Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Religion & Politics

The National Catholic Reporter has a story and an editorial on the apparent re-invigoration of Christian progressives. The editorial is thoughtful, but two things jumped out at us from Joe Feuerherd's reporting. First off, the Center for American Progress facilitated a meeting between faithforward religious leaders and Democratic party functionaries. Progressives, it would seem, continue to get organized--and coordinated--just like the right.

Second, some of those religious leaders are thanking...their lucky stars for the so-called "morals vote":

Buttressed by the controversial findings of the 2004 presidential race exit polls -- more than a fifth of the voters cited "moral values" as their top concern and nearly 80 percent of those who did voted for Bush -- the religious left senses opportunity. Many Democrats say the exit poll findings were deeply flawed, that stacking a generic topic like "moral values" up against specific concerns like terrorism, the Iraq war and the economy skewed the numbers.

Yet, said the Rev. Jim Wallis, executive director of Sojourners and a leading liberal church activist, the findings "sparked a national conversation" that places church activists front and center in shaping the Democratic Party's message. "If the election had turned out differently, I'm not sure the Democrats would be reassessing in quite the same way," said Wallis.

"The bad news is that the exit poll exaggerated the case," said Shaun Casey, "and the good news is that it exaggerated the case." Casey, assistant professor of Christian ethics and director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians program at Wesley Theological Seminary, said the poll provided a wake-up call to the Democratic Party, which "does not have a lot of capacity to speak a language that resonates with people of faith."

Apparently, we're not the only ones to have noticed the Religious Right's campaign to declare Christmas in peril. The Boston Globe has picked up the story, picking up some choice quotes along the way:

''There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, 'Wait a minute. We've gone too far,' " says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church. ''We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left."...

''I think it is part of a growing movement of people with more traditional values, which make up the majority of people in this country, saying enough is enough," says Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund. ''Ninety-six percent of us here in America celebrate Christmas."...

''I think the businesses and the schools have just gone too far; this is the final straw," says [Rutherford] Institute president John W. Whitehead. ''It's supposed to be a time of, what, peace and freedom, and fun. And they've kind of made it into a secular . . . kind of gray day."

While the self-perpetuating sense of persecution continues to amaze FF, this story is not ultimately about Christmas at all. It's an attempt--part of an ongoing attempt--to take control of the public square by the Religious Right. You wonder why their was such an outcry after the "God is Still Speaking" ad came out? You wonder why Focus on the Family is taking Katie Couric to task for a question she asked after Matthew Shepherd's murder?

Well, scratch the righteous indignation on that last one. Somebody needs to take a slice out of the Mighty Chipmunk's ass.

Along the same lines: the NYT's by-now well publicized article on Christian conservatives's push in state and local government. We'll have more to say about that in another diary. Also this piece from the typically thoughtful Bruce Prescott:

Baptist Press quotes Richard Land, head of a Southern Baptist political action committee, as saying that Christians "have a right and an obligation to bring
our religious convictions to bear on public policy issues." He added, "That's not called a violation of church and state. That's called religious freedom. It's called freedom of speech."

When will Land wake up? People of no faith and people of all faiths -- not just Christians -- have an equal right and and obligation to bring their convictions to bear on public policy issues. Religious freedom and freedom of speech are rights that all citizens of our society share equally. These rights exist because the First Amendment created some "sacred ground" where, by force of law, we do not permit others to force their religious convictions on us and where we are not allowed to force our religious convictions on others. That is what separation of church and state means.

One last link while we're at it, from the Nashville Tennessean about competing--and quite partial--visions of who Jesus was, and what his example demands of us today.

FF appreciates the reminder that Christ was--and is--more than the sum of the parts that his believers catch hold of. Still, we think this piece misses the boat. It's been a long and honorable tradition for Christians to argue about the central figure of their faith, and what that means for that faith. If you don't believe us, read Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus through the Centuries. We Christians argue about such things because, in the words of the UCC Statement of Faith, "each generation has the responsibility to make the faith its own."

Let a thousand Jesuses bloom. The diversity is pleasing unto God, and refreshing to our political discourse.


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