Religion, Democrats and Obama

Ah, Obama:

Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people,” and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

“Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters,” the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

See, now, this is a Lieberman moment. Because what Obama is doing is using Republican talking points about Democrats and religion to criticize his own party.

Now Obama was talking to an Evangelical audience, so obviously he had to speak of religion. But he could have said something along these lines. . .

More after the jump

“I want to talk today about why I, a man of faith, joined the Democratic party. I read the Bible, and I saw that it said

“before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then the King will tell those on his right hand,’Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in.

I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying,’Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink?

When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you?

When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them,’Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

The Democrats are the party of those whom Jesus told us to serve – the poor, the sick, the hungry and the thirsty.

I believe in universal healthcare. I believe in looking after the poor. I believe in helping prisoners rehabilitate. I believe in feeding those who don’t have their daily bread.

Like all political parties there are places where the Democratic party and the bible part. But I know that Jesus wanted us to care for the poor, and the sick and the wretched, and I believe that of the two parties in this country, the Democratic party is the one more committed to doing that.

And that’s why I’m a Democrat. And that’s why I invite those of you who love Jesus, and believe with me that it is our duty to God to care for the poor and the sick and the hungry, to join me as a Democrat, and to do our duty to God and our country.”

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Ian Welsh

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  • that religious people are often self-centered and believe that God is their picture 🙂 The most important job of God is to send all the people they don’t like to Hell.

    Thus your humble and ideal visions of religion might not appeal them at all. But it seems that Obama knows perfectly what they want to hear and appealed to the superiority neurosis of his listeners. Obama’s Jesus-hugging speech logic was something like this: “You Religious People are Better People than democrats, thus you can be Better Democrats …”

    Your lines would have told them that they are Bad People and not Holy Democrats like the speaker. They would have crucified the speaker.

    I think Obama will be a star in collecting votes. He really understands what people want to hear. A little bit more public mumbling and RNC too votes him.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

  • Obama told them that Democrats are bad people who don’t like them and don’t want to reach out to them. He reinforced Republican talking points that “Democrats are hostile to religion”.

    Nor do I agree that my lines tell them they are bad – but even if they did, guilt is a great motivator for many religious types. The goal when courting Evangelicals isn’t to get the entire bloc, it’s to peel off a few percent, and to defeat the talking point that Dems are hostile to religion, so that other religious people, especially Cahtolics, with a strong social justice tradition, feel more comfortable voting Democratic.

    Obama’s a good speaker, but he ran against an opponent who self destructed, in a district that is Democratic friendly and has done nothing of any significance in the Senate other than slag the base.

  • More and more it seems that Obama has lost focus and, in Hillary-like fashion, is trying to straddle the fence by pandering to every available audience. When you try to be all things to all people, more often than not you end up being nothing to anyone.

    “Lord! What fools these Mortals be!”

  • studying the mumblings of Obama teaches a lot.

    guilt is a great motivator for many religious types

    I’ve never met one 🙂 Usually the ones with biggest mouths are miserable types with superiority neurosis. Guilt? They assume that others should feel guilt.

    The goal when courting Evangelicals isn’t to get the entire bloc,

    It seems that Obama is more ambitious and simultaneously bitching to republicans with their own talking points. Both parties can’t have the same talking points. Republican party machinery probably hates him now much.

    has done nothing of any significance in the Senate

    Might be, but is that unusual. But show me a politician who can tell better people what they want to hear.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

  • when he first came onto the scene. He was a great speaker, charismatic but unproven. Now he’s proven and he strikes me as another Joe Lieberman.

    I’m all for respecting every American’s right and freedom to choose their own spiritual path. I’m not all for our government “courting” any specific religious group. We’re not dating here, we’re governing a free nation.

  • But it does not come as a surprise. It`s relatively easy to give a good speech, actors can do that really well. What`s difficult is to have clear ideas in a sustained manner. Obama does not have clear ideas right now.

  • of the appeal of the Democratic party. He’s on a losing mission and has twisted his principles by speaking to this audience in this manner. Church and State do not belong together–that’s part of the Constitution. Better to have either not spoken to them at all or if cannot avoid being a speaker, he should restate what the founding fathers wrote.

