June 29, 2005

A Progressive Framing of the Separation of Church and State

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 4:34 pm

An article in The New Republic lays out a strategy for Democrats to win on the religion issue. In it, Kenneth Baer criticizes the knee jerk reaction of Democrats to political excesses of the Christian right: hit them over the head with the Establishment Clause.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of the separation of Church and State, and I suspect Baer is too. But Baer’s point is that it puts us progressives on the wrong side of the religion debate, making us appear to be anti-religion, which plays right into the hands of the conservative Christians. He has a better alternative: reach out to Christian moderates by talking about religious pluralism.

Less than a year since Bush’s reelection, evangelicals–in fights over judges, abortion, end-of-life care, stem-cell research, and the legal status of gays–have made clear they want their views written into law. But as seen in the dwindling popularity of the House Republicans after the opening rounds of these battles, there is a religious middle–faithful and tolerant, God-fearing and fully aware of their own human fallibility–that is searching for a political home. Adopting the mantle of religious pluralism, as opposed to accepting the mantle of secularism with which they are so often tagged, will allow Democrats to reach these voters–if, that is, the brand of pluralism they push is an affirmative one that acknowledges the contributions different faiths bring to the public square.

I think Baer is on to something here. Anyone speaking of religion in the first person (“my faith tells me that…”) is placing themselves on God’s side. When progressives object by saying that such religious speech is inappropriate, they are appearing to stand in opposition to God and those on his side.

In reaction to this dynamic, some have counseled Democrats to also speak about their faith. The problem with this tactic is that it seems forced or insincere, or else it turns into dueling religiosity, a game which conservatives are often going to win.

Instead, Democrats should speak about faith in the second person. “Your faith is very personal, and very important to you. You should be allowed to worship God as you choose. No one in government should infringe on your freedom to pray and to worship as you wish and when you wish. Government must be restrained because your religious beliefs and practices are too important to you. Your relationship with God is too important to you.”

Or, Democrats should speak about faith in the third person. “I understand that you are comfortable with Christian proselytizing in the Air Force Academy. But what about your Jewish neighbor, your Muslim co-worker? They cherish their religious tradition, and are sincere in their religious beliefs. Should they have no place in America’s Air Force?”

This frames the issue in a way that is hard for conservative Christians to argue with. After all, “conservative” used to mean anti-government, back before conservatives gained control over much of it. This is putting voters on God’s side, and any government endorsement of a particular religion is putting the government in opposition to God.

Most importantly, this argument isn’t just cynical spin, but the reason the Establishment Clause was written into the Bill of Rights to start with. Allowing government to intrude into the practice of religion is tyranny in the one area of our lives that deserves the most protection from it.

Bush's Iraq Speech: Missing the Point

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 4:27 pm

In his Iraq speech Tuesday night, Bush made the case that we must stay in Iraq instead of withdrawing before the job is done. Well of course. It would be immoral for the US, having created the current situation in Iraq, to leave the country in worse shape than we found it. We must at a minimum stay until Iraq’s new government has half a chance to survive instead of sliding back into a dictatorship run by a neo-Saddam.

But this misses the point. The reason for the decline in Bush’s approval ratings is due to Americans’ dawning realization that the original decision to attack was a bad one. The fact that we can’t correct this misjudgement by just pulling our troops out makes its cost that much greater. Americans will be paying for this bad decision for years to come. The Iraq war is not just a phenomenal mistake, it’s a mistake that, along with the budget deficit, future Presidents will have to clean up.

We now know that the original rationale for the war, Iraq’s possession of WMD, was baseless. We also know that Iraq’s connection to Osama bin Laden was also non-existent. No matter how often he repeats it, Iraq was not a response to 9/11.

Last night Bush again justified the invasion because it’s better to fight the terrorists there rather than fight them here. Of course the terrorists must be thinking how much easier it is to kill Americans in Iraq rather than having to come to the US. And kill they have – the number of Americans killed in Iraq will be the equivalent of another 9/11 attack before we’re done. Bush told us that Iraq is a major terrorist stronghold, but didn’t mention that it wasn’t a terrorist stronghold before we attacked.

Bush also justified the invasion because we are bringing democracy to the Middle East. This is the minimum result we should expect given the cost in money and lives of the invasion. But this is just a restatement of why we can’t leave anytime soon. If Iraq is not left with a stable democracy, it will devolve into theocracy or worse.

The fact is that Bush can’t state the truth: the invasion was a mistake, but a mistake we are stuck with for years to come.

