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Archive for the ‘Dispatches from the Religious Left’ tag

Faith in Public Life Embraces the RIC

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There is already an abbreviation for a term fast making its way into our political lexicon: RIC (great for headlines) is, of course, short for religious industrial complex. Blogger Dan at Faith in Public Life, a member agency of the RIC and roundly criticized lately for it, embraced the term today in response to the blogospheric discussion that has broken out about the RIC. However, in the manner of industrial PR writers everywhere, he responded to exactly none of the points raised, declared that “the discussion seems to have run its course,” and thanked everyone for their participation.

Blogger Scott Isebrand, meanwhile, shows that far from being over, the discussion has just begun:

The RIC, he writes, is

“cultivating the public personae of a new generation of religious leaders,” a public personae of a “values voter” who is “no longer shackled to a ‘narrow agenda’ of abortion and gay marriage, and [is] voting on a ‘broader agenda,’ including poverty, the environment, and global HIV/AIDS.” The constellation is also claiming that Democrats need New Evangelicals in order to win elections.

But the New “moderate” Evangelicals are ultimately…conservative. They still oppose reproductive choice. They still oppose full civil rights for gay Americans. Consider, alongside Joel Hunter, two other leaders of the “broader agenda,” New Evangelical, conservative Christianity. Rick Warren of Seattle’s Saddleback church denies the simple scientific fact of evolution, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, as Schultz points out, has actively combated the idea of an organized religious left.

The only thing new about New Evangelicalism is how it’s a conservative Christian movement that’s made inroads into the Democratic Party.

Written by fred

December 16th, 2008 at 9:16 am

A Disucussion Busting Out All Over

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A discussion is busting out all over the blogosphere, well not quite all over, but its getting around. Sarah Posner’s article at Religion Dispatches catalyzed what is probably the first full blown conversation about the role of what Digby terms “the religious industrial complex.” Sarah got the ball rolling by pointing out that the courting of moderate and religious right evangelicals by Beltway Insiders is not to be confused with building a Religious Left.  She contrasts thier perspective with those of some of the contributors to Dispatches from the Religious Left 

For those just joining us, pastordan posted a link-filled round-up of the conversation so far — while taking it all further as well. Then, over the weekend, fellow Dispatches contributor Shai Sachs weighed-in at the mega-political blog, MyDD.  

When we launched Dispatches from the Religious Left, we hoped to catalyze a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the religious left; how it could become more politically dynamic; how it could become greater than the sum of its parts.  The role of the religious industrial complex is an important part of the conversation. If we allow a small group of moderate evangelical authors and pastors and a gaggle of Democratic political consultants, and like-minded journalists to define it, we will have a Religious Left that is little more than an electoral and public policy arm of the moderately conservative wing of the Democratic Party.  Suffice to say, it will be highly contained, never prophetic, and not very progressive.  Shai writes:

…rather than mimicking the Religious Industrial Complex, I think the Religious Left needs to come up with its own structures for making the basic point that that there is a large and growing bloc of voters sympathetic to the beliefs and values of religious progressives, and that it is possible to win elections, and to goven with the support of that bloc. 

My instinct tells me that the Religious Left will come to power through quite a different path than the Religious Industrial Complex.  In particular, the progress on marriage equality in the next couple of years is going to be a proving ground.  Already, the Religious Left has been out front and very active on this issue.  But with the new Democratic trifecta in New York, we have the potential to make a large, pro-active, legislatively-won gain on this issue, in a huge and important state.  The shape of religious lobbying in that battle will be quite different than the defensive posture taken in the battle to resist Goodridge overrides in Massachusetts, and I think (or hope, in any case) that it will help create a new class of political operators, capable of gathering and wielding progressive religious support. 

Written by fred

December 15th, 2008 at 11:16 am

Inside vs. Outside the Beltway?

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Religion scholar Mark Silk, writing in response to Sarah Posner’s article at Religion Dispatches,  mischaracterizes Dispatches from the Religious Left:

A new book, Dispatches from the Religious Left, rounds up a bunch of outside-the-Beltway lefties to make the case for themselves. I don’t have a problem with their case, and I understand their annoyance, but that doesn’t seem to me sufficient grounds for scorning those toiling in the spiritual vineyards of Democratic Party politics.

The mischaracterization is that I rounded-up a bunch of Outside the Beltway lefties.  (Not that there would be anything wrong with that.)  As a matter of fact, contributors Carlton Veazey and Barry Lynn operate inside the beltway, and stay true to their values and fight the good fight.  

That said, unlike many other contemporary books on religion and politics, Dispatches is neither by nor about Democratic Party consultants and other Beltway Insiders kissing-up to moderate and conservative evangelicals and calling that the foundation of a new religious left.  There is more to progressive religion and politics than this.  And part of the role of this book, is to show how that is so. 

Written by fred

December 11th, 2008 at 9:40 am

Battling for the Soul of the Democratic Party

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That’s the title of an important article by Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches.  The article critiques the activities of various Beltway Insiders and contrasts their approach with that of several contributors to Dispatches from the Religious Left. 

The religious left is still struggling to find an organizing and base-building model, while the center-right continues to dominate the conversation and capture the attention of politicians. A new book, Dispatches from the Religious Left, edited by the journalist Frederick Clarkson, attempts to start the conversation—though by its own admission it’s merely a start, not a blueprint.

Part of that start, of course, is debunking the notion that the centrist evangelicals represent a religious left

Written by fred

December 10th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Talking about the Religious Right and Left with Welton Gaddy

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The interview I taped with Welton Gaddy the other day will air on his Air America radio program State of Belief on dozens of stations and the XM satalite radio network this weekend.   Day and times vary. Information on how to listen, including times for web casts, can be found here. The occasion was to talk about Dispatches from the Religious Left – but naturally, as people who have been deeply involved in these subjects for many years do — we dived into all of the inter-related subjects with gusto.

Written by fred

November 15th, 2008 at 2:45 pm

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

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, Amazon.com 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.