    He could use his talent for public speaking in more constructive ways than distorting the values America was built upon. Perhaps there would be some religious folk among them that would read the Constitution more carefully and come to agree they shouldn’t abandon their religion, but tailor it to the reality of a secular America. Perhaps he could give evidence of what is happening in the Middle East with Mullah’s in control resulting in fringe elements becoming attracted to terrorism. He could attempt to counter religion with the security of this great nation–it is what the troops are defending and dying to bring about.

  • You have made many serious mistaken assumptions.

    First, the Washington Post says the speech was to “Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.”

    The “Call to Renewal” is a progressive religious project meant to counter the religious right:

    “Call to Renewal:
    Christians for a New Political Vision”

    Second, he says he is among the “born again,” same as them. He testifies:

    “Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me,” he said of his walk down the aisle of the Trinity United Church of Christ. “I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth.”

    Third, blacks who vote Democratic are often evangelicals, like him, and their beliefs have for too long been ignored by the secular elite:

    he said, “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.”

    In a clip I just saw on the news, he was talking to an entirely black congregation. I do not know if this was the same speech, but it makes the point.

    He is taking cues from the master, a childhood hero:

    Rediscovering Lost Values

    The trouble isn’t so much that we don’t know enough, but it’s as if we aren’t good enough. The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind….The first is this—the first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws….The first thing is that we have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. Now I’m not trying to use a big word here; I’m trying to say something very concrete. And that is that we have accepted the attitude that right and wrong are merely relative to our…..My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. (You’re right there) It’s destroying our nation. (Oh yes) The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is……All I’m trying to say to you is (Have mercy, my God) that our world hinges on moral foundations. God has made it so. God has made the universe to be based on a moral law. (Lord help him) So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God…..

    The American Dream

    ….You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the “image of God,” is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity….

    Also see Paul’s Letter to American Christians

    My take from all this is that he knows better than you how to talk to progressive religious of his own kind. He is the one who knows how to stress to them their renewed value in the political party to which many have long belonged and been faithful, despite much disrespect from seculars I trust him more than you to know how to talk to them, to talk about what bothers them about how they have been treated by secular liberalism waging culture war. Not to talk down to them, but to talk to them in their own language. He is one of them. You just assume that he is pandering to some supposed enemy, you have not done your homework, and this is a big problem with secular people on the left, they hang all Christians together. They are a real long-term faithful “base,” no voting for Nader.

    Martin Luther King did not overall in his sermons talk the socialist side of Christianity. He talked morality–“moral values” in a very socially conservative way, the power of the individual, and most of all, about justice. This group is actually going beyond that by devoting action to alleviating poverty.

  • I looked up more info. on The Salvation Army. Very interesting. They are also evangelicals.

    Does the Democratic party want the votes of some of these people?

    According to the 2006 Salvation Army Year Book, in the United States there are 85,148 Senior Soldiers and 28,377 Junior Soldiers, 17,396 Adherents and around 60,000 employees. Additionally, there are millions of volunteers.

    who actually walk the walk in doing the kind of things that you present in your version of a speech? Or are they a cult for secular liberals to make fun of or be afraid of and shun? Or you will lecture to them about how they are going about it all wrong? George Bush, I think, learned to talk to people like this.

  • that would be acceptable to Obama’s and/or evangelicals dilemma. I’m comfortable with State not being mixed with religion and I do pray and believe there is a God…just don’t mix the two together–my religion is very private. Because it is faith-based it isn’t open to your or anyone else’s interpretation, including scientists, of what it is I should or should not believe.

    Feel free to ignore what I said previously, you obviously don’t think it was relevant to the topic.

  • Niki is totally right about who Obama was preaching to—in the room. Problem is that outside of that room, on the pages of the WaPo you have a different “congregation.” Obama had to have known that too.

    Being a person whose liberal faith calls me to do the social justice work that I do, I am not pleased that Obama said what he said for many of the reasons Ian wrote. He could very well have testified without dissing the dems because, believe it or not, lots of the dem base are people of faith and we’re getting tired of being told by the pundits and media that our faith doesn’t count. At the same time, the progressive “faithful” truly want the separation of church and state to remain in tact so that we can all have that precious freedom of religion that was given to us by the founders. I don’t want to be pandered to nor do I want to be dismissed.

