It's assuredly not what they want, but one can't help but find the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit of 2013 a bit pathetic.
Yes, it is splashy and they are attracting some media attention with their iron fence and sign saying "Because of the federal government shutdown, this stage area is closed except for 1st Amendment activities." Which must have been a catchy slogan to someone.
But when you come down to it, the themes and speakers at VVS2013 have the whiff of decayed ideas and diminished power. Yesterday the NBC/WSJ poll showed that the favorability rating of the in-house political party of this values voter crowd is at 24 percent, the lowest number for the Republican party ever. As for the sign on the fence, it might not be the best idea to remind people of the shutdown as 53 percent of the American public blames the Republicans for it, compared to 31 percent blaming President Obama.
The list of confirmed speakers is meant to be impressive with headshots of the who's who of the religious right. But when you start unpacking these political stars, the shine comes off pretty quickly.
Here's just a few examples.
The soon-to-be-former Rep. Michele Bachmann is a confirmed speaker. Unfortunately, the congresswoman is in a bit of trouble with the House Ethics committee for her failed presidential bid -- hey, ethics, whatever. More recently she made the headlines for her opinion that Obama's funding of terrorists offers "solid evidence of the end times." Sigh.
Then you have Bishop E.W. Jackson, who is running for Lt. Governor of Virginia and who has claimed that government programs have done more harm to blacks than slavery; and that non-Christians are "engaged in some sort of false religion." Double sigh.
Even the man who was meant to be the main star of the moment, presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, has just recently become quite unpopular because of his leading role in the government shutdown and now gets a minus 14 percent approval rating according to the same NBC/WSJ poll.
And then there is Allen West..
But it's not just the people, it is really the ideas and priorities of the Values Voter Summit that seem tired and tone deaf to the concerns of most Americans. For these faith voters, guns are still really good and gays are still really bad. And yes, again, religious freedom (read Christian privilege) is under attack -- which brings us back to the gays and their desire to marry and women's right to control their own bodies.
Every agenda item has a rehashed '80s feel about it; and, especially around gay marriage, a sense of inevitable failure and a willful blindness to the recent movement that has happened among faith leaders on gay inclusion.
I was going to say that there is not a new idea among the panels and talks at the Values Voter Summit but there are two discussions that are worth a passing mention. The first concerns the Emergent Church, which is a Christian movement begun by evangelicals that re-imagines what it means to be a prophetic as well as an evangelical church. At the Values Voter Summit, there is a session named "Is It Too Late To Reclaim America?," led by Art Ally that puts the Emergent Church along with Islam and... Satan... as the major threats to the country. Oh, my.
The second intriguing panel is titled "The War on Football: Saving America's Game." Seriously. Yes, it turns out that the game that is on every channel, and that gets the most funding in every school, and that draws millions every week to stadiums across the country is under attack and blogger Daniel J. Flynn is going to tell you how. (Hint, it is that silly concern about concussions.. what wimps!)
Flynn's session is a decent metaphor for the entire Values Voter Summit. The attendees are overwhelmingly Christians. They live in a country where not only can one worship freely as a Christian, but a country that caters to Christians. They have the absolute right not to 'gay marry' and not to have an abortion or use contraception, and to carry a gun and yet they feel that their rights and their faith are under attack. The lack of self awareness is mind boggling.
However, the most galling thing, the really horrible part of the Values Voter Summit is the complete and utter lack of interest in the poor, the immigrants, and those on the margins -- you know, those people Jesus loved.
At the time of their expensive and highly produced meeting, there are over 46 million Americans who are living at or below the poverty line, yet the Republican controlled house voted to cut 40 billion dollars from food stamps; there are thousands of law abiding Dreamers who are desperately waiting for immigration reform, yet the Republicans have stalled efforts to welcome them into our country; and during these months when we have gun tragedy over gun tragedy with young people slaughtered with assault rifles, the Republican party stops any effort at sensible gun laws.
The Values Voter Summit doesn't care about this at all! It is easier to stick with how football is under attack than to deal with the real suffering of Americans who need to hear some hope that we are a moral and just country because right now it is hard to remember that.
Across D.C., away from the thundering music and the flashy graphics on huge screens is a small group of pastors who are offering a different vision of values for America. The are standing outside in the rain across from the United States Capitol reading the 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with justice for the poor and the downtrodden in an action they are calling the Faithful Filibuster and they will stay there until the Congress passes "a budget that cares for the poor and vulnerable."
The do not have the money, or the "stars" of the Value Voters Summit, but they have come this far by faith -- and with the God of justice, compassion and peace on their side -- they will not turn around.
Luke 6:20-21 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 'Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 'Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Luke 4:16-19 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.'
Matthew 25:34-36 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Mark 10:21-22 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Mark 12:41-44 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Luke 16:19-25 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Luke 11:39-42 Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God
Luke 12:16-21 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
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