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Peace, Peace—But Is There Peace?

What Christian political groups said this week about the Nobel Prize, immigration reform, the hate crimes bill, and other issues.

Peace Prize Reactions

The biggest surprise of the past week was the announcement that President Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. While no one, not even the President, felt he had done enough to earn the prize, some groups viewed the prize as a hopeful gesture while others thought the President is an agent against, not for, peace.

Sojourners supported giving Obama the Nobel Prize in several posts. Valerie Elverton Dixon wrote that while little has been accomplished so far, Obama has a vision for peace. She wrote that the Nobel committee recognized this vision and "has given him a just peace prize." Edward Gilbreath viewed the prize as "a salute to America's ability to finally rise up to the ideals of equality, freedom, and strength through diversity that it was founded on." Jim Wallis interpreted the prize as a "prayer." He wrote that he wanted it to "be a prayer for the U.S. itself, to lead in a new way and to seek a fundamentally different approach to the many global decisions that this new president will now have to make."

Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said that Obama has done little to deserve the prize and has done much to bring his role as peacemaker into question. Land noted the President's recent decision, under pressure from China, to not meet with the Dalai Lama. According to Land, "It's becoming clear that Mr. Obama's definition of engagement leaves plenty of room to meet with dictators but less room for those who challenge them."

Other groups were more pointed in their criticism of the Nobel committee's decision.

Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel said Obama "has done nothing to advance peace in this Nation or abroad. When abroad, he apologizes for America and is embarrassed by American exceptionalism. Domestically, Obama promotes a culture war. He is not the symbol of peace."

The Family Research Council said in the eleven days between his inauguration and his nomination for the prize, Obama actually worked against the cause of peace, particularly by supporting abortion funding overseas. Cathy Ruse of the FRC concluded, "Mother Teresa called abortion the greatest destroyer of peace. But according to the Nobel committee, forcing taxpayers to fund it gets you a peace prize."

NAE calls for immigration reform

Last week, the Nationals Association of Evangelicals called for the reform of immigration policy. NAE President Leith Anderson identified the current system as "broken," "ineffective" and "too often inhumane." The NAE resolution calls for reform of the visa system, just labor laws, and "a sound, equitable process" for undocumented immigrants to become citizens.

Perhaps most surprising about the NAE resolution was that advocacy groups ignored it.

Even Sojourners, which supports such reforms, failed to mention the NAE's resolution. In May, Sojourners signed a statement by Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that included a similar call for reform of immigration policy. Sojourners did post a statement that Lynne and Bill Hybels submitted to a Senate Hearing on Immigration Reform. The Hybels statement addressed the issue from the perspective of local church leaders, not politicians. "As Christians, we accept the biblical perspective that we are all sojourners on this earth," the statement read. "Recognizing that we are all sojourners on this land, no matter what our legal status, compels us to extend solidarity to all."

Hate crimes bill passes

Last Thursday, the House passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act as part of a Defense authorization bill. The act expands the definition of federal hate crimes law to include crimes committed because of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Groups who opposed the hate crimes legislation did so, in part, because they saw it as a threat to religious liberty. Richard Land said, "For Christians, the full implications are unknown but certainly troublesome." Focus on the Family Action said President Obama "is pandering to activists who want to silence Christians." The Traditional Values Coalition praised House Republicans for opposing "the anti-Christian, pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) hate crimes bill." The AFA claimed that "everywhere in the world 'hate crimes' laws have gone into effect, they have quickly been used to harass, intimidate, silence and punish people of faith." According to the FRC, "if you hold to traditional values, the ultimate goal is simple—to silence you."

Groups that opposed the legislation were also upset with legislative maneuvers used to bring it to a vote. Following the Senate's lead, the House included the act as a part of an unrelated Defense authorization bill. FRC Action wrote, "The American military is trying to win two conflicts abroad, so the last thing it needs is to be deployed in a culture war to legitimize homosexuality." Richard Land of ERLC called the vote "a new low" that "makes pawns of our soldiers."

