Taking Back the Faith
Baptist minister Bill Moyers began the new academic year at Union Theological Seminary in the fall of 2005 by invoking the ghosts of the great teacher-scholars who made that place the bastion of liberal theology--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr. Moyers said their heritage was now at risk:
Listen quietly on such an occasion as this and you can hear that chorus of voices--the legions who have passed this way--calling us back to prophetic witness.... They are saying, "Union, religion has bowed again to power and privilege. Stand for justice--and the faith that liberates God from partisan agendas."
Grassroots groups around the country have not required the ghosts of Tillich and Niebuhr to galvanize them; the words of Bush, Rumsfeld, Frist, Falwell and Robertson have been frightening enough to raise the opposition of ordinary citizens against the current political/religious regime that has led us to war and near national bankruptcy while invoking a God who stands for war on foreign countries as well as on the middle and lower classes of our own country.
A group of citizens led by a healthcare worker rallied in front of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, in August 2005 to deliver a "declaration to the leaders of the religious right," saying, "You do not speak for us or for our politics. We say 'No' to the way you are using the name and language of Christianity to advance what we see as extremist political goals." The group was organized four months earlier as the Christian Alliance for Progress (CAP) and held its rally in front of a church ministered by Pastor Jerry Vines, a local Falwell-Robertson clone who had made headlines in 2002 for calling the Prophet Muhammad "a demon-possessed pedophile."
The group's protest against the religious right, locally symbolized by Pastor Vines, immediately brought support for CAP from Professor Omid Safi, a co-founder of the Progressive Muslim Union and professor of philosophy and religion at Colgate University, who said the positions taken by CAP reflected those of the PMU. "I think groups like this should be working hand in hand," he said. CAP founder Patrick Mrotek, a healthcare-management consultant, says the group has recruited community organizers in twenty cities across the country and will also join and support the work of Wallis's Call to Renewal movement.
The Rev. George Regas, in his twenty-eight years as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California (whose numbers qualify it as a "mega-church"), led his congregation to oppose the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race and the Gulf War and to support a whole range of human needs, such as an AIDS service center. After retiring from the ministry, he founded and serves as director of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.
Reverend Regas tells me:
Some people say the reason mainline churches have lost membership is they were too much involved in peace and justice work--I think they've declined because they haven't done it enough! They've been too timid in that commitment, and that's not attractive to anyone. The mainline is timid today--there was a day when it wasn't. In those days we weren't facing a religious right--it wasn't part of the story at all. It's sure a new day now. But we can't compete with the religious right if we have no financial resources. At least there's a consciousness now in the mainline churches that we have to change and create our own.