Taking Back the Faith
Dave Robinson of Pax Christi says: "I think that this is a very hopeful time for progressive religious groups in our country. The events of the past four years have energized some of our traditional groups and have also given birth to new, exciting efforts within the progressive religious community."
Perhaps most significant will be a new group of progressive evangelicals, led by Jim Wallis and his Call to Renewal group, and other leaders who want no part of the Falwell-Robertson rhetoric or politics. They're calling it Red Letter Christians, alluding to the words of Jesus in many versions of the New Testament, which are printed in red type. The name also avoids identifying the group with any political party. These politically liberal dissidents make up as much as 35 percent of the evangelical movement, amounting to millions, according to Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and a popular evangelical author and speaker.
These movements are serious, sincere and dedicated; the meetings of Christian leaders called by Bob Edgar are hopeful, the rhetoric of Wallis and Lerner is inspiring, and even more positive, they are taking concrete action.
Then look at all these efforts next to just one example of the way the religious right is already arming and organizing for the next battle: In August 2005 a website appeared that launched the Ohio Restoration Project, whose purpose is to enlist thousands of "Patriot Pastors" to get out religious right voters for the 2006 elections. The Columbus minister who heads the project calls these midterm Congressional elections a battle between "the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell."
At the same time, the people they call "the hordes of hell"--the representatives of mainstream religion from the NCC--were still trying to agree on a common strategy. Part of the strategy that remains a conundrum to most progressive religious leaders is not only how to avoid the blows from the armies of the right but also how to overcome the hostility of people who ought to be their allies on the secular left but treat them with scorn, condescension or indifference.
A young man in Boston came up to Wallis after one of his bookstore talks and said, "I'm gay, and I want to thank you for making me feel welcome tonight. But you know, it's easier to come out being gay in Boston than it is coming out as religious in the Democratic Party."
The African-American attorney Van Jones, founder and executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland (which challenges human rights abuses in the prison system) wrote on the Internet: "It is still commonplace to hear so-called radicals stereotyping all religious people as stupid dupes--and spitting out the word 'Christian' as if it were an insult, or the name of a disease. I thought progressives were supposed to be the standard-bearers of tolerance and inclusion."
Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, an adviser to Union Theological Seminary, says:
You don't go into a liberal community and talk about your faith and your prayers--they snicker. So in divorcing it you lose track of it, you forget why we should care about social justice--is it just so we could be fair? What's the underlying principle of equality? We didn't talk about the values that underlie policy--why are we against racism, poverty? A lot of these issues I believe in come from my religious upbringing.
A majority of Americans have had some kind of religious upbringing, and 90 percent of them say that they believe in God. The Democratic Party and progressive politicians and activists need not adopt their faith, but they had better take that belief into account if they hope to regain national power in the years to come.