Rise of the ‘Religious Left' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Rise of the ‘Religious Left'

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They showed up to the polls, packing their religious ideologies and ready to vote. They had the teachings of their prophets in mind as they drove to the polls—some worked to convince others of the merits of their candidates; others made private decisions and did their civic duty quietly. These are people who probably voted their conscience—even when it went against their selfish economic interests. Some likely allowed their religion to sway their vote.


Only, in this case, we're not talking about the "Religious Right" of Karl Rove fame. Most of these people didn't vote for Bush. This is a different group of religious folks—rarely mentioned by major media outlets—present here in Jackson and elsewhere in the nation. Some indicators suggest that, while they've been quiet in the past, they're ready to mobilize and speak up now. Some are tired of having their God's name used to support political ideas that they don't like.

Meet the folks you might call the "Religious Left"—the lesser publicized, but equally devoted, group of religious people who have a deep concern for politics.

"It almost makes no sense to describe a religious right without describing a religious left," David Dykes says. Dykes has been in the public eye of progressive religious thinking in Jackson since the birth of the D.L. Dykes Foundation and the "Faith and Reason" program. The Dykes Foundation was created as an "alcove" to the work his father D.L. Dykes did in the United Methodist ministry. Fed up with the manipulations of television evangelism and the growth of literalism and fundamentalism, D.L. Dykes dedicated his life to spreading a more critical awareness of religion.

"The foundation was created so that, at his death, the work he did in the intellectual understanding of Christianity and the ethics that comes out of such an understanding, would continue," David Dykes explains, "not only to preserve the archives of his teaching, but also to inspire others to continue their vectors."

Since he has been in Jackson, Dykes has seen those "vectors" manifested. "We have found a very surprising fit in Jackson," he says. "We have found a growing community of people who want to go deeper, want to ask questions about the Christian tradition and history and who want to … grow in awareness about other world traditions. There are a lot of engaged people here who are very concerned with issues that typically what we call 'the left' is concerned with."

'We Have Social Principles'

Some of these engaged people attend Dykes' Sunday School class at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church. This is a group of Christians—some of whom could also be described as "liberal thinkers"—who are interested in really exploring and debating the Bible. They meet every Sunday morning at 10 a.m.

Though I'm told that Dykes is an important driver of discussion in the class, he was out of town on the morning of Dec. 5, the day I attended. The attendees were mostly couples and parents—30- and 40-somethings, all white and probably all upper-middle class in income and social stature in Jackson.

One woman brought up the religious right. "Until some concrete statistics are brought up, they're going to take credit for the election," she says, suggesting that—perhaps—the religious right isn't as powerful as the media and pundits suggest. The group felt free to discuss homosexuality candidly, with many saying homosexuals should be accepted and respected in their church. They seem serious about examining Scripture with both mind and heart.

But these religious liberals can also be found elsewhere around town, in other churches and in the community, calling for a broader depiction of the "religious."

One of these is Brad Corban, a 20-year-old Millsaps student who readily admits he doesn't know all the answers. But, he avows, he knows that his Bible has taught him differently from the religious right. He drinks a beer casually as our interview begins, but he starts to pace around his room as he starts talking about the ways in which conservatives have distorted his religion.

"George W. Bush should not call himself a United Methodist," he says firmly. "He does not uphold the Methodist positions. We oppose the death penalty; Bush does not. He does not support civil rights or legislation against hate crimes. We have social principles. George W. Bush does not."

For Dr. Hollis Robbins, a professor of English at Millsaps College, the Jewish faith and liberal politics are inextricably connected. She cites the Sabbath, a day of not working for Jews, as a large determinate in this. In not working, she explains, you must constantly attend to questions of what work is. For a mother, changing a diaper is work. Though Jews are supposed to refrain from working on the Sabbath, some work must transcend these rules.

"The act of thinking about this historically says you cannot do this and not be liberal," she says. "You have to constantly be thinking about other people because the rules are flexible enough to include other people and situations. The practice of being Jewish requires constant attention to the world around you. You can't do that and not be liberal."

A 'Spiritualist' Movement

These Jacksonians appear to be part of a larger trend that's becoming more vocal across America. Catlyn Keenan, a religious studies teacher at Front Range Community College in Colorado, explains, "There is a serious 'spiritualist' movement in the U.S. consisting of people who have deep faith, not necessarily in the Christian God, and who define themselves as liberal precisely because of that faith."

