Monday, June 1, 2015

"The Justice Conference, Liberalism, Politics, Shane Claiborne and Bombs" Raises Questions

A video, "The Justice Conference, Liberalism, Politics, Shane Claiborne, and Bombs," recently posted on Ken Wytsma's blog  addresses concerns that he might be liberal--or that the Justice Conference promotes a liberal political agenda. Evidently analytics for his blog suggest that people are searching his name along with the word "liberal" and he wanted to clarify his position on the importance of "balance" when it comes to justice.

Because reviews of books and films are public--and Wytsma's video is public--it seems appropriate to make my comments equally available. At the same time TLA welcomes differing perspectives and would be happy to post them as long as they are respectful in tone. This is simply my perspective. In large measure my desire to open up this conversation is because I tend to agree with Wytsma that:
when you ask a political question, which is really a question about how as a community we're supposed to live, which is really a wisdom question, which is ultimately a justice question--the greater the conversation, the greater the good thinking, the greater the maturity, the greater the wisdom and ultimately, therefore, the greater the justice (4:00)
Approached the right way, conflicting views can educate Christians into a much broader perspective, and I appreciate Wytsma's desire to promote that. People who care about justice need to learn from one another. And for me, the video raises some important questions. I'm wondering:

1. why does Wytsma, who claims to be a conservative, use language that's almost certain to evoke negative feelings when talking about his Republican friends? For example, he claims they think "it's a good thing to have a big military," "where we can dictate terms" "Moral Majority . . . pro big defense spending . . . "Christian Political Action." "anti-abortion," "police everything," keep security." I'm especially curious why a conservative as savvy as Wytsma would use the term "anti-abortion," if he is indeed "pro-life" and wants to generate open discussion. Is his use of the term so he won't offend liberals? Then, what about the offense to those who support their views with Scriptures that show how God creates life in the womb?

2. could Wytsma's Republican friends be such poor communicators or are they so hard-hearted that they never express their deep concerns for the children being shot (or beheaded) by Isis or the women being raped and sold to Muslims as sex slaves, not to mention all the Yazidis being displaced from their homes by terrorists? Should terrorists be permitted free access so they can commit their atrocities on an unprecedented scale. Those are my conservative friends deepest concerns, and I pray that voice will one day be valued in the "conversation" at the Justice Conference.

3. why, if Wytsma is indeed a conservative does he switch to such positive emotive language when he talks about the views of his Democrat friends. Are they really the only ones concerned about:
leftover bombs in Cambodia, cluster bombs that you can't control, little flags flying off them so that little kids think they're toys, accidentally. Or land mines that when the conflict is over say for generations and the only people that really bear the brunt of it, ultimately in the long run are civilians.
It must have been heart-wrenchng for him to have:
been in Cambodia where you've got a whole group of guys poor as can be, playing makeshift instruments and begging because they've got missing limbs from land mines from back in the late seventies, unexploded mines and cluster bombs and you look at that and you go that guy is in the most destitute of positions.because as a child playing in the field a bomb detonated and took his life, literally. . . .  and the only difference between that kid and me is I live somewhere where bombs don't drop and land minds aren't put in the ground. So it's real easy for me to define bombs in terms of protecting my security because I never have to live with the other side of bombs.
That type of poverty breaks conservative hearts as much as those that pump liberal blood. I know it does because I have lived with the other side of war and wrestled with these complex issues. My younger sister could hear the bombs where she lived in Laos during the war. My dad went Missing in Action and eventually died in Viet Nam, Cambodia, or Laos--or maybe even Red China, we're still not sure. I was only 20 when war took my father. My nephew has lost many friends in Afghanistan and Iraq while trying to help those less fortunate. There's no doubt Wytsma and I can agree; war is hell.

All that begs the question:

4. why should this "discussion" be framed in terms of politics--conservative or liberal agendas? Why not frame the discussion for how a community is supposed to live in terms of Scripture? At the Evangelical Press Association convention in April, Dr. Vernard Gant used that framework on the topic of racial reconciliation. He'd make an excellent speaker for a justice conference based on biblical values. This African-American director of Urban School Services with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). talked about how the Bible brings unity. He reminded us that in John 17 unity was a key component of Christ's prayer for His body--the Church. If we want a balanced biblical view, wouldn't it be more conducive to start by bringing in speakers who value unity and promote it rather than those who generate emotional reactions that polarize people and marginalize those who don't agree?

5. If as Wytsma claims that the Justice Conference has an "incredibly balanced line up of speakers," I'd like to know who are the conservatives, and why is the liberal bias of some speakers so very clear and the conservative bias during the past two conferences has not been evident? Wytsma mentions Shane Claiborne as being liberal but neglects to mention that another keynote speaker, Dr. Cornel West, is also a well-known progressive liberal. Maybe Wytsma also neglected to mention the conservative speakers. If so, I'd sure like to know who they are. And, are they as likely to cause liberal Christians to walk out the door because of disagreement or an unwillingness to hear a differing viewpoint? Why not present some of the problems with liberal agendas--problems like forced abortions (human traffickers, governments, minorities) and the heartbreak, shame, and guilt they produce? Or the overwhelming majority of baby girls whose lives are not valued, and the problems of young men now needing wives in places like China? Traffickers are more than happy to supply the demand generated by such practices. Hopefully that issue will be addressed this year. I'd love to know if it is.

6. If this truly is a conversation presenting different views, why not clarify those views and allow time for a Q & A? Audiences can be quite perceptive and should be encouraged to think deeply as Wytsma recommends. Why is there no opportunity to challenge in a respectful way, some of the ideas being presented? It seems to me after attending the past two years, that the worldviews are not presented in a way that promotes dialogue but rather as ideological "truths" unsupported by Scripture.

These questions are challenging because, like Wytsma, I want the Justice Conference to promote dialogue and understanding. Differing views should be considered and discussed and people challenged to live according to their faith. I appreciate the way the Justice Conference has made me think much deeper about the problems and solutions related to systemic injustice. 

At the EPA convention, Dr. Gant recommended a scriptural context to heal the political divide--to use biblical wisdom to show communities how to live. To promote reconciliation, he referred to 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, where Paul wrote:
For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Christians are not to walk as conservatives or liberals--as "mere men"--we are to follow Jesus. A biblical justice conference must line up with Scripture and when it does, justice proponents will find agreement that leads to increasing unity. Yes, we may differ over interpretations but we'll value one another more than our opinions. Believers in Christ are to seek truth and love one another. By setting our minds on Christ we can discover and walk into the answers we're looking for, together.

If you want to add to the conversation, please leave a comment. Even if we disagree, we'll value your input.

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