Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Progressive Christians are Coming!


In last week's Newsweek, Lisa Miller reported on various "moderate" Christian political organizations that are changing the landscape religious political engagement in the US. Her point is that the growing number of Christians who voted for a Democratic President in 2008 have become rather disappointed in Obama's policies this year. Her article serves as a nice view of a landscape of Christian political options that are actually transcending the old liberal-fundamentalist divide. The Matthew 25 network is trying to change the way Christians do politics:

The core of our political passion rises from Matthew 25:40, in which Jesus tells His followers, “I tell you the truth, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Out of this political passion, the Matthew 25 Network advocates for the public policies that stand for the least of these and to support the political leaders who will champion these policies.

In addition, Former National Evangelical Assoociation President Richard Cizik (who resigned after admitting to voting for Obama and advocating for gay civil unions) and theologian David Gushee have established the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good to reframe Christian political dialogue. They are specific about their political priorities:

-We stand against human degradation and for the human rights of all people, especially the rights of the most vulnerable and despised. We are working for human rights in areas such as torture, the conditions in our prisons, immigration, and religious freedom.

-We stand against war and for peacemaking.

-We stand against the devaluing of human life and for a society in which no woman feels that abortion is her only choice. We are involved in creative efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women, improve our adoption laws and practices, and change cultural attitudes and practices—all with the primary goal of reducing the number of abortions in our country.

-We stand against environmental denialism and for God’s endangered creation.

-We stand against needless human suffering due to lack of health care and for human health.

-We stand against the collapse of marriage and for stronger family life...We do not believe that denigrating the dignity and denying the human rights of gays and lesbians is a legitimate part of a “pro-family” Christian agenda, and will work to reform Christian attitudes and treatment of lesbian and gay people.

-We stand against poverty and economic injustice and for dignified and decent economic conditions for all.

-We stand against tyranny and for democracy, justice, and the rule of law.


Not mentioned in Miller's article is The Network of Spiritual Progressives, an inter-faith community dedicated to progressive political activism. Over at Progressive Revival, Rabbi Michael Lerner laments to President Obama, wondering out loud how his progressive religous supporters can take back the momentum after the past year:

*Why you are bailing out the bankers and the Wall Street crowd rather than prioritizing the needs of people who have lost their jobs and homes

*Why you are not backing single payer (Medicare for Everyone) health reform but are instead preserving the interests of the health care profiteers and insurance companies that make our health care system so costly

*Why you are escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, when you must know that these are no win situations, and when you have even agreed with Rabbi Michael Lerner that the best way to achieve "homeland security" is not by attempting to dominate others around the world in an insane "war on terrorism," but instead by a Strategy of Generosity manifested in the Network of Spiritual Progressives' proposal for a Global Marshal Plan introduced into the Congress by Congressman Keith Ellison

*Why you have failed to bring into your Administration more leaders of the peace, social justice, labor and environmental movements that gave you the critical support you needed to win the Democratic nomination for President


Lerner goes on to give a compelling account for why Obama's "political" strategy has fallen short:

Any legislative victory won by compromising away the heart of what you are fighting for isn't worth much, and in any event, even good legislation can quickly be dismantled by the next president if you haven't won over the minds and hearts of the American people--and to do that you need to speak the truth and tell people what we are up against in the system of global capital and its ethos of materialism, selfisness, and looking-out-for-number-one, and what it would take to dismantle it and replace that system with a more humane and caring, environmentally sane and ethically and spiritually coherent society.

That's a run-on sentence worth memorizing.
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But of course, the whole notion of what is "Christian politics" is greatly contested. This is evidenced with conservative Christian leaders who continue to beat the same political drum, as reported in the NY Times this week. Old-school, hard-line fundamentalists like James Dobson and Charles Colson are trying to keep their ship afloat with the Manhattan Declaration, a 4,700 word manifesto that identifies the trifecta of religious liberty, abortion and gay marriage, framed in quite simplistic and polarizing ways, as the moral issues of our era. These Christians perpetuate the notion that following Christ (their way) means that they are and will continue to be persecuted by the powers that be. A sample:

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law—-such persons claiming these “rights” are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the
conjugal union of husband and wife.


That's a run-on sentence worth burning. It is found under the heading "Religious Liberty," is full of dynamic rhetorical violence. The group uses Isaiah 61:1 (along with Matthew 22:21's "render unto Caesar" passage, Martin Luther King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail and Tocqueville's Democracy in America) to ligitimize their cause:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

This is proof once again that anybody can use any text to support their own pet agendas. Seriously, how would MLK and Alexis de Tocqueville respond to the Manhattan Declaration if they lived in 2010? How could these mostly white and wealthy (and quite powerful) Christians possibly represent the poor, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners? Isaiah pinpoints these groups as being the primary benefactors of the long-awaited "reign of God" that Christians believe was inaugurated in Jesus the Messiah (see Luke 6: Blessed are the poor...). As Obama nuanced on the campaign trail, abortion is a highly complex and heart-rending issue. But the Christians of the Manhattan Declaration strong-arm the abortion issue into the mother of all life issues:

Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and “ethnic cleansing,” the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual
trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.


While EasyYolk appreciates the "whole-life" perspective of this Declaration, we must point out that these authors of the Manhattan Declaration do not offer any specific strategies to end abortion as we know it or rapidly reduce the number of abortions in the United States. The last 3 decades of federal government have been dominated by the Republican Party. What do these conservative Christian leaders like Dobson and Colson have to show for it? Abortion has not changed because their Republican leaders have not done anything about it. As Christopher Lasch noted in The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, "Reagan made himself the champion of 'traditional values,' but there is no evidence he regarded their restoration as a high priority. What he really cared about was the revival of the unregulated capitalism of the twenties: the repeal of the New Deal."

The real poor, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners in our society and around the globe can be greatly aided with changes, here and there, to government policies concerning loans, houses, schools, jobs and prisons. The number of abortions each year in the US is a travesty. We should creatively and consistently imagine ways to reduce these figures in the midst of highly complex decisions for women who have been victimized by rape and incest and whose own lives may be threatened by pregnancy. These are hard decisions that my wife and I pray we never have to make in our lifetime. In addition to limiting or prohibiting abortion altogether, EasyYolk calls upon these conservative brands of Christian faith to advocate for more economic justice for our innercities and barrios and reservations and rural outposts. These folks need help affording children. They need help getting a job and health care and child care and good schools and a good home and safe streets. These are all taken for granted in the suburban neighborhoods where these conservative Christian leaders live.

--Theological Autopilot

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