The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for October, 2008

Discussing the Religious Right and Left with Barry Lynn

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Today I taped an interview with Barry Lynn, who is best known as the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  Less well known is that he also hosts a syndicated radio show,  Culture Shocks.   I am told that it will be possible to listen to the podcast at the AU web site.  We discussed the State of the Religious Right and the prospective Religious Left arising from his, and others’ contributions to Dispatches from the Religious Left.

Written by fred

October 30th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

When the Alfred E. Neuman School says “What, Me Worry?” — about the Religious Right

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Pastordan nails it (or at least one of many very important its) over at Street Prophets today. In discusing how the immoderate Rick Warren has endorsed Proposition 8 that would repeal marriage equality in California, pastordan succinctly describes the elephant on the table that is one of the obstacles to clear thinking, informed conversation and good strategy in response to the Religious Right.

There is much more to say on this, but before we go there, let’s also note that today is Write to Marry Day in support of marriage equality in California and in oppositon to the Religious Right’s infamous Prop 8. Here is the original  press release calling on bloggers to highlight this important battle on their blogs today. (What we used to call a “blog swarm.”) With less than a week to go, the No on 8 campaign needs financial help to compete with the enormous financial advantage of the coalition of theocrats seeking to impose their particiular religious view of marriage on everyone else. You can contribute via Act Blue.

Of course, no need to bother with all this if you are part of the Alfred E. Neuman School of Beltway Insiderism. When it comes to such things, all you have to say is “What Me Worry?” Afer all the Religious Right is dead or severly diminished, and therefore The End of the Culture Wars is at Hand! So when it comes to initiatives sponsored by the dead or dying Religious Right that feature leading wedge issues of the so-called culture wars of the last generation, nothing to worry about… right?

Dan writes:

The real problem here is the endless parade of Religious-Industrial Complex consultants and activists who tell us that Rick Warren is the epitome of the “moderate Evangelical” that Democrats should be working to attract. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Cameron Strang – who was supposed to pray at the Democratic Convention in Denver – is now on the board of Oral Roberts University. Randy Brinson worked for Mike Huckabee this spring and runs what’s left of Alabama’s chapter of the Christian Coalition. Joel Hunter endorsed Huckabee in the primaries, and has pledged himself to “maintaining a socially conservative platform”. Even the venerable Jim Wallis won’t describe himself as part of a “religious left.” Moving away from strictly Evangelicals, Doug Kmiec is still an authoritarian Catholic.

Ever since 2004, we’ve been treated to a parade of icons like this with the pledge that while they may be socially conservative, they’re good on poverty or the environment or whatever, and Dems should do whatever they can to bring them into the fold. Meanwhile, they go on being social conservatives at best happy to jettison a progressive social agenda in favor of poverty reduction, if not actually undermine it.

This is so very well put. And because it is, I want to repeat what I told Bill Berkowitz in an interview with Religion Dispatches last summer. We need to be very clear about what is at stake:

Bill Berkowitz:  Rick Warren, the much celebrated and talked about pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, interviewed Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain on Saturday, August 16. Before and after the event, Warren’s Civic Forum received a lot of media attention. Many in the media have anointed Warren as representing the new face of Christian evangelicals; creating a new movement that not only distances itself from the old timers of the Religious Right, but one that is setting a new agenda for evangelicals. How do you view Warren’s work and where does he fit within the broad constellation of religious leaders?

Frederick Clarkson: Four years ago, Rick Warren wrote an inflammatory letter about the presidential contest to thousands of evangelical pastors. This letter revealed him to be a fierce partisan, who epitomized the worst aspects of the Religious Right. He declared five issues to be “non-negotiable” and those “are not even debatable because God’s word is clear on these issues.'” These included abortion, same sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and euthanasia. He later said he regretted the letter but that he had not changed his views.

While he is a skilled showman, he is unable to sustain moderation in style or in substance even before a national television audience. His real self leaks out. At the Civic Forum, Warren highlighted the top two litmus tests of the Religious Right–abortion and same sex marriage, and described abortion as a “holocaust.”

Following this he called on his audience not to “demonize” people with whom they may disagree–having just compared people who have a different view on abortion to the Nazis. In my view, Warren is an emerging leader of the Religious Right in transition, not of evangelical moderation.

I added: …I think this is also about marginalizing the role and voice of religious progressives, which is to say those who in past decades played decisive roles in stopping the war in Vietnam, pushing for African American and women’s rights, and much more. The Beltway Insiders would prefer not to have a resurgent Religious Left complicating things by making conservative evangelicals uncomfortable and perhaps more importantly, compelling significant changes in the way the politics and public policy industry does business. So I think a faux Religious Left is being manufactured as an official counterweight to the Religious Right in the media and as a sop to the actual stirrings among religious progressives.

