the jesus reclamation project

A few days ago, the Washington Post declared, “the religious left is back.” Apparently, a great deal of time, money and effort has been pouring in to organizations seeking to define and draw attention to issues which could drive a wedge between the Republicans and their religious base. I’m personally not so much a fan of trying to mix church and state. I would, however, like to see our more liberal Christian churches in this country fight to reclaim “Christianity” from the far right, who, over the past decade, have set out to eliminate the possibility in the minds of Americans that a person could be both a liberal and a good Christian. Here, by way of background, is a clip from the Washington Post:

Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members. In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives’ success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement…

The recently formed Network of Spiritual Progressives is holding a four-day conference that began Wednesday at All Souls Church in Northwest Washington. A thousand participants from 39 states are discussing a new “Spiritual Covenant for America” and spent Thursday visiting their members of Congress. Lerner, the California-based rabbi who founded the network, said the conference is partly aimed at countering an aversion to religion among secular liberals and “the liberal culture” of the Democratic Party. “I can guarantee you that every Democrat running for office in 2006 and 2008 will be quoting the Bible and talking about their most recent experience in church,” he said…

For most of the 20th century — from the Progressive era through the civil rights movement — religious involvement in American politics was dominated by the left. That changed in the 1970s, after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, the formation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and, on the left, “the rise of a secular, liberal, urban elite that was not particularly comfortable with religion,” said Will Marshall III, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank…

Well, in today’s New York Times, Frank Rich adds his two cents, coming down hard on those that are seeking to build rhetorical bridges between the progressives and people of faith. Here’s an extended clip, for those of you who don’t have the financial wherewithal to breach the “Times Select” wall.

…Nowhere is this game more naked than in the Jack Abramoff scandal: the felonious Washington lobbyist engaged his pal Ralph Reed, the former leader of the Christian Coalition, to shepherd Christian conservative leaders like James Dobson, Gary Bauer and the Rev. Donald Wildmon and their flocks into ostensibly “anti-gambling” letter-writing campaigns. They were all duped: in reality these campaigns were engineered to support Mr. Abramoff’s Indian casino clients by attacking competing casinos. While that scam may be the most venal exploitation of “faith” voters by Washington operatives, it’s all too typical. This history repeats itself every political cycle: the conservative religious base turns out for its party and soon finds itself betrayed. The right’s leaders are already threatening to stay home this election year because all they got for their support of Republicans in the previous election year was a lousy Bush-Cheney T-shirt. Actually, they also got two Supreme Court justices, but their wish list was far longer. Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist who invented Focus on the Family, set the tone with a tantrum on Fox, whining that Republicans were “ignoring those that put them in office” and warning of “some trouble down the road” if they didn’t hop-to…

Whatever happens in November, the good news is that the religious right leaders most stroked by Mr. Rove, many of them past 70, may no longer command such large blocs of voters anyway. As Amy Sullivan writes in the latest New Republic, Mr. Rove has reason to worry about “another group of evangelicals: the nearly 40 percent who identify themselves as politically moderate and who are just as likely to get energized about AIDS in Africa or melting ice caps as partial-birth abortion and lesbian couples in Massachusetts.” The bad news is that no sooner does the religious-right base show signs of cracking in a youthquake than the Democrats trot out their own doomed Da Vinci strategy.

This idiocy began the morning after Election Day 2004, when a vaguely worded exit-poll question persuaded credulous party leaders that “moral values” determined their defeat (as opposed to, say, their standard-bearer’s campaign). Their immediate response was to seek out faith-based consultants not unlike those recruited by Sony, and practice dropping the word “values” and biblical quotations into their public pronouncements. In the House, they organized, heaven help us, a Democratic Faith Working Group…

But that hypothetical, easily duped voter may no longer exist. Like the Bush era, the cynical Rove strategy of exploiting faith-based voters may be nearing its end. For proof, just take a look at the most craven figure in American politics: the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. To flatter the far right, this Harvard-trained surgeon misdiagnosed Terri Schiavo’s vegetative state from the Senate floor, and justified abstinence-only sex education in AIDS prevention by telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t know for certain that tears and sweat couldn’t transmit H.I.V. But increasingly it’s not only liberals who see through him. One of his latest stunts, a proposed $100 gas-tax rebate, provoked Rush Limbaugh to condemn him for “treating us like we’re a bunch of whores.”

When senators as different as Mr. Frist and Mrs. Clinton both earn bipartisan ridicule for their pandering, you have to believe that there’s a god other than Karl Rove watching over American politics after all…

OK, so it seems as though Rich is saying 1) that those on the religions right are finally beginning to come around to the fact that they’ve been played for chumps, and 2) that those of us on the left would be stupid to follow the same path. I’d like to agree with Rich and say that we should take the high road, and leave those religious individuals out there to gather their own information and make their own informed decisions. That, however, isn’t going to happen, at least not any time soon.

Rich is being much too generous when he says that the religious in America are waking up to the fact that they’ve been taken advantage of by the right. While some surely have, most, I would argue, have not. And, the right has not stopped trying to direct their actions. Ohio’s Patriot Pastors program, at least as far as I know, is still up and running, as are several other initiatives to misinform and mobilize the believers among us. Should the left follow their lead? No. But, should we at least go so far as to remind our religious neighbors what Jesus actually stood for? Absolutely.

I guess it’s a matter of degree. While I would recoil at the thought of Democrats disingenuously pandering to any religious group, I don’t have a problem with them mobilizing their forces to remind people that Jesus, for instance, probably wouldn’t be in favor of torture… just as Thomas Jefferson probably wouldn’t have been in favor of warrentless phone tapping.

Some work has to be done to educate people as to the fact that there can be such a thing as a Christian Democrat. Rich is right, however, when he says that we shouldn’t use tricks to get us there.

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  1. UBU
    Posted May 23, 2006 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    oh, I’m sorry — I thought this was the ball shaving forum….

  2. chris
    Posted May 23, 2006 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    This is some great blogging, some of your best work and I have many questions. First, I want to thank you for the Rich translation.

    Secondly, whores charge Limbaugh only $100?

    Actually, I plan to ask you more and see what others think but right now I have a Suzuki class to attend w/ the 4-yo.

  3. mark
    Posted May 23, 2006 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    They let 4 year olds drive motorcycles?

    … And, feel free to leave a comment, UBU. We don’t turn people away from this thread, be they hairy-balled or smooth. There is no judgement here, brother.

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