Christianity has long had two schools of thought regarding war: pacifism, and the doctrine of Just War. I am sympathetic to pacifism, but fall more in the Just War camp. However, the Iraq War is unjust by either doctrine. Among the criteria for a just war is that it must be a last resort, undertaken only after all peaceful solutions have been exhausted, a test that this war clearly fails.

The doctrine of Just War not only protects potential victims of war, but also the potential purveyors of war. Adherence to a Just War doctrine would have prevented the Bush administration from making a serious mistake with long-reaching ramifications. Just War doctrine would have protected Bush from his own worst instincts. Unfortunately, it is too late for that now.

June 27, 2005

Christian Alliance for Progress Launches

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:05 pm

I don’t know how I missed it, but the newly formed Christian Alliance for Progress, the “Moveon.org for moderate and liberal Christians”, had their national launch last week. This very cool organization was founded earlier this year by a Jacksonville, FL, businessman and Christian, Pat Mrotek, and its leadership includes PCUSA pastor and fellow blogger, Tim Simpson. (Tim, aka Public Theologian, is now also blogging for the Christian Alliance for Progress, along with several of my favorite progressive Christian bloggers, FP, Carlos and Father Jake.)

Take a look here for a quick video of what the Christian Alliance for Progress is all about.

Last week, they held two press conferences, one in Washington D.C. and another in Jacksonville. Their story was picked up by some of the national media, including the American Prospect.

Deep in the heart of the reddest county in a red state, a new grass-roots movement is taking shape that means to break the religious right’s hold on the rhetoric of Christianity by developing a network of activists on the “Christian left” that can be mobilized to support progressive causes.

The Reverend Timothy F. Simpson, a Presbyterian minister and the group’s director of religious affairs, said in an interview Wednesday that the Christian left has for too long allowed the Christian right to be the public face of his religion in America. “The language of our faith has been placed in the service of policy ends that don’t reflect the Gospel, and we have become deeply troubled over that,” he said.

The Christian right, he says, in the persons of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson, has come to stand for bigotry, intolerance, and division. Simpson says that his organization will try to repair the damage done by the right’s insistence that the United States is a “Christian nation” that ought to be governed according to their narrow interpretation of Scripture.

FP has all the details on the launch here at Faithful Progressive. To get involved, take a look at the Christian Alliance for Progress website, where you will be able to join the movement, sign the Jacksonville Declaration, and share your story. Oh, and you can give them money, too.

June 26, 2005

Tom Cruise, Religious Extremist

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:25 am

I have stuck pretty much to Christianity and politics on this blog, so this topic may seem like a stretch. But Tom Cruise’s public statements on the perils of psychiatry show that the Abrahamic religions don’t corner the market on extremism.

Extremism has its roots in seeing the world as you think it should be rather than as it is. The anti-Bush blog slogan “reality-based” is no accident. The neo-cons and the Christian right depart from reality and see the way things ought to be, rather than the way things are. Not that progressive Christians don’t have a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, but we are very much grounded in the reality of human need and suffering and the fact that we are all part Cain and part Abel.

Which brings me to Tom Cruise. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of his interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, where Matt Lauer was trying to get Cruise to address the fact that anti-depressants seem to help some people.

Lauer: You’re telling me what’s worked for people I know or hasn’t worked for people I know. I’m telling you, I’ve lived with these people and they’re better.

Cruise: So, you’re advocating it.

Lauer: I am not. I’m telling you in their case, in their individual case, it worked. I am not gonna go out and say, “Get your kids on Ritalin. It’s the cure-all and the end-all.”

Cruise: Matt, but here’s the point. What is the ideal scene for life? Okay. The ideal scene is someone not having to take antipsychotic drugs.

Lauer: I would agree.

Cruise: Okay. So, now you look at a departure from that ideal scene, is someone taking drugs, okay. And then you go, okay. What is the theory and the science behind that, that justifies that?

He is seeing the world as he thinks it should be rather than as it is. Since the ideal is that no one should have to take psychiatric drugs, then no one should. This view of the world as it should be is based in Cruise’s belief in Scientology, which purports to be a religion. So Cruise qualifies as a religious extremist in my book.

But you see, my wife and I must live in the real world. We are forced to be reality-based, unlike Scientologists. My wife has bipolar disorder. She has an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, cousins, nephews that all suffered or are suffering today from bipolar disorder. The genetic cause of this disease is well established, as is the efficacy of Lithium and other anti-cyclic, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs, and of modern electro-convulsive therapy.

