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The religious Left is trying to play catch-up with the fundies

It’s about time. I was wondering when you’d start hearing some rumbles from progressive religious figures about framing “values” so that the issues are not owned by the Right. It’s going to be a long, uphill battle. (Boston Globe):

Liberal religious figures, concerned about broad moral issues such as world poverty as well as the perception that ”moral values” helped win the election for President Bush, are stepping up their organizational efforts to support left-leaning candidates and their causes to prepare for the 2006 midterms and the 2008 presidential election.

For some, the goal is to recruit Democratic candidates who, like Bush, seem comfortable talking about their faith and its role in making public policy. But for others, the aim is to challenge Republicans who — opponents say — favor narrowing debate about religious values and ethics to hot-button issues such as abortion, while ignoring church views on the death penalty or broader moral questions such as responding to the world AIDS epidemic and a US economy increasingly reliant on low-wage labor from abroad.

…The National Association of Evangelicals, which promotes a conservative Christian agenda, represents institutions with about 30 million members but, by some estimates, the number of conservative Christians could be as high as 80 million. The Roman Catholic Church claims more than 60 million members, and the National Council of Churches, on the liberal end of the spectrum, represents institutions with about 50 million members.

While estimates of the number of conservative Christians may vary, the rise of the Christian right has been clear.

Rev. Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches USA and a former Democratic congressman.

”The religious right has been effectively organizing for 35 years, and as I always say, it took Moses 40 years to lead his people out of the wilderness, and it’s going to take us a few years more to catch up,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

Edgar is part of a group that holds a conference call each Thursday to discuss the liberal response to national and world affairs, a telephonic gathering convened last year in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

”While we didn’t stop the war, we began to talk and work cooperatively together,” he said.

Among as many as 40 people on the line any Thursday are Jim Wallis, who convened Call to Renewal, a faith-based response to world poverty; the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance; the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., pastor of the Riverside Church in New York; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

…Keith Jennings, president and founder of the African-American Human Rights Foundation in Washington, said Democrats also should not be afraid to challenge Republicans on moral questions.

”Why is it that abortion is a litmus test and not the death penalty?” he said to applause earlier this month at a postelection round-table discussion organized by Gaddy and the Interfaith Alliance. Jennings cites the Roman Catholic ”prolife” tradition, which includes opposition to both abortion and the death penalty, arguing that some of the arguments on faith put forth by the right are incongruous.

Edgar, Wallis, and the others also believe people on the left should force a political discussion on poverty, Iraq and US foreign policy, and the environment, all of which could lead to positions supported by biblical references.

Edgar favors an appeal to what he terms ”the middle church” — neither the liberals on the left nor the conservatives on the right — the same segment that eventually was won over by the push for civil rights during the 1960s.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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