    Obama wooed me when he first ran and when he spoke at the dem convention. There, he was about affirming a variety of polarities. He has strayed from that theme. He has disappointed me ever since.

    Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable

  • also discriminates against gays in hiring and went to court to protect that discrimination backed by the Bush administration. Discrimination is not a Democratic value.

    Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable

  • thanks for your info, Niki

    “Call to Renewal” was sponsored and presented by Rev. Jim Wallis’ [“God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It”]organization Sojourners, for 30 years one of the most progressive and socially liberal/social justice based organizations around, and yes, coming from a faith perspective. just because people say their faith informs their politics doesn’t mean they are religious righties. that is a sad and pathetic assumption. I heard Jim Wallis speak at the Network of Spiritual Progressives Conference and he is one smart, dedicated spiritual and authentic Christian in the mode of really following Jesus words…he follows Jesus, not Christian leaders, or as some say, Jesus’ so-called followers.

    yes, Rev Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian, which is NOT the same as a fundamentalist, which some seem to think. there are many evangelicals who are more socially conscious, progressive in thought AND ACTION, from what i can see, than most of the people who run this board. that is the kind of Democrat that needs addressing…the kind of empty lame liberals who shout down any discussion of religion informing politics IN THE PERSON -what a silly idea…the political is always the personal.

    sorry, Candy, but many if not most evangelicals i know believe in CHOICE.

    Obama is speaking to a base of people which includes myself, and i am certainly to the left of every single person who posts on this site.

    “who would Jesus bomb?”

  • To say that little children mouthing the Pledge of Allegiance do not feel oppressed is base sophistry. Children will mouth an oath to Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot or Satan if everybody else in class is doing it. It’s called “peer pressure,” a very well studied social force that any politician, Barak Obama included, is well aware of.

    Oppression, no; indoctrination, hell yes. Repetition is a fundamental tool of psychological conditioning, as politicians and priests have known for millenia. And if the child happens to have parents who are non-religious, then forcing their children to mouth a religious oath is a crystal clear violation of the First Amendment, which even the Supreme Clowns should know is supposed to separate religious affairs from state-sponsored ones.

    Now I know that in recent times we’ve drifted far away from that standard, but the First Amendment’s words are still there, and they are quite clear. Someday, when people wake up and realize how stupid they’ve been, we’ll get back to establishing a proper separation between church and state. Obama’s words in that regard are dubious at best. The religious right needs no apologists from the left, nor will it gain Democrats any votes by pandering to them.

    Back to American poltical philosophy class with you, Barack Obama. Sit right up front, and this time, pay attention.

    “Death before being dishonored any more.” – Col. Ted Westhusing

  • An important message!

    Barack Obama Critiques Democrats’ Religiophobia Along Lines Similar to the NSP’s Analysis

    Last month during the Spiritual Activism conference that brought 1,200 Spiritual Progressives to Washington, D.C. , Rabbi Michael Lerner met privately with U.S. Senator Barack Obama to discuss the NSP’s Spiritual Covenant with America and Lerner’s book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. What he found was a remarkable level of shared ideas in relationship to the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ basic message.

    Today, Obama went public on one of those shared ideas: the way that Democrats and liberals have driven away people who support the liberal or progressive agenda but who have been made uncomfortable by the degree of hostility that some (not all) sectors of the liberal and progressive world show toward people of faith (or even to “spiritual but not religious” people). Repeating themes that were articulated by Rabbi Lerner in his book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Left and by Jim Wallis in his God’s Politics, Obama insists that liberals must stop pushing religious people away and stop demanding that they leave their religious ideas “at the door” when they enter into a liberal or progressive context.

    Articulating another major theme of the NSP, Obama recognizes the importance of liberal and progressive forces taking our spiritual values into the public sphere—but articulating them there in terms that are universal and do not require a belief in God or a particular religion. Doing so, NSP has observed and Obama concurs, does not violate the First Amendment separation clause. Indeed, as NSP argues, the best way to secure separation is to show Americans that they do not have to choose between right-wing values and the alleged neutrality of public space that actually is a thin cover for the materialism and selfishness of the competitive marketplace—that they do not have to bring a specific religion or belief in God into the public sphere in order to challenge the dominant values that have mis-shaped our society. Instead, they can fight for a set of progressive spiritual values articulated in a universal language that does not require a commitment to God or a specific religion or spiritual path.

