The chairman of Tennessee’s Democratic Party says it’s time that progressive religious voices stop being drowned out by the Religious Right.
“We need to start making our voices heard again,” Gray Sasser, a Nashville attorney elected in January to lead the state’s Democrats, said Thursday at a screening of “Golden Rule Politics,” a DVD produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics.
As a Christian and a party official, Sasser said he feels a duty to recapture a moral voice for Democrats. “We’re not going to be defensive about it any more,” he said. “We’re going to talk about what we believe in.”
Sasser said events like the screening and panel discussion at Nashville’s Second Presbyterian Church are nice, “but if the ideas and the sharing end in this room, and we don’t talk about it out in the community and do the work of politics, the benefits are lost.”
“From practical politics, if you’re not doing the work, you’re not going to win the fight,” he said.
Unless progressives are willing to challenge right-wing radio broadcasts, write letters to editors and otherwise confront the Religious Right, Sasser told the forum of Doing Justly, a faith-based project of the Tennessee Alliance for Progress, “the discussion starts to lose some of its relevance.”
Sasser, who grew up a Presbyterian, said in some parts of Tennessee it’s tough being a spokesman for Democrats. Instead of being a “voice crying in the wilderness,” he said, “it would be nice to have a choir singing behind us.”
“We have an opportunity in less than 12 months to change the face of this country,” he said. “If we don’t take advantage of that opportunity when we have it, they don’t come around very often.”
William Buchanan, pastor of Nashville’s Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, said religion involves not only right belief but also right practice. “That is why I think this administration is the most corrupt in the last 50 years,” Buchanan said. “They claim belief, but they don’t demonstrate the right practice.”
“Part of that is because there is not a moral reflection component to their agenda,” he said. “They promote fear. If you vote against a Republican you vote against God. To me that is pandering fear … not moral reflection.”
Mark Schiftan, senior rabbi at the Nashville’s Temple Congregation Ohabai Sholom, noted the Religious Left doesn’t have the same kind of attention-grabbing voices like conservatives Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson.
“We on the Religious Left have somehow ceded moral high ground to the Religious Right,” Schiftan said.
“People who are more toward the left religiously believe there is a value in the struggle to define their position, that there is a sacred obligation to consider a diversity of opinions and to continually ask ourselves what it is that our faith asks us to do,” he said. “It is very different from those on the Religious Right that are rock-certain that their views are unwavering on every social and political issue. It is talking a very different language.”
The last time a Democrat tried something like that, Schiftan said, was when John Kerry said he was motivated by teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. “And of course his church reprimanded him for his beliefs,” Schiftan said.
Tim Alexander, minister of Smith Springs Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., said the discussion reminded him of a passage from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, where God says the prophets lie, the priests rule by their own authority and God’s people “love it that way.”
“Understand silence is always a harbinger of bad things in this area,” Alexander said. “When water boarding is tolerated, people are quiet. When we have a booming economy, when we have literally the entire population of the southern U.S. without health care–in terms of the number–the only people to blame are not the politicians, the pastors who parade them around. It’s the people in the pews and people in the cars who love it this way. We are comfortable with it. Until we get uncomfortable with it, it won’t change.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.