Thursday, July 13, 2006

When I Say 'Religious Left'...

Update: My wife assures me that this post is too long. Reading it over, I know she's right. Regard this as more of a reference work for when you need it someday.

"We are furious that the religious right has made Jesus into a Republican. That's idolatry," (Tony) Campolo said. "To recreate Jesus in your own image rather than allowing yourself to be created in Jesus' image is what's wrong with politics."

Now, who is it, exactly, who makes the claim that Jesus is a Republican? The answer of course is “Well, no one, but…” followed by the same tired talking points. Here’s a tip, Dr. Campolo: when you have to exaggerate what your opponents are saying, it suggests you can’t go toe-to-toe with their actual claims. Moreover, it is simply dishonest, and I recall there is a commandment against bearing false witness against your neighbor. Your thought that you are just speaking dramatically, pointing out an important general truth in an engaging way, is self-deception. It’s just lying.

The conventional wisdom is that there has been no religious left since the heyday of civil rights and antiwar protests, a time which many boomer Christians look back on in fondness, overvaluing the effect of their protests. In this model, liberals in the church have just sort of gone quiet while the Religious Right did all this grassroots organizing and splashy politicizing. Only now (and they hope it’s not too late) has the liberal church begun to slowly re-emerge, claiming back the territory in the public square that was usurped by conservatives.

That is nonsense. Liberal Christians own the power structures of the mainstream denominations. They do not merely have some influence on where the money goes, or what is taught, or what the public statements of the denomination are. They control these things. I do not use the word “control” lightly. News outlets often refer to political parties “controlling” a house of congress, or “controlling” the judiciary. Certainly not in the last fifty years, and perhaps not in the history of the republic, has one party had sufficient dominance to “control” anything.

There Is a Powerful Religious Left. The social, economic, foreign policy, and environmental policies of the mainstream denominations are between Liberal and Far Left.

You might find that a good thing. You might believe that the gospel compels us to a POV that is called leftist in today’s culture but is in fact merely correct, or righteous. We will argue that point later. My current goal is to show that whatever their eternal value, the political positions of institutional Christianity are more than mildly liberal according to our current designations. The religious left is not without power. It is in fact the Power Structure, the Establishment, The Man.

The United Methodist Church, in its official statement on The Economic Community:
We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order. Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation. We believe private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing business, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable for these costs. We support measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We further support efforts to revise tax structures and to eliminate governmental support programs that now benefit the wealthy at the expense of other persons.
(italics and bold print mine).

Or again in a statement from the General Board of Church and Society:
Poverty is literally structured into our society. Through their surveys and studies, Gordon, Mary and the coalition found that as a society we do not value the labor of those whose daily work makes society operate…

Today oppression comes in many forms. Working families are facing more job insecurity. Millions upon millions of workers face layoffs…

Quick, someone notify the churches of the old Soviet Union to come help us.

Or its statement on war and foreign relations:
We gather in the name of the Prince of Peace to witness to a better way: “We believe that war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ” (2000 The Book of Discipline, 165c)…

We recognize there will be no true and lasting peace in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is equitably resolved and both states are safe and secure. We call upon the President of the United States to send a special envoy back to the region to restart negotiations between the parties. We call upon all participants in the conflict to cease military action and violence. We call upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and to tear down the wall it is constructing (an action already determined illegal by the International Court of Justice and denounced by most of the world). We call upon Palestinians to bring an end to terrorist attacks against Israel.

We opposed this war in March 2003, declaring that the United Nations’ weapons inspectors should be allowed to complete their work. Recent reports from respected experts have confirmed the rationales given for invading Iraq have been proven false.* Believing these reports to be true, continuing the current course of action becomes foolhardy and sinful. Instead, we urge a truly united effort to transfer power and sovereignty back to the Iraqi people as soon as possible, the withdrawal of United States and other coalition forces, and their replacement with U.N. forces, and funding coordinated through that international body.
(italics and bold mine).

*And now that they're true...?
This ain’t conservatism (certainly not libertarianism); it’s not the moderate view in the current breakdown; it’s not even the liberal viewpoint, as it moves a bit left of that. It’s not far left, Kossack, DU territory, but it’s farther left than most Democratic senators.

Let’s see if the Lutherans are doing any better. The denominational statement about peace is pretty middle-of-the road, but there’s a whole section on childrens' peace and justice resources, and a statement protesting Israel’s building of the wall. The environmental and economic statements run mid-left, though there is significant effort to note the complexity and contradictory nature of issues. Bully for them on that.

