Friday, March 30, 2007

My 2 cents in a blogswarm: Theocracy corrupts.

Blue Gal has asked bloggers to blog against theocracy over this weekend. Here are my two cents.

It would be very simple for me to simply point to the various times President Bush has waxed messianic, and then point out the disaster that he has wrought on our nation and the world. So rather than take the easy road, let me use the current scandal paralyzing the Justice Department as an example of the issue at hand.

What do Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling have in common? For people who follow the news, you may respond that they appear to be heavily involved in a scheme that included deceiving Congress. This apparent deception has so worried Ms. Goodling that she has determined to invoke her fifth amendment rights if called to testify before Congress. Mr. Sampson's emails detail a scheme to install a prosecutor in Arkansas without Senate approval, while deceptively making it appear that the Justice Department was actually working with the Senate. He was forced to resign as chief of staff for the Attorney General immediately following the release of the first round of documents because of the damning evidence contained in those emails. In testimony before the Senate yesterday he testified 122 separate times that he did not recall something.

But there is something else Mr. Sampson and Ms. Goodling have in common. Both are devoutly religious, graduating from universities that are permeated by religion. Monica Goodling graduated from Messiah College, founded by none other than Pat Robertson. Their mission statement reads in part: "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world." They further describe themselves as being "committed to an embracing evangelical spirit".

Kyle Sampson was raised in Utah, graduating from BYU and serving a mission in Minnesota. Having married a long time member of the church, I have a basic understanding of the LDS, and I can verify that this was no small feat by Mr. Sampson. In serving a mission he gave 2 years of his life, with alot of that time spent walking door to door in a suit, giving his testimony of the worthiness of the message of Joseph Smith to whoever answered the door when he knocked. He was allowed recreation on Mondays, but the rest of his time was devoted to his responsibilities as a missionary. I may not agree with Sampson's politics, but he has earned my respect for what must be a deeply held faith.

So how is it that these two prominently religious and devout people have come to a point in their lives that they are widely reviled for being liars, corrupted, and otherwise unsavory? One having resigned in disgrace and the other fearful of jail time if she testifies... I contend they have reached the ugly end of the relationship which is often formed by the marriage of political power and a deepset conviction that ones faith is inherently infallible.

Believing that you are doing Gods work (or the right thing as it were, if you are not a believer) when you run into a bit of an obstacle can be a source of strength. It can test ones faith. How you react to that testing serves to demonstrate the true character of the person. I'm saying that belief can be a good thing, it doesn't have to be negative. However...

What happens to the fervent believer who is confronted by obstacles that are institutional in nature. Politics naturally gives institutional blocks. America's very system of checks and balances is not conducive to success for the political holy warrior. If you must install a particular attorney because of political considerations, and you believe your party is doing Gods work, it is easy to justify fudging the truth to Congress. You can justify claiming to act in good faith while really acting in bad faith. You are just fighting the good fight.

Having no doubt about the justness of your cause is a deadly combination when it comes to political endeavor. It nearly invariably corrupts both the political and religious. We see now a paralyzed Justice Department, roundly considered hopelessly politicized and the reputation of two top staffers, renowned for religious zeal, in tatters.

I am a Christian. I certainly am not calling for only non believers to be allowed to lead the nation. I only want our leaders to admit that they are fallible. Maybe if Mr. Sampson and Ms. Goodling had taken a moment of introspection, and questioned whether it would be right to lie and plan deception, just questioned themselves, they would have realized that what they were doing was taking them down the wrong road. Religious people offer great wisdom and talent for this nation. But let us keep our religion and politics separate, because to mix them is to corrupt both.

[Update: Please read the comments to this post for a correction as to the affiliation of Messiah College with Pat Robertson... and also me lamenting the fact that I was a week early with this post. I will follow on Friday with a timely post on another aspect of theology which I find objectionable.]

You're a week early, but it totally totally counts. Thanks for this write-up. Your writing rocks as usual.
Well... this is my chance to prove how a Christian who has obviously made a mistake should behave.

I don't recall seeing the actual date in the email. In fact I don't recall the contents of the email. Nor do I recall when I received or who actually sent the email. I only vaugely recall that the email was somehow saying that there would be a collaborative effort to write about theocracy.

I regret any errors that may have occured due to this email.

erm... wait a minute. That was the Cspan junky in me taking over. Let me just say that posting a week early in a blogswarm is a bit embarrasing. I'll have something ready to go for the real event next Friday! :)
You can justify claiming to act in good faith while really acting in bad faith. You are just fighting the good fight.

Ends justifying the means, as it were. Never a good idea.
Um, hello, my "brother in Christ". I am anti-Bush administration as you are, and I too am frustrated by the so-called religious right who so often unthinkingly denounce that which they call "liberal" and insist that anyone who claims to be "Christian" must automatically be a great leader, exempt from the corrupting influences of power.
But a little fact-correction for you:

Messiah College has nothing to do with Pat Robertson. I think you are accidentally lumping together the perfectly respectable Messiah College where Ms. Goodling did her undergraduate degree in communications with the somewhat less respectable Regent University (which was indeed founded by the inimitable Pat Robertson) where she earned her JD.

If you were to do a little more research, you would find that Messiah College self-identifies as being "committed to an embracing evangelical spirit rooted in the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions of the Christian church. Our mission is to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation in Church and society." Note "service" and "reconciliation" here--and as an alumna of the college, i speak from experience. This is not just lip-service. Messiah is anything but a little microcosm of the Bush Administration. It is actually 9th in the nation for sending its students on study abroad trips.

Rooted in the Anabaptist tradition of pacifism and social justice, Messiah is actually considered to be very "liberal" by many evangelical groups. It is ironic that the actions of one alumna in Bush's disastrous administration have overshadowed the works of many other alumni who have done much in the area of social justice, microfinance, environmental science, solar engineering, etc. and who have gained globally prestigious awards like the Rhodes Scholarship, the Fulbright Scholarship, the Truman Scholarship and others.

If we are to blame a college for the actions of their alumni, then we should take Yale to task for producing the illustrious George W. Bush ....

More on the religious heritage of Messiah College:
"In the 20th century the Brethren in Christ have emphasized mission endeavors as well as social justice and service ministries. An embracing ecumenical stance has enabled them to participate with a variety of other denominations and national religious organizations. They are a member of the Mennonite Central Committee and cooperate closely with Mennonites around the world in peace witness as well as relief and service activities."
Upon consideration and with due research let me admit this... yet another error from this post. Your chronology is correct and I have mistaken the college which Ms. Goodling started at, Messiah, to that which she finished with, Regent.

So not only did I get the date for the event which I posted about wrong... I have associated the wrong College with Pat Robertson. If I had do overs I would go back in time and do this right. But my blog ethics require me to keep my original work as is... I will add an update to the post itself directing readers to the comments for an admission of error.

I certainly do not mean to impugn which ever school Sampson or Goodling came from. I was rather trying to establish their bona fides as grounded in a tradition of faith. I'm certain there are many faithful members of Regent, Yale, BYU and Messiah doing fine work in and out of government. In fact I must say that I find Sampson's work in faith admirable.

What irks me is having established that faith, it is all too apparent that this administration has seen fit to entirely mix faith and politics. I believe this mixture has proven disastrous both for the good of the policy, and the once fine reputations of many adminsitration members now held in disdain, for good reason it seems.
Also disastrous for the reputation of those of faith. I hate that Christianity has suddenly become associated with Republicanism...
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