republican fund-raising, as Kuo illustrates with a sad anecdote about Dan Quayle’s donor pool on pp. 98-100.) Church leaders like Dobson/Ted Haggard (NAE)/Richard Land (SBC)/Ken Connor (FRC)/etc. are treated to weekly conference calls with the White House, summarizing what Bush would be talking about that week, soliciting their input, and giving them a list of talking points – which they take back to their people. Which is how you end up with a religious right apparently far more concerned with gay marriage than with loving the poor. Now, I can’t say God doesn’t have an opinion on gay marriage, but I know for a fact that he says he’s really freakin’ serious about loving the poor.

The saddest thing in Kuo’s book, and one I’ve not seen any conservative/religious commentators respond to (they've focused on questioning his motives, dismissing his "fast" idea as silly, and making ad hominem attacks - in fact, the conservative blogosphere response to Kuo's book argues eloquently for his thesis), is that the poor, who have no clout or lobby, were supposed to have two advocates during this administration – the church, and this president. And they were let down by both. They were let down by the political process, in which liberals raised a church-and-state hue over once-bipartisan faith-based initiatives which were essentially identical to those touted by Gore during his own 2000 campaign; and in which Republican legislators (he mentions DeLay and Hastert) were interested not in actually getting compassion legislation passed, but in making it as aggressively partisan as possible (e.g. federal funding of expressly evangelistic organizations), and then using Democratic opposition to paint them as "the anti-God party."

I loved this book. I love how fair-minded he is, despite the above criticisms; he is not shrill, and he refuses to demonize anybody (I like Barack Obama's new book for the same reason.) He takes pains to describe Bush, Rove et al. as well-intentioned men who are operating in a certain political reality. I love the story of his interracial heritage, of how Justice O’Connor manhandled him while teaching him how to flyfish; of what it was like being in the White House on the morning of 9/11, the glimpses into GWB and John Ashcroft as people, and especially the narrative of his own journey of faith, as he moved in and out of wedding his faith to politics. And, most especially, the call to return to the heart of God, and the spirit of Christ:

Instead of sending letters to Congress and engaging in political arguments with friends and listening to political talk radio and canvassing door to door for candidates and volunteering for campaigns, let’s spend our time in different ways. We can start with the things God has commanded us to do – pray, learn, listen to him, and serve a hurting world.

There are so many other things we can and should do.

Thirty-five million Americans are at risk of hunger every day. A million people are released from prison every year with virtually no one to help them productively reenter society. Hundreds of thousands of children are in foster care and will never have a permanent home. More than a million children have a parent in prison. And those are just American snapshots. Every three seconds a child in Africa dies of a preventable disease. There is a tsunami of death equaling the Southeast Asian tsunami in Africa every week. Christian leaders like Rick Warren are largely eschewing politics and are mobilizing churches around the world to tackle this problem. It is more important than any judicial nomination and worthy of far more of our time.

What would the news media say if we ended our nasty partisanship, ceased making political arguments, and instead just relentlessly pursued ways to serve those who are sick, needy, hungry, and hurting? What would “enemies” at the ACLU or the gay and lesbian community or in the Democratic Party say and do?… I believe it would be one of the most powerful witnesses to faith ever.

Can I get an Amen?

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fdmts From: fdmts Date: October 29th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)


What would the news media say if we ended our nasty partisanship, ceased making political arguments, and instead just relentlessly pursued ways to serve those who are sick, needy, hungry, and hurting? What would “enemies” at the ACLU or the gay and lesbian community or in the Democratic Party say and do?… I believe it would be one of the most powerful witnesses to faith ever.

I was listening to the radio recently, while doing other things, and a phrase jumped out at me: "We are not as divided a nation as our politics might lead you to believe."

It's not just the evangelicals who are being led to outright evil, and away from their core principles, by these political games. It's our entire nation.

This is why I go to Haiti. It's far away, and it's difficult, but it's unambiguously the right thing to do ... and it's a place where I can meet mission minded people from all backgrounds. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to learn how to communicate about politics with people with whom I perceive that I ought to agree on nearly everything governmental.

I posed a riddle to my mission team last time: The reading for the day was the passage on the fact that "faith without acts is dead." I asked them about my situation: Acts without faith. What is that? To my mind the answer is totally clear: Acts without faith *are* faith.

Let's all go do good works together, and throw out the bums who want to polarize us ... on both sides.
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