Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Desperately Needed Balance

Earlier this week the New York Times published an OpEd by Joseph Loconte on the shift in the Democratic party toward emphasizing faith-based principles. "If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they'll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right."

Nice try.

Loconte adopts an air of neutrality for the liberal Times editorial page that he didn't bother with when he wrote for the Wall Street Journal back in July, where he had nary a word to say about religious conservatives and heaped scorn upon progressives, claiming that we had conveniently compiled a list of Bible verses that just happened to justify the existing Democratic Party platform. At the time I described the article as a "study in rank hypocrisy."

Now he's developed a new strategy: appeal to the liberal secular audience's distaste for the religious right and try to make them think religious progressives are just as dangerous.

Once again he smears Sojourner's Jim Wallis, accusing him of drawing "a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda" (in July he called it "the impulse to leap directly from the Bible to contemporary politics.") Loconte finds it remarkable how Wallis' citations from Isaiah "conveniently affirm every spending scheme of the Democratic party."

Wallis is the leader of an organization whose slogan is "God is not a Republican or a Democrat." In his best-selling book from last fall, God's Politics, Wallis has plenty of criticism for the Democratic party and its priorities. But even this is missing the main point.

Religious progressives are not pushing a theocracy.

Tolerance, compassion and respect are hallmarks of liberal Christianity; in fact, the "agenda" we push is based on these fundamental principles, and a large part of that means we believe people should have the protected right to live their lives as their personal morals and consciences dictate. As former Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers put it, "Legislating religion or morality we gave up on a long time ago." (It was the day after that quote came to light that the GOP killed her nomination.)

It's not progressive Christians who are attempting to mandate a literal reading of Genesis as part of the scientific curriculum; it's not progressive Christians installing religious monuments on government property; it's not progressive Christians who are worried about "happy holidays."

So what is "Religious Left" doing?

We simply grew tired of the public perception that "religious values" meant two things: anti-choice and anti-gay. The Bible addresses homosexuality in only a couple of places, but throughout both testaments we find countless instructions on caring for the poor and the oppressed. We grew tired of smarmy politicians on their third wife who get elected by pandering to fears about homosexuality and vowing to "defend marriage" or who claim to uphold the sanctity of life and then give away corporate tax breaks paid for with cuts in programs that aid the poor. And then of course there's that war America started.

Religious progressives needed to speak up, as the fear-mongering anti-intellectual wing of American Christianity, more concerned with the potential corruptive influences of SpongeBob Squarepants and Charles Darwin, began to speak for "us" in the public eye. Suddenly, "religious" became synonymous with "conservative," and as we have seen, conservative politics has been hijacked by fascists.

Loconte cynically assumes that Democrats have suddenly "discovered" that pandering to faith communities worked for Republicans and think they can do the same. I can see how it might appear that way, but in reality we are reaching out to Americans who frankly don't know how much they agree with us. We're finding new and better ways to communicate and connect, and it's because it's been so immediately successful that conservatives like Loconte are getting frantic.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush bowed to business interests and suspended a law that required companies to pay their workers the prevailing wage. What we saw in New Orleans was that the wealthy got out and the poor got stuck, and now here was the President letting companies get rich off government contracts by allowing them to pay their workers less than was fair. The religious left spearheaded the movement to get Bush to reverse that decision. He did.

Loconte faults Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for denouncing this year's Republican budget proposal for its "injustice and immorality." Of course, Loconte doesn't mention that the budget was basically cuts in services to the poor and new tax cuts for the rich. He warns that the progressive agenda is "awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council."

And that's bad because...?

The Christian Left isn't interested in invoking "a Biblical theocracy." We're merely bringing a desperately needed balance to political discourse in America.


little-cicero said...

I don't always aggree with the Right-Wing Social Conservatives, but to call them fascist is dishonest. Though you intend it by hyperbole (I hope!), what is going on with these conservatives is not hypocritical manipulation, but religious convictions telling individuals that they have to do whatever is possible to push forward their agenda.