Tom Cruise has never stayed up all night with a depressed and suicidal person because he was afraid to stop his suicide watch to sleep. Tom Cruise has never been with someone that talked non-stop for hours without ever completing a thought. Tom Cruise has not seen the tears, the anguish, the hopelessness caused by this disease, nor the psychotic euphoria and loss of judgement caused by this disease. But in the infinite wisdom of his religious extremism, Cruise says:

I’ve never agreed with psychiatry, ever. Before I was a Scientologist I never agreed with psychiatry. And when I started studying the history of psychiatry, I understood more and more why I didn’t believe in psychology.

And as far as the Brooke Shields thing, look, you got to understand, I really care about Brooke Shields. I think, here’s a wonderful and talented woman. And I want to see her do well. And I know that psychiatry is a pseudo science.


No, you see. Here’s the problem. You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.


All it does is mask the problem, Matt. And if you understand the history of it, it masks the problem. That’s what it does. That’s all it does. You’re not getting to the reason why. There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.


But what happens, the antidepressant, all it does is mask the problem. There’s ways, [with] vitamins and through exercise and various things… I’m not saying that that isn’t real. That’s not what I’m saying. That’s an alteration of what I’m saying. I’m saying that drugs aren’t the answer, these drugs are very dangerous. They’re mind-altering, antipsychotic drugs. And there are ways of doing it without that so that we don’t end up in a brave new world. The thing that I’m saying about Brooke is that there’s misinformation, okay. And she doesn’t understand the history of psychiatry. She doesn’t understand in the same way that you don’t understand it, Matt.

Cruise speaks of that which he does not know. He says that psychiatry is a pseudo-science, even though every drug approved by the FDA goes through extensive double-blind clinical trials. Have Scientology’s methods gone through any kind of clinical trial, ever? The hypocrisy is stunning.

Cruise implies the field of psychiatry is invalidated by its history. Is all of medicine invalidated by the past practice of bleeding? My wife doesn’t have the luxury of dismissing psychiatry because of its past. Unlike Cruise, she lives in the present.

Drugs mask the problem? You’re damn right they mask the problem, and thanks to God that they do. Drugs are mind-altering? Of course. If your mind is ill, it must be altered to be healed. Anti-psychotic? Of course. If one is psychotic, then one needs an anti-psychotic.

Brooke Shields doesn’t understand the history of psychiatry? Tom Cruise doesn’t understand the day-to-day reality of mental illness.

Today my wife is happy, accomplished and well. She is so because of the psychiatric drugs she takes every day. If it weren’t for psychiatry, she would be dead. And that is not the way things ought to be.

Update: Some good satire on the Lauer interview. Also, a WaPo column. It doesn’t seem anyone is running to Cruise’s defense.

June 25, 2005

Focus on the AF Academy: Wonderland

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 12:44 am

From a Chicago Tribune article on the report on religious harassment at the Air Force Academy:

Focus on the Family Vice President Tom Minnery said his group hoped the report would put an end to the controversy.

“We fervently hope that this ridiculous bias of a few against the religion of the majority–Christianity–will now cease,” Minnery said. “All along it has been an absurd notion that a campus with chaplains and a chapel must somehow bottle up religion. Academy cadets are trained to render the ultimate sacrifice, and should be encouraged to grapple with life’s ultimate meaning, not harassed when they do so.”

As bad as Rep. Hostettler’s “moth to flames” remark on the floor of the House was, I could shrug it off as just more Republican over-the-top political hyperbole. But this statement by this Minnery guy has me wondering if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

“…ridiculous bias of a few…” So for a Jewish person to ask to not be called a “filthy jew” is bias? What kind of crazy world is this? What is this bias Minnery speaks of?

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

“…against the religion of the majority–Christianity…” How many Christians at the Air Force Academy have been harassed at the Academy because of their religion? I know of one – the Lutheran pastor, Rev. Melinda Morton, who was disciplined for speaking up about routine religious harassment of non-evangelicals.

`What size do you want to be?’ it asked.

`Oh, I’m not particular as to size,’ Alice hastily replied; `only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.’

`I don’t know,’ said the Caterpillar.

Alice said nothing: she had never been so much contradicted in her life before, and she felt that she was losing her temper.

