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Middle Church: where most of us worship

New York, September 5, 2006 When media turn to Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell to speak for Christians, who do they represent? You?

A new Simon & Schuster book in bookstores today claims the media seek out the most extreme religious spokespersons many of them on the far political right to speak for Christians who worship in peace churches, historic African American churches, Orthodox churches and others that often recoil at what the far right is saying.

Most U.S. Christians, says the Rev. Bob Edgar, author of Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right, are neither right nor left. They reside in the great American middle.

The same goes for non-Christian persons of faith, Edgar writes. "'Middle Church, Middle Synagogue, and Middle Mosque' ... (are) often drowned out by the far religious right," he says. Americans who believe their God and their scriptures call for peace, justice, care for God's creation and relief for the poor do not generally end up in the far right camp.

But Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and a former seminary president and six-term congressman, believes the voice of the majority has been muted by politicians and religious reactionaries who support war, exploitation of the environment and lower taxes for the rich at the expense of programs that help the poor?

"This faithful majority must have the courage to confront their government when it makes bad decisions," Edgar writes. "My goal is to challenge them to read deeply their entire religious texts, to discover God's prophetic call to all humanity, and to work collaboratively and be faithful stewards of our limited resources."

(Left: Edgar with Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter at a Habitat for Humanity build.)

The 238-page hardcover book, which retails at $25, has struck a resonant chord with many religious people, including a former president of the United States.

"Middle Church is a stirring call to American believers who resent their spiritual beliefs being co-opted for a political agenda contrary to their faith," writes Jimmy Carter. "Bob Edgar reminds us that faith belongs in the public realm not to advocate war, privilege, and environmental degradation, but to promote peace, the eradication of poverty, and the preservation of our fragile planet."

The book is part biblical reflection and part autobiography. Edgar, a United Methodist clergyman, writes that his life "has been a series of 'Forrest Gump' moments at which I somehow find myself in the middle of places or events that seem bigger than I am."

Edgar met Martin Luther King, Jr. shortly before the civil rights leader's assassination and later, as a member of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, interviewed King's convicted murderer, James Earl Ray. As a young Congressman Edgar went to the White House to meet President Ford and, later, President Carter. After he left the Congress, he was finance director of Senator Paul Simon's unsuccessful presidential campaign. He also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and was president of the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, Calif., from 1990 to 2000.

Edgar also cites scripture that has inspired him and molded his politics and his faith. In a chapter on church reaction to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, "Deny Them Their Victory," he repeats the story in Luke 4:18-19 in which Jesus reads a scroll from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue: the Lord "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 favor."

"The poignant and powerful simplicity was, I think, Jesus' way of teaching that all we need to live by contained in those words," Edgar writes. "And there is a great deal of wisdom for overcoming terrorism, too."


Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, pjenks@councilofchurches.org; Rev. Daniel Webster, 212-870-2252, dwebster@councilofchurches.org

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