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What God Are You On, Part II

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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.

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About mpho

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    If they stop turning the other cheek, they abandon true Christianity. Doing what is right is more important than “victory.” As TCPC believes,
    “[T]he way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.”

    Also, I have to scoff at the notion that religion is the primary bailiwick of the right wing Religious Wrong. Why society and the media buy this stupid notion — a creation of the far right — is something I have never understood and have always resented.

  • Eric Olsen

    I have to agree that much of the religious right agenda is simply an alibi for bigotry

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    Natalie: “If they stop turning the other cheek, they abandon true Christianity.” Therein lies the rub. I am resentful, too.

  • SFC SKI

    While Christ was right in advocating not returning violence for violence on an individual level, I don’t believe that it was meant to be a solution for a larger group. Anyone have any Scriptural references to illuminate this assertion?

  • Eric Olsen

    the rules of Christianity work just fine for those who are within its moral purview: ie, will play by the same rules

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    I took the quiz…I only got 2 wrong…

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    True, Eric, but if moral people put aside their morality to deal with others, we ruin ourselves and cheapen our beliefs.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Natalie, if your morality is such that it does not work in dealing with the general population of people who don’t share your belief system, then it was probably a false system to start with.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I took the quiz and got this one wrong:

    Public schools can require a minute of silence to pray or meditate.

    You answered True.
    The correct answer is False.

    In 1985, in Wallace v. Jaffree, the Supreme Court struck down an Alabama law requiring a minute of silence for public school students to pray or meditate. Not willing to give up the fight, Virginia recently passed a law that would require public school students to take a minute of silence to pray, meditate or engage in other silent activity. According to Virginia’s lawyers, the Virginia statute, unlike the Alabama statute, does not endorse religion because students could stare out the window or do their homework as a silent activity. The case is making its way through the Virginia Court system.

    I thought that a required moment of silence was legal. Guess it might be, depending upon the language used to define how students can use the time.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Interesting that the quiz is focused on what is currently the law, but asks one question at the start that can be answered either from law or from what ought to be the case.

    Thanks for looking at both sides of the aisle on this issue, mpho!

    (Incidentally, RJ, I only got one wrong – I missed the question about leading prayers before a game…)

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    Thanks, DrPat. I should also share this site, which someone anonymously left on my site: Progressive Faith Media. Another site I found is at http://www.therespublica.org/CurrentWork.htm