“…it has been an absurd notion that a campus…must somehow bottle up religion.” If Notre Dame can make non-Catholics feel welcome there, why can’t the Air Force Academy, a government-run institution, do the same for non-evangelicals? Respecting your fellow students and tolerating different beliefs isn’t bottling up your religion. It’s good manners. It’s treating others as you would have them treat you. It’s Christian.

`I didn’t know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn’t know that cats could grin.’

`They all can,’ said the Duchess; `and most of ’em do.’

`I don’t know of any that do,’ Alice said very politely, feeling quite pleased to have got into a conversation.

`You don’t know much,’ said the Duchess; `and that’s a fact.’

“Academy cadets…should be encouraged to grapple with life’s ultimate meaning…” How can a cadet grapple with life’s ultimate meaning when they see a banner everyday for “Team Jesus Christ”? Grappling means thinking through alternatives, not being told what to think by your professors and coaches.

`I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.’

“…not harassed when they do so.” Harassed? You can’t be harassed when the entire institutional power of the Academy is on your side. You can’t be harassed when you are part of the overwhelming majority.

`Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

`No, no!’ said the Queen. `Sentence first–verdict afterwards.’

`Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!’

Of course Focus on the Family is a next door neighbor to the Air Force Academy, so Minnery is part of the same insular Colorado Springs arch-conservative Christian culture as the worst offenders at the Academy. But how can a spokesperson for an international organization like Focus on the Family get away with saying something that completely turns the truth on it’s head? That turns the Constitution on its head? That turns Christianity on its head? Has the world gone mad?

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

(All quotes from Alice in Wonderland from here.)

June 23, 2005

Amy Sullivan Blogs for Beliefnet

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:11 am

Amy Sullivan’s guest blog this week at Beliefnet is definitely worth a look. One notable quote about liberal Christians:

We’ve all heard the observation that the more often a voter attends church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The implication is that good people of faith have left the Democratic party and that Democrats themselves, if they do still attend church, are spiritual slackers. It’s clearly more complicated than that. For one thing, as religion and politics have become more closely entwined on the right, individual churches have become more explicitly political and conservative. In other words, it may not be that liberal Christians left churches but that a number of their churches left them.

I first came across Amy Sullivan when I read her article on the Christian left a few months back in Salon. I meant to write a post on it, but somehow didn’t get around to it. But I was struck by how in tune she seemed with we poor progressive Christian bloggers bravely battling the merger between our religion and the Republican party. She wrote:

The decline and fall of the religious left has been so complete that news organizations regularly conflate terms like “religious voters” and “moral values” with “right-wing,” without a second thought. When Time magazine recently ran an article about Democratic religious outreach efforts, the piece concluded with the thought, “Religious voters might like the music, but they’re unlikely to be seduced by it as long as Democrats stick to their core positions,” as if religious Americans could only support the Democratic Party by putting their faith aside, not because of their faith.

[M]illions of Americans, outraged by post-election assumptions that “moral issues” are defined exclusively as conservative concerns, are hungry for a way to mobilize their religious progressive numbers.

Sounded a lot like me and my raison d’blog. Since then, I ran across her in The New Republic, and have now stumbled across her blog this week on Beliefnet. Having read her background there, her point of view now makes sense: she is an ex-Baptist Episcopalian Harvard Divinity School graduate who worked on Tom Daschle’s staff.

Something to watch for – she has written a review of a couple books chronicling the decline of mainline church membership for American Prospect (not yet available online for non-subscribers.) She quotes her article in her blog:

The real trouble starts when liberal Christians try to find a church to attend. Their options are not good, as those of us who have church-shopped know. Non-evangelical churches have been shrinking over the past few decades–each of the five mainline Protestant denominations lost between 6 and 12 percent of its membership between 1990 and 2000–and for good reason. Far too often, these churches offer lackluster worship. Or, in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to differentiate themselves from fundamentalist Christianity, they strip away religious mystery, lessen the demands of faith, and sprinkle services with interpretative dance, drumming circles, or gender-neutral hymns that avoid “God the Father.” If such churches fail to meet their spiritual needs, liberal Christians can take their chances with more conservative churches. But they risk hearing–as the pastor at my childhood Baptist church declared last summer–that it is impossible to be both a good Christian and a Democrat.

I take exception to the statement about lackluster worship at mainline churches – I find the worship at my Lutheran church is not lacking in luster. But, I’ll wait to read her entire review before getting defensive about her critique.

Regardless, it’s nice to see a writer in the msm echoing so much of what I and other progressive Christian bloggers have been saying.