Religious progressives are indeed a counterweight to the Religious Right and are far better gounded in important matters such as poverty, AIDS and climate change than the me too squad of conservative Catholics and evangelicals currently being promoted by Beltway Insiders in the service of short term political advantage. Religious progressives are pro-marriage quality, pro-choice and pro-separation of church and state. The immoderate conservative evagelicals being recruited to the party by people who really ought to know better, mostly are not.


Written by fred

October 29th, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Lessons from the Struggle for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts

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Thanks to the urgent efforts of the religious right, the anti-marriage equality amendment is on the ballot in California is narrowly ahead in recent polls. And we should expect a fierce battle to the finish. Longtime Religious Right leader Chuck Colson calls the California initiative “the armaggeddon of the culture war.” Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage says “This is ground zero in a culture war that the California Supreme Court just declared on Christianity and every single faith.”

Meanwhile in Connecticut, a referendum held every 20 years as to whether a sate constitutional convention should be held, coincidentally is being held this year, and opponents of marriage equality are urging a “yes” vote in order to try to make it easier to change the constitution regarding marriage, and thereby overturn the decision of the state Supreme Court. The effort ggained momentum when the state’s Catholic Bishops urged a “yes” vote, making statewide news.

As these battles are being fought, there are lessons to be learned along the way — even as Beltway Insiders keep claiming, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding, that the culture wars are over or are fading, and that the religious right is dead, or in precipitous decline. These kinds of thought-stopping declarations tend to prevent us from having the kinds of conversations we actually need to be having about political reality.

While is not clear whether the CT constitutional convention measure will pass, it does enjoy the support of a number of groups such as the Connecticut Family Institute (the state political arm of Focus on the Family Action) as well as GOP Gov. Jodi Rell. It is also not clear that if it did pass, the convention would take up the issue of marriage equality. But no matter what happens, the issue promises to remain alive in CT politics for the forseeable future.

As it happens, I featured an essay about some of the lessons of the Massachusetts experience in Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. The essay is authored by Leo Maley, a longtime political, labor, and yes, community organizer. He currently chairs the Amherst, MA Democratic Town Committee.  Here are a few quotes from his piece:

The back-story of this historic civil and human rights victory is the role of over 1,000 clergy–and numerous laypersons–who, in publicly supporting marriage equality, powerfully reframed the same-sex marriage debate in a way that helped lead to this major progressive achievement. However, the historic Goodridge decision is not the achievement I am talking about. Instead, the victory to which religious progressives contributed so significantly was the dramatic showdown vote in the state legislature in 2006 that headed off a state-wide ballot question designed to undo Goodridge and thus write discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution. This success story should embolden and inspire progressive religious activists as a model for organizing on this issue over the long haul…
In June 2006, RCFM [the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry] publicly confronted what it called the “bigotry espoused in the name of faith,” by releasing an open letter that charged the Catholic Church with “religious discrimination” for trying to deny legal recognition to marriages conducted by clergy of other faiths. (Keep in mind that Catholics comprise fully half of the population in Massachusetts, and over two-thirds of state legislature.) The letter declared that “By proclaiming homosexuality and same-sex unions to be universally immoral and worthy of second-class status under state law, you are sending a message that our faith communities are immoral. You are harming us and our families and your own faithful as well.”

RCFM also gathered thousands of signatures from pro-equality Catholics on a “Roman Catholic Statement Supporting Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples in Massachusetts” which emphasized the “danger of one religious tradition or doctrine dominating another,” and affirmed the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. The Statement recalled that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, argued that Catholic social justice teachings called for respect, “not merely tolerance,” and reminded the public that “same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine.” RCFM’s challenge to the Catholic Church’s anti-equality stance was critical. And the courage and integrity of the religious leaders who stood up for what they believed, and effectively organized on behalf of their convictions, made a crucial difference in preserving marriage equality in Massachusetts.

His essay ought to be of immediate use in states where marriage equality is an issue, and for the forseeable future. It is worth bearing in mind Colson also said (as reported by Church & State):

“This is where if we lose, it would be very hard to turn the ship right again,” said Colson, according to a report in Charisma, a leading Pentecostal magazine. “If we win, we might start rolling back the other side. This is a major, major struggle, and we should spare nothing in defining marriage the way every civilization has as the union of one man and one woman joined together as one flesh, as we believe in the Scripture in order to procreate.”

You can listen to Maley in a podcast of a recent radio interview with Francesca Rheannon of  Writer’s Voice. (Dispatches contributor Chip Berlet and I also appear on the program.)

Dispatches from the Religious Left — Launched in NYC!

