This thoughtful piece on Slate.com by the Rev. Chloe Breyer (and you know right there it’s probably not written by a fundamentalist Christian ) points out that obviously not all Christians are rabid, hate-mongering flat-earthers, so why are the extreme right-wingers getting all the attention? Where’s the silent, moderate majority?
Last Wednesday, Dr. Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, along with other progressive faith leaders, spoke at a sparsely attended press conference in Midtown Manhattan. Their purpose was to encourage alternative religious voices in the public square. These religious leaders staged this meeting in order to launch the Vote ALL Your Values Campaign, which celebrated some recent accomplishments: over 450,000 voters registered; a corps of 400,000 progressive religious activists recruited; hugely successful religion-based ad campaigns; and more than a million voter guides (describing poverty, health care, and education as religious issues) distributed. Citing the necessity of a “faith-rescue operation” from the religious right, the Rev. Jim Wallis proclaimed a beginning of the end of that faction’s “dominance over faith and politics.”
One reason the right has reigned despite progress like this is that the tools used for studying and reporting on religion haven’t kept pace with the increasingly complex impact of religious convictions on national and international politics.
Breyer describes the various pollster categories used, and then points out what we often miss: that strong religious faith does not necessarily equal a literalist viewpoint, nor does it mean that no people who self-identify as very religious can’t also be socially progressive:
Where, for example, would the political views of a member of Evangelicals for Social Actions show up in such a survey? Though she might agree that tradition is worth preserving and that scripture is highly authoritative, she would not qualify as an evangelical “traditionalist.” Why? Because rather than focusing her energies on the single passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans used by antigay members of the religious right, she might instead take seriously the over 2,000 biblical verses relating to poverty and spend her time developing micro-enterprise lending programs in poor countries or advocating increased foreign aid. But she might not qualify as a “modernist” since she could easily disagree that all world religions contained the same truth. This person, like other religious conservatives with socially progressive views, falls below the radar.
Another reference to the Suskind article, this time with a good point that I completely missed:
Suskind’s article does a great disservice to progressive religion. Rather than illustrate why the theology emanating from the White House is rotten from a religious standpoint, Suskind uses all of the muddied definitions of the word “faith” interchangeably—from the most technical to the most prosaic. Purposefully or not, he leads his largely secular, liberal, and affluent audience to indulge their deepest and least rational fears: Every American believer is a potential King Canute, confessing a higher power today and telling the sea to turn back tomorrow. (Steve Waldman wrote more about George Bush as spiritual hallmark in this “Faith-Based” article.)
In other words, Bush is giving his fellow evangelicals a bad name, as another Slate article discusses.
Finally, Breyer issues a call to progressives to get out there and be heard, in the name of battling oversimplification of faith and politics:
[A]t a time when, as Jim Wallis puts it, the answer for many “is not less religion, but better religion,” the general public as well as the person in the pew is entitled to a more thoughtful, nuanced understanding of the potential of religious belief along with its pitfalls.
And I think we can all get behind that. What we need here is more nuance. Ironically, what we as atheists would probably appreciate is more religious voices to be heard, this time from the ones with whom we’re more likely to be able to live in peace.