Monday, June 27, 2005

New "Religious Left" Group Attacks Dems and the Left

I regret having to say this, but the Christian Alliance for Progress is off to an inauspicious start.

The new organization, presenting itself as a voice of the "Religious Left" has received some national and international press coverage, and it has set out some well articulated issue statements from a progressive Christian perspective. It says it wants to form a national progressive grassroots political organization. It has also been duly denounced by the Christian Right.


But there is one really big problem.


The group's Director of Religious Affairs and principal spokesperson, Reverend Timothy F. Simpson, thinks and acts just like a leader of the Christian Right in one important respect. He publicly accuses the Democratic Party and "the left" of being anti-religious and suppressing religious expression.  It is a baseless accusation and I hope he will abandon it.


In an interview with The American Prospect, here is what Simpson said:  


"One of the great problems of the Democratic Party," he said, "is that the 5 percent or so [of its members] who don't want any religious rhetoric at all, and who do not represent the mainstream of American political or religious life, have been allowed to call the cadence in the [party]. And when that happens, Democrats get their butts kicked. Because people in this country are believers."


"For Republicans and Democrats, he said, openness to religion 'is clearly the winning strategy in this, the most religious of the Western industrial democracies. You just cannot ask people to check their faith at the door of the public-policy arena and expect to resonate with any significant segment of the electorate, because that's not where people are. And folks on the left have just got to deal with that.'"


"Simpson characterized Democrats who are opposed to the injection of religion into politics as 'extremists,' saying that he can call for more religion to influence politics while still advocating a clear separation between church and state."


"'What we think the extremists in the Democratic Party fear, and rightly so, is a Christian takeover,' he said. 'We're trying to emulate the style of [the Reverend Martin Luther] King, which is more to speak to the government than to become the government -- which is what the folks on the right are doing."


I am particularly struck by Simpson's claim that "extremists" are calling the shots with regard to religion in the Democratic Party.  Its a curious, and I think reckless use of the term.


The press release announcing the formation of Christian Alliance for Progress denounced "the extreme rhetoric and political agenda of the Religious Right."  The organization's foundational Jacksonville Statement further denounces the "extremist political goals" of the Christian Right. If the leaders of the Democratic Party are extremist and the Christian Right is extremist, what does extremist really mean?


Rhetoric aside, the simple fact is that religion and religious expression has never been banished from the Democratic Party and Simpson presents no evidence that it has.  Who is this supposed group that has "called the cadence" in the party with regard to religion?  And who are these "extremists" and in exactly what ways are they extreme?


Perhaps at this point you are thinking, well, maybe Simpson was misquoted or having a bad day. Unfortunately, he said similar things at a press conference at the National Press Club on the occasion of the public launch of the Christian Alliance for Progress.  Here is a quote from, the nationally syndicated Knight-Ridder newspapers account:


"Simpson said at the Press Club launch, 'There is a sector of folks on the left that have been enormously vocal about (stressing secularism), that have shouted down the vast majority of folks on the left who are people of faith, who do believe in God.'"


This, friends, is hokum.


Simpson has no evidence that the Democratic Party or anyone in it is opposed to religion or its expression in public life. There is also no evidence that more secular people on the Left have "shouted down" anyone from the Religious Left. (It has certainly never been my experience.)


Could the Democratic Party (and for that matter, all other sectors of society, handle the matter of religion better? Why yes, as a matter of fact it could. But Simpson's divisive rhetoric is no help at all.


Simpson seems to have internalized one of the central message frames of the Christian Right of the past quarter century. (I discussed this frame in detail in chapter 8 of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and some of the problems that result.)  


For all of the good things the Christian Alliance for Progress stands for and has set out to do, it will gain little traction if one of its main themes is to attack Democrats and the Left as anti-religion and engaging in suppression of religious expression.  We already have plenty of people who do that. We call them the leaders of the Christian Right.


[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]

5 Comments:

Blogger Sunfell said...

Oh, good grief- that really saddens me. It looked like they had a good thing going, and then he had to put his foot in it.

I like how "Tikkun" is handling the Dominionist situation- by creating a "Network of Religious Progressives", who understand that sometimes the voice of the extreme left has drowned out other progressive voices, especially in the realm of religion. Their "Core Vision" talks about this in eloquent language.

http://www.tikkun.org/core_vision

"We believe that many of the secular movements that exist in the world today actually have deep spiritual underpinnings, but often they are themselves unaware of those foundations, unable or unwilling to articulate them and sometimes even holding a knee-jerk antagonism to explicit spiritual or religious language. This antagonism limits their effectiveness, though it derives from legitimate anger at the way that the language of spirituality and religion has been sometimes used to justify war, oppression, sexism, racism, homophobia, ecological indifference, or insensitivity to the suffering of the poor and the homeless of the world.