The Presbyterian Church (USA): Is concerned about just trade and fair food in its hunger statement. Just trade isn’t the same as fair trade, which they’re against:
Revenge of the Acronyms: WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA and FTAA
Can Acronyms Cause Hunger and Poverty?
Yes, they can.
International trade is an important way that the United States engages with the world. However, even ardent supporters of international trade have begun to admit that trade can produce both "winners" and "losers."
Recent international trade policies, designed and enforced by unelected bankers, CEOs and consultants, have caused tremendous damage to the environment and to people--especially in poorer communities and countries. Not surprisingly, those affected most by international trade are women and children. More free trade as currently practiced will only increase the damage. Accordingly, faith groups and organizations in the U.S. and around the world are intent on stopping or dramatically modifying these agreements and practices.
Given the many negative impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has taken a strong stance against free trade agreements.

And fair food is actually about farm wages
He thanked the church for its leadership during the successful Taco Bell boycott noting, "The church is absolutely necessary in this cause because of the power and credibility it has with corporations." He underscored the importance of the church's moral and consumer power.

Church of the Brethren slips in a nice equivalence between international law and God’s sovereignty, with the requisite slam against nationalism.
People sometimes oppose international law because of a tendency to give higher loyalty to national sovereignty, which claims the need to kill some people in war, than to God's sovereignty, which sees all people as precious in God's sight.

And their statement about Iraq is in the left-liberal range of the historical peace churches.

United Church of Christ, where I grew up, goes beyond liberal into truly leftist territory in its justice statement, and recent articles include this worry about privacy rights

“Basic Privacy rights continue to be threatened in the name of national security. Government surveillance of phone calls and electronic mail are but some examples of our threat to privacy; the privacy rights that we claim as basic to an open and free democracy. Certain people are targeted for investigation. Among those targeted are those who dare to disagree with public social policies that have a devastating impact on the poor, the elderly, the children, and people of color

M. Linda Jaramillo

I just have to interrupt here. Is she seriously suggesting that some people have been under federal telephone surveillance because they disagree with the president about social policy? Moonbat paranoia. Or maybe just making dramatic statements to scare us, without worrying about whether they're like, true or anything.

Or this wonderful use of repeated sneering quotation marks by one Diane Ford Jones
US national defense policy currently supports yet another armed conflict. Mired in a “war on terror” we are engaged in an endless quest to secure the so-called “liberation and freedom” of Iraq while claiming to serve the “righteous” interests of a self-proclaimed “civilized world.” Politcal spin doctors…would have the American people and others believe that our country simply has sided with a noble cause in Iraq in the defense of the defenseless. But instead of trumpeting US infallibility…

then goes on to explain how Frederick Douglas might have made reference to precious global resources, national imperialism, corporate greed. Yeah, US infallibility. I heard Rush talking to Rove about that one at the last vast right-wing conspiracy meeting.

You’ll notice that I didn’t have to go anywhere near the Episcopal, Quaker, and Unitarian churches – the denominations usually associated with liberalism – to pick up these examples. The victim claims of the religious left that they are being shut out of the national dialogue and have no power are specious.

But of course the granddaddy of all liberals is the National Council of Churches , and they’re going to get their very own post.

Also to come in this series:
Where the religious left gets the false idea it needs to reclaim power;
Crossover with the non-Christian religious left; and
Where they go wrong.


katje said...

Even without reading any of the church statements on issues like these, I've been aware of church stances like this for many years. It's quite obvious when the pastor stands to lead the congregation in a prayer, the subject of which has something to do with the current political issue of the day, and why it's "right" or "wrong" and what the church's view on it is, and therefore why we should pray as we're about to do. I generally wander off to compose my own, ex tempore prayer for something I feel has greater merit (ie. isn't related to a Lefty political harangue) and try to wander back in time for the Amen. I usually escape quickly after services are over, lest I be engaged in conversation and give my true opinion on what was said!

cropbeye said...

Interesting start to a discussion.
It seems you overlap certain persuasions and ignore that some could have a different model in mind than is currently widely publicised and is a different way of considering power. Some leftists are not liberal eg do not support the appointment of a Gay Bishop in the Episcopalian communion.I am on opposite side of the pond and as a Left Christian do not consider myself to be Liberal.I don't really want to be part of a power base in Christianity but am interested in debates where inconsistancies can be pointed out in calm surrondings.

Regards JMR

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I make a distinction between leftist and liberal, but it sounds as if yours is somewhat different. I imagine we would have to spend some time defining terms before going farther, else we would misunderstand each other.

Shorthand: For Leftist, read socialist, whether that is from a Green, Red, or feminist base. I use liberal to mean something less extreme economically and environmentally, but likely to include a wider variety of issues.

geoffb said...

Here is another interesting political religious umbrella group, one whose influence was the main cause of us to stop attending the church which married us and find another place to worship.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Now, who is it, exactly, who makes the claim that Jesus is a Republican?

"the Jewish people in Israel love him he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That's not actually very close. One out-of-mainstream comment about one latecoming Republican, in a context that they like his actions on one topic.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: That's not actually very close.

It's actually a reversal. Instead of making Jesus into a Republican, it's making a Republican into Jesus. As the U.S. president tweeted it, it's mainstream by definition.