    For those who attended the Spiritual Activism conference in Washington in May or in Berkeley last July, the similarity not only in themes but in wording to the NSP perspective is striking.

    Let us be clear: we do NOT claim to have influenced Senator Obama, but only to have discovered an amazing resonance with the first two of our three major foci: critiquing the religious right’s misuse of God and critiquing the Left’s religio-phobia. We hope that Obama will eventually move to our third point: A New Bottom Line so that we begin to view corporations, government policies, and private courses of action as efficient and rational not only to the extent that they maximize money and power but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacities to respond to others as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the universe with awe and wonder and gratitude. Based on the nuanced sensitivities in Obama’s statements below, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine that he might someday take this next step toward a full spiritual progressive worldview.

    At the moment, the Network of Spiritual Progressives ( applauds Obama’s carefully reasoned statement and hopes that it will strengthen the process which NSP has begun in our interfaith organization representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and many “spiritual but not religious people” and Jim Wallis has begun for Christian evangelicals—to reclaim the strong ties between the great insights of our spiritual and religious heritages, on the one hand, and a politics committed to social justice, love and generosity on the other.

    Here is the text of Obama’s talk

    Obama: On Faith and Politics

    Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

    Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference, and I’d like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you’ve given so far about poverty and justice in America. I think all of us would affirm that caring for the poor finds root in all of our religious traditions – certainly that’s true for my own.

    But today I’d like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments over this issue over the last several years.

    I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible and discuss the religious call to environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact if we don’t tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

    For me, this need was illustrated during my 2004 face for the U.S. Senate. My opponent, Alan Keyes, was well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

    Indeed, towards the end of the campaign, Mr. Keyes said that, “Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.”

    Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, his arguments not worth entertaining.

    What they didn’t understand, however, was that I had to take him seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion – he claimed knowledge of certain truths.

    Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, he would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

    Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

    What would my supporters have me say? That a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?

    Unwilling to go there, I answered with the typically liberal response in some debates – namely, that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.

    But Mr. Keyes implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer didn’t adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and beliefs.

    My dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we’ve been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.

    For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest “gap” in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.

    Conservative leaders, from Falwell and Robertson to Karl Rove and Ralph Reed, have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

    Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that – regardless of our personal beliefs – constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.

    Such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when the opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people, and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

    We first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people believe in angels than do those who believe in evolution.

    This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that’s deeper than that – a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

    Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily round – dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets – and coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

    They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them – that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway towards nothingness.

    I speak from experience here. I was not raised in a particularly religious household. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, I did too.

    It wasn’t until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

    The Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed a part of me that remained removed, detached, an observer in their midst. In time, I too came to realize that something was missing – that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart and alone.

    If not for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn to the church.

    For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; it is an active, palpable agent in the world. It is a source of hope.

    And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts. You need to come to church precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it; you need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away – because you are human and need an ally in your difficult journey.

    It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

    The path I traveled has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans – evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at a turning point in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives them.

    This is why, if we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at – to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own – we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

    Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome – others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

    In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s will continue to hold sway.

    More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord,” or King’s I Have a Dream speech without reference to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

    Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical. Our fear of getting “preachy” may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

    After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness – in the imperfections of man.

    Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require changes in hearts and minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturer’s lobby – but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality; there’s a hole in that young man’s heart – a hole that government programs alone cannot fix.

    I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws; but I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation’s CEOs can bring quicker results than a battalion of lawyers.

    I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished. But my bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman’s sense of self, a young man’s sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence all young people for the act of sexual intimacy.

    I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith – the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps – off rhythm – to the gospel choir.

    But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize the overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of “thou” and not just “I,” resonates in religious congregations across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of America’s renewal.

    Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like my friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality. National denominations have shown themselves as a force on Capitol Hill, on issues such as immigration and the federal budget. And across the country, individual churches like my own are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, helping ex-offenders reclaim their lives, and rebuilding our gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    To build on these still-tentative partnerships between the religious and secular worlds will take work – a lot more work than we’ve done so far. The tensions and suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed, and each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.

