Religious Left Beginning To Organize

Right now, it is not much, but it is a start: ''The religious right has been effectively organizing for 35 years, and as I always say, it took Moses 40 years to lead his people out of the wilderness, and it's going to take us a few years more to catch up," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

Edgar is part of a group that holds a conference call each Thursday to discuss the liberal response to national and world affairs, a telephonic gathering convened last year in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

''While we didn't stop the war, we began to talk and work cooperatively together," he said.

Among as many as 40 people on the line any Thursday are Jim Wallis, who convened Call to Renewal, a faith-based response to world poverty; the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance; the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., pastor of the Riverside Church in New York; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund.

The issues are there for a religious left to rise, but the organization will take some time. Still, this is encouraging, since the left made some organizations advances in 2004, and a rising religious left could be an important ally in the future. We surpassed the right in terms of netroots. We reached parity, and possibly surpassed, the right in terms of small donor fundraising. We reached parity, and possibly surpassed, the right in terms of swing state organizing. In all three areas, we faced large deficits following the 2002 elections, and we should celebrate our gains in all three areas. However, despite a rising Air America, we still face problems on the radio. We also face problems on college campuses, problems in terms of declining union membership, problems in terms of think tanks and media access, and, as Lakoff has famously argued, problems in terms of message organization and promotion. If we make up ground in religious organizing, well, that will be one less deficit that we face in the future.

Tags: Activism (all tags)

Comments

19 Comments

Oh Lord
I am just as concerned, well nearly, about this as I am about the religious right. there is simply no room for theocracy, either from the left or the right in modern politics.

We're going to be lurching from one theocratic spectrum to the other at this rate.

by Pounder 2004-11-29 02:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Oh Lord
Do a little research on positions taken by the "Religious Left". It's certainly not about building a theocracy - rather, tolerance, respect for human rights, and a recognition that ALL people are created in God's image. This includes visible minorities, homosexuals, and even those of a non-Christian faith. Quite a difference, no? Check out www.tcpc.org, for one such example.
by Kingpin 2004-11-29 02:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Oh Lord
There's a difference between bringing your religious convictions to political advocacy and a throcracy.  The former has long roots in US history--check out religious motivations of abolitionists.  And does anyone think that the civil rights revolution could have happened without the key role of the churches in African-American communities.  Let both sides bring their religious convictions to the political marketplace and have it out--nothing wrong with that. What's wrong is when we start to write one side's explicit religious convictions into law--since most Americans are more in the middle than the extremes, any party that tries to do this won't be winning elections for long.
by bluestatespecial 2004-11-29 03:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Oh Lord
did you read this at dKos?

a clip...

Did you know that Paul talks about greed - he equates it with idolatry - more than he talks about homosexuality?  But the churches and the religious political activists don't.  And many Christians certainly don't get as angry about greed as about homosexuality.  But Jesus did.  He also mentioned greed a number of times, and he never did specifically mention homosexuality.

the diarist said this and more in a sermon at a NE church.

by gina 2004-11-30 01:17AM | 0 recs
Agree with Pounder, Enough is Enough!
I am as religious, perhaps moreso, than any rightie.  My daddy was a preacher.  His was too.  And so was his.  Preachin' goes back in my family all the way back before the Civil War.  I'm damn proud of my faith, and damn proud that I don't go around manipulating the hell out of it just to get votes.  Its one thing to celebrate worshipping, to include all faiths, to bring everyone together under God.  Its another to go around saying: "well your interpretation is incorrect and mine is better, Jesus was a liberal... sinner!"  That game gets you no where fast and its only real recently that the GOP has started to do it, so why we all of a sudden want to go and start being like them?  Forty percent of the people back in '96 voted on moral values, guess who won?  Bill Clinton.  Now 20 percent vote on moral values and guess who loses?  The Democrat.  Learn to talk about faith, but don't try to be like the right.  They sin when they pray like the hypocrites do, out in public.  We can't do the same.  That isn't who we are.
by flavorflav12 2004-11-29 02:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Agree with Pounder, Enough is Enough!
Hi Flavorflav12

Exactly right! But I think the religious lefties I know of (Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo for example) are on the same page as you.

keith

by keith johnson 2004-11-30 01:31PM | 0 recs
religious left
An outbreak of real Christianity is the GOP's biggest nightmare.  Generosity and tolerance define the true Christian-- I don't think that is what Karl Rove has in mind.
by global yokel 2004-11-29 03:33PM | 0 recs
Re: religious left
I always get creeped out by all this "real Christianity" talk.

