infiltrating the churches before they infiltrate us

I just received a very interesting email from a person in our newly-formed Progressive Book Club in response to something I’d posted here a few days ago on Social Security reform, and I thought that it deserved a wider audience than just me and the few other people included on the distribution list. So, here it is. I hope it makes sense out of context. (It begins with a quote from my post.)

“He seemed to think that we should bide our time, building consensus with moderate Republicans, and prepare to offer a bipartisan alternative once the President’s plan had been defeated.” We touched on this topic at the book club meeting, and I wanted to say more. This is exactly the kind of thinking that Thomas Frank (the author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) said was the downfall of the Democratic Party, and I agree. While Republicans continue with the misleading propaganda of backlash, myth creation, and labeling, Democrats can’t just play along. Attempting to bring over Republicans? Haven’t they been trying this for years? They continue to sell out on their original principles (giving voice and power to the working classes).

Why do the Republicans always go after social security? It’s an antiquated New Deal relic, it’s socialist and anti-capitalist, they can’t make any money off of it, etc. Well, maybe they can make some money off of it after all–hence Bush’s upcoming plan to “save” social security (is FDR rolling over in his grave?). My simplified and perhaps somewhat extreme conspiracy-theory take on the Republican agenda is this:

They want the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Supposedly, they hate taxes, but really they just hate taxes on the rich. In fact, they love taxes when the collected money can be redistributed to the rich (anti- Robin Hood). That is what privatization is for. Take this “wacko” conspiracy theory, and apply it to every Republican action–it fits every time.

Example one:
Bush pledges (I doubt all will be delivered) a billion to help Africans get AIDS drugs. What a humanitarian! Excepting one simple thing: the money is ultimately going from taxpayers’ pockets to pharmaceutical corporations (rich get richer). This is money that pharmaceuticals were supposedly losing when Africans infringed on their copyrights and made cheaper versions of the AIDS-fighting drugs. Pledged amount will not be nearly enough to provide corporate drugs for all Africans needing them. If Africans had been allowed to manufacture their own drugs with the pledged money, they might actually meet the demand. It’s not going to happen (poor get poorer–and die in droves).

Example two:
Republican Puppeteers: “Hey Bush.”
Bush (AKA puppet): “Yeah, Republicans.”
RP: “We can make profits by destroying the public schools and replacing them with private enterprises.” [rich get richer; taxes go to the rich]
Bush: “Are there any other benefits for the rich?”
RP: “Yep, we can divert public school funds, and use them to help pay for our children’s privileged educations.” [rich get richer; taxes go to the rich]
Bush: “But what about the poor?”
RP: “The poor will get screwed as we crush their schools. In the process, we can further mandate and implement mindless, conformist, test-em-till-they-break, you-are-worthless, resistance-is-futile style education that will turn the poor (including the middle class–we must bring them down) into unquestioning, spirit-crushed slaves. . . er. . . automatons. . .er. . . workers. As an added bonus, corporate testing companies can rake in tons of tax dollars as they test like hell and manacle the poor for their future corporate servitude.” [poor get poorer; rich get richer; taxes go to the rich]

It works for social security, too. Anything they can do to get tax money into the pockets of the rich, they will do it, and that is what they are attempting now.

Here is what I thought to say at the meeting (some of which I did say). Republican backlash continually paints the problems of the poor as some plot initiated by elitist intellectuals. Every issue is twisted around to fit this painting, as Frank showed in many examples throughout the book. The last thing that the Democrats should do is further compromise their ideals of the past by latching on to more and more to the Republicans. We need to fight the backlash. In fact, many have been backlashing back, in this case armed with the truth (at least they are much closer to it than the Rove-style sophists of the Republican Party). But the alternative press, the leftist bloggers, Air America, The Green Party, and so on add up to what can be called a relative smidgeon in comparison to what Republican backlashers have audience-wise–via corporately controlled media and churches. We have to start with this. We have to take back the media. Alternative press? Yes, it helps. Adbusters? By all means. Blogging? Sure. Grass-roots organizing? Hell yes. MovOn.org type organization and action? Yes. But still, it seems not to be enough. What else can we do to counter the monster corporate media (AKA Big Brother)? I’m looking for anything hopeful here.

Mark, you were dead on when you wrote that we need to bring back integrity to journalism. The only problem is that journalists with integrity still will have little power to stand up to their corporate bosses (maybe they will be fired and start their own alternative presses–or maybe they can find ways to subvert the system from inside). Legislation and regulation would do the trick–except that corporations have a stranglehold on the three branches of our government. How do we bring integrity to corporations and their media? I have few answers.