Sojourners did not make a statement about the vote last week, but it supports "legislation that prosecutes attacks against gays and lesbians." Sojourners' Aaron Gallegos wrote that support for protecting others' rights does not require agreement with their beliefs or lifestyle. Gallegos also wrote that it is important for Christians to "work to change the atmosphere where gays are seen as less than complete human beings with the full civil privileges of other citizens."

(For more reaction to the hate crimes bill, see today's Christianity Today news article, "Senate Expected to Expand Hate Crimes Law.")

Many groups were also upset at Obama's speech to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group, last Saturday.

Focus on the Family Action's Jeff Johnston took offense at Obama's remarks that opponents of same-sex marriage "hold fast to outworn arguments and old attitudes" and that eventually gays and lesbians "will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman." Those statements "minimize and belittle those of us who believe in and seek to follow Scriptural teaching," Johnston said, and "trample on Scripture's teaching about God's created intent for humanity and sexuality."

Commenting on Obama's speech, Al Mohler wrote, "Those words represent a moral revolution that goes far beyond what any other President has ever promised or articulated. In the span of a single sentence … It is virtually impossible to imagine a promise more breathtaking in its revolutionary character than this -- to normalize same-sex relationships to the extent that they are recognized as being as admirable as heterosexual marriage."

The FRC concluded that "one thing was clear from Obama's speech—his goal (like that of homosexual activists) is not simply equal legal rights. It is, rather, to overturn millennia of moral teaching that has acknowledged the harms of homosexual conduct and the unique benefits of marriage between a man and a woman."

Commenting on Obama's remarks, TVC's Executive Director Andrea Lafferty accused President Obama of continuing "to talk out of both sides of his mouth" on the issue of traditional marriage and of protecting "such extremist gays as Kevin Jennings" and "lesbian fanatic Chai Feldblum."

Legislation on the horizon

The Senate Finance Committee approved its version of health care reform on Tuesday. The outcome was expected, as were the reactions from advocacy groups. A statement by the ERLC echoed the view held by it and many other groups. The ERLC said that while it "has multiple concerns on proposed health care reform, protecting innocent human life tops the list. On that we will not yield." Expect more reactions as a health care bill continues to move through Congress.

Anticipating the upcoming debate, Focus on the Family Action has sponsored two radio broadcasts to discuss "a boatload of concerns" with national healthcare legislation.

The broadcast focused on objections to pending legislation, not solutions to healthcare problems. Dobson remarked, "We don't have a plan. But that's what we're calling for … we know what we don't like. And that's what we're seeing."

Those on the broadcast agreed that some reform is needed, and Republicans had done nothing for eight years. "At least Democrats are trying," said Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family Action's vice president of Government and Public Policy. "But they're doing it in their inimitable way by trying tax, tax everyone and say it's not a tax and put the government in charge and knock the private companies out."

Congress is also moving forward with several other bills that are on the radar screen of many groups. The House will soon consider the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would give protections based on sexual orientation and gender identification. The Senate will examine giving domestic partnership benefits to federal employees. Congress will also consider eliminating the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the military. This would make it possible for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Finally, groups on the left and right are watching for developments on climate change legislation and immigration reform. It has been a busy legislative season that is not expected to slow down any time soon.

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers include:
A Czar, a Cross, and Prayer Chain for Liberals | Conservative groups take aim at safe schools 'czar' Kevin Jennings. The Supreme Court considers the fate of a cross in the Mojave Desert. And all while Congress continues to work on health care. (October 9, 2009)
The Baucus Ruckus | This week the debate over health care reform moved from broad platitudes to specifics on abortion funding and abstinence education. (October 2, 2009)
Two Summits, Countless Agendas | Faith Leaders Summit urges G-8 to focus on poverty while Values Voter Summit targets domestic issues. (September 25, 2009)

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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