George Hunsinger gives the lie to the Right’s caricature of progressives as anti-religious zealots. As a minister, the McCord professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America (CBFA), Hunsinger is working hard to reframe the “moral values” debate by raising tough questions about how torture, pre-emption, unjust war, and poverty can be tolerated by people of moral and religious conviction.
Hunsinger has tapped into a rich tradition of religious progressive activism–from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Father Robert Drinan to Rev. William Sloane Coffin. He shared his thoughts on Iraq, torture, and the challenges facing progressive religious leaders in a recent email interview.
Torture is not a divisive issue for religious people. No religious person, and no person of conscience, can possibly justify it morally. An example of this is an emerging new network of religious progressives which recently published an “Open Letter to Alberto Gonzales.”
My fledgling organization, Church Folks for a Better America, took the lead. In a short time we garnered over 225 signatures from a wide variety of religious leaders: Not only Catholics, Protestants and Jews, but also Muslims and Sikhs. We also made inroads among leading evangelicals.
The Open Letter got some good coverage. We were often mentioned alongside the ex-military lawyers who came out against Gonzales in press accounts. In the final Gonzales debate, our letter was quoted on the Senate floor.
Church Folks for a Better America came into existence almost by accident. On September 12, 2001, I found myself spending more time on the Internet than I care to remember trying to get a handle on what was really happening. I could see the ominous implications for war as well as for a crackdown on liberty at home. I wrote an Urgent Appeal opposing the invasion of Iraq on just-war grounds, signed by prominent academic theologians like Sarah Coakley, Stanley Hauerwas and Nicholas Wolterstorff as well as activists like JimWallis and William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and published in Sojourners. I started flooding the inboxes of my friends each day with what I found by scouring the net.
Until the Abu Ghraib torture scandal I was pretty much just a guy alone in his office with a computer. By that time I had an enormous backlog of files. I wrote a new statement that I hoped we could run in the New York Times. I wanted to get it out there before the “transfer” of power in Iraq on June 30, 2004. When I was unable to raise the handsome sum the Times requires, a colleague suggested setting up a website a la Howard Dean. One thing led to another, and by August CFBA came online. And, with a few large donations and many smaller ones, An Appeal to Recover America’s Moral Character“–the Dove Ad, as we called it–finally ran in the Times as a quarter-page ad on the Sunday Op-Ed page just prior to the presidential election. We also had enough funds to publish the letter in papers in Pennsylvania and Ohio.