People attending the annual meeting of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes heard an Episcopal bishop and a United Methodist professor say that people of faith must become involved in the political process to counter the power of religious fundamentalism.
Bishop John Chane of Washington and Donald Messer, an ordained United Methodist minister and emeritus professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, spoke to a plenary session on February 24.
Chane invoked a verse from 2 Corinthians: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom," saying that this verse could be the slogan of the "moderate middle."
Quoting former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, Messer said, "The church must be the lobbyist for the poor."
Chane warned that the world is struggling with an unprecedented religious and cultural revolution "where God and our understanding of theology are being challenged by religious fundamentalism that is driven by fear rather than by faith, by imprisonment and indiscriminate violence rather than by freedom."
Christianity, Judaism and Islam must find a middle way in which to "challenge those who use religion as their weapon of choice."
The effort to "deconstruct" the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church points to "the use of fundamentalism as a way of engaging the weapon of mass destruction," he said.
"And then there's the silence of those of us who claim the center, and then there is the silence, or at least the disdain, that comes from what I call a sense of liberal entitlement. We have been silent too long as God's people," Chane said.
The government "does not have a clue" about the impact of religion on the crisis facing the world, Chane contended. He recounted being with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials in 2002 to hear about plans to invade Iraq three days later. The officials assumed that the shock and awe of the attack would force Iraqi soldiers to lay down their arms forever. When asked about the influence of poverty, illiteracy and disease on the rise of terrorism, according to Chane, Rumsfeld replied, "that's really not an issue for the government, that's a church issue."
"It is a church issue," Chane said. "But it's also an issue that this government must begin to understand to survive this 21st century."
In response to a question about how the Episcopal Church can re-focus on these issues, Chane said, "It's real easy to talk about sex ... and I'm sick and tired of talking about it."
"It's real hard to start dealing with the issues that will change the lives of God's children," he said. "That takes hard work, dialogue and a willingness to find ways to compromise. If we're not willing to do that as the church, as God's people, then God come to help us all."
Messer expressed a similar view. "Our challenge is for us to become personally involved in empathetic and caring actions even as we advocate for government to do more," he said.
Messer has written a book with former U.S. Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern called "Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith."
He said we live in a world of "micro-compassion" in which media, the nation and the church all have short attention spans, but that it is a moral, religious and political scandal that 850 million people go to sleep hungry every day and 30,000 people die of hunger each day.
"We who are affluent don't really want to share," he said.
Messer tied hunger to the AIDS epidemic. "In sub-Saharan Africa we have allowed a genocide by indifference," he said.
Farmers are dying of AIDS, young people don't know how to farm, the elderly don't have the stamina to farm and much money is tied up in dealing with AIDS and its aftermath, Messer said. People practice what he called "survival sex," running the risk of contracting AIDS and living a few more years in order to buy food for their families dying of starvation now.
And hungry people cannot fight AIDS because "empty stomachs cannot tolerate powerful drugs," he said.
But, he said, "there is hope if we be the activists we need to be."