Do you really think that by saying that people aren't true Christians that you are going to get them to join your cause?

Let them be devisive. We have enough right on our side to offer people a positive, inclused alternative.

by ignatzmouse 2004-11-30 05:48AM | 0 recs
Re: religious left
We ought not say that any other people aren't true Christians, not if they profess to be. That's between them and God. But there is nothing at all wrong with noting that Christ taught us to help the poor, to turn the other cheek etc. all values that conflict with the right wing moral relativism of "if it makes money, do it". We Christians ought to point that out.

Keith

by keith johnson 2004-11-30 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: religious left
Agreed. I'd just be careful about the holier than thou talk.
by ignatzmouse 2004-11-30 04:50PM | 0 recs
An uphill battle
I do think it is high time that the religious left organize in this country.  For too long the idea of religion in politics has been synonymous with the theocratic, hate-mongering variety espoused by Falwell, Robertson and their ilk.

That said, the left has a difficult task ahead.  This is not just because the religious right has already staked out their ground, but because mainstream denominations are declining in numbers and have a much less active infrastructure to begin with.  Sure, we have Sojourners and such, but organizationally this isn't close to a fair fight yet.

More to the point, as I talk about on my blog (though others have done the actual research), the decline is not recent, but a half-century trend towards more fundamentalist sects.  Not an easy thing to overcome in itself, and we haven't even gotten to the question of political strategy yet.

by boffo 2004-11-29 03:36PM | 0 recs
What if
the dominant religion in the US was Islam...would the right wing christians be so agog to have a theocracy?

That aside, it is obvious to a sane person that Christians come in many flavors, and all we have gotten is the burnt again flavor (i was bound for hell but was saved, and you weren't saved so you're a-goin' to hell!).  It is about time that the media (yes, the media) start paying real attention to all those other religious folks that have been ignored because they aren't loud mouth bigots.

by Carol 2004-11-29 07:19PM | 0 recs
Religion does not equal Christianity
Jews and Unitarian-Universalists have led on many progressive issues.

There are an awful lot of Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus in the world.  By and large their values are quite different from the Evangelicles.

And there are an awful lot of Christian denominations that are not right-wingers (Congregationalists come to mind, and the Catholic Church is pretty left-wing on a lot of issues).

And, for those of us in New England, it's worth remembering that most of the original settlers were members of "First Parish" churches that are now either Congregational or Unitarian-Universalist.  I.e., the legacy of our Nation's Founders lies with the religious left, not with the Evangelical latecomers.

by mfidelman 2004-11-30 03:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Religion does not equal Christianity
Yes, well, that history and perspective is important, but it doesn't get at the more important question of how the religious left is meant to stage a counter-mobilization.  It becomes much harder, as I posted earlier, when the numbers are dwindling in comparison with the religious right and, perhaps even more importantly, organizationally they/we lack the active, thorough infrastructure that the religious right has.

It's not enough to say it something we should do, or that there seem to be a lot of like-minded religions out there, but instead to create a political strategy for doing so which recognizes and addresses these problems of numbers and infrastructure.  Slogans and history won't do the trick.

Not that I have any better ideas at the moment, but I'm not overly optimistic that these efforts will bear fruit any time soon.

by boffo 2004-11-30 05:27AM | 0 recs
Beginning to organize?
I think that suggesting that the religious left is beginning to organize is just ridiculous. Suggesting that the religious left is looking for ways to "go big" and be effective may be more appropriate.

The religious left faces a rhetorical dilemma. It is easy for the religious right to marry a strong statement of a faith motivation for political activity with intolerance and exclusivity. It is more difficult for the religious left to wed strong statements of motivation that arise from particular faith with messages of tolerance and inclusivity. I'm thinking here of real historical examples. Martin Luther King, Jr. was so moved by the work of Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist, that he nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 (and then came out against the war). Thomas Merton, the Trappist Monk, called Hahn his "brother," suggesting that he shared more in common with him than many of his co-religionists (some of whom were busy blessing armaments on their way to Vietnam).

