The first afternoon session was "Talking Tech," which I'm afraid
didn't get my full attention; I was aggregating liveblogged posts
for the con website and only kept one ear on the panel. My focus returned to front-and-center for
the panel titled Faith and Politics: A Path to
Engagement, led by Thurman Hart (XPatriated Texan), Mik Moore (JSpot) and Bruce Wilson (Talk 2 Action.)
"Your mama probably taught you, never talk about faith, politics,
or sex," Thurman quipped. But today we're going to talk about
the first two, anyway!
You often hear people say that in this country, we have
separation of church and state. And then you'll hear someone else
reply, "that's never been written in the Constitution." And they're
both right. In the good old days a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT, wrote
a letter to the President -- they were a religious minority in
those days -- requesting a "wall of separation" between church
Once upon a time, Thurman noted, American politicians
talked a lot about their faith and how it impacted their lives.
Lincoln, for instance, talked about God all the time. John F. Kennedy
changed that trend; he had to go on public TV and assure people that
if elected he would not let the Pope determine politics in the USA.
So the Kennedy administration marks a turning point in the American
Thurman posited that the new Left doesn't want to hear much about
religious stuff, and that's problematic. Kerry struggled to speak cogently about faith during
the presidential election... "Politics is the use of collective
power, where power is the ability to influence behavior," Thurman
said. He continued:
Religion, to me, is the institutions of faith. If you
belong to a certain denomination, your faith is your personal
relationship to a spiritual universe, and that includes your
specific moral and ethical integrity. Your faith is the number-one
guideline that you use for making decisions. So for people to tell
someone of faith 'I don't have a problem with your faith, but
keep it out of politics,' they're telling you that you should
take your views of power and social justice and ethics and morality
and leave it out of how you interact with power. That's an outright
invitation for tyranny, and it betrays a total ignorance of what
politics is and what faith is.
Mik picked up here, talking about the recent speech that
Barack Obama gave and the brouhaha it caused among both secular
and religious folks. (That speech is
Call to Renewal.) There's a lot of discussion within the Jewish
community about the role of faith in public life, and that
community includes a strong secular component as well as a progressive
He observed that responses to Obama's speech varied widely...Many religious folks
feel like a minority within the progressive movement. And here aprominent
elected official stood up and said, "it's time for the secular Left
to stop telling us to keep our voices out of public life," and
a lot of people found inspiration in that.
On the other hand, the
secular folks also feel like they are a minority within the
progressive movement! An atheist would have a hard time getting
elected to public office here. There's overwhelming public
sentiment that if you don't believe in God you don't belong in higher
office, and people who are secular feel that acutely and feel that
they are a minority in this so-called "Christian" nation.
So there are two groups which are natural allies on a lot of issues
-- worker rights, the environment, and so on -- but each of them
feels that they are the minority, there's a lot of frustration there.
We need to be careful that the frustration we feel in those roles
doesn't undermine the ways that we can become allies.
Then Bruce chimed in. He talked about how the religious right
is set against the religious left, and the secular left. Trouble is,
the religious and secular left are also set against each other in
a certain way. He talked about how problematic he finds the
"language of demonization," and retold the story of the Jewish
family in Delaware that was effectively hounded out of town because
they objected to the promotion of Christianity in the Indian River
school district. (Read about that story, if you haven't already, here.
So how can the religious left enter politics? If, for instance,
the story of what happened at Indian River distresses us, what
can we do? This relates to the issue of hatespeech going on
in the American political realm; we perceive that it comes mostly
from the Right, but it also can come from the Left. The language
of demonization is a habit of thought and mind, and it's something
to worry about.
"The size and scope of the Christian Right as a movement hasn't
really been paid attention to," he noted. He pointed us to a
lengthy and comprehensive list of Christian Right priorities and
action items, The
Big Picture, and we spent a while scanning that and talking
about its implications.
Then the conversation moved into the broader room, and we
talked about things like the "under God" line in the Pledge
of Allegiance, the claiming of the language of persecution
and victimization by the Religious Right (see the work of
Elizabeth Castelli), how it's incumbent upon us to be clear
what we mean when we use religious language ("what we talk about
when we talk about God?")...
I didn't transcribe what everyone said; if you'd like a more
complete writeup of the panel, keep an eye on the con blog, where
the irc chat log will eventually be published. But here's a paraphrase of a remark from Reb Arthur, who
mentioned that the last time that religious
language and secular progressive language cohered was in the days
of Martin Luther King. There was an upswelling, then, of the sense that
secular/progressive and religious/progressive folks had the
argued too that we need to face that there is a reason why the
religious left and the religious right feel victimized; they feel
victimized by the culture. In the 60s, the left argued that
some aspects of modernity were destructive
to human potential, freedom, possibility. "Some pieces of modernity
are God's next step!" Like the equality of women -- that's what
God intends for us now. But he exhorted us to recognize that there's
some validity to the sense of victimization, even though we don't want
to go back three centuries to a former age. We, he said, have the
harder task: discerning what in modernity is God's hope for us,
and what in modernity is disaster. What in modernity is
profane, and what in modernity is holy.
And I'll close with a point from Chris (Philocrites), who talked about liberal theology's ambiguous future,
and about why his passion lies in revitalizing religious communities
and not in fights between liberals and conservatives which don't bring
anything new to the table. Good stuff all around.
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