The blog of Frederick Clarkson

New "Religious Left" Group Attacks Dems

with 8 comments

I regret having to say this, but the Christian Alliance for Progress is off to an inauspicious start.

The new organization, presenting itself as a voice of the “Religious Left” has received some national and international press coverage, and it has set out some well articulated issue statements from a progressive Christian perspective. It says it wants to form a national progressive grassroots political organization. It has also been duly denounced by the Christian Right.

But there is one really big problem.

The group’s Director of Religious Affairs and principal spokesperson, Reverend Timothy F. Simpson, thinks and acts just like a leader of the Christian Right in one important respect. He publicly accuses the Democratic Party and “the left” of being anti-religious and suppressing religious expression. It is a baseless accusation and I hope he will abandon it.

In an interview with The American Prospect, here is what Simpson said:

“One of the great problems of the Democratic Party,” he said, “is that the 5 percent or so [of its members] who don’t want any religious rhetoric at all, and who do not represent the mainstream of American political or religious life, have been allowed to call the cadence in the [party]. And when that happens, Democrats get their butts kicked. Because people in this country are believers.”

“For Republicans and Democrats, he said, openness to religion ‘is clearly the winning strategy in this, the most religious of the Western industrial democracies. You just cannot ask people to check their faith at the door of the public-policy arena and expect to resonate with any significant segment of the electorate, because that’s not where people are. And folks on the left have just got to deal with that.'”

“Simpson characterized Democrats who are opposed to the injection of religion into politics as ‘extremists,’ saying that he can call for more religion to influence politics while still advocating a clear separation between church and state.”

“‘What we think the extremists in the Democratic Party fear, and rightly so, is a Christian takeover,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to emulate the style of [the Reverend Martin Luther] King, which is more to speak to the government than to become the government — which is what the folks on the right are doing.”

I am particularly struck by Simpson’s claim that “extremists” are calling the shots with regard to religion in the Democratic Party. Its a curious, and I think reckless use of the term.

The press release announcing the formation of Christian Alliance for Progress denounced “the extreme rhetoric and political agenda of the Religious Right.” The organization’s foundational Jacksonville Statement further denounces the “extremist political goals” of the Christian Right. If the leaders of the Democratic Party are extremist and the Christian Right is extremist, what does extremist really mean?

Rhetoric aside, the simple fact is that religion and religious expression has never been banished from the Democratic Party and Simpson presents no evidence that it has. Who is this supposed group that has “called the cadence” in the party with regard to religion? And who are these “extremists” and in exactly what ways are they extreme?

Perhaps at this point you are thinking, well, maybe Simpson was misquoted or having a bad day. Unfortunately, he said similar things at a press conference at the National Press Club on the occasion of the public launch of the Christian Alliance for Progress. Here is a quote from, the nationally syndicated Knight-Ridder newspapers account:

“Simpson said at the Press Club launch, ‘There is a sector of folks on the left that have been enormously vocal about (stressing secularism), that have shouted down the vast majority of folks on the left who are people of faith, who do believe in God.'”

This, friends, is hokum.

Simpson has no evidence that the Democratic Party or anyone in it is opposed to religion or its expression in public life. There is no evidence that more secular people on the Left have “shouted down” anyone from the Religious Left. (It has certainly never been my experience.)

Could the Democratic Party (and for that matter, all other sectors of society, handle the matter of religion better? Why yes, as a matter of fact it could. But Simpson’s divisive rhetoric is no help at all.

Simpson seems to have internalized one of the central message frames of the Christian Right of the past quarter century. (I discussed this frame in detail in chapter 8 of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and some of the problems that result.)

For all of the good things the Christian Alliance for Progress stands for and has set out to do, it will gain little traction if one of its main themes is to attack Democrats and the Left as anti-religion and engaging in suppression of religious expression. We already have plenty of people who do that. We call them the leaders of the Christian Right.

Written by fred

June 27th, 2005 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'New "Religious Left" Group Attacks Dems'

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  1. Hi Fred,

    On the whole, I agree with you here – attacking democrats for the same things that the religious right attacks democrats is definitely not a good start. I’ve been watching them, and what they’ve been saying, and on the whole, except for this, they’re pretty right on.

    I do think it’s important to remember that for a long time, the bedrock of the left (basically, the left wing of the democratic party) have been secular humanists, who do, for the most part, do find religious rhetoric in the context of politics problematic (as they should.) However, most democrats seem to respond to right wing pressure by claiming they are as religious as the right. Not helpful.

    I think that as the progressive religious left becomes more vocal, more visible to the mainstream, and will desire a seat at the democratic table, that we on the left don’t do what we seem to do so well – fight each other, instead of fight the right.