    While I’ve already laid out some of the work that progressives need to do on this, I that the conservative leaders of the Religious Right will need to acknowledge a few things as well.

    For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. That during our founding, it was not the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of this separation; it was the persecuted religious minorities, Baptists like John Leland, who were most concerned that any state-sponsored religion might hinder their ability to practice their faith.

    Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

    And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Levitacus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?

    This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

    This may be difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

    We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

    Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God’s test of devotion.

    But it’s fair to say that if any of us saw a twenty-first century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, be it common laws or basic reason.

    Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.

    This goes for both sides.

    Even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, a sense that some passages – the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.

    The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.

    But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God;” I certainly didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

    So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool to attack and belittle and divide – they’re tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that’s not how they think about faith in their own lives.


    So let me end with another interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

    “Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you.”

    The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be “totalizing.” His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of President Bush’s foreign policy.

    But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight “right wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to write:

    “I sense that you have a strong sense of justice…and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason…Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded….You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others…I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

    I checked my web-site and found the offending words. My staff had written them to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

    Re-reading the doctor’s letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms – those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

    I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own – a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

    It is a prayer I still say for America today – a hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It’s a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come. Thank you.

    “who would Jesus bomb?”

  • BOOK REVIEW Boston Globe
    His political strategy: the religious left

    By Dan Wakefield, Globe Correspondent | June 28, 2006

    The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right, By Michael Lerner, HarperSan Francisco, 408 pp., $24.95

    Rabbi Michael Lerner, founding editor-publisher of the liberal interfaith magazine Tikkun , is forming a national “Network of Spiritual Progressives” in an effort

    [separated out for emphasis]

    ***“to provide an alternate solution to both the intolerant and militarist politics of the Right and the current misguided, visionless, and often spiritually empty politics of the Left.”***

    His new book, “ The Left Hand of God,” is a rallying cry and a theoretical and scholarly analysis of the appeal of the religious right. It is also a kind of handbook for creating a movement “that can be for the Democrats and Greens what the Religious Right has been for the Republicans,” by providing “intellectual, political, and spiritual inspiration for those in the party even while not being formally aligned when it comes to elections.”

    Lerner is stumping the country on his book tour much the way the progressive evangelical Jim Wallis did a year ago with his book “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” As writers, speakers, and organizers, Lerner and Wallis have come to fill the void left by the leaders of the civil rights and the antiwar movements in the ’60s and ’70s.

    What the secular left and the Democratic Party have failed to understand, Lerner argues, is that “human beings are theotropic — they turn toward the sacred — and that dimension in us cannot be fully extinguished. People feel a near-desperate desire to reconnect to the sacred, to find some way to unite their lives with a higher meaning and purpose and in particular to that aspect of the sacred that is built upon the loving, kind, and generous energy in the universe that I describe as the `Left Hand of God.’ ”

    Many secularists, Lerner says , believe voters who side with the right against their own economic interests are deluded or dumb or both, but what those critics miss is that “many very decent Americans . . . get attracted to the Religious Right because it is the only voice . . . willing to challenge the despiritualization of daily life, to call for a life that is driven by higher purpose than money, and to provide actual experiences of supportive community for those whose daily life is suffused with alienation and spiritual loneliness.”

    The left, Lerner says, “can’t talk about love or kindness or generosity without feeling that it has violated its commitment to a scientistic form of rationalism.”

    His new book and his Network of Spiritual Progressives will not be the first time Lerner has tried to get his message across to the public and the political power structure. His earlier book “The Politics of Meaning ” caught the attention of the Clintons during their first year in the White House, and Lerner was invited there to speak with them on the subject. When word got out, however, that the Clintons were seeking the counsel of a rabbi about “meaning” in politics, some members of the media hooted and hollered over what they regarded as a touchy-feely subject and labeled Lerner a “guru” — shades of Rasputin!

