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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Sunday service

Today, I accepted two invitations to church services. Since one of my kids was singing at a Presbyterian church and the other was reading in a Baptist service, how could I decline?

In any case, the services reminded me of just how progressive people of religious faith can be. When journalists interested in politics write about faith, however, they regularly focus on so-called "fundamentalists" or perhaps merely "religious conservatives." There are, of course, notable exceptions -- like this recent piece in The Washington Monthly from Amy Sullivan. Sullivan argues that a successful Democrat in 2004 will have to appeal to people of faith.

Do not be afraid.

Clearly, if one takes Christianity seriously, many important progressive values are deeply embedded in it. The two services I saw today focused on peace and justice.

The Presbyterians are raising money this month for their church-wide peacemaking efforts. As someone with an interest in that specific argument, I was taken by their efforts to fund non-violent dispute resolution. In his local church's case, they are helping Christians facing various kinds of threats in Indonesia. The practices embraced by Jesus have been echoed in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi; yet, I'm not sure how often these ideas are actually taught in Political Science or related academic disciplines.

Given some new published work, perhaps that will change.

The Baptist service today was taken from Mark 10:17-31. In this verse, Jesus warns an affluent follower that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Talk about a radical progressive!

The pastor leading the service was clearly trying to generate some empathy for the poor and downtrodden. While talking about the particular scripture reading, she referenced a comment by Jesus (in Matthew 22) noting that the second most important Old Testament commandment (after loving God) was to "love your neighbor as yourself." She was also building to the offering, but I'm not going to be cynical today.

After a quick web search, I found this relatively old (2000) article from Richard Parker in The American Prospect. In this piece, Parker makes arguments similar to some I've made above -- and makes many more. Check it out:
In an era when progressive voices seem few in number, when many progressive organizations struggle to meet payrolls, let alone advance agendas, America's progressive religious world represents a large body of committed and caring human beings--deeply bound, out of their own understanding of the connection between justice and the divine--who seek a world most of us could generously affirm.

Like the rest of us, they struggle with their own limitations, their own internal conflicts and weaknesses. Yet time and again at crucial moments in American history, these same communities have risen up to resist abuses of human dignity and justice in the world around them.

Progressives acknowledge that they have to build linkages within a wider community to achieve their goals. Environmentalists, union members, human (and civil) rights activists, feminists and others already work together towards common ends. It would be productive, I suspect, to more overtly attempt to engage progressives of faith.

Perhaps this would create a pathway whereby President Bush could be confronted on his own terms. How can someone who so publicly embraces his faith -- the same faith of peace and justice I've described -- so regularly pursue policies that bring war (even though he speaks of peace) and regressive redistribution of wealth?

It is an important question.

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