Though founding fathers wrote separation of church and state into the First Amendment to the Constitution, there is no doubt that many American voters are influenced by their religious views. It's unavoidable, Rabbi Debra Kassoff says. Kassoff is 34 and the resident rabbi at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.

"My interpretation of Jewish tradition definitely suggests a particular way of seeing the world, and a lot of those beliefs turn out to be political in nature," she explains. "These beliefs should be reflected in public policy, in the ways in which we run our country and the ways in which we vote."

Jackson State University Computer Science professor Dr. Houssain Kettani wholeheartedly believes that religious views should be reflected through political votes. A 26-year-old Muslim, Kettani smiles, almost chuckles, as he talks. He is very polite and very serious about voting based on his Muslim beliefs, though he believes freedom should be extended to people of all races. "What you believe in shouldn't affect others who do not believe in the same thing. On the other hand, it's very hard to draw a line between religion and politics, especially if religion is a way of life."

The Voting Spectrum

Though both the religious right and the religious left voted the ways in which their religion had taught them best, the projection of what that means was very different. Polls across the nation showed that, for the religious right, abortion and homosexuality—particularly in states where a ban on homosexual marriage was on the ballots—were the "moral value" issues that drove them to the polls. For many members of the religious left, this is, at best, a limited view of morality and at worst a distortion of their religious values altogether.

"It is horribly biased to say that moral values are just about homosexuality and abortion," Corban seethes. "To a peace activist, the war is a moral issue. To an environmentalist, the environment is a moral issue. The death penalty is a moral issue."

In fact, while many of us are familiar with the 2004 exit polls that suggested that 22 percent of voters cited "moral values" as their top reason for voting, further study shows that not everyone agrees what those values are. Another poll conducted by Zogby International a few days later found that, when asked "which moral issue most influenced your vote," 42 percent said the war in Iraq. The most urgent moral problem facing Americans was "greed and materialism," which got 33 percent of the responses.

Though Corban says essentially anything can be called a moral issue, the problem is the dialogue that frames such issues. "We are not talking about religious responses to questions other than homosexuality and abortion. I suppose that's easier because they are easy issues for fundamentalists to get worked up about. They are 'problems' that are easily legislated."

Larger questions of morality are not as easily legislated, he says, using poverty as an example. It's an issue that has been avoided by both major parties. Though he feels liberals have better addressed poverty in the past, the issue took backseat to non-issues like homosexuality in the last election.

Rescue the Needy

The Bible speaks often of helping the poor. The King James Version of Psalm 82: 3-4 reads, "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy."

"All of Jewish law is about giving to the poor," Robbins affirms. "You give all of the time."

This attitude is not something she sees manifested in the Republican Party. For instance, despite numerous attempts by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts to raise the minimum wage, Republican senators have managed repeatedly to squelch his action. The minimum wage has remained at $5.15 since 1997. Since Bush took office, the number of Americans without health insurance has climbed by 4 million, to nearly 44 million. Many Republicans call for an end to social programs, insisting that people on welfare will never help themselves.

"If you think for one second that there are more lazy people on welfare than in other businesses, you're wrong," Corban says. "I have never met anyone on welfare who is living fat off the government. They're working and are just appreciative that people want to help them."

People must alter their views of the ways poverty is perpetrated, Corban says. "As much as people want to say that systematic racism has ended, it hasn't. I inherit wealth because I'm white. Black people inherit poverty because they're black. I am willing to rectify that. People say African Americans could make it if they work hard. George W. Bush didn't have to work hard! It's not fair!"

Sharing Our Wealth

The religious left chafes at the notion that they just want to give hand-outs to the poor; they want to help them have some bootstraps to grab onto, often via charitable organizations. Non-profits generally receive government aid or tax breaks in addition to community donations to provide community service. One of Jackson's largest non-profit groups is Operation Shoestring, an interdenominational faith-based ministry with financial backing and support from several congregations and local businesses. Operation Shoestring provides help to needy families, but it also works with the families to discern which factors cause poverty, specifically providing nurturing and mentoring to kids at an early age.

Executive Director Robert Langford says: "In my faith tradition, we are called to be ministers. To love God and each other is to minister." To fully love each other, he asserts, we must restructure the way we live.

"I don't know what it is about us that makes us afraid to share our wealth, which is really about sharing our power and giving up some control. If we do that, there would be less poverty," he explains.

