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NOT ALL OF Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's encounters in New York during his recent trip were testy. The Shiite theocrat had what the New York Times called a "warm, even friendly exchange" with 150 church officials at the United Methodist Women's Church Center for the United Nations....Official co-sponsors of this latest bridge building included Jim Wallis' Sojourners, the World Council of Churches, Pax Christi, the Church of the Brethren, and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers).
Why, then, do numerous Christian leaders and institutions seem ambivalent or chronically naïve about this threat? The problem is not confined to liberal theological voices such as the National Council of Churches or Chicago Theological Seminary, or to cranky pacifists such as Stanley Hauerwas or Jim Wallis. The unwillingness to confront the rise of Islamic extremism extends to theologically conservative thinkers and educators: those who are influencing a generation of believers on issues of church and state, war and peace.
"I think we can be a bridge that doesn't exist otherwise," United Methodist lobby official Jim Winkler told his denomination's news service. ""We are trying to change U.S. foreign policy from one based on confrontation, domination and intimidation to one of peace and cooperation and diplomacy." The delegation was organized by the Washington, D.C. lobby offices of the Quakers and the Mennonites and is a follow up of sorts to a meeting that several dozen religious officials, including Winkler, had with Ahmadinejad in New York last October. This time, the group will also meet with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who spoke at the Episcopal Church's National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in September. Besides Winkler, the Quakers, and the Mennonites, the delegation to Iran includes representatives from the National Council of Churches, Sojourners (Jim Wallis' evangelical-left group), and Pax Christi, a liberal Catholic group.
[T]he almost exclusive focus of this church mission is to forestall U.S. military action against Iran. The church officials plan to meet with members of Congress upon their return. Sojourners official Jeff Carr, who is part of the delegation, recounted on his Sojourners website commentary the story of recently meeting an Iranian woman in America who imploringly asked him: "Do you think the U.S. will attack my country?" He wants to assure her not, of course. And the focus on this ecumenical trip, organized by pacifist churches, is not to defang the Iranian threat, but to influence the ostensibly destabilizing and threatening policies of the United States.
On Saturday, December 2, incoming-Senate majority leader Harry Reid asked Jim Wallis, the liberal religious activist, to give the Democrats' official response to President Bush's weekly radio address. It was a curious, odd moment--the equivalent of Republicans inviting Jerry Falwell to respond on their behalf to a Democratic president. "The senator thought a non-partisan religious leader could speak to the moral values our nation needs," Wallis explained beforehand to his Sojourners constituency. Wallis, author of the best-selling God's Politics and a once angry-toned 1960s street activist has in recent years attempted to become the chief spokesman for the evangelical left. His radio stint in the place of congressional Democrats suggests he may have finally succeeded.
According to Bass, "evangelical voices have grown louder and more insistent that they--and they alone--are the true Christians, the ones with true doctrine, true morals, and true politics." Their leaders, having flexed their muscles in national elections, are now trying to create a "one-party Christianity." A frequent liberal commentator and critic of religious conservatives, Bass is part of Jim Wallis's newly unveiled "Red Letter Christians," who want to steer evangelicals away from concerns about abortion and homosexuality and towards environmentalism and antiwar activism.
On The Religious Left, the great hope these days is that the Religious Right is melting down over Global Warming. Liberal evangelical activist Jim Wallis rejoiced about the crack-up in a recent column, claiming that "the Religious Right is losing control" thanks to environmentalist evangelicals. Wallis, head of "Sojourners" and author of God's Politics: Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Just Does Not Get It, is predicting a "sea change" among evangelicals since the Religious Right has "now lost control of the environmental issue."
Millions of evangelicals and Catholics don't feel represented by Jerry Falwell or "right-wing bishops," Wallis insisted, describing a battle in "all of our great traditions between fundamentalism and prophetic faith."