Imago Dei

January 23, 2014

A group of conservative Christians have launched a new campaign called "Imago Dei" (which is Latin for "image of God"). The goal is to get Christians to sign a pledge to respect all people as made in the image of God. The rhetoric of the campaign is very helpful, although the partisan cast of leaders raises some suspicions about the effort's plans. Explaining that their purpose is "to change the world by sharing truth via the grace filled amplifier of love," they also hope to help with "repudiating rhetorical pornography." They add some good basic statements about how Christians should act and talk:
Our challenge is to see the image of God in every human being, including those with whom we disagree. Our challenge is to see the image of God in those who oppose us. Our challenge is to see the image of God even in those that persecute and slander us. ... Accordingly, followers of Christ should be known not by what we oppose but rather by what we propose; a personal relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These are, of course, easier said than done, but noble goals. Thus, the effort's organizers declared:
This requires a new narrative, an alternative discourse where we stand for truth without sacrificing civility. For the image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever.
Although the binary nature of the statements is problematic as many other groups are left out (but clearly still implied with the overall message), the statement is still a good reminder (and they do a good job of using "undocumented" instead of "illegal," which is important since part of this campaign is about rhetoric). Interestingly, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly (one of the six organizers) said this initiative marks the first time the conservative organization publicly acknowledged gays are equally made in the image of God. That is a sad statement about their past, but proof of how needed this initiative is in helping send a message that all people are made in the image of God.

Although the basic messages of the new Imago Dei initiative are good, the cast of characters behind it raises some alarms about the purposes. Four of the six organizers come with strong conservative political pasts, and the other two are television power-couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The four are Daley (whose group has often worked to promote conservative political causes and candidates), Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez (who prayed at the 2012 Republican National Convention), Matt Staver (Law Dean at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University), and evangelist James Robison (who has worked to help Republican presidential candidates like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry). A couple of years ago, I broke the news about Robison's behind-closed-doors effort to defeat President Barack Obama that even included a private meeting with Perry. Rodriguez, who is the key Imago Dei organizer, participated in Robison's efforts. Although the Imago Dei effort is designed to urge people to work together across boundaries, it ironically tilts heavily to one political side with its leadership. Why not bring other voices into the effort? Thus, some of the language on the website of the Imago Dei could easily move into partisan politics:
The Imago Dei campaign does not sacrifice truth on the altar of cultural or political expediency but rather it elevates it on the catalytic stand of grace and love.
Additionally, the language people are asked sign includes a clear anti-abortion statement, which likely will keep the initiative from expanding as broadly. But if it stays away from partisan politicking, it could be a good conversation for conservative Christians to have.

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