It's easier, he says, for churches and businesses to try to help with immediate needs than to understand the reasons why children don't have sweaters. "That's not bad," he says. "We are called to be Good Samaritans, but at the same time, we have to diligently scratch our heads and ask how we can try to change this."

For Reform Judaism, alleviating poverty is best done through both helping the poor and creating means for them to help themselves. Reform Judaism points to Deuteronomy 15:11 to rationalize assisting the poor. "There will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you, open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land," the scripture reads. The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism also maintains that people should be helped to become more self-sufficient, which cannot be done until the minimum wage is raised: "An increase in the minimum wage would allow those in entry-level jobs to be less reliant on federal assistance programs and to become more self sufficient."

Still more should be done, Corban insists. "As long as there is poverty, the church must be out there calling to end it. If the federal government can tell us not to kill people because it's bad for the common good, they can make it illegal to be homeless, illegal for people not receive health care. As that saying goes, I would like us to live simply so that others can simply live."

The Moral War

Allowing others to "simply live" cannot be accomplished through the Iraq war, Corban notes. And he's not alone. Many religious leftists see the war as a serious moral issue. One of these is Greta Terry, a member of New Hope Baptist Church.

Before the election, "The 700 Club" ran a program with Pat Robertson on the role of religion in the election. Robertson noted that while historically many African Americans have voted for Democrats, this election was different because of religion. African Americans had been reading their Bibles and recognized that homosexuality and abortion are sins and were breaking party lines and voting Republican.

Terry disagrees. "There are some who may have switched because of that," she says. "Here in the South, some of the Southern Baptists, which is a predominately white group, swayed because of those reasons. If you look at the issues, though, there is a moral issue relating to the war. The Republican Party is supporting that. It's a matter of what is expedient politically. The war is a very important moral issue."

The "bring-'em-on" attitude expressed by some Republicans in relation to the war is particularly disturbing to Robbins, who recalls the days of Moses in which Miriam was shunned by God for dancing at the death of the Pharoahs. Robbins points to Proverbs 31:17, which says, "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth."

Mark Pendergrast, author of "Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection" and a Unitarian living in Vermont, says that while many American Christians do worry about innocent lives, many fail to think about the innocent lives of non-Americans: "I do worry about the poor Americans who are far from home and loved ones, trying to maintain order in Iraq, who may at any moment be killed by a sniper, blown up by a suicide bomber or kidnapped and beheaded, I also worry about the Iraqis. Over 1,000 Americans have died in Iraq so far. That's horrible. But some 15,000 Iraqi civilians have died, many of them innocent women, children and old people. Where are the car magnets that say, 'Support the Innocent Civilians in Iraq?'"

The war in Iraq has been full of behavior antithetical to the Muslim religion, Kettani says: "We do not believe in going to other countries to kidnap people and put them in cages. That's not humane."

Thou Shalt Not?

Following spiritual doctrines that speak out against death, many religious liberals find themselves unwilling to align with the Republican stance on the death penalty.

Though many Christians say the Bible supports the death penalty, Robbins believes this has been taken out of context. She points to the "eye for an eye" verses in Exodus 21, verses 23-24. "An eye for an eye means no punitive damages. The punishment should fit the crime," she explains. "This is a limit, not a prescription."

The way that all Americans feel about the death penalty depends on how the question is asked. In recent polls, around 60 of Americans believe we should retain capital punishment, according to the website ReligiousTolerance.org. However, when the question includes alternative solutions, such as life without parole or a life sentence requiring the guilty party to work in order to pay restitution to the victim's family, over 50 percent support the alternatives. And over 50 percent of those surveyed in 2001 by ABC News said they'd support a moratorium on the death penalty while DNA studies and other forensic science was examined. Since 1973, 116 death-penalty inmates have been exonerated; 51 of those since 1997. Indications are that forensic technology combined with outrageously bad defenses mounted by the court-appointed attorneys of poor defendants may be part of a system that not only is meting out capital punishment inefficiently and irresponsibly.

And Justice For All

Affirming human life is more than just not issuing death, though, say many on the religious left. Humans must also practice less religious exclusion—methods that exclude others using doctrine or denomination, for instance, or by labels such as "sinner" and "churchgoer."

"It is a distortion of Christianity anytime Christian people gather together for the purpose of excluding other human beings. That flies in the face of any serious desire to follow Christ. It doesn't fit," Dykes avows.

