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November 18, 2008


Derek Rishmawy

Mike, I gotta ask you: What if they'd have spent that money on getting some kind of environmental measure passed in the name of protecting God's creation? Or if they'd have put that money out there into some kind of campaign for worker's rights or some campaign that's popular with the Religious Left? Would you still be talking about the irony? Or would you be talking about the sacrifice that the organization made on behalf of working for justice for the poor, the environment, a cause they believe is important and related to the kingdom, or something like that? (And you have to realize, the Focus on the Family people probably think that passing Prop 8 IS kingdom work.)

I mean, I just find it funny that not a single blog was dropped about McClaren endorsing and informally advising the Obama campaign on how to win Evangelical votes. Why is he doing this? Basically to try and wield coercive political power in order to work on issues like global warming and the war and other left-leaning causes. Just the same way old-school evangelicals have done with the Republicans to work on issues like abortion, (50 million dead and still counting), and gay marriage and other stuff. I mean, its the same kind of thing, but I haven't seen any critiques or complaints about the new religous Left, especially the emergent kids who are doing basically the same thing you're talking about with the Religious Right, just on the Left.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think the religious right gets it wrong sometimes. I don't think that the politics of the Nation and the movement of the Kingdom are coterminous. I'm just saying, I never seem to see the same kind of disparagement and obvious disappointment with the same kind of shenanigans on the Left.

So, why no comments about the "rhetoric and actions" of the "religious left?" Are they not as bad? Are there causes more righteous, so its okay? What?


Perhaps a bit of expounding might be in order.

First, let me assure you that this post was not a "right" vs. "left" kind of thing. In fact I used the term "Religious Right" as a specifically coined term applied to the politicized wing of the evangelicalism. While I have not heard of an equally coined term, "Religious Left," I would not be surprised if there was a sort of thing. In addition, this is not about being Pro-Prop 8 or Anti-Prop 8, which I was careful to avoid.

That being said, here's where I found the irony. Focus on the Family has publicly set itself up as the gatekeeper of "protecting the family." I am not necessarily opposed to their concern and influence on seeing Prop 8 passed. None at all. What I found subtly ironic was the reality that a ministry in financial crisis, who wants to protect marriage and the family appears to have made a decision to use a large amount of finances which it did not have, resulting in families being placed in a difficult situation this holiday season. That was it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Finally, arguing from silence is not a very good position to stand upon. Trying to say "what about the left" is, quite frankly, not a very good nor critically persuasive argument. I wonder if there is a such a so called an "equivalent." I have not heard of another organization, on the right or the left, that falls into the situation spelled out above. If there is, trust me, I would have said the same thing.

Sadly, I think Focus has invited such criticism upon itself by the way it has positioned itself and interacted with the larger arena of faith a politics. For better or worse, Focus has set the microscope upon itself and the "Religious Right" as a movement.

As for the situation with McLaren, I had heard that he was endorsing Obama, but have not heard anything about "advising the Obama campaign on how to win Evangelical votes." Perhaps he did. [On a side note, would this be any different than Focus' influence on the Republican Party? Does one bother you more than another?] In the end, this is not the scope of what I was trying to do with this post.

Perhaps my use of the "Religious Right" needs to be clarified better. This post was not meant to be critical of the "Religious Right" from a "Religious Left" position - as I don't know if I would label myself such a thing. It was a plea for people to see that Christianity as a whole is greater than the "Religious Right" - that the "Religious Right," as a politicized entity, not conservative values and beliefs as a whole, does not necessarily speak authoritatively for every facet of Christian concern. [I know Christians who voted for Obama despite being told that they needed to "repent" of their sin.]

I have too many friends who have made a decision about the nature of the Kingdom based purely upon the rhetoric and actions of the "Religious Right." I find that very saddening and, quite honestly, shallow. For someone to say that "all Christians are like that" is, I think, to miss the greater picture of the Kingdom.

Perhaps there will be another such post about the "Religious Left" in the future, but just because there was nothing included in this post does not negate perceived irony of the post.


Mike, I agree with you that if this was undesignated donations they probably should have spent the money on keeping people working. But much of the money that they raise is raised for specific purposes. If this money was raised for prop 8 using their website or radio show then they legally are obligated to spend it on prop 8. Just my two cents.


Neb, excellent point and well taken. If the money was raised for that purpose, then you are right - it might not have any impact on the rest of the financial situation. Thanks for the counter point on this one. Perhaps I jumped the gun on this one.

I don't know all the legality of it all, but I wonder... can a religiously based 501c3 raise money specifically set aside to support an out of state proposition? I had a friend pose the question and I couldn't answer it.

