Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Radical Religious Middle

I admit it.

I enjoy bashing the Religious Right as much as the next guy.

These jokers have left people like me in various states of depression for decades, though they’re good for a lot of laughs too. As someone who likes satire, I’ll miss them if they ever move off the national stage the way cartoonists are gonna miss Bush when he finally limps back to Texas.

But after the past election, when white evangelicals again voted largely in a knee jerk partisan fashion even in the face of a sleazy, ineffective congress and a baldly incompetent administration, it’s hard to believe the monologue of the Religious Right won’t go on indefinitely within the evangelical church.

Yet there are some big reasons for hope:

• The National Association for Evangelicals issued a document entitled “For the Health of the Nation” a couple of years back. Yes, it’s just a position paper and yes, it can take years for the consensus of pastoral leaders to trickle down to your average Joe Faith and his behavior in the voting booth.

But the document clearly calls for an emphasis not only on the sanctity of human life and family and marriage, but also on social justice and compassion for the poor, peacemaking, human rights, and "creation care" (the Christian euphemism for "crazy ass green").

In other words, Christians can feel good about chucking partisanship and moving toward a more authentic and Christian anarchical social teaching that doesn’t see abortion and homosexuality as the only game in town. The document makes room for Christians to take up a position in the ‘radical religious middle’ that no current political party or social movement represents.

• Glen Stanton—a big fish at Focus on the Family—recently wrote in Christianity Today that evangelicals have got to break out of a mean spirited, single issue agenda and embrace a ‘pro-human movement.’ The gospel according to Glen? Not only a focus on the sanctity of human life and the family, but working against “human death, pain and alienation caused by genocide, war, global poverty, substance abuse, fatherlessness, AIDS and cancer, as well as human trafficking, child abandonment, commercialization, and radical individualism.”

Geez, the guy sounds like Bono. Or Jim Wallis. And all of it emanating from Colorado Springs. Hell has now officially frozen over :^)

The New York Times recently called evangelicals ‘the new internationalists’ because of the vigorous work on the part of some evangelicals on issues like human rights, religious freedom, Sudan and now Darfur.

• A new organization called Evangelicals for Human Rights has emerged, and some big wig evangelicals have come out clearly against the Bush administration’s egregious use of “vigorous interrogation methods" (read torture).

• If I read the direction of the winds correctly, the most influential evangelical leaders among younger evangelicals right now are folks like Rick Warren and Brian McClaren who both clearly reject the methods and the agenda of the Religious Right and favor a much more centrist and anarchical social approach.

• The social teachings of the Catholic Church have always been in the radical religious middle, and some of us Protestant yahoos moved that direction decades ago.

What if the thoughtful Catholics and the growing number of Protestant yahoos got together? Given the numbers of both groups, it could change both political parties dramatically and might even spawn whole new approaches beyond the two party system. Radical religious middle indeed. Evangelicals might feel more free to join both parties in large numbers to help reform them and draw them toward more honest social and foreign policy goals.

Could be exciting. Might even make my 25 years in the wilderness waiting for the monologue to end feel worthwhile :^)


Blogger 3wishes said...

Granted I work for an organization that does great things for mankind. And yes it does have a religous base. But bells going off at 11 am EVERYDAY in the name of Religious Diversity really scares the crap out of me. I dont know whether to grab a mat and head east/west (?), take a knee and do the "Father Son and Holy Ghost" or as one IT guy said, maybe just do a jello shot??? :^

4:03 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

My goodness, is it even possible? You're right in your implication that such a voting base couldn't support the vast majority of candidates from either party, especially not the presidential candidates. I'd be shocked if a strongly poverty-focused Republican or a strongly anti-abortion-rights-focused Democrat makes it through their party's ringer. Could a Christian independent, a very religious pro-family anti-abortion war-skeptical defender of the poor (with conservative input on ending poverty) create enough excitement to get the ball rolling among this new base? It would be wonderful.

Does Dobson's ridiculous comments about McCain pretty much rule him out of that whole movement?

And while pessimistic of the religious middle candidate actually emerging in my lifetime, I will say that I'm looking forward to an election campaign that prominently involves Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Romney.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

"Sometimes jello shots do as much as religion can,

To justify the ways of God to man."

(to paraphrase an old poet)....

Probably won't see an individual candidate that reflects the religious middle specifically, but I do think a religious middle movement of enough size would force both parties to change their tune in a healthy way. Evangelicals have already made common cause with Catholics to change the nature of the abortion discussion (even the most secular leftists now lead off by saying that abortion 'should be rare'), so that working relationship is online as we speak. And Catholic social teaching is already in the radical middle. All that's needed to get this kind of movement rolling is proactive leadership from folks like Warren to make common cause with the Catholics over a wider set of issues. Oh, and evangelicals will have to give up their destructive addiction to the right wing.

Any pessimism about a movement like this happening has to be centered in that last element. I think the most important prophetic action (from a political point of view) for young evangelicals is to speak up and demonstrate that you can be moderate or liberal and still be a committed Christian. It's ridiculous that has to be demonstrated, but it does. I'm trying to do my part :^)

10:33 AM  

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