BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Middle Way on Faith

Not all religious people think alike on important moral topics. But amid the diversity is it possible for many, if not most, of us to find a common ground? Bob Edgar, a United Methodist who is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA thinks so. His book is Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right [Simon and Schuster, 2006.] His religious outlook is quite inclusive, and he takes in everybody when he refers to Middle Church, Middle Synagogue, and Middle Mosque.

Edgar is a well-rounded scholar and activist who served six terms as representative to Congress from Pennsylvania. He was the first Democrat to be elected from that strongly Republican area in 120 years. Then from 1990 to 2000 he was president of the Claremont School of Theology in California.

He writes in a pithy, practical style and even uses a little humor here and there. He says he is much more centered on the ethical teachings of Jesus than the afterlife. The moral emphasis of some today is skewed, he thinks. For example, the Bible does not mention abortion even once and mentions homosexuality twice. But there are over 2,000 Biblical references to poverty and peacemaking. So Edgar defines the three most important moral issues of our time, or any time, as the three Ps: Poverty, Peace, and the Planet.

The sad saga of persisting poverty in America goes on, even as it seems to be ignored by many, including church members. In our country today a family of five needs an income of at least $23,000 to stay above the poverty line. That doesn't provide much money for emergencies or for savings, or probably for any health insurance. But 37 million Americans, 13 million of whom are children, are in poverty right now. The ironic thing is that many very poor people have full-time jobs. Edgar says Jesus would be very upset about poverty, and he would also be discouraged about a political solution. He theorizes that Jesus would not be either a Democrat or Republican. Maybe a progressive populist? But he recalls the words from the Book of John: "Jesus wept."

Peacemaking, the second P, is a thoroughly Christian effort too. The author has visited Iraq and has seen firsthand the tragic conditions there. He says the people of Iraq are "pawns in a geopolitical game." He is a friend of John Murtha, D-Pa., and agrees strongly that we have had "Enough!" And we need to be careful how we talk about war and how we define "victory."

The Planet is the third important issue. The Biblical imperative to protect God's creation is clear. As we think about global warming, he tells about the Baptist minister who came up with the bumper sticker, "What Would Jesus Drive?" And by the way, the one that asks, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not funny or frivolous but very basic. So the immediate problem for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, despite denial of global climate change from people like Pat Robertson and James Dobson, is that "global warming is threatening God's creation." Of course, it is connected to global justice issues because the rich, industrialized countries produce most of the greenhouse gases. And the areas near the coastlines which could be eroded and flooded are mostly inhabited by poor people.

So the Middle Church, "The faithful center of all religions," needs to reclaim our country with a blend of "Works and hope with actions."

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2007

Home Page 

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2007 The Progressive Populist.