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Progressing the Faith

Totalitarianism was the political continuation of war by other means. It uniformed and militarized its mass electoral following, while depriving voters generally of their electoral rights, exciting their lowest political instincts and marginalizing and menacing all internal opposition.

—John Keegan, The First World War


I’m tired of people thinking that because I’m a Christian, I must be a supporter of President Bush, or that because I favor civil rights and gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I’m tired of people saying that I can’t support the troops but oppose the war.

This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can turn things around are people like you—young people who are just beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It’s your country to take back. It’s your faith to take back. It’s your future to take back.

Don’t be afraid to speak out. Don’t back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut.

Real Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims, and real Hindus, and real Buddhists—so do all the faith traditions of the world which at their heart believe one thing: life is precious.

—The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers*

Here’s the double standard that really gets to me:

It’s pretty much the norm now for conservative, evangelical pastors to hawk their political convictions from their pulpits, in their writings and on their Christian radio stations.

But let a progressive Christian pastor—such as Robin Meyers—speak from the pulpit on some political issue or another and there’s a good chance that he or she will hear that standard complaint: Faith and politics do not—and should not—mix. It’s just not “nice.”

But progressive people of all faith traditions just can’t afford to make nice while the religious right makes policy. And that’s what’s happening—precisely because faith and politics actually do mix.

Take the last election—please. The religious right managed to redefine “moral issues” as certain acceptable sets of behavior, colonized both Hebrew and Christian scriptures to proof-text its position on these “moral issues” and then made adherence to them the litmus test of the faithful. Then it celebrated President Bush’s victory as God’s proof-positive that moral principle was once again ascendant in the White House.

Take the Terry Schiavo fiasco. Republicans and the religious right have been able to exploit her shamelessly as what Hendrik Hertzberg in this week’s New Yorker calls “a metaphor in the religio-cultural struggle over abortion.”

If her death is termed, as Rep. Tom DeLay would have it, murder, then the right gains a loaded word it can use in its campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade. Strategy is everything.

Take the Ohio Restoration Project and its strategy for “moral” power.

This is a plan to recruit 2,000 so-called Patriot Pastors. Their job will be to endorse conservative causes and register half a million new voters. The project will help keep these new converts energized with voter guides, rallies and “e-prayer” networks.

The project’s initial goal is to elect Kenneth J. Blackwell, Ohio’s current secretary of state, as governor. He will join a host of high-profile Christian conservatives—the Rev. Franklin Graham, Dr. James Dobson (of recent SpongeBob SquarePants fame), Charles Colson—at the statewide Ohio For Jesus rally next spring.

The rationale for all this faith-based activity is that the Republican Party in Ohio is out of touch with its core values; now it’s up to the church militant to get it back on the right track.

If that sounds far-fetched, think again. This is a state where religious conservatives managed a narrow win for President Bush and pushed through the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and not an easily ruffled man, has some real concerns about the Ohio Restoration Project.

“This represents a new wave in organizing on the part of conservative evangelicals,” Lynn said. “From my standpoint, as someone who doesn’t agree with their conclusions, this is a more dangerous model.”

But the danger doesn’t simply lie with the project’s methods and initiatives. In fact the danger is not simply the strength and organization in the religious right.

The danger is also in the apparent reticence of political and religious progressives to speak out—and mobilize against—the strength and organization of the religious right.

Voices like Dr. Robin Meyers are few and far between. Progressive pastors are too often ham-strung by the double standard that says it’s okay for conservative pastors to be political, but when progressives pastors do they are being subversive, un-American, insensitive to their listeners.

Because of this double-standard, I’ve known committed and strong-willed pastors who sometimes find it safer to tread lightly around certain topics: sexuality for one, war for another, the politicized religious right, for a third. But in doing so, they weaken and betray their own religious convictions.

Albert Camus, who knew something about what it was like to speak out against the prevailing regime, made the more sage than simple comment, “There are no innocent bystanders.”

Progressive people in all faith traditions can’t afford to wash their hands of politics. It never goes well for those who wash their hands of things.

The more that progressives try to marginalize or laugh away the religious right, the more they unwittingly give it space to grow.

The more progressive pastors are silent about what the Christian right is doing, the more they endorse it as the only Christian game in town.

And unless more progressive people of all faith traditions get braver about taking more public and political stands, it may well be the only politically-concerned Christian voice that gets heard.

—Jo Page

*For a copy of the full transcript of Dr. Meyer’s address, e-mail

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