I think that the rhetorical dilemma is furthered by what the Left would view as the necessarily secular nature of our polity. My engagement in the polity arises from strong counsel I derive from my faith to seek social justice and peace. However, I view the need for the political order to remain secular as sacred. I want the polity to remain a common ground in which I can share the pursuit of these goals with like-motivated people who do not share my faith, or whose motivation arises out of non-religious humanitarian ethical values.

Finally, I think the Left has so long associated religiousity with quietism or with intolerance, that it often marginalizes its own religious Left. It's a little disconcerting to see them now try to run to the other side of the boat to import their token religiously-minded. I think it's important to take some time to allow the religious Left to speak with its own voice. I have hope that this will happen. Allowing this to happen should be viewed as a strength beyond what is offered by the Republicans, whose neocons merely use the religious Right as vote fodder.

by macpanther 2004-11-30 06:52AM | 0 recs
I've had these conversations...
...way to many times to rehash everything with anyone here again, but I will say this for the record: Not engaging the right, in some way or fashion, on the topics of "God" and "morality" is literally to abandon the field to them.

Don't ever forget the wisdom/conundrum behind these words:
Adlai Stevenson in response to one of his supporters who assured him that, "all intelligent people in this country will vote for you":

"That's not good enough. I need a majority".
Define the "God" / "Morality" debate for the "unthinking masses" or have it defined for you. Period, end of story- it doens't matter a bit how you "feel" about it.

Political Physics
by cgilbert01 2004-11-30 09:54AM | 0 recs
Re: I've had these conversations...
Agreed.  But I think a big part of the problem is that we can't even get to first base with voters to whom religion is important because they think that lots of people on the left believe that anyone who is religious is dumb.  And no one is going to vote for someone who makes them feel dumb.  This is not a secular nation--it is a relatively religious nation that has had the good sense to draw a line between religion and the state and to (for the most part) observe that line and exercise religious tolerance.
by bluestatespecial 2004-11-30 12:39PM | 0 recs
Re: I've had these conversations...
I've been absolutely ravaged by lefty-militant-secularist/rationalists/atheist (emphasis on militant) in recent days - and I'm not even of anything resembling traditional faith. The intolerance and the arrogance of many has really been quite overwhelming. Truly, lots of pots calling lots of kettles black these days. (e.g., it's only the "Christians" who can be dogmatic, intolerant, and abusive - "us", well we're perfect and if you can't see that we're perfect then you must be an idiot who is best friends with Karl Rove)

You said it best, "lots of people on the left believe that anyone who is religious is dumb.  And no one is going to vote for someone who makes them feel dumb." - that's the very same thing people in the "reality based community" article by Suskind were saying too.

The "Big-Tent" apparently needs a few more riggings.
by cgilbert01 2004-11-30 01:01PM | 0 recs
The "Left Behind" Factor
When people are caught up in "end time" activities, you need to start worrying about more than winning elections. These people are dangerous. You have to realize that "rural" America has been running from Western Civilization for centuries. If they liked it, they would never have got on a boat to a new land! Unfortunately for them, the world keeps a comin'. Last I checked America was 25% of the world's economy, but 5% of the population. What do you think the trendline is for America if our goal of spreading democracy and capitalism throughout the world is reached?

These rural people often are dumb. But so are many "urban" voters. Can one be scared of both? I think it is important to realize that the foundation of democracy is the people. If the people are strong the democracy will be strong, if the people are ignorant the democracy will be ignorant. Trying to get the vote of someone who is ignorant is putting the cart before the horse. Enlighten them first, and the vote will necessarily follow.

Red State America needs a Bill Cosby-type character to start pointing out their faults. The social and economic retardedness of rural America needs to be confronted, not appeased. Does one expect to make a middle class living growing crops in the 21st century? That went out of style in the  19th century!

They complain about the moral sewer that is urban America. Where do you think those people come from? They come from red states! They leave because they can't get jobs, thus "purifying" the red states and polluting the blue. It has been said that rural America's delenquency exceeds that of the blue states. I believe it. Their mideval attitudes encourage a rejection of education and "liberal" ideas like industry. They shy away from the world and huddle together as far away from the coasts as they can. Racism? Is it even a question?

The world isn't going away folks. It coming. And you can dress up your decline in end-time rhetoric, but the sun will come up tommorow.

by Paul Goodman 2004-11-30 01:15PM | 0 recs

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