Exploring apparent ties between religion and politics. First program in PBS series with Bill Moyers focuses on Nicaragua and Honduras
Moyers: God and Politics - the Kingdom Divided PBS, tomorrow, 9-10:30 p.m., check local listings. Executive editor/anchor: Bill Moyers. Producer/director: Elena Mannes. Executive producer: Joan Konner. Whatever Bill Moyers touches - whether his one-time commentaries on the ``CBS Evening News'' or his documentaries and essays on CBS and PBS on subjects of historic and contemporary relevance - benefits from his unique perspective, incisive intelligence, and insistent search for morality. Now he has done it again.
``God and Politics'' is a three-part special report on the religious beliefs that shape political events in the United States and abroad. ``The Kingdom Divided'' is the first of the reports. Others follow Dec. 16 and 23.
``Kingdom'' is a boldly probing, alternately uplifting and despairing yet always riveting series of revelations about the intertwining of political and religious ideas in Central America.
``Christians are choosing sides [there] ... between two visions of salvation - one encouraged by the US government, the other vigorously opposed,'' Mr. Moyers says bluntly of the tug of war between the evangelical Christians and the liberation theologians for the minds and hearts of the poor in Nicaragua and Honduras.
According to Moyers, in Nicaragua ``the awakening springs from the grass roots, from Roman Catholics and Protestants cooperating with the Sandinista revolution. They envision a new society, combining Christian doctrine with a Marxist analysis of society and a better life for the poor. And in Honduras, ... Protestant fundamentalists, converted from Catholicism in rapidly growing numbers, preach that God will take care of the poor in heaven, if Christians first defeat communism on earth.''
Moyers explains that he grew up in a religious culture, went to a seminary, and spent seven years in politics. He maintains that what people believe about God can determine their political beliefs.
``We read of war between the Sandinistas and the contras, but hardly anything about how events there are entangled with conflicting interpretations of Christianity,'' Moyers says. Then he proceeds to tell that story, mostly focusing on the people engaged in day-to-day activities there - fighting in the streets, voting wherever permitted.
Many religious workers of various denominations are interviewed working in the fields, proselytizing, or praying in the churches. The most impressive dedication is shown by those individuals whose enthusiasm for helping the poor is least tainted with unforgiving vehemence against their opposition.
Saintly attitudes are revealed on both sides of the ecumenical battleground - made up of dedicated people who honestly believe that they are carrying out the work of Jesus. But it is the liberation theologians who seem to be having the greatest effect on the daily lives of the common man, as they combine economic orientation with political and spiritual dedication.
Missionary Joe Eldridge, for instance, insists that he has to be involved in ``the larger picture'' as well as the spiritual one. He calls for better housing, more food for the starving, literacy, and potable water. Says Mr. Eldridge, ``I think what our brothers and sisters in the United States forget sometimes is that there is a profound relationship between one's theology and Sunday dinner.''
Throughout the documentary, it is quite clear that Moyers looks with great distaste upon those who lie or distort the truth to attain their goals, even as they profess to be acting in the interest of God. And as much as he admires those individuals who selflessly serve the poor, he questions the ingenuous tendency to overlook ``temporary'' evils.
Moyers notes the sincerity of the idealistic missionaries, their religious persuasiveness and eloquence, but also their naivet'e. ``Because,'' says Moyers, ``if the communists take over, there won't be freedom in which the gospel can be preached.''
Moyers sums up with an acknowledgment that in order to help anybody effectively, Christians should learn how societies work, who has power and why: ``The world looks different from the ground up than it looks from the pulpit down. The example of Jesus is that to save the world - to love the world - one must live in it.''
Despite its quietly contemplative format, ``The Kingdom Divided'' will undoubtedly be judged by some religious partisans to be an explosive and intrusive inquiry into the minds and motivation of the missionary invasion of Nicaragua and Honduras. But whether you agree or disagree with the individuals giving personal testimony, it is important to listen to what they have to say - and what Bill Moyers has to say - because the program is a conscientious attempt to clarify events for those puzzled by seemingly inexplicable political alliances in Central America.
NASA's rocket journeys to the moon gave the world a new vision of itself by allowing us to see Earth from the perspective of space. In a more modest way, ``The Kingdom Divided'' is a kind of inner-space probe that explores certain politicization from the perspective of religion. It is brave of Bill Moyers to step right into the midst of controversy by presenting this series of specials. It is especially brave of underwriter Chevron to fund such a thought-provoking series in a television environment in which most sponsors opt for safety and blandness.