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The launch event at the historic and beautiful Middle Collegiate Church in Greenwich Village on Tuesday evening was as compelling and dramatic as we had hoped and anticipated.
We opened with a stirring performance by the church’s gospel choir — and as the music poured out of the big open doors, out into the sparkling moonlit night, a crowd paused on the sidewalk to listen, and some came inside. People who came, stayed, and I think were impressed with what they heard — from Debra Haffner, Chris Hedges, Osagyefo Sekou, and me, and by the thoughtful moderation of Jacqui Lewis. I think we showed what a conversation about what a Religious Left can be — and cast in sharp relief the contrast between an authentic Religious Left and the faux religious left conversation we have seen in recent years — one characterized by by downplaying political engagement, dubious assertions about the demise of the Religious Right and the culture wars, and by emphasizing appeals to “common ground.” 
Also on hand, and joining the discussion, were Dispatches contributors Chip Berlet, Frank Cocozzelli, and Shai Sachs. Kety Esquivel, who had a speaking engagement in town, was able to join us for the spirited after-event party that Sekou graciously hosted at the restaurant next door. It may very well be the greatest number of Dispatches contributors we will ever have in one place — many of us meeting in person for the first time. But it will not be the last time groups of Dispatches essayists converge to lead the necessary conversations of our time. It was our bringing together of seemingly divergent streams of interest and identity that made for some inspiring and informative conversation — before during and after the event. Best of all, it was also great fun!
The stated goal of Dispatches is to launch a conversation about how the Religious Left can become more dynamic by becoming greater than the sum of its parts. I think we achieved that. If you want to find out if I am right about that — the entire program was videotaped and will be posted on the web site of Middle Collegiate Church soon and will therefore accessible to a wider audience. 
The energetic conversation continued the next day as Dr. Lewis, Rev. Sekou and Chris Hedges (on the phone) and I joined Laura Flanders on Grit TVwhich is broadcast on several cable and internet outlets, notably FireDogLake (I am told that Laura will have Debra Haffner on soon too!)
I know that I speak for everyone associated with the book in thanking Middle Collegiate Church for their commitment and vision — and all they did to make the Dispatches launch event memorable and a great success. We clearly have much to do — but the Dispatches launch event was the kind of catalytic event we had hoped it would be, and that much will happen for all of us for having done it.

Written by fred

October 17th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Dispatches Now Available!

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At the very least, now says the book is “in stock.”

Written by fred

October 9th, 2008 at 4:13 pm

This Sunday on WMUA – FM (UMASS)

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This Sunday (October 12), from Noon-1 p.m. EST,  I will discuss Dispatches with Leo Maley, who is both a Dispatches contributor and co-host of ‘Focus,’ a progressive public affairs show on WMUA 91.1 FM (Amherst).   (The interview begins a couple minutes past the hour.)   You can listen to the program live on the web.  Leo’s chapter in Dispatches is titled:  “Organizing Clergy for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts.”  Here is a quote from his important essay:

The back-story of this historic civil and human rights victory is the role of over 1,000 clergy—and numerous laypersons—who, in publicly supporting marriage equality, powerfully reframed the same-sex marriage debate in a way that helped lead to this major progressive achievement. However, the historic Goodridge decision is not the achievement I am talking about. Instead, the victory to which religious progressives contributed so significantly was the dramatic showdown vote in the state legislature in 2006 that headed off a state-wide ballot question designed to undo Goodridge and thus write discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution. This success story should embolden and inspire progressive religious activists as a model for organizing on this issue over the long haul, as well as informing our thinking about a broader and more politically dynamic Religious Left.

A Dramatic Book Launch in New York City

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Amidst the frenzy of the election and the meltdown on Wall Street it can be hard to capture people’s attention when a new book comes out.
Indeed. There are book launches every day in New York City — the publishing capital of the world.  But there are few that feature a 50 member gospel choir singing and clapping in celebration of a bold effort to launch a national discussion of what it would take to have a powerful religious movement for social justice in America.  But that is just what the dramatic launch event for  Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America  to be held in an historic New York church will be like.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Middle Collegiate Church
50 East 7th St.
New York, NY

The historic Middle Collegiate Church, in the heart of NYC’s East Village dates back to 1628 — and today is as contemporary, dynamic, and progressive a congregation as there is in the country. The event will kick-off with the church’s famous gospel choir — followed by conversation with Dispatches contributors, including former New York Times war correspondent and best-selling author Chris Hedges; Rev. Debra Haffner, Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing; Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Associate Minister for Missions, Social Justice and Community Action at Middle Collegiate Church — and book editor Frederick Clarkson.  The event will be moderated by the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church.
(There will be a video of the event posted later on the church web site.)

Written by fred

October 7th, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Writers’ Voice

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Host Francesca Rheannon of Writer’s Voice discusses Dispatches from the Religious Left with contributor Leo Maley and me, focusing on models for political organizing — notably that of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts and the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. This Friday at 4:30 PM, on WMUA-FM at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Dispatches from the Religious Left Arrived from the Printer Today!

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Robert at Ig Publishing tells me that the book arrived today — which means that both free standing and cyber bookstores will have it soon too, if they do not already.

I also did my first official book-related radio interview yestderday on Spiritually Speaking — an hour long discussion with Rev. Linda Anderson on WVKR, 91.3 FM in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Written by fred

October 1st, 2008 at 3:58 pm