June 21, 2005

Is God Male?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:17 am

Sunday’s LA Times had an editorial by Dennis Prager on the issue of gender-neutral language when speaking of God. Prager asks the question:

Why do Judeo-Christian religions insist on God being a father and not a mother? Is it still important to use masculine images and vocabulary to describe God?

It’s nice to hear a conservative like Prager concede the obvious:

To begin with, let us make it clear that nowhere in biblical thought is God a man in the sense of being a larger-than-life male with testes. The Bible that introduced this God to humanity depicts God as sexually neuter. In fact, the God of the Bible is the first god in history entirely devoid of sexual characteristics or sexual behavior.

Regrettably, some disagree with this statement of the genderless nature of God.

Prager argues, however, that God should be described as a “He” because:

…God is the source of moral rules. As the feminist thinker Carole Gilligan argued years ago, men think more in terms of rules, and women think more in terms of feelings/compassion/ intuition. There is a great human need for both. But, first and foremost, the Judeo-Christian God is a moral ruler (giver of moral rules and moral judge of humanity), and neither men nor women want to be given rules or ruled by a woman. For both men and women, the masculine image carries an authority that the feminine one does not.

This is a classic statement of the Strict Father frame of conservative politics as described by George Lakoff. If you buy in to the Strict Father instead of the Nurturing Parent frame, then Prager’s argument will seem self-evident. But if you instead think in terms of a Nurturing Parent as I do, this argument is non-sensical.

First, God as primarily a moral ruler removed from the God of grace is not my God. Second, the statement that humans don’t want to be ruled by a woman is sexism masquerading as a statement of fact. Prager’s argument is circular: God is a rule-giver, and rule-givers are thought of as male, therefore God should be thought of as male. If you don’t already accept his conclusion, you aren’t going to accept either of his premises.

Prager gives more arguments for male-God language, all relying on a sexist perspective and Strict Father frame to justify God-as-male languange. What’s interesting is that all of his arguments acknowledge that speaking of God as male is merely convention, not theology. He accepts that God is above and beyond gender, but is arguing that male language regarding God is the most effective way for humans to speak about God.

But what if it isn’t, at least for some people? Maybe God-as-male does work for many Christians, and I wouldn’t want to dictate to them how they should speak of God. But if God-as-male becomes a stumbling block for someone in understanding and following God, then it needs to go, at least for them. God-as-male feels hurtful to many women (and some men too), echoing the oppressiveness of our historically male-dominated society. If this language is just a convention, then it is an adiaphoron, something that is open to change based on the needs of a particular congregation or congregant.

My only rationale for using male language regarding God is that Jesus called God his father. For this reason, and only this reason, I am comfortable with the trinitarian formula of “God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. But thinking of God the Creator as neither male, nor female, but incorporating and transcending both, helps my understanding of God and my relationship with God. God is both grace and law, compassion and justice, truth and light, and yes, male and female. And importantly, much, much more than male and female. Speaking of God as merely male is forcing God into our little mental box instead of expanding our understanding of God to understand God as God truly is.

June 17, 2005

Danforth on the Christian Right

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 3:38 pm

All I can say is that I wish I had written this, that I were capable of writing this. I wish I could so succinctly and clearly state the objections of moderate and progressive Christians to the Christian right and their involvement in politics.

John Danforth, a Republican, a former Senator and an ordained Episcopal priest has an opinion piece in the NY Times today.

Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to “put God back” into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

I agree with every word, and encourage you to read it all.

(Hat tip to Jay Martin, martinjg[at]flash[dot]net.)

June 16, 2005

When You Say Evangelical Do You Really Mean Evangelish?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:05 pm

In an otherwise well-written piece, the WaPo article by Alan Cooperman I reference in my previous post contains a sentence that has me confused. In the context of burgeoning cooperation between conservative Christians and not-so-conservative Christians, Jews and Muslims, the article has this seeming non-sequitir:

Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are moving quickly toward full communion, which would allow them to swap clergy and recognize one another’s sacraments.

First, the statement is a bit misleading. The ELCA has had full communion with the ECUSA and with Reformed churches such as the PCUSA and the UCC for years now. What is news is that the ELCA is rapidly moving towards the same relationship with the UMC.

But what really confuses me is that this statement seems meant to support Alan Cooperman’s thesis that liberal and evangelical Christians are coming together. Could it be that Cooperman is confusing “evangelical” in the name of the ELCA with “evangelical” as in the NAE?

From Wikipedia:

Evangelical has several distinct meanings:

[1] In its original sense, it means belonging or related to the Gospel (Greek: euangelion – good news) of the New Testament.