This exclusion is rampant in the modern church, says Stacy Andrews, lead pastor at The Journey in Fondren. "Jesus said he was a friend of sinners," he says with conviction. "The modern church could not be more opposite of that. They are friendly with the other high religious people. Sinners will not be comfortable in that context."

Because of that, he felt it was his duty to facilitate a place where all people would be welcome. He and 34 other Christians opened The Journey on Sept. 14, 2004, to allow people to come together to worship God—no matter what. Though some churches that view homosexuality as a sin shun homosexuals, for instance, Andrews feels it is important to embrace all people. "I think homosexuality is a sin," he says. "But I'm going to accept that person. I have so many sins. I have to have a place that loves and accepts me as a flawed person."

Exclusionary attitudes are manifested toward people of other religions, especially Muslims, whom many Americans believe are violent or somehow connected to terrorism. A change in media depictions of terrorism is in order, Kettani says. "When Protestants or Jews or Catholics kill people, you don't hear about Protestant Terrorism or Catholic terrorism. A terrorist's religion is not revealed unless he is a Muslim." Kettani says the best way to change these attitudes is by engaging in discussions with actual Muslims before jumping to conclusions or prejudices. Muslims and Christians and Jews actually agree on several spiritual verses. Still, misunderstanding groups of people because of their religion can lead to a great deal of social strife. "A lot of violations have happened after Sept. 11, especially to the Muslim community, that I'm sure are going to be regretted later," Houssain says, adding that the Bush-backed Patriot Act is something that Muslims are against.

The narrow-minded are acting out of tradition, Pendergrast explains, "I think that most people and religions tend to be narrowly ethnocentric. This is natural, in a way. 'My family matters more than yours. My religion is true and yours is false, so my religion matters more than yours. The people who live in my country matter more than the people in your country. Human beings matter more than any other living thing.'"

To think about the positions of others, Robbins points to the teachings of John Rawls, a philosopher at Harvard University, who proposes an exercise called the "veil of ignorance" in which a person must pretend he is about to be born. The person does not know their class position or social status, their natural talents, intelligence or strengths. They must then design a worldly society that will work for them no matter what their place in life is. The idea is that people doing this exercise will design a society that will be fair to everyone because they don't want to risk living in an intolerable position themselves. This exercise, Robbins says, calls for humans to think of others and to realize that acting out of self-interest often precipitates unjust actions.

Many religious liberals call for an even more in-depth religious response to politics. Instead of looking at religious texts like the Bible, the Torah and the Koran literally, many religious people call for a re-envisioning of these texts.

"The whole idea of church is that there are eternal truths that must be re-contexted in every generation," Andrews says. "Traditionally, that is threatening to people because they think you're changing something. The fact that the Bible is eternal means that it can stand to be re-contexted."

For Andrews, this means seeing AIDS victims as equivalent to the Biblical lepers. It means feeding the hungry in Smith Park. It means getting away from churches with flashy productions. "People will attend a place like that because it is fun, but that's not what the church is," he explains. "[Church] is connecting on a mystical level to the divine. All of the extras can be distracting."

At The Journey, flashy lights and expensive suits are nowhere to be found. Instead, congregants worship from futons in what looks like a minimalist living room. Andrews preaches from a stool at the front of the living room, often backed by an age-diverse group of musicians clutching their instruments. This minimalist approach to worship provides less distractions, he says.

It's OK to Think

For progressive Jews, too, placing Scripture into context is necessary. Kassoff explains that within Reform Judaism, there is a widespread acceptance of a historical, critical approach to scripture, which takes into account "everything we have been able to learn about the history of the period of time in which it was written."

"[The Torah] is a record of people struggling to find God," she says. "But because we understand that it came from a different time and place, that it was put together by a variety of different sources, all of whom were shaped by their own politics, I think that we have a responsibility to, as best we can, try to understand the text in its context."

Though Kassoff admits that there are elements of the human condition that "transcend time and space," humans must take into account the difference in knowledge between modern religious people and those of thousands of years ago. She explains, "It is very important for us to get as close as possible to understanding how radically different the world was. There wasn't even a word for religion then because there was no such thing as a secular space. It was a world that didn't have all of the knowledge that we have about science and technology. Knowing the things that we know and having the experiences that we've had changes things."

