Friday, September 22, 2006

Seven New Beatitudes to Change the World

Rev. Bob Edgar (General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA)
I believe there are millions of Americans--faithful Christians, Jews and Muslims--who are tired, fed up and angry. They want this country to once again be the beacon of moral clarity it once was. They want this nation to lead when it sees fellow human beings dying of hunger and disease. They want this nation to lead when it sees melting glaciers and rising oceans due to global warming.

They want this nation to reflect the best of their religious traditions when it comes to taking care of our brothers and sisters no matter where they live, of taking care of this planet that God created and entrusted to us to cherish and respect.

In my book, "Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right," I have a chapter entitled, "Changing our Beatitudes: Guideposts for Deep-Water Citizenship." The Beatitudes refers to the section of the Gospel of Matthew (5:3-12) and Luke (6:20-23) where Jesus has a list outlining what are his priorities for his followers: "Blesses are the peacemakers..., Blessed are the meek..., Blessed are the poor in spirit...," etc. It is my firm belief that if we are to reclaim our nation's values that the rest of the world has looked up to for so many years we must shake ourselves from our complacency and connect the values of the faith we share with the faith of the nation we cherish. I know that we can do this.

The reference to "deep waters" refers to a saying of Jesus in Luke's Gospel. I see it today as Deep-Water Citizenship which is a simple plan I humbly offer to change today's world with seven beatitudes.

1. Blessed are the faithful risk-takers. Too many faith leaders are silent on matters Jesus cared about deeply. My evangelical friend, Tony Campolo, laments that he can't quote Jesus in churches these days because folks don't want to hear about loving your enemies or overcoming evil with good. Faith leaders should be grounding their message from the pulpit in the deep waters of Jesus.

2. Blessed is the courageous remnant. The Hebrew prophets were not very popular. But they remind us even majorities can be wrong. Jesus quoted those prophets all the time. They were vilified by those in power. Some were stoned. But they spoke the truth and found the courage to do so. We need to find that same courage and speak up for what is right. Sometimes the majority needs to be led.

3. Blessed are those who love the stranger. If there is one thing common to the religious traditions of Abraham--the Muslims, Christians and Jews--it's the Golden rule. If we really, really kept that law there would fewer people killed in name of God in the world today.

4. Blessed are those who read the Whole Bible. I've often said you can use various verses of the Bible to justify almost anything...slavery, polygamy, subjugation of women and children, even child sacrifice. But Middle Church has to own up to the whole of the Bible. We have to take seriously the words of Jesus when he tells us to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love our very selves. How important is what is called the Greatest Commandment? Jesus even answered that: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:40)

5. Blessed are the Faithful Voters. What would our government do if Middle Church voters followed the Greatest Commandment? We would trigger a seismic and historic change in American politics. I don't care which party is in power because I think the faithful voter should speak Gospel truth to power regardless of party loyalty. If we are to be faithful voters, politicians must be afraid to cut welfare as they are to raise taxes, as eager to make peace as they are to start wars.

6. Blessed are those who challenge us to work for Justice. A lot of mainline Protestant pastors tell me they're afraid if they preach prophetically they'll lose members in their already dwindling congregations. They'll lose those members if they don't preach prophetically. We need leaders with vision who can take the Gospel imperatives to help "the least of these", our brothers and sisters, in cooperation with corporations and government. We need everyone's shoulder to the wheel to rid our towns and cities of poverty, homelessness and hunger. We are the leaders we've been waiting for. Let's get to work.

7. Blessed are those with a sense of humor and a sense of hope. At the heart of Christianity is hope. We are a people of hope. And we should be people who can laugh in the face of great adversity. We must not let the enormity of what we see in today's world to overwhelm us into inaction. We must always draw on that hope with its companion joyful laughter to carry on this Gospel gladness. The question I ask my fellow Christians in Middle Church is, "Do we value our faith enough to reclaim it?"

I do. I believe in my hopeful heart of hearts there are millions like me who want to reclaim the values this country once held dear. We've been distracted recently. We need to get back to the Greatest Commandment, the Sermon on the Mount and the Jesus who reached beyond the boundaries of his society to include everyone.

This is an excellent idea, as the Repigs talk morality, but don't practice it. They really should be ashamed of themselves.

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