Derek Rishmawy

Here is a link to a posting on Beliefnet about McClaren's endorsement which actually uses the term Religious Left and discusses the growing phenomenon. Its not a hit-job either. It actually reads more like a cheer-leading piece, but I figured you'd be interested.


Also, there have been a few books out there on the phenomenon lately, so, yeah, there's a noticeable movement afoot.

Brian McClaren: There was an AP story that said he was an informal advisor to the Campaign. I saw that. McClaren's clarification is here:


So, yeah. There are those two things.

As for the rest of it: "Finally, arguing from silence is not a very good position to stand upon. Trying to say "what about the left" is, quite frankly, not a very good nor critically persuasive argument." I'm not really sure that I was offering an argument in my post. I was making an observation about the fact that I have not seen criticism of similar phenomena on the Left. And maybe I should clarify that. I did not mean the financial situation, but rather the involvement in the Political system, which you alluded to with your question, "Is this what happens when our focus is taken off the life of the kingdom and placed upon political power?" You seem to be talking here about Focus on the Family's "focus" on political power and its "taking off" its focus on the Kingdom, and its destructive results.

I guess my post was one big question. "Would it be any different if it was someone else? Maybe someone to the Left, like Jim Wallis? Or McClaren, who seems to be taking his eyes off of the Kingdom and focusing them on political power? Or is it just because its Jimmy D. and the Crew over at Focus?" In effect, your question: "would this be any different than Focus' influence on the Republican Party? Does one bother you more than another?" is exactly the question I was trying to ask you, only reversed. How is what Focus is doing any worse than what the Religious Left has begun doing? Is it because they’ve been at it longer, so they’re more established? Why don't I see any warnings to the newly emerging Religious Left or the Emergents to not make the same mistakes that the Religious Right made?

I get the concern with Focus and groups like that. I really do. I even called in one time to complain about a show they did about International politics and Muslims and stuff, because of the very concerns you're speaking of, with people getting the wrong idea about the Kingdom and stuff because of Jimmy D. and the Crew. The Kingdom is not the Republican Party. Believe me, I picked that up very well at UCI. My point is that McClaren, the Emergents, the newly rising Religious Left are in danger of creating the same phenomenon, with the same mistakes, and the same results, just with different issues. Realize, I've had some of the younger, more liberal, Evangelical/Emergents look at me funny when I admitted to voting for McCain. “I mean, what about poverty? What about social justice? Look at what he thinks about the war?” It cuts both ways nowadays and its not just the bigoted conservative Christians doing it anymore.

I dunno, I guess you could say I'm kinda of backlashing against the backlash of Evangelicals turning liberal all-of-a-sudden, as if the Democratic Party were where we should be, and the most important issues are the war and global warming, “cause you know, we can't be "single-issue voters" anymore, and there are bigger things going on than abortion, and we've kinda already lost that one anyways.” I dunno, I guess I'm sick of all the old-school bashing in the mad rush to be relevant

Also, there was one thing I noticed about your initial post which I did not pick up on before. You said: "If you want to protect marriage and the family, perhaps avoiding lay-offs during a holiday season should be considered more important." To which I would respond: Perhaps not. Perhaps it isn't more important. Perhaps the people at Focus, (including the people getting layed off, who you have to figure were all for supporting Prop 8 considering they work at Focus), thought that defending certain kinds of values (in a possibly misguided way), for all Americans, for all families, was more important. Perhaps they thought that the broader, more widely affecting moral/spiritual issue, was more important than the smaller, more targeted financial issue. In which case, they're choice would have been correct, but costly. (Of course they could be wrong.) Its kind of like the complaint that liberals made in 2004 when middle to lower class voters "voted against their economic self-interest" (voting for Bush), because of moral issues. The complaint was that it was stupid for them to do so because it supposedly hurt them financially. Of course the underlying assumption is that they should care about their economic self-interest more than moral issues. As if being poor or less well-off means that you shouldn't take moral stands; poverty apparently precludes you from morality. I'm not saying that’s what you're saying, but it does seem that you're assuming that providing a job for someone is more important than giving them a certain kind of country/moral climate, etc. You might be right, but the point's far from obvious. In which case, so is the Irony.


My point is that McLaren, the Emergents, the newly rising Religious Left are in danger of creating the same phenomenon, with the same mistakes, and the same results, just with different issues.

I absolutely agree. It will be interesting to see how this this plays out in the future. Still don't know if I'm completely on the same page with you in other respects though.