For Corban, this attitude directly manifests itself, for instance, in the ways in which homosexuality is viewed. Though he grew up befriending gays, he believed that his gay friends were still going to hell. For a long time, he felt the scriptures he had read so often clearly named homosexuality as a sin. As he has grown in his faith and study, he has come to believe that the Bible does not warn against homosexuals.

"What we know as homosexuality didn't exist then," he admits. "Paul wasn't talking about two men in a loving relationship. It doesn't talk about gay marriage in the Bible. It talks about gay sex. Those verses were talking about apprenticeships where older men had sex with little boys."

Discussing the Taboo

Kassoff, too, believes the Bible's discourses on homosexuality refer to specific behaviors, not entire identities: "There is plenty of scholarship that suggests that the way people understood sexuality in the Ancient World and the way people understand sexuality today is much different. Sexuality was a behavior, not an identity."

This contextualizing of the Bible in reference to homosexuality has become more popular recently. Harvard Chaplain Peter Gomes discussed it thoroughly in his book "The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (1996, Avon Books)."

"One would assume that the Bible has much to say on the subject," he writes. "It has not. The subject of homosexuality is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, nor in the Summary of the Law. No prophet discourses on the subject. Jesus himself makes no mention of it."

Gomes goes on to explain that the word homosexuality "was not coined until the latter half of the nineteenth century when it was used by a Hungarian writer commenting on the Prussian legal code…the first use of the term in an English Bible is to be found in the Revised Standard Version of 1946."

He spends almost 30 pages discussing verses typically used to speak against homosexuality. In addition to discussions of Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians, Gomes critiques the widely held notion that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. He writes, "What is revealing about all this is that nowhere in the Old or New Testaments is the sin of Sodom, the cause of its sudden and terrible destruction, equated with homosexuals or with homosexuality."

For Pendergrast, acceptance of homosexuals is just logical. "What mystifies me about the violent reaction to gay marriage is that it is usually framed as somehow being a threat to straight marriage," he says. "I am married, and I don't see how in the world gay marriage interferes with my marriage."

Kettani disagrees, though. "Any religion of the book (Judaism, Christianity or Islam) condemns the act of homosexuality," he says. "Anyone who says otherwise may be politically correct, but religiously wrong."

Though Gomes dismisses the story of Sodom in Genesis 18 and 19 as Biblical proof that God condemns homosexuality, Kettani sees it as a clear sign of God's intentions, explaining that Lot's people earned God's wrath due to their openness about homosexuality. Kettani sees homosexuals as sinners, but he still believes in treating people with kindness. Homosexuals, he says, should be treated like drug addicts and urged into rehabilitation to overcome their "addiction." Because of this, he feels that laws should be instated to keep homosexuals from flaunting their sin. Furthermore, he warns against the possibility of gay marriage by stating: "What if all Americans decided that they are gays and they are all to marry the same sex? Then, in a couple of decades, Americans will become extinct."

Anyone who tries to restructure spiritual texts to justify homosexuality is either unknowledgeable or insincere, he says.

But Kassoff believes that critically revisiting spiritual texts serves to humanize the texts, which only further empowers them. "This is a text upon which Western Civilization, to a great extent, has been built," she adds. "That's pretty powerful. If for no other reason, it deserves our close attention and study. So much that is in there informs who we are."

Overcoming the Censors

Spreading these ideas has been difficult, though. CNN exit polls report that in the last election, 59 percent of Protestant Christians and 52 percent of Catholics voted for Bush. Though 74 percent of Jews voted for Kerry, the left did not challenge the right on its religious standpoints adequately. Kassoff admits that she rarely engaged people of other beliefs in political conversations. Corban believes this happens because religious people are often afraid of stepping on others' toes. He says: "I want a change in the national dialogue. We can't censor ourselves. The church is worried about being too controversial and stepping on people's feet, but I am ready to stomp on other people's feet. We have to start talking about these things. That's the first step."

But what if this backfires? The United Church of Christ recently tried to run a commercial on both NBC and CBS about the denomination's acceptance of homosexuals. Both networks informed the Church that their ad, which states, "Jesus didn't turn people away, neither do we," is "too controversial." CBS specifically cited the Bush administration's anti-gay marriage amendment as a reason they could not run the ad. The ad's use of a religious framework to discuss a political issue made the message more "controversial."

During this week's Sunday School at Saint Andrew's, most everyone agreed that the commercial's religious nature is the reason it won't be aired on the networks. They're angry that this message of acceptance is being rejected. But one man noted that the networks are acting out of self-interest. The religious right might boycott if the commercial is aired. One important question, this group concluded, is a matter of how to present their views to the other side.