As far as getting audience, Republicans have for too long had control of some churches. This is my impression, anyway–that they control (or feed off of) fundamentalist, evangelical, born-again, apocalyptic churches. I’m sure there must be churches for Democrats, but I don’t hear much about them–or their influence on politics. Maybe Democrats should find a way to wrestle control of some churches from the Republicans (in the tradition of religious power grabs of the past (e.g., the time of the three popes)). A lot of people go to church–they are an audience that Democrats could approach (directly, indirectly, subversively through infiltration, whatever). Certainly, the type of grass-roots organizing that some mentioned at the meeting would be greatly aided and expedited (and yes, potentially corrupted) if somehow linked to churches (and temple, mosques, cult enclaves, etc.).

I thought about joining a church right after the election. I, like the writer of this letter, thought that perhaps that might be my best shot at effecting positive grassroots change. The more time that passed, however, and the more I thought about it, the less enthusiastic I got. At some point, I gave on up the idea and moved on to other things (like helping to start the local book club). Maybe it’s an idea worth revisiting though. I just don’t know that I have the ten hours a week or so that it would take to become actively involved in a church community, and that’s what I think it would take if you really wanted to be effective at moving a portion of a congregation to the left, or at least have them consider non-conservative points of view… At the very least, this deserves more discussion. In addition to churches, we should also give some thought to men’s and women’s groups, bowling leagues, unions and clubs. In a very general sense, I think it’s safe to say that we should all be doing more to get out of our fairly insular communities and interact with people further to the right than we are, with the hope being that we might be able to at least have them consider more progressive points of view.

And, just so you know, the evangelical Christians are doing the same thing in reverse already. Here (thanks to Metafilter are the goals of one such Christian youth organization:

In our effort to make 750 calls to commitment a year, each campus team will create an evangelism plan which will include:

-Each staff person spending five hours a week building one-on-one relationships with non-Christians

-Staff members co-leading a small-group evangelistic Bible study each year

-Training in relational evangelism for every student leader

-Staff teams spending time together each week in prayer for the lost

In three years, staff and students within our ministries will become known for their ability to effectively share the Gospel in small groups and one-on-one relationships.

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7 Comments

  1. brett
    Posted February 15, 2005 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    mark,

    since i went to the book club meeting where we all got the embedded microchips to allow us onto the *Secret Website*, i suppose i should go over and comment there about the matter.

    However, the one thing i wanted to add about the church issue, as well as what the author said about the business reality of journalism, has to do with the baptist church.

    In the early nineteenth century, there was no such thing as the ‘Southern Baptist’, but in the lead up to the civil war a schism developed between the northern preachers (most of whom were abolitionists) and the southern preachers (whose tithing, of course, came from slaveholders). So for a brief period the two groups were both using the bible to either refute or justify slavery, and eventually the disagreement caused the split, with the southern sect continuing to this day to produce some of the most hateful ‘evengelists’ in the country.

    So, just like with political parties, there is always disagreement within churches, and probably lots of members who might feel that, for example, ‘thou shalt not kill’ applies to adults as well as fetuses. So, while i share both your initial excitement and subsequent apathy about infiltrating churches personally, i also think that it shouldn’t be discounted that there are possibly already people in place doing just that, from the inside. They could need some help, though.

  2. mark
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right, Brett, there probably is a place for a group willing to support the efforts of left-leaning evangelicals as they try to broaden the focus of their fellow parishioners (from just abortion to other issues like the morality of war, environmental conservation, economic justice, etc.) The next time I see you, we should talk about it.

  3. Kurt
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Mark et al,

    You might find a recent Chicago Sun-Times series on “Evangelicals” to be interesting. Find it here: http://www.suntimes.com/special_sections/evangelical/

    Here’s a quote from Part 3 that is “provacative” to say the least: “Our [black] church’s social agenda and the social agenda of the white evangelical church is totally different,” he said. “It seems as if the flaw in the white evangelical church is that it will fight tooth and nail to protect an unborn child in the womb, but won’t lift a finger to assist a child once it’s been born.

    “Where is the [white] evangelical church on issues outside of abortion and outside of homosexuality?”

  4. Brett
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    yes, mark, we SHOULD talk about it.

    but we won’t.

    we’ll talk about something else, then something else, and then you’ll corner me again and ask if i want to see a certain type of reptile bite a certain racial demographic on the ass.

    and i will be forced to say YES.

  5. Brett
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been drinking, i should add, in preparation of the midnight troll-feeding.

  6. Ken
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    This is a

  7. Ken
    Posted February 16, 2005 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Oops!

    This is an episode of Fresh Air that ran last month. I has the two sides of the Baptist Church.

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