I liked what you said at the end. I think there is always a tension between the two extremes, with neither of them being wholly wise on their own.

You stated this, "Of course the underlying assumption is that they should care about their economic self-interest more than moral issues.". I would add that this is only true if you equate the spending of finances with caring about moral issues. I guess the question I have is this, is there a way of standing for moral issues that transcends merely spending finances? In other words, could "Jimmy D. and the Crew" [which I thought was hilarous] have stood for a good moral cause without spending in upwards of $500,000? Is there something more fiscally responsible, yet still standing for something that we see as right? If we can't see a viable alternative, then are we in fact saying that the poor have little influence on moral issues? Sounds like an either/or situation... is there "a third way," so to speak. I wonder what kind of impact that would have on the larger political arena. I think this the danger for the Religious Left as you mentioned, not merely what kind of issues will they stand for, but how will they go about standing for them.

As always, love having your voice and perspective! I've already had to think way more deeply about the original post than when I first posted it. Thanks, bro...


Being a Coloradan that lived at one point a little over a mile from the Christian Mecca that is Focus on the Family, I think your point is well taken.

Where we part ways is that I don't see a sense of where Focus was evil or wrong for what they did. They were true to what they are about, and now they have to pay the cost. And of the employees up there that I know of, none of them would want the organization to back off their agenda.

What I do see is that now they are having to pay the price for being less about family, and more about elevating the political power of Dobson and the Religious Right. People gave to Focus because of its ministry in the past, and now they are less about ministry and more about power. Focus is so obnoxious in the Springs that even conservatives dislike them.

I do think the Emergent folks are in danger of the same thing...although I think Darek would do better to take a look at Tony Jones if he is seeking an Emergent Person who is an advisor to the Obama campaign. Or I suppose if you think Don Miller is "emergent".

But you know my opinion Mike. Emergent is a marketing scheme. Some of the folks there do some good thinking. But I have a hard enough time trying to have the courage and strength to take the label of Christian, much less having to take labels like "Religious Right" , "Religious Left", "Emergent", "New Calvinist" or whatever. Then again, I suppose my weakness of not taking labels or playing political games is how I keep taking ministry positions with less and less power and noteriety, or opportunities for advancement.


A couple thoughts if I could:

-I like Mike's point about whether there is a way to do kingdom work (regardless if one considers passing prop.8 kingdom work or not) without having to raise money. On one hand, I think the more the organized church gets it hands on money, the more it wastes it (which I also think is the case with our government and larger corporations in general). Also, Christianity seemed to go down hill after Theodosius made it the official religion. But on the other hand, Jesus' ministry was bankrolled by a few women (Lk. 8:1-3) and there are all sorts of great parables of making earthly investments for heavenly returns (Lk.16:1-13). So to answer your question: Yes! I think there could be a third way in many cases. And there should be. But there would be a lot of work in trying to figure out when and why that would apply.

-I am certainly not a huge fan of Focus on the Family. However, I think I know what Derek is getting at. It is frustrating to see the conservative Christians thinking that trying to pass laws that will ban homosexual marriage, ban abortion, implement prayer in school, etc. is the essence of Christianity. But it is equally frustrating to see (not-as-conservative) Christians who will argue that death penalty is wrong or that war is always wrong, but won't ever make a claim that abortion is wrong with the same passion or conviction. I am beginning to feel like I don't fit in with contemporary Christianity period. The abortion-banning, same-sex-marriage-banning, prayer-in-school-implementing group (represented by guys like Dobson) is as equally mistaken as the ban-war, ban-death-penalty, ban-tax-cuts-for-large-corporations-to-end-poverty group (represented by guys like McLaren). I guess I just don't see too many Christians who see the flaws in both sides equally, hence, my feeling alone in the church. I don't want to speak for you Derek, but perhaps you are feeling the same sort of isolation.

-Perhaps one of the problems is that the two-party system has infiltrated the church as much as the government. Perhaps if there were more political parties like in the UK there wouldn't be these two extremes in the church today.

-I had another thought that was provoked as I was reflecting on all the social/political implications of these types of issues. Perhaps you could write a blog entry on this someday Mike, especially given your background in the Old Testament. "If Christians are to end poverty, and the country elects a President who will raise taxes in order to help end poverty, won't that entail that the individual will ultimately have less to give to the church?" In other words, is the government doing the church's job in trying to end poverty? And if so, should Christians consider that portion of the tax increase the same as their tithe. I know that all of our money is God's money and we ultimately can't give back what is already his. But practically speaking, do you think it is better/worse to end poverty through the church or government?

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