Such dialogues are the hardest, says Dykes. Though it's easy to reject outright someone of a completely different ideology, discussions between people who have a fair amount in common—those with different ideas of what it means to be a Christian, for instance—are harder. But Dykes insists that now is the time to engage in conversations with people of different ideologies. "Very difficult conversations must arise out of a willingness of both parties to enter the discussion, committed to the idea that you will treat each other with dignity and respect," he says. "We need to be willing to be invited into uncomfortable venues and topics to discuss why we believe what we do and what that means for the quality of our lives together."

Seeing the Good

In a recent column, "The Democrats Need a Spiritual Left," Rabbi Michael Lerner maintains that in order for Democrats to call for changes in the Republican party, they must first "give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil."

"It's time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right," he writes. "Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet."

This also means not leaving the church. Though many Christian liberals have left their churches when faced with inconsistencies, Dykes says liberal Christians, especially, should be committed to staying. "Many of us have left or are leaving because we feel so disenfranchised," he admits. "But if you want to see the Church be different, come help us. Come asking your questions, insisting that the churches be responsive to injustice in all of its forms."

Furthermore, Andrews adds that humans need the interaction of a church. "I meet so many people who love God but decide to leave the church, who say, 'I love God, but I'm just going to go do it on my own,'" he says. "It's really impossible to do that. So many of Christ's commands require us to be with other people."

It is for this reason that Corban feels he must become a Methodist minister. He explains: "We let the church do nothing. I want to be a minister. I can't not be. I don't want to leave the leadership of my church up to people who aren't up to it," he says.

"The world needs good politicians, good teachers and good preachers."

Previous Comments

ID
77919
Comment

Casey, This is a great story. The underlying message I get out of this is that you don't have to be a hard-core "moralist/legalist" to get to Heaven (or whatever one believes to be the ideal endpoint of existence). Even more specifically, being a good person does not depend on uncritically swallowing one or two narrow sets of political issues In fact, I would call trusting (as opposed to honestly agreeing with) conservatives and traditionalists -- whether in matters of religion, politics, or whatever -- VIOLATES God's commands to us (recall the First and Second Commandments, then make the conceptual connections). As for placing knee-jerk faith in what Arch-Conservative version of Christianity? Well, the Bible itself does say something about Satan appearing as "an angel of light", Jesus' warning to beware of wolves in sheeps clothing, and so forth. Again, this article accomplishes its purposes very well - showing that you don't have to be a knee-jerk conservative to be a true Christian AND showing how spiritual values (even Christian ones) are compatible with progressive values.

Author
Philip
Date
2004-12-09T07:10:02-06:00
ID
77920
Comment

thanks, Philip :) I had great people (and a lot of 'em!) to interview. whew.

Author
casey
Date
2004-12-09T08:20:41-06:00
ID
77921
Comment

Nice article, indeed. Religion/values was one of those things in the election that was made into such a simplistic, "you're with us or you're against us" kind of a thing, that the coverage became meaningless. I read a good piece the other day that talked about how hard it is to have a discussion when the Right has "values" and the Left only has "opinions." One of my post-election vows has been to become more openly religious. I've often hesitated to talk about going to church, because I don't want people to think I'm some sort of christian-bigot who arrogantly assumes everyone who doesn't think like me is going to go to hell. But, I'm getting over that, and am trying to wear my beliefts (and questions) on my sleeve, in much the same way my political beliefs are put up for discussion every day. Another thing that we need to think about is that the economic future of the state depends on this type of discussion. I've known too many jews and hindus who are bemused and offended by their christian colleagues who truly believe that they are going to go to hell. It's not an environment that's going to attract the best and the brightest.

Author
kate
Date
2004-12-09T09:14:19-06:00
ID
77922
Comment

so good to see this article. by the way, another great Christian leftie is Sister Joan Chissiter (Catholic nun) who was on Moyers a while back http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript346_full.html#sisterjoan but on the not-good side, we still have the Methodist Church defrocking a 'practicing' lesbian minister. Organized religion , in the form of churches with their rules, has such a looong way to go - but I applaud all the efforts of the left minorities that stay within and work for change to truly care about all people. Well, maybe not ... ha.

