Afghanistan: A Mistake?
President Obama's address on Afghanistan turned the politics of Christian advocacy groups on its head. Friends were critical. Foes were supportive. And some groups found themselves with strange bedfellows.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners decried the troop increase as "a mistake" and "the wrong direction," calling for greater diplomacy and more humanitarian aid.
"We will pray for our servicemen and women who will continue to sacrifice for a tragic strategy, for more innocent civilians in Afghanistan who will die from more military escalation, for a president whose deepest instincts we still trust, and for the soul of our own nation," said Wallis. "May God save us from our well-intentioned mistakes."
Pat Robertson, who rarely holds the same political positions as Wallis, found himself agreeing that the new strategy is a mistake, albeit for different reasons. Robertson said in a 700 Club broadcast that America should leave immediately because Afghanistan is "a quagmire."
"It'll be another Iraq, except it will be never-ending," Robertson said. "And those fierce tribes just like to kill each other. They've been doing it for years. … There are certain areas that are amenable to the democratic process. I don't think Afghanistan is one of them."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, gave a rare show of support for President Obama, calling his strategy "an act of gutsy leadership." That said, Perkins said the President must pay for the surge in troops, preferably by halting some of the Democratic Party's planned expansions of social programs.
Others who support an increase in troops balked at the 2011 deadline to pull out of Afghanistan. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice supported the increase in troops on his Wednesday radio program, but added, "The idea that you would telegraph to our enemies that we will be leaving [Afghanistan] in 36 months is absurd."
The Traditional Values Coalition's Andrea Lafferty criticized the plan because of its timetable. The plan is a clear strategy for defeat, she said, and Obama gave "the enemies of freedom a great speech and much encouragement for their efforts to destroy democracy and our way of life."
Swiss Anti-Muslim Referendum
On November 29, 58 percent of Swiss voters approved a referendum that banned the building of new minarets, the spires often featured on mosques.
Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council defended the referendum. In his view, Europeans are justified in wanting to protect their cultures and in opposing efforts to have their cultures "Islamicized." He noted that Christians and Jews are not given rights in Muslim nations.
"Count the crosses in the Islamic world. Read about the anti-Semitic rhetoric of many Islamic groups in Europe. Consider the repression of, and frequent violence against, Christians in Muslim-dominant nations. Add up the 'fatwas' against Muslims who dare convert to faith in Jesus. Then ask me to worry about the Swiss vote on minarets. Just don't hold your breath," concluded Schwarzwalder.
Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, strongly disagreed. He called the ban "a cowardly move that contradicts Swiss commitments to religious freedom and tolerance." Mohler said that by banning only minarets, the referendum is singling out Islam for negative treatment.
"Surely the Swiss can do better than this," Mohler said. "With this measure they have managed to violate religious liberty, anger Muslims, and avoid dealing with reality—all in one simultaneous act."
Update: After Christianity Today posted this column, Schwarzwalder wrote an e-mail to his supporters saying he was ashamed by his original reaction to the minaret ban.
First, I am ashamed by what I wrote earlier—it is much too hostile to, and dehumanizing of, followers of Islam, people for whom Christ died. Dr. Al Mohler's response to the issue of the minaret referendum in Switzerland, quoted in juxtaposition with my own, was so thoughtful and irenic that I was immediately compelled to revisit my own tart comments and jettison them.
Schwarzwalder told CT that he hopes his rewritten op-ed will be put into publication. Here is his new conclusion:
The debate about minarets in Switzerland is, at one level, about architecture. But go beneath that level slightly and you will find a nation fearful of the extreme Muslims in its midst—a minority of those present, most certainly, but a growing danger, nonetheless.
This fear cannot be dismissed as irrational, bigoted or xenophobic. Unless productive, non-discriminatory but firm steps are taken by the Swiss and all European nations where the threat of Islamic radicalism is genuine, this fear will grow, leading to outbursts of the very kind of racial and religious bigotry of which opponents of the minaret ban rightly warn.
Congress Gets Back to Work
As the Senate resumes its debate over health care, Focus on the Family Action continued to praise the House bill's Stupak Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion. Focus Action opposes most of the provisions in the health-care reform bill, but its top concern was the federal funding of abortion.
Ashley Horne of Focus Action said although failure of the Stupak Amendment might have led to the collapse of the health-care bill (which Focus would have supported) there was no way to know if the bill would have passed without the amendment. "We wanted to make sure that if it did pass it at least had some kind of pro-life funding restriction," said Horne.
The Senate's Judiciary Committee is considering Obama's appointment of Louis Butler to a federal district court. The Family Research Council said that while a judge in Wisconsin, "Butler proved to be a liberal judicial activist who would side with radical abortion and same-sex 'marriage' special interest groups." FRC also opposed Butler's view that the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution needs to change with new circumstances.
Same-Sex Marriage: D.C., Yes; N.Y., No.
The District of Columbia City Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of same-sex marriage. The law will take effect if the decision is reapproved in two weeks.
Doug Carlson of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called for a referendum on the D.C. policy. He argued that same-sex marriage has never been approved by citizens but has been imposed on people by the courts or by legislatures.
"To disenfranchise 400,000 Washingtonians on an institution as fundamental and consequential as marriage is a brash show of disregard for the democratic process," said Carlson.
The New York State Senate voted down a same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 38-24. The bill had passed the State Assembly and was supported by Gov. David Paterson.
"This may be just the beginning of political fallout for politicians who embrace efforts to redefine marriage," said FRC President Tony Perkins. "New York state senators clearly counted the political costs of doing the political bidding for the homosexual community."
More on Manhattan
Evangelical groups are still buzzing about the Manhattan Declaration, the document released two weeks ago that seeks to unite a coalition on issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
Brian McLaren wrote on Sojourners' God's Politics blog that the Manhattan Declaration got some things right but ultimately misdiagnoses the problems of society. He is encouraged that the declaration emphasizes protecting innocent victims of war, stopping the exploitation of workers, and guarding the rights of other religious groups. However, he questioned whether the issues emphasized in the declaration were the real problem or only symptoms of a larger culture of greed, power, and lust.
American Family Association's Matt Friedeman saw the declaration as a bold statement, but said it offered too many words and not enough action.
"Words mean less today than ever before," he wrote. "Action must accompany declaration of truth. Where is the list of actions we should be committed to?"
Update on "War on Christmas"
Old Navy aired a TV ad this weekend featuring its "supermodelquins" saying "Merry Christmas!" on an ice-skating rink decked with Christmas decorations. This was enough for the American Family Association to lift its boycott of Gap, Inc. (which includes Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic). The AFA has not put Gap on its "nice" list; the company has moved from the "naughty" list to the list of companies who are "marginalizing" Christmas.
The Liberty Counsel now offers its 2009 Christmas materials. This year, the buttons and other paraphernalia say on the first line "I (heart) Christ" with "Mas" on the second line. The group also has its own "naughty" and "nice" lists of retailers.
For other Christmas stories, see last week's column.
Political Advocacy Tracker is a joint project of Christianity Today and the Tracking American Evangelical Politics project at Southern Illinois University.
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