For some time now, groups like the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, have served as a conduit for funneling a particular political agenda into the hearts and minds of many Christians.
These same organizations have also returned the favor by channeling right wing religious concerns into the Republican Party. This back and forth has been so successful that in some instances it’s hard to tell where the church ends and the Republican Party begins. And from the political side there are some who think the GOP is “God’s Own Party.”
Now it appears the left wants to get in on the fun. Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, argues in his book The Left Hand of God, that the religion and politics coming from the right is harmful to our democracy. He calls on progressive people of faith to make common cause with other moderate and liberal groups and offer an alternative voice in the world of faith and politics.
Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine made a similar case last year in his best selling God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.
And it seems that this call for a re-energized religious and political left is starting to gain some traction. Lerner has formed the Network of Spiritual Progressives—a national group which seeks to refocus religious discussions away from the usual hot button issues championed by the right and onto social justice issues such as poverty and health care.
The Network hosted a convention in Washington, D.C recently which was attended by over 1000 participants. Observers believe that this strong turnout is an indication that the religious left, which as been dormant since the civil rights and the Vietnam War era, is starting to gain strength.
And from the political side, members of the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Democratic Faith Working Group in an effort to help Democrats talk about their faith and how that faith may affect public policy. And just last month, Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill, called for a fusion between religion and liberal politics.
While I am sympathetic to many of the issues raised by Lerner and Wallis, especially those that relate to economic justice, I question the wisdom of hitching our faith too closely to any partisan effort–on the left or the right. The faith community certainly has a legitimate role to play in the political process, but as the faith community, not as an auxiliary to some other entity.
Somehow we must seek to maintain an independent identity as people of faith. We want to be in a position to affect the whole political process. For example, suppose we put our considerable influence to bear on the issue of campaign finance reform. Take corporate and other special interest money out of play–render the Jack Abramhoffs and the Ralph Reeds irrelevant. Candidates would be forced to talk about real issues of real people and offer plans for dealing with them.
Picking a partisan side to support is simply not our best move. We should take our stand outside both parties and praise them or criticize them equally as needed using Jesus’ ideal of community as our standard of measure. No party will ever actually bring that ideal to pass, but that’s the only platform the Christian community should ever give its heart to.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.