Morality is crucial to a society- without values a society is in chaos, so their intentions are positive. You are right that Christian Liberals should step up to provide balance, but you are wrong in your judgements of Religious Conservatives. When conservative religious folks see late term abortions, high teen pregnancy rates, astronomical drug use and promiscuity among youths, and a once closeted gay population coming out virtually all at once, you must understand that they will be genuinely concerned and motivated to take action through political force. Since Religious Liberals have no such disgust with the aformentioned trends, it is unlikely that they can gain much more momentum for their agenda, but good luck! It is more pleasant talking to a religious liberal than a secular liberal because they are more easily identified with.

Oh, and don't forget, not all Religious Democrats are Liberal Christians, a large portion of Bible-Belters is still Democrat voting (Southern Baptists)

David in KC said...

Thanks for your comments, Andy. Did you read Slacktivist on the same article? He was as outraged as you are.

It's the conscious and unconscious slide towards theocracy that concerns me.

BTW, Little Cicero, my hunch is that very few Southern Baptists vote Democrat anymore. After the fundamentalist takeover in the 1980's, the SBC moved hard right. As a 60 year Baptist, my heart was broken by their betrayal of Baptist principles and ideals.

Andy said...

Actually I've been very slack this week with my reading, so, no, actually I hadn't seen it. Everyone go read it now, Slacktivist is brilliant (and hilarious.) Best quote: "Loconte is no environmentalist, but at least he recycles his column every six months."

steve_chapman said...

LC, it would be interesting to see if you assertion is correction about Southern Baptists voting Democratic. They may vote for Democrats locally but on the national scene it appears that they do not. Have you looked at the makeup of the House and Senate members from the South? The Republicans are entrenched there.

The whole business that God is interested in the party is crazy. Believers who want to be involved and demonstrate their beliefs would be wise to remember this passage from scripture:

With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)

Do JUSTICE! Love Kindness! That is the idea. Which party shows those?

fullofhype said...

as i am disinclined to express any political beliefs of mine, and to use especially my faith as a basis for my perspectives, however liberal they may be, because my fear, for the lack of a better word, of confrontations, ones that display the lack of respect and the right intent of genuine discourse, from both the irreligious Left and the Christian Right, both of whom believe that their views are the only true standard America should strive to live by, because of it keeping me silent, i found this post very liberating. Thank you.

little-cicero said...

Not all party voters are still intuned to what their party stands for, and it is true that fewer numbers of them vote Democrat every election, but they do exist. Zel Miller's demise seems a sort of microcosm of what has happened with the Democratic Party, it has gone to the coasts and left the Bible Belt.

It is interesting that you point out that Christian Conservatives do not vote Democrat. Why do you think this is? I would submit one word to answer this question: Abortion. Jimmy Carter submits advise on this basis that the Democratic Party can not make a comeback without ridding the body politic of the abortion issue. Lose abortion-regain much of the South!

Andy said...

Zell Miller is not a microcosm of anything, the man's batshit crazy and he self-destructed. Please, he challenged Chris Matthews to a duel. That's completely wtf?

little-cicero said...

I too wish you could challenge a man to a duel, because I would take on Chris Matthews as well. A duel with sabers!

The point is, this is a religious conservative, aggressively pro military action Democrat who was left behind by his party by the Left. The secular Left has taken over the party, and it's up to the religious Left to maintain control..

Andy said...

LC, I can pretty much assure you that the religious left wants nothing to do with Zell Miller, other than our sincere wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the DNC needs spokespeople who are ScriptureSpeak capable. Quoting scripture, of any sort, isn't sound reasoning and has no place in healthy, rational, non-emotional politics.

Values that are true and good can be defended solely by the use of reason.

Whenever we defend a value (e.g., "Work hard and well at whatever you do.") with some Word from OnHigh we're building a defense on a dune of sand. Reason, and that alone, withstands the tests of time, shifting cultural tastes, and most of all, the destruction and devistation of being on the losing side of a war (it happens... to the best of us sometimes, and can happen again).

While the DNC's message certainly has its, err, more *emotional* participants, we have squarely stayed away from the religion card, and for good reason. If you state your case by way of reason, anyone can be convinced -- and no one is alienated, regardless of time, nation, race, or other base traits. When you quote scripture, the one of your choice, the message becomes inherently alienating. And that's extremely non-DNC, thank G-d.