During my 26 years in Congress, I made a practice of attending services at a different black church each Sunday I was back in my Congressional District in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
Unlike many politicians, I stayed for the entire service including the sermon.
Some of the preachers were quite inspiring; others were very ordinary.
As a practicing member of the Jewish faith, I don’t pretend to be an authority on the New Testament. My late wife, Kathy, a lifelong member of the First United Methodist Church in Latta, S.C., accompanied me to most of these services during our eights years of marriage and we would often discuss the minister’s message after the service. She knew her New Testament.
Kathy would often point out to me that a careful reading of the New Testament made it clear to her that Jesus would have been a Democrat had he been alive today. After all, he preached about helping the poor and the peaceful resolution of disputes. In her view, Jesus had little in common with the current day religious right with its preoccupation with abortion, gay rights and stem cell research.
And now along comes a wonderful new book by former Congressman Bob Edgar, which makes much the same point in great detail with ample citations to scripture. His book, “Middle Church – Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right,” is a must read for all people of faith.
Bob Edgar, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, represented a suburban Philadelphia congressional district from 1975 to 1987. He then served 10 years as president of the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif. and, since Jan. 1, 2000 has been General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.
In Congress, Bob was a liberal Democrat who kept getting elected from a staunchly Republican district. His career in politics ended when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1986.
I didn’t know Bob well during his Congressional service (we overlapped from 1979 to 1987). He was to my left on foreign policy and defense issues though we generally agreed on domestic issues like civil rights, economic justice and the environment. After reading his book, I wish I had spent more time with him as a colleague.
Bob’s first passion is for preserving the environment. He doesn’t understand why people of faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) don’t all rally around the concept of saving the planet God created for future generations. The scientific community is virtually unanimous about the dire effects of global warming and, in his view, the Bible speaks very directly to preserving our heritage for future generations. He challenges figures from the religious right like Jerry Falwell, who preach that there is no global warming and who urge consumers to go out and buy SUV’s.
He then proceeds to a lengthy discussion of peace and the concept of “just war” as opposed to wars of choice like Iraq. He contrasts Matthew (5:9) who stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” with figures from the right like Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson who are cheerleaders for the Bush foreign policy.
And, of course, he devotes considerable space to Biblical references to helping the poor as opposed to opposition by some in the religious right to raising the minimum wage and support by some in the religious right to abolishing the estate tax and for more tax cuts for the wealthy.
Bob Edgar was raised in a lower middle class working family. He and his family experienced their share of hard economic times. But through hard work and commitment to fundamental values, he has been at the forefront of most of the battles waged in the past 40 years that make us a better, more compassionate society.
His book is an easy read. It is kind of the “rest of the story” to Thomas Frank’s recent popular political treatise, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank merely bemoans how the religious and political right have captured many people of faith as allies for questionable causes. Bob Edgar fills in the blanks and tells you how to fight back.
My faith has long stood for social justice. Bob Edgar’s faith is equally compelling and his is shared by millions of Americans who are striving for answers to the big issues facing us as a country and the world.
You don’t have to agree with everything he says. But you ought to listen. He has a great deal to offer.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.