Hey, All:

I know there’s a lot going on today, but I thought a portion of yesterday’s discussion on whether politicians ought to discuss religion deserved to be lifted up.

The substance below the fold.
dKos’ Jeffrey Feldman (proprietor of the Frame Shop) had what I thought was a magnificient comment in the discussion. Warning: it’s long enough to be its own diary:

I don’t think the issue is whether or not politicians should be talking about “religion” in this country. I need to emphasize this, because the way this question has been phrased already skews the discussion (“…should progressives talk about religion…” as opposed to “…should progressives talk about Christianity…”).

For example, can anyone think of the last time that a Jew, Buddhist or Muslim threatened or killed someone seeking an abortion in the United States? Can anyone think of the last time that an American Jew, Buddhist or Muslim complained about the “tyranny of Judges” in the United States? Can anyone think of the last time that an American elected official stood up on the floor of government and said that he or she as a Jew/Buddhist/Muslim is the victim of prejudice? Can anyone think of the last time that a sitting US President used rhetoric that covertly invoked the Torah, Tantric writings, or the Koran? Can anyone think of the last time they turned on the television to find a just about every channel had been taken over by live broadcast from an American mega-synagogue, American mega-shrine, or American mega-mosques? Can anyone think of any US box office record breaking movies based on stories from the Torah, teachings of Buddha or the Koran? Can anyone think of the last time that all media in the United States–I mean all media–came to a screeching halt to cover a change of leadership in Judaism, Buddhism or Islam?

This country is in the midst of an internal political crisis. And this crisis is not being caused by “religion.” It’s being caused by Christianity. A splinter, radical form of it, true. But Christianity nonetheless. We’ve got to be willing to name it as the problem.

There are other political crises in the world that involve other religions–no question about that. But in this country, at this moment–it’s Christianity.

Israel has a crisis brought on by Judaism. Iran has a crisis brought on by Islam. The United States has a crisis brought on by Christianity. Let’s not be afraid to talk about our crisis with Christianity.

So, should progressive politicians as politicians be talking about Christianity?

Absolutely they should be. Absolutely. Politicians who are Christian should be reclaiming their “faith”–in their own words–so that the radical group on the right doesn’t take it over completely. I don’t talk about my religion as a “faith,” but Christians do. So they should use that word and any other word they want.

This speaking up against radicalism, by the way, is the normal work of most religious minority groups in this country. Jewish moderates are constantly speaking back to the radicals in their religion. As are Muslim moderates speaking back to their radicals. Why? Because US moderates in minority religions see their own religious radicals as a threat to the Constitution–and they are. So moderates use their insider status and knowledge to keep “their” radicals in check. Why hasn’t this dynamic happened yet in any significant numbers amongst Christian moderates? Why hasn’t there been a more sustained response to the radical Christian groups in America from moderate Christians? Sure, some are trying (i.e., everyone participating in this conference). But it’s not enough. Is it because the progressive movement hasn’t had a public discussion about religion? I don’t think so. It seems that–for lack of a better way to put this–Christians who call themselves progressives want members of other religions to join in and help them before they speak back on their own.

Progressives who see themselves as committed Christians should be talking about that in public–leading the way. And Politicians who are not Christian should be supporting them, to the extent that they can. In particular, Christian progressives should be talking about the damage that the radical movement on the right has wrought on American Christianity and by extension, on this country. Certainly, if non-Christians want also to speak in public about their religious commitments–in language that suits them–then they should do so. But it’s just not the same as when Christians speak out against the radical Christians.

Should Christians speak abou their feelings, say, about Christ during official government functions? I have no idea. They have to decide that for themselves. If they feel it’s the best way, they will have the support of other progressives–secular, religious and otherwise. We trust you. We want you to speak up in your own terms about Christianity.

But I feel very strongly that we lose something fundamental if we just jump directly to a discussion of “religion” in the general. It’s almost as though there is a presupposition that if we don’t all join in a general discussion about “religion,” then we are violating the progressive value of “unity.” But that’s nonsense. There’s an elephant in the room and that elephant is the tiny reaction to Christian radicalism from other American Christians.

With each passing day that this political crisis marches forward in this country, I grow more and more worried that moderate American Christians are paralyzed with fear in the face of a power grab from radical American Christianity. It’s almost as if it’s a combination of embarrassment and disbelief. I think the only way to deal with this fear, embarrassment and disbelief is to throw it on the table and face it.

I have been very reluctant to voice this opinion because I have felt for a long time that non-Christians needed to show support for progressives Christians. But in recent days I have crossed over the line. I am now impatient with Christians in this country who are not speaking out against the people who are using Christianity. What pushed me over the line? I’m not sure. The war in Iraq, maybe. The creeping threat that the Senate will soon rewrite the rules of procedure in the name of Christianity. It’s a combination of things.

I can tell you, there is only so much that all of us who are not Christian can do–if each time we try to respond to the particular form of Christianity that is threatening our Constitution the problem gets reclassified as a general problem of “religion.”

