Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Christian Century: The divided mind of the religious left

Devid Heim has an interesting piece in the latest Century:
The rise of the religious left has been rumored or trumpeted for almost two decades. A series of organizations—Call to Renewal, the Interfaith Alliance, Faith in Public Life, Faith Voices for the Common Good, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, to name a few—has been created over the years with the aim of mobilizing religious liberals and showing that not all Christians think like James Dobson. Every few years, a group of religious liberals vows to counter the religious right by making the case that God is much more concerned about helping the poor, the hungry and the sick than about criminalizing abortion or opposing homosexuality.

Another sighting of the religious left has been made in recent months. "Lo and behold there is a religious left," declared an article in Slate (April 5). "The religious left is back," announced the Washington Post (May 20). National Review Online (June 2) referred to "the fast-emerging religious left." The evidence? An increase in blogging and organizing, as well as several best-selling books: Jim Wallis's God's Politics, Michael Lerner's The Left Hand of God and Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values.

The rise of the religious left provides a natural journalistic lead because it plays against type. The persistent assumption, at least among mainstream media, is that Christians are politically active only on the conservative side.

This assumption is misguided, of course. The religious left has a long tradition behind it—indeed, a deeper and longer tradition than the religious right has. The religious left (it is "left" only insofar as it is to the left of the right) flourishes in black churches, the social witness arms and Washington offices of mainline churches, and agencies like the Catholic bishops' Campaign for Human Development, the National Council of Churches, Bread for the World, Interfaith Worker Justice and the Children's Defense Fund.

But myopia regarding the religious left is understandable. The religious left has not displayed the political muscle that the right has, nor can it boast heavyweight political activists (with vast mailing lists and fund-raising machines) like Dobson, Pat Robertson or Tony Perkins. Moreover, whereas the Republicans have made a strategic alliance with the religious right, using opposition to abortion and gay marriage to attract conservative religious voters, the Democrats have tended to be resolutely secular. Appalled by the religious right, most have been indifferent to or unaware of the religious left. (In the Democrats' defense, the religious left has yet to show that it responds to wedge issues in a way that wins elections.)

Is that about to change? Is the religious left finally muscling up? Will the Democrats, having studied the exit polls on "moral values," finally get religion?

Check out the rest of the article.


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