1. Armageddon in California
People for the American Way reports (PDF) on a conference call between religious right leaders including evangelical luminary and Prison Fellowship head Chuck Colson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Ron Luce of the militaristic teen ministry Battle Cry and pastors gathered at more than 215 sites throughout California, Florida, and Arizona. The call was designed to organize the pastors and urge them to throw the weight of their congregations against same-sex marriages and behind California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative.
It's a coalition fit to wage battle in what Colson described as the "the Armageddon of the culture war," to be fought with prayer, fasting, voter identification and turnout programs, absentee ballots, and more rallies. The PFAW report notes that Lou Engle, founder of the charismatic youth movement The Call, "actually described a massive rally planned in Qualcomm stadium on November 1 as a 'blitzkrieg moment.'"
As is becoming typical of the religious right's activism, the coalition being amassed is deeply ecumenical. It happily reports that, in addition to its racial and ethnic diversity, it draws support from the diocese of San Diego. The bishop of San Diego has pledged to distribute organizational resources to his parishioners and to encourage them to be a part of the broader campaign in favor of Proposition 8 by writing letters to the editor, commenting on blogs, calling in to radio shows, and making themselves more visible as opponents to same sex marriage. Likewise, the coalition said it was further "blessed to have the full support of the LDS church" in targeting conservative voters in 21,000 precincts this month. Reason for optimism indeed.
2. Pray for Rain
"Would it be wrong if we asked people to pray…to pray for rain? Abundant rain, torrential rain. Urban and small stream advisory rain. At a particular time, and a particular location? Say at August 28, right here at Mile High Stadium in Denver? During prime-time TV hour when a certain presumptive nominee is scheduled to make a certain acceptance speech at a certain Democratic National Convention?" That's Stuart Shepherd, managing editor of Focus on the Family's Citizen Link, who recently mocked hate crimes legislation in a mid-July CitizenLink video, and now aims to set prayer warriors about the task of drowning out Barack Obama at the DNC convention at the end of the month.
3. With a Religious Left Like This…
Controversy arose in the religious blogosphere this week over the launch of a new blog by Beliefnet, the largest multifaith website. The new blog, Progressive Revival, is described as a collection of liberal religious voices -- more than 30 of them -- all "dedicated to the revival of religious progressivism and its influence in American politics." The roster of authors includes well-known liberal religious leaders, such as Interfaith Alliance's Welton Gaddy and Tikkun's Michael Lerner, and professional evangelical-outreach Democrats such as Mara Vanderslice.
Established progressive religious voices like Street Prophets criticized what they saw as the domination of the blog's roster by political centrists such as the Democratic Leadership Council's Ed Kilgore and authors with conservative positions on social issues, such as chastity advocate Lauren Winner. (They also wondered how progressive a site owned by Rupert Murdoch would actually be.)
Fred Clarkson of the Talk to Action blog dug further and found that one member of the progressive line-up, Ray Flynn was once the president of the Catholic Alliance, the failed counterpart to Ralph Reed's infamous political machine, the Christian Coalition, and that he had worked closely with antiabortion groups such as Priests for Life. The consensus of the critics was that, with a "religious left" that includes antiabortion chastity advocates proposing centrist appeals to socially conservative believers, who needs a religious right?
4. Canadian Baby
An 18th child was born on July 22 to Canadian parents Alexandru and Livia Ionce, Romanian immigrants to British Columbia. In the ensuing media flurry, few reporters bothered to look deeper at their motivations than reprinting the Ionce's stated position on family planning and children: "We just let God guide our lives, you know, because we strongly believe life comes from God and that's the reason we did not stop the life. We let life come." The Ionces' view is similar to that of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose family is approaching a similar size, due to their "Quiverfull" conviction that has led them to have 17 children (an 18th is expected this January). Nonetheless, few media outlets covering the story caught the religious significance of the Ionces' approach to family size, which is rooted in the new, pronatalist "family theology" spreading across Christian denominations and growing rapidly among Reformed churches and the homeschooling community.
Perhaps it's the Ionces' status as immigrants from an Eastern European country that kept reporters from asking what the family's religious convictions about the family mean and how closely their beliefs align with those of the Quiverfull movement. Believers who follow the Quiverfull conviction insist on bearing as many children as God gives them, receiving every baby as an unconditional blessing, and bolster their argument with counterintuitive claims about declining fertility in the Western world, which, "pro-family" conservatives argue, is fast leading to depopulation and social crisis.
Perhaps the Ionces, caught in photos wearing a closet full of modern, uncoordinated outfits -- markedly different from the matching homeschool-style dresses and suits of the Duggar family -- look too much like old-world examples of prolific families. The Ionces, wrongly, reminded the media of poor immigrant families, probably Catholic, and not the modern Protestant couples who start large families as a cultural and religious statement and who are fast becoming fixtures of the contemporary fundamentalist church.
5. Russia, Repent!
As the world marks the death of Nobel laureate and Soviet exile Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, conservatives and Christians remember a different message than Solzhenitsyn's celebrated expose of the Russian gulags. They remember the equal criticism that the devoutly Orthodox author had for "the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion [that] does not look attractive," and the blame he laid for it at the door of humanism, which he declared "proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists."
On his return to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn lamented that the country's "great misfortune" was that Russian society "did not cleanse itself spiritually; nobody in Russia ever repented. Communism remains in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds." Russia, he argued, needed an evangelization of the public to bring it back to its Eastern Orthodox roots.
It's a message that resonates with conservative Christians, who have long used the same pejorative term for both the totalitarian communist regime Solzhenitsyn escaped, and the cushy consumerist modern America he found himself in -- "materialism." Declaring both current Western capitalism and communism as equally sinful courses sets up the third path -- religious revival, and a religion-directed society -- that Solzhenitsyn pressed on his former countrymen and U.S. conservative Christians demand for the country.
Evangelical flagship Christianity Today hailed this as the path of "true freedom" in a 1994 article about Solzhenitsyn recalled from the archives to mark the author's death. And today, it's easy to imagine how the logic of his religious arguments -- that no socialist or secular "kingdom of justice" is possible outside of the Gospel's "love" and "self-limitation" -- are received by his conservative eulogizers. Though Solzhenitsyn's work is broader than this message, such an emphasis on the inability of governments to do good without God sounds an awful lot like the rationale behind the religious privatization of social services -- and the dismantling of secular safety nets -- under faith-based initiatives and other programs. These cuts are rationalized with the claim that "governments can't love," a tacit admission that social welfare is a matter of love, or charity, bestowed on the needy rather than the justice they're entitled to.