...

At the same time, we will challenge the lack of a spiritual dimension in the agendas of our allies in progressive social change movements. That gap has allowed the Right to present itself as the force that cares about spiritual issues. And the Left’s failure to address spirituality has led many to believe their hunger for a larger framework of meaning and purpose must be separated from their involvement with social transformation."


The whole thing is worth a read. Also, in discussions on my Live Journal community, someone made the comment that what distinguishes Dominionists from your standard Christians (including evangelicals and fundementalists) is that they are actively seeking to make old (and new) testement scripture the law of the land, and do not distinguish between the Kingom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Earth. This difference and distinction is critical, and helpful in evaluating groups and individuals as to their religious intentions in the public sphere.

Thoughts?

11:35 AM  
Blogger Chip Berlet said...

I think that Tikkun and Sojourners (with Jim Wallis) both are trying hard to develop respectful yet critical language. This is an area where Talk to Action can make a real contribution.

12:15 PM  
Blogger William Ramsey said...

Thank you, sunfell, for those quotes and the link. There are indeed deep spiritual foundations for the scientific enterprise that most modern scientists and their allies have lost the ability to articulate. Einstein's "comsic religious feeling" needs to be cultivated and given rhetorical form. As for Christian Reconstructionists, they differ from mainstream Christians in that they are "Post-millenialists" rather than "pre-mils." They believe that Jesus will return only AFTER mankind has implemented Godly rule. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have seen that doctrine put to work in violent acts against those who are seen as standing in the way of a godly society and, hence, Christ's return. In my town of Moscow, ID, Benjamin Matthew Williams took the Reconstructionist message to heart and on the road, where he proudly killed an elderly gay couple in Sacramento. CA and bombed three synagogues in order to clear the way for the return of Jesus.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

"Today there are new fundamentalists in the land. These are the "secular fundamentalists" many of whom attack all political figures who dare to speak from their religious convictions. From the Anti-Defamation League, to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, to the ACLU and some of the political left's most religion-fearing publications, a cry of alarm has gone up in response to anyone who has the audacity to be religious in public. These secular skeptics often display an amazing lapse of historical memory when they suggest that religious language in politics is contrary to the American "ideal". The truth is just the opposite...."

From "God's Politics" (page 69) by Jim Wallis of Sojourner's

1:39 PM  
Blogger Liberator_Rev said...

Friends,

As a veteran of 8 years of doing battle on the www with the Religious Right on behalf of the "Religious Left", I beg to differ with the the writer who characterizes Simpson's position as "hokum". I'm not yet affiliated with Simpson, but his experiences ring plenty of bells with me.

"Simpson said at the Press Club launch, 'There is a sector of folks on the left that have been enormously vocal about (stressing secularism), that have shouted down the vast majority of folks on the left who are people of faith, who do believe in God.'"

This, friends, is hokum.

Simpson has no evidence that the Democratic Party or anyone in it is opposed to religion or its expression in public life. There is also no evidence that more secular people on the Left have "shouted down" anyone from the Religious Left. (It has certainly never been my experience.)"


I have PLENTY of experience of being repeatedly rejected by the seemingly secular leadership of the Democratic Party. Although my web site has been trying to PROMOTE Liberalism and the Democratic Party to the extent that it is Liberal for 8 years, I have yet to find a truly responsive person in a position of real leadership. The most I have gotten is ONE positive note, but then no follow up.

I have been trying to get the Democratic Party to wake up to the fact that the truth and morality and the teaching of Jesus Christ are all ON THEIR SIDE, and they ought to CLAIM the moral high ground that 75 years of doing the right thing has earned for them. I have tried to wake them up to the fact that 75% of U.S. voters self-identify as "Christians" and letting the Greedy Old Party get away with their empty claim of being more Christian is idiotic. I show them on my web site how to rip the phoney Jesus mask off of the G.O.P. I have even designed a web page that Democratic office-holders and candidates could make a part of their own official web sites; and not a ONE has taken me up on the offer.

Although I was one of the few self-identified Christian clergy at the Democratic Underground, I have been banned from that supposedly liberal Democratic forum, because I dared to point out that the Roman Catholic establishment is NOT on OUR side. "Pro-Life" Democrats who defend the Catholic Church's attacks on Kerry were welcomed their, while I was banned without warning, without an explanation, after Kerry's defeat, without an opportunity to return.

If anybody cares to discuss these matters or my web sites www.LiberalsLikeChrist.Org & JesusNoRepublican.Org with me, I can be reached at

Ray@LiberalsLikeChrist.Org

7:34 PM  

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