    Before the next elections it would profit the Democrats to take seriously some of Lerner’s perceptive and creative ideas . Lerner understands that the secular left needs to tone down its hostility to religion and spirituality if it hopes to win elections in a country in which the vast majority of voters consider themselves religious. Wallis tells the story of a young man in Boston who told him at a book signing it was easier to come out as gay in Massachusetts than to come out as religious in the Democratic Party. Lerner now has his own story of the way religion is perceived along party lines. When a volunteer in the last election said he couldn’t attend a Sunday morning meeting because he had to go to church, his committee chairman was confused. “I thought you were a Democrat,” he said.

    Lerner hopes to change that perception, and this book is a good starting point.

    Dan Wakefield’s new book is “The Hijacking of Jesus: How the Religious Right Distorts Christianity and Promotes Prejudice and Hate.”
    © Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
    “who would Jesus bomb?”

  • What democracy demands is that religion has appeal across several religions. That there is no favour granted to one religion over another and there is room for unbelievers as well as believers. It’s not good enough to say you’re against abortion based on a literal interpretation of the bible, there has to be rational reasons why it should or should not be part of American law.

    It that is satisfied, there can be meetings of minds.

    Most founding fathers were deists who advocated freedom for all and persecution/favouritism for none.

    Immigrants from the old world settled in the New World to escape the tyranny of religious persecution. The protesant movement was born in America to counter the rigidity and dominance of the European model of monarchial catholism.

  • and low trust level with people that require their religion be used and emphasized by the government and in campaigns to vote.

    The reason I get a high creep factor and low trust level is because I believe that their main reason for voting has more to do with where they want to go when they are dead. Not because they want what’s best for the 300 million Americans living, nor the nation but because of their deaths.

    Left religion or right religion, it’s focused on campaigning for vote via making a person feel better about where they end up after they are dead. I’m not cool with people who are that focused on their deaths in guiding the living.

  • I agree with canuck that the establishment clause in the first amendment
    was put there to prevent the federal government from either endorsing or suppressing a particular religion, but not to prevent dicussion of religious principles.

    Having slogged through public grammar school from the late 50’s through the middle 60’s, I was accustomed to having Deist principles applied with a gentle brush to school activities around Thanksgiving (a completely nondenominational holiday) and Christmas (with the emphasis on family, love, compassion, and PRESENTS rather than a holy day celebrating the birth of Christ). They layed off Easter entirely, as that would be an emphasis on Christianity – a revealed religion.

    We frequently said simple prayers at assembly, in the same rote manner as we chanted the Pledge. The prayers were to God, not Christ. I remember belting out Protestant hymns in the chorus at Thanksgiving, but they were of the “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” category.

    I have never found this at all problematic. I believe the SCOTUS went way too far in removing all mention of any supernatural power from the public. I felt that atheists should just shrug and have a laugh at the holy rolling idiots and then go on about their business. But no, they insisted on being offended by any mention of God, anyone’s God, anywhere but in private worship service and took advantage of an extremely liberal court to expand the fundamentals of the Establishment clause beyond recognition.

    Where I do a 180 in opposition to the Fundies is when they insist that America is morally poor because we no longer have every child memorize the Ten Commandments and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Sorry, requiring those passages in a public education context is pushing Judeo-Christianity to the exclusion of other, equally valid/invalid world religions.

    All religions acknowledge a higher power than mortal humanity. They all teach common moral themes of honor, humility, and compassion. For decades I have advocated the teaching of comparative religion in grade school, demonstrating the parallels and differences from one to the next and recapping at the end with the universal themes.

    But no, we allow nothing at all to be taught, and if the Fundies ever get their way, our children will be taught their perverted interpretation of the Christian Bible.

    I believe that our “culture” is much the poorer for the suppression of the Deist POV. I also believe that it is much the poorer, as SilverOwl says, due to the rising influence of Dispensationalists.

    “Let the apocalypse roll”.

    – Rick
    “Free your mind, and your ass will follow” – George Clinton

  • Silver Owl… This movement [Spiritual Progressives] is about helping the people alive today. it’s about social justice. it’s about saying that the American budget is a moral document…in that where we choose to spend our money as a nation reflects our values…not about religious affiliation.

    “who would Jesus bomb?”

  • he can apply the Finnish foreign policy doctrine: “I’m simultaneously for and against it” or he can apply Hillary-doctrine: “I express no opinion”.

    — Happy fishing in ocean of noise!

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