A final comment along this line (and I apologize for taking up so much space):

When I was in college in the 1980s, I participated in a “racism awareness” workshop. Great programs, really great. At first, the program consisted of white students and people of color working and talking through a common set of issues. Then one day, an African-American student stood up and said something along these lines: “White people have some work to do on their own.” There was certainly work for everyone to do on the question of racism, but there was a particular set of issues that the white students needed to deal with on their own before he and most of the people of color in the workshop would feel comfortable returning to the floor. From that point on, the workshop split into two groups. It was really hard. But it was worth it.

One thing I would like to see come out of this conference is an initiative designed to empower progressive Christians to stand up and speak as Christians in public. That’s right. In the face of the rising volume of Christianity in this country, a Jewish participant is calling for resources to help progressive Christians regain their confidence and their sense of self in discussing their beliefs in public. IF that happens, I think progressive politics will have taken a giant step forward and Rockridge–as usual–will have made a huge contribution to restoring healthy debate in this country.

Later, Jeff added this:

As a culture we talk about Christianity all the time. We have national holidays based on the Christian calendar. So, to ask our politicians to not talk about religion is simply to ask them to accept Christianity as the “silent” or de facto definition of a national religion.

I think politicians should talk about religion in all kinds of ways. Isn’t that the real problem? Not that they talk about it too much, but that one very narrow way of talking about religion has entered into our government–and it has entered in such a way that we are having trouble as citizens figuring out if our politicians are talking or doing religion on the job.

We cannot ban religion from politics because we cannot ban religion from people. We can, however, introduce a variety of expressions.

I like the way Carter talks about Christianity. But I don’t want that to be the only way that religion is discussed in government. We need people like Carter to have louder, stronger voices right now. But in the long run, we want a broad range of voices to be talking about a broad range of ideas.

Why can’t we have a White House afikomen hunt in addition to the White House Easter egg hunt? Why can’t we have a a host of representations on public ground that allow citizens to show their pride for being who they are in America? The problem is not that religion is problematic in government. The problem is that Christianity dominates government in a very limited form at the exclusion of other citizens. And that is the problem the framers of the Constitution feared: a state endorsed religion.

To which I responded:

Silence on the topic of religion won’t mean a secular political sphere; it’ll mean a political sphere that is at best tacitly Christian. That’s why, for all the other problems I’ve had with him, I thought Joe Lieberman’s Vice-Presidential bid was a good thing. It opened the door–if only the tiniest bit–to the possibility of having a Chief Executive who was something other than plain vanilla Protestant Christian.

Of course, having tried to distinguish “plain vanilla” and “Joe Lieberman,” I must now concede the point. Do you think Matisyahu will ever run for pres?

And Jeff shot back:

I hope Matisyahu runs. He’d get the cool Jews vote.

Ah, poor Joe Lieberman. Nobody works a room full of rowdy rugulach like him. It would have been cool to have seder at the White House.

I think one of the things I’ve reconnected with during this whole rise of the Dominionists is not how much I want to ban religion from public debate, but how much I want to hear my views in debate, too. I feel there are so many people in this country with really positive, strong and wonderful approaches to religion. It’s not all stuff that I am comfortable with, but who cares–it’s a big world out there and it’s all good stuff. So…why are we being forced to suffer through this endless one-religion-only show?

IF Americans only got one cable chanel when they paid for 200, there’d be riots in the streets in a matter of days. But when America “pays for” hundreds of religions and only gets one, we sit on our hands.

So, yeah. I’m for speaking and being who we are in public life. The more the merrier.

Jeffrey’s initial comment also received this response from Rebecca Glenn, one of the conference moderators:

I agree with your comments that to stand up to those who have hijacked a particular religion takes someone from that religion to have the most direct impact. And I agree that the current loud voice for Christianity does not represent the beliefs of most Christians in this country.

I am part of an organization that intends to do something about this scary state of affairs. We have agreed upon a set of 12 theological principles that are based on love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. The very first affirmation states that loving God includes walking fully in the path of Jesus without denying the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity.

I have been extremely frustrated with the words speaking for my religion that do not focus on love or positive actions for all people. With the publication of The Phoenix Affirmations (can be found here)I am able to give voice to my beliefs. It is harder to articulate a belief system that this not totally black and white. Where each person should act on the faith that they have a meaning and a purpose that serves to strengthen God’s realm without someone telling them what they should and should not do.

We intend to rally like-minded believers and do everything we can to change the face of Christianity in this country. We will be “walking” these affirmations from Phoenix to D.C. in 2006. We hope to have support from other progressives regardless of their religious perspectives.

I’m hoping to live up to these challenges in a couple of ways: first through Talk To Action, a new site dedicated to fighting the Christianist right. I am also considering creating an online “church” to help project what conference host Rita Nakashima Brock calls Christian progressive’s co-opted “discourse of justice, freedom, compassion, and love.”

But at the moment, I’m looking for your input. Do you agree/disagree with Jeffrey’s assessment? If so, what can be done about it? Take a look at the entire conversation, tell me what you think.

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