[2] In the United States, it usually refers to adherents of Evangelicalism.

[3] In Europe, especially in the German speaking and nordic countries, Evangelical (evangelisch) is a general designation for churches adhering to beliefs of the Reformation, e.g. Evangelical Lutheran Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, or Evangelical Methodist Church, in contrast to Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. In this sense, it comprises everything from a liberal state church to a conservative free church in the Baptist or Pietist tradition.

Given that the “evangelical” in ELCA takes meaning number three, this sentence in Cooperman’s article is just describing the ecumenical rapproachement of three liberal, mainline Protestant denominations. It has nothing to do with “evangelicals” as in meaning number two.

I suppose confusing meanings two and three is an easy mistake, but one that I would hope a writer at a top tier newspaper writing on religion wouldn’t make. Or am I just misinterpreting Cooperman’s meaning?

I’ve emailed him asking whether he goofed, or if it’s just that I’m not getting his point. I will let you know if I hear back. In the meantime, I’m thinking the Germans are on to something. Continuing with the Wikipedia article:

However, in German there are now two words used which are commonly translated “Evangelical”: “evangelisch” meaning Protestant, and more narrowly the Lutheran and Reformed churches, and “evangelikal”, pertaining to Evangelicalism.

So in English, I suppose it would be “evangelish” for the ELCA vs. “evangelical” for the NAE. While it would avoid confusion, I don’t think “evangelish” is going to catch on.

WaPo: Christian Right Moves to Center

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 1:38 pm

An article in the Washington Post describes the trend of those on the religious left and the religious right looking for common ground and working together.

“For 25 years, evangelicals involved in conservative politics and mainline denominations involved in liberal politics really have been adversaries, both in politics and in the free market of ideas, and that continues because we have very different visions of religion in American public life, and very different views of the Constitution, and very different views on some core issues,” he said.

“But right now on abortion, poverty, gay issues, the environment, there’s a lot of talk about crossing the lines and finding common ground. There are elements of a common vision, but not yet common policy or legislative proposals.”

This is good news. As the religious right has increasingly gotten in bed with the Republican party, the accumulation of political power has seemed more important than doing God’s work. It looks as though at least some conservative Christians are stepping back from the abyss. Of course this trend may fizzle, or may turn out to be several random events rather than a new direction for the religious right. But this is promising.

I am left wondering what has caused this trend. The progressive Christian and Emergent blogosphere has been calling for a move by the Christian right towards the center. Could we be having an impact? As much as I’d like to take credit for these developments, I suspect that the progressive Christian blogs are as much a symptom of over-reaching by the politico-Christian right as they are a cause of any pull back.

This search for common ground has been a central theme of Jim Wallis‘ for some time, and other Evangelicals such as Tony Campolo and Ron Sider have long been calling for change. More recently, Ted Haggard at the NAE and the purpose-driven Rick Warren have embraced issues outside the Big 2 of the Christian right, abortion and gays. As visible Evangelical leaders, they surely are having an impact. But again, are the critiques from these moderating voices a symptom of excesses on the right, or the cause for this movement back to the center?

WaPo puts forward two potential answers to the question of why this is occurring. First, crass politics:

Some observers view all this aisle-crossing mainly as political positioning.

“There’s a kind of pulling back from religious war,” said Mark R. Silk, director of the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. “But I don’t think one should overlook the self-interest of both sides, at this moment, in positioning themselves as willing to compromise and work with the other side.”

“On the left, they need to show they have a religious bone in their body. On the right, they have to prove their vaunted values are not limited to one or two hot-button issues,” Silk said. “So count me a little skeptical about how far this ‘crossover’ and ‘convergence’ really goes.”

The second potential cause mentioned by the WaPo article is sincere religious belief:

“I think it’s genuine and real, this engagement of liberals in trying to cut the number of abortions in this country,” he said. “And I think conservatives are sincere when they say, ‘I may be against gay marriage, but the demonization of gays and lesbians is deeply troubling to me,’ or when they say, ‘You can’t look at the Bible without seeing the call to care for the poor.’ ”

Now we’re getting closer to what seems to be an underlying root cause, but not quite there.

So here is a wacky, out-of-the-box idea about why progressive and conservative Christians are looking for common ground. Just brainstorming here about why the left and right would want to work together to ease suffering, reduce unwanted pregnancies, and end anti-gay bigotry. Could this be the work of God’s Holy Spirit?

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