    We need to figure out how to balance these issues out – how to make sure that everyone feels heard and not dismissed.

    Michelle Murrain

    27 Jun 05 at 5:14 pm

  2. I also think you are making some good points and something Rev. Tim and the CAP need to be sensitive about.

    It is a good thing I think that we are having these kinds of conversation. We don’t have to agree on everything. But I am sure some of this could be worked out as we talk to each other and understand better where everybody is coming from.

    The main thing at least for me is that there is a growing agreement between the religious and the non-religious that we must challenge the Christian Right.



    27 Jun 05 at 10:12 pm

  3. However, most democrats seem to respond to right wing pressure by claiming they are as religious as the right. Not helpful.


    It actually is a FACT–according to exit polls from the 2004 elections–that democrats are “less religious” than republicans–in terms of church attendance and any number of other items.

    And what the hell is wrong with that?!


    28 Jun 05 at 11:53 am

  4. Hi Michelle, Thanks for commenting. I agree. Everyone’s faith, however one defines that, informs thier politics. Utterly normal. We live in a pluralist society in which mutual respect is essential. What some people don’t get is that secular does not mean antireligious. It means civil neutrality. How government, and our institutions handle the reality of religous pluralism is the acid test of treating people with equality and respect. It has nothing to do with faith vs. no faith. Thats the Christian right frame. Its the offspring of the old charge of liberals being symps of godless communism.

    Remember that nasty canard?

    And welcome too, Carlos! Rev. Tim & Co. do need to do better. I appreciate their Biblical defenses of abortion and homosexuality, but they will have to come up to speed on the history, politics and frames of the Christian Right. There are false frames that are easy to stumble into if we are not conversant with this history. I have been hoping for a long time that prgressives in the religious community would rise to the occasion. Now that people are turning up all over the place, I hope that they will be calling on those of us who have been researching and writing, and thinking and speaking about these things for a long time.

    There are mistakes that need not be made and wheels that need not be reinvented.

    Frederick Clarkson

    29 Jun 05 at 1:47 pm

  5. Most religious liberals are strict separationists and have not felt comfortable publicly stating that their reason for advocating policy X or doing action Y is because the Bible tells them so, and that’s that. Most feel the need to present secular reasons for advocating policies, referring to Justice, Mercy, Compassion as ideals guiding policy, and not to specific scriptural passages.

    As many readers may know, the head of the strict separation organization Americans United (for separation of church and state) is a Methodist minister. Many, but certainly not all, religious liberals are from denominations that claim to (and in some cases do) regard individual conscience highly or that do not have highly hierarchical church governance.

    Many or most religious liberals are ecumenical in outlook, with some willingness to respect the sincerity of other faith traditions.

    All these things would suggest that “religious liberals” are inherently less identifiable as a political voting block – can’t hang a specific denominational tag that covers most, they don’t wear their religion on their sleeve when debating technical points of policy, they don’t have interdenominational infighting that identifies them to the outside world as “religious” first.

    Rev.Tim and the CAP need to spend time talking to some actual Democrats, and asking them about their faith habits as well as their participation in formal religious practice (not always the same!).

    The oft-quoted statistics that more Republicans than Democrats attend church more than once a week is no surprise, since not all liberal-leaning denominations have more than one service day a week, at least if you define service for Christians as taking communion, a definition that might not be accepted by evangelical churches who would be likely to count prayer or education sessions as a service.



    29 Jun 05 at 7:00 pm

  6. No one is “attacking Democrats” at the Christian Alliance for Progress–what we are doing is acknowledging that many on the secular left are hostile to religion qua religion. There was a post on the Daily Kos that directly addressed this–the blogger stated that he was “sick of being told to respect religion..” He didn’t respect it, whether it was the coercive religion of the right (do as I say or else…) or a more moderate and progressive approach (here are our values, maybe you’ll find them useful)…This is not an uncommon attitude.

    At any rate, please feel free to come and comment on ou site where you think we have gone off base.

    Best regards,


    Faithful Progressive

    5 Jul 05 at 1:06 pm

  7. You all sound like a bunch of wimpy-wacko-nut-job-homosexual-tree-lovin-baby-killers… I mean democrats.


    1 Jun 06 at 2:00 pm

  8. I firmly disagree with Tim Simpson on most every issue that is an issue. I agree with him on this. You are dead wrong. The Democratic party and “The Left” are on a mission to destroy values, and supress fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity and any expression of it(just like you and most of your audience here). To say this is foundless is ignorant. The evidence of it is pervasive. You must be in denial.

    It is the fundamental argument of the flawed doctrine of “tolerance.” Tolerance says everything is ok as long as it ain’t Christianity.


    24 Dec 06 at 1:50 pm

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