Sunday, January 29, 2017

book report: Tempting Faith by David Kuo 2006

Before he passed away from brain cancer, David Kuo, a Republican speech writer and political activist wrote his memoir about the clash between his earnest faith and the politics that kept prevailing over it, Tempting Faith, and inside story of political seduction.

Kuo's last job in the White House was in George W. Bush's office of faith based and community initiatives. This office was formed from Bush's campaign promises of compassionate conservatism, which promised to unleash public funds to faith based groups in order that they may serve the needy alongside secular or non-religious aid programs. A promise of $8 billion dollars for this program was never followed up on and only 1-3% of that amount ever trickled down from the Bush White House and Republican controlled Congress. Kuo fought hard for that funding, his faith in Jesus Christ, aligned with his desire to see more people aided not only materially but also spiritually.

His credentials include a long list of Republican checked boxes. He worked at the National Right to Life Committee when the elder Bush was president. He watched the NLRC and the Republican White House and Congress make a deal with the NLRC to support the nomination of Justice David Souter in exchange for support for NLRC's pro-life policies. However, Souter turned out to be a judge who interpreted the 14th amendment as a right to privacy and turned the court even more pro-choice. And the NLRC did not benefit. This pattern of promises and compromises which usually left the well-meaning and naive christian political operatives with nothing to show for their support of Republican politics happened over and over before Kuo's eyes in D.C. He ended up leaving the NLRC shortly after. He writes,
After the Souter moment passed I stayed at National Right to Life another six months. By then I knew I didn't want to make abortion my life's fight. I suppose that as much as I wanted to be an American WIlberforce by ending abortion, I couldn't equate abortion and slavery. Yes, I was still pro-life. But abortion wasn't slavery and it certainly wasn's, as some suggested, like the Holocaust. It simply wasn't murder. For the sake of both mothers and babies, I wanted it to end, but by means of a more caring, compassionate culture rather than by judicial fiat. p. 34
He eventually found work in the office of Senator John Ashcroft, someone he deeply admired for his honorable politics, his commitment to the constitutional rights for all americans (not just christians), and his deep faith. He also left politics to form a non-profit that identified high quality charities that generous people could fund. However, he encountered little walk behind the talk Republicans made of charity to replace government assistance.  He heard their assurance that they were not just the party of big business and tax breaks at the expense of the needy, but they never came through on the latter.

But one day, out of the blue, Governor George W. Bush asked him to come visit him in Texas, to talk about joining his campaign. Kuo was smitten with Bush's earnest testimony of transformation from alcoholism through faith in Jesus Christ. And Bush's musings that small local ministries can do so much more as they are the neighbors of those in need, not out of towners simply doing their charity job for the government. Kuo helped Bush formulate the message of "compassionate conservatism."

He worked hard to make this come true. But Dick Cheney did not consider it a White House priority, which is important when it came time to negotiate with the Republican Congress over the budget. The Republicans controlled both houses and the White House. "Compassionate conservatism" had swayed many voters to choose Republican. There was political capitol to be spent to make this campaign promise happen. But they didn't. Kuo fought for 5 years to make it happen. When he finally gave up and resigned he told the White House,
The president had made great promises but they hadn't been delivered on. Worse than that, the White House hadn't tried. Worse than that, we had used people of faith to further our political agenda and hadn't given them anything in return...And finally staff frequently refers to the faith-based initiative as the 'f***ing faith-based initiative." p. 243

Kuo's faith in Christ lasted, but his faith in Republican politics ran out. This story happens over and over. During the Nixon administration it was written by Chuck Colson. During the Reagan administration it was written by Frank Schaeffer. The prophetic voice of the church always gets compromised inside government. It is the outside voices that sustain and bring progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. affirmed he was first and foremost a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ with no interest in serving politically.

And so the cycle repeats itself. Except now the Republican president does not even try to act Christian, but throws them unconstitutional promises, preferring their religion over others. The church's outside voice needs to stay strong, affirming the full equality and dignity of every individual, no matter color, creed, gender, disability, bank account size or orientation. What's good for rich white men has to be good for the rest.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Greater works than Jesus's

In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." This is the gospel section of today's lectionary reading.

As someone who was part of the Vineyard movement for years and still have affection for it and it's founder, John Wimber, I had long read the "greater works" as greater than the miraculous stuff Jesus did. But now, as I am certainly pre-disposed to look for the love of God on every page, I wonder if Jesus is referring to greater acts of mercy than what he could do as a single human.

Paul refers to the church with a metaphor of Christ's body. Although Christ is physically departed, the church remains in his stead, to perform greater works of love. Obviously, miracles are not commonplace, or they would not be miraculous. So the Christian church is not known as a regular source of miraculous healings. But it is known as the source of local hospitals and leper sanitariums and front line disease fighters. These are examples of mercy and compassion much greater, 3 years vs. 2000 years, than what Jesus did. The church was able to bring the life or death gladiator battles entertainment to an end. Even slavery was brought to an end by certain parts of Christ's body.

These are great works of the body of Christ. They are not negated by all the inhumane things the church also did in the name of God. I am ashamed of the church for those works, not done in love. I'm also glad I can be part of the greater works of Christ today even though I am not personally or supernaturally raising the dead or multiplying loaves and fishes. But I am part of a body that brings food to liberated areas of Mosul, or the outskirts of Aleppo, that rebuilds homes destroyed in Haiti by natural disasters, that heals poor children with cleft palates, that provides obstetric care to women in slums, etc. Most of these outreaches are solely supported by voluntary donations from the body which really is miraculous, comparable to the multiplication of Jesus' loaves and fishes.

I was looking for the exceptional works instead of the greater works of love and mercy. I'm glad I see them now.