America’s faith community has a broader values agenda than the small number of hot-button issues promoted by the Religious Right, and the nation is less divided between blue and red states than the media suggest, according to a new online database that maps 3,000 religious organizations working for social justice across the country.
Unveiled Thursday by Faith in Public Life, the Mapping Faith database is intended as “tech-savvy advocacy” for organizing the faith community around social concerns like justice, compassion and working for the common good, David Buckley, the principle author of a report accompanying the database, told reporters in a telephone press conference.
The report challenges conventional wisdom that evangelicals care only about issues of personal morality like abortion and gay marriage. Buckley said there is a “tremendously diverse values agenda” that is driving faithful Americans to advocate causes like poverty, peace, human rights, discrimination, civil rights, healthcare, AIDS and the environment.
“To hear Religious Right leaders (and too many media pundits) tell it, faithful Americans care only about a simple trinity of policy issues, all in the negative: opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, and opposition to stem cell research,” the report said. “While these sentiments are a part of many faith communities, they barely scratch the surface of the real moral priorities of the American people. As the earlier-cited polls indicate, Americans far and away prioritize poverty, greed, and the war in Iraq over the Religious Right’s agenda.”
The report also challenges the stereotype that the secular coasts of America have abandoned religion, finding faith leaders working for social justice in every corner of the country.
“In spite of conventional wisdom about America’s vast cultural divisions, there is great consistency in the moral priorities of faith groups across America,” it says. “Whether in red or blue states, faith organizations are combating poverty, speaking out for peace and protecting the environment.
Faith in Public Life found approximately the same proportion of faith groups prioritizing poverty, peace and creation care in red states as in blue states,
“One is as likely to come across a religious group working for creation care in Oklahoma as Oregon,” it says. “While a culture war makes good fodder for talk shows and good fundraising for religious right groups, it misses the shared values that unite faithful Americans across the red-blue line.”
While the database includes organizations of different faiths, it found that evangelicals are becoming increasingly mobilized around social justice issues.
“Of the nearly 100 evangelical organizations included in this project, there is further support for the conclusion that the priorities of the evangelical community are expanding,” according to the report. “Significant percentages of the groups included work on poverty, peace and health issues. Children and families are also a common priority of these groups, reflecting the evangelical community’s great concern for the young and families.”
Boo Tyson, director of the MAINStream Coalition of Kansas, an organization that advocates separation of religion and government, human rights, civil liberties and public education, said one of the biggest challenges facing the faith community is coming together around common values despite differences.
“There are common values that pull us together,” she said. “What is hard for us is to become part of a movement with people with whom you disagree about some things. We spend so much time with people we agree with.”
The purpose of the database is to help build coalitions and networking between secular and religious advocacy organizations in America, according to the report, and to provide background research and religious contacts for the media.
Buckley said the Internet and new technologies have played a role in community organizing, it is fairly new to the faith community. “We hope this is an important step,” he said, in bringing “tech-savvy advocacy to the faith community.”
Faith in Public Life is a non-profit organization dedicated to coordinating diverse religious voices to advance issues of justice and the common good and providing an alternative voice to those who seek to use religion as tool to divide and exclude.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.