Thursday, September 13, 2007

Religious leaders as foreign policy experts

On July 29th a group of 34 evangelical religious leaders waded into the Israeli-Palestinian controversy by releasing a letter sent to President Bush calling on him to continue pushing for "a two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said both "Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other."

The effort was organized by Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, who generally advocates for economically liberal positions. Among the others are Tony Campolo, Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon MacDonald, Chairman of World Relief, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, and David Neff, editor of Christianity Today. A couple of Minnesota signers were Gary Benedict, president of the Christian Missionary Alliance and George Brushaber, President of Bethel University.

What strikes me about their letter isn't the fact that they're engaging in political action but the issue and position they've chose to address. I believe evangelical leaders need to engaged in the political process. For too long, too many evangelicals stood on the sideline, thinking their faith had no implications for the public arena.

Yet they need to be wise when they do so, wearing their "church leader hat." They should address issues where there isn't a lot of ambiguity on what the biblical or Christian position is, e.g. protection of innocent human life, sanctity of marriage, parental rights, religious liberty and so forth. The problem arises when they attempt to use their religious position to advocate policies for which there isn't a clear biblical or Christian approach.

I think resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a case in point. Others would argue Israel should, under no circumstances, give back the West Bank for security and/or religious reasons and if Israel ever does it should be incorporated into Jordan. In other words, there are other solutions than a two state system.

The letter has the signers coming off as foreign policy experts when that's not the case. The result? They diminish their credibility and moral capital in the public square. Another example is when liberal church leaders advocate more government programs to address poverty issues. Certainly we should all be concerned with the poor but are more government programs the answer? I would argue they have too often made matters worse. The result is their moral capital is diminished because subsequent history shows their supposedly Christian solution a failure. Another is the pacifist approach to war. Calls for the US to unilaterally disarm during the cold war was frankly a dangerous position and in my view not the Christian position.

I believe religious leaders need to be more aware of, informed and involved in the political realm, but they need wisdom in when and how to be involved. (Nothing precludes them from being personally involved.) If they wear their religious hat they had better be sure Scripture and Christian teaching are clearly on their side. In this instance, regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I don't think they are.

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