The Christian Right grabs all the headlines, but I’ve always wondered about the Left. After all, not all of us Jesus freaks revel in gaybashing, opposing a woman’s right to choose, or leading prayers in public schools. A leftist religious political counterpart to such groups as the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Concerned Women for America should exist, and it sort of does. Sort of.
The Clergy Leadership Network (CLN) is a coalition of liberal and moderate religious leaders who are officially non-partisan but seek to “operate from an expressly religious and expressly partisan point-of-view.” Though primarily composed of Protestants, the network boasts Catholics, Jews, and apparently would love to involve Muslims in the quest to “regain the soul of our country.” CLN issues of focus include U.S. foreign policy, civil rights, economic parity, healthcare reform, and environmental protection. The CLN has Section 527 status, which is a newish tax-exempt designation for groups that accept contributions with the explicit intent to influence the “selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to Federal, State, or local public office or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential electors.” The network can’t donate to candidates, but it can raise unlimited funds from donors as long as all income and expenditures are reported to the IRS. It can also run its own television and print ads.
While the advent of such a group bodes well for many people, the fact that the first national liberal religious group has only coalesced now, emphasizes how much liberal Christians have fallen off since the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., or going further back, since the days of Antebellum reform, or, if you wanna get right down to it, since the days of the New Testament. Liberal Christians once defined religious politics as much as the Christian Right has since the 1980s. (For those interested, last March Chicago Public Radio aired a program about the history of the Christian Left.) Nonetheless, the radical arm of Christianity lives.
The Center for Progressive Christianity is less overtly motivated by politics than the CLN, but it does have an interesting slant, which is that “religion doesn’t have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, [or] repressive. . . .” In addition to “upholding evangelism as an agent of justice and peace,” TCPC promotes social and environmental justice by rejecting privilege and dogma. Formed in 1996 by a retired Episcopalian priest, TCPC alleges itself to be “the most liberal established Christian group within Christianity,” but I suspect that mantle might best belong to the pacifistic / anarchistic Jesus Radicals—social change activists who have tasked themselves with “nothing less than a complete change of allegiance from passively or actively supporting oppression to working for liberation.”
I don’t know that any of these groups have the muscle yet to take on the momentum of the right’s “evangelical revolution,” as Jerry Falwell described it when discussing how his newest group, the Faith and Values Coalition, is already preping for the 2008 presidental election. It’s not that I doubt the comeback potential of a Christian Left movement—look at the Quakers—but the problem is these new groups seem rather roundabout. I see the heavyweight with the heart to go 15 rounds but lacking the stomach to deliver the knockout punch needed. Maybe it’s time to stop turning the other cheek.
Bonus: Quiz on the separation of church and state. You might be surprised.