Author
sunshine
Date
2004-12-09T13:21:17-06:00
ID
77923
Comment

Sister Joan is indead awesome, and was in Jackson in October as part of the Faith and Reason seminar at Millsaps. She has much to teach us about living in opposition - she remains a nun, committed to the Catholic church, despite the fact that their stance on women drives her nuts. She's wonderful at talking with people across beliefs.

Author
kate
Date
2004-12-09T14:21:43-06:00
ID
77924
Comment

This is an excellent article, Casey. Thank you. Do any of the rest of you read Sojourners? There's a really different viewpoint provided by David Batstone in this issue (his column is called 'Batteries Not Required'). Here's an excerpt: To ban any reference to religious conviction in the early history of America would be rewriting history. So that's ridiculous. But the complaint goes deeper in the Cupertino case, because Williams is a practicing Christian who wants his students to realize that faith in God continues to be an important element in government. A parent of a student at the Cupertino school complains, "This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination." I honestly do not know if Williams is directly proselytizing in the classroom. I bet not, though I would not be surprised if he hopes that a seed of faith might be planted in his students' lives. For most secularists, it does not matter. Any teaching about religion in history or contemporary life is akin to "indoctrination." Cultural conservatives likely are standing atop their chairs cheering at this point. But why don't they apply that same enthusiasm to defend the right of the United Church of Christ to proclaim its message on national television? It's because they are no less interested in legislating their own narrow stream of moral values. They, too, want all Americans to be converted into their own image. After reading all of the hype about the "controversial" commercial, I went to view it on an Internet site. I was totally shocked at how innocuous it was. In my opinion, it also captured the gospel stories of Jesus accepting into table fellowship those very people that his society deemed as "unclean." Like it or not, UCC theology and ethics has a firm grounding in the biblical tradition of grace and freedom. http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.display&issue=041208#3

Author
C.W.
Date
2004-12-09T14:33:22-06:00
ID
77925
Comment

I'm a big fan of Sojouners, C.W., and of Jim Wallis. Thanks for sharing. I particularly enjoyed the end of Casey's piece, especially when you find out that Brad plans to be a Methodist minister. I cried at that point. The "religious left" deserves a voice, too. They tend to be the most loving, compassionate, caring people I know. Excellent work, Casey, giving them a voice.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-12-09T14:39:49-06:00
ID
77926
Comment

Kate:Another thing that we need to think about is that the economic future of the state depends on this type of discussion. I've known too many jews and hindus who are bemused and offended by their christian colleagues who truly believe that they are going to go to hell. It's not an environment that's going to attract the best and the brightest. Philip: It's not just Jews and Hindus - it's moderate Christians like me too. One of Jackson's weak points is there is WAAAAAAY too much proselytizing. Whether in the workplace or out in the wider city, I never in my life ran into so many instances of people proclaiming - though not actually being preachy about - their Christian faith!!! I ran across too many instances like this in my 13 months here for it to have been just coincidence. Not even Louisiana Tech and my Delta home town was this fervent[1]! (consider that Tech is well-known for being a quite evangelical-friendly university). If I, a moderate-to-liberal Christian, felt uncomfortable with this, then I can only imagine how non-Christians must have felt. Since my grandfather grew up in Simpson Co, I can certainly understand how he came to be rather (but not hard core) doctrinaire about his beliefs. [1] If "dry laws" are a good indication, The Delta tends to be less "Bible Belt" than the hill counties and parishes in the region. The Mississippi River area only a scattered few Dry Counties/Parishes. Although, theologically speaking, people tend to be just as conservative as the rest of the Deep South, they are definitely more laid back about people who have different beliefs. Growing up, I saw only a very small few instances of proselytizing. In fact, my school peers rarely talked about religion at all! (Race is another story, unfortunately)

Author
Philip
Date
2004-12-10T01:56:58-06:00
ID
77927
Comment

Philip, what's a real disconnect for me is to attend meetings with MS Development Authority and have them talk about Richard Florida, Creative Class, the need for diversity - and then start lunch with a blessing. Not a generic blessing, but a Jesus-centered one. Now, I believe that values/ethics/morals have an important place in the business world, but I also think it's pretty darn easy to concoct statements that reach across traditions and focus on things like honesty, truth, integrity, without invoking Jesus. Call me crazy, but I think it's important.

Author
kate
Date
2004-12-10T09:31:29-06:00
ID
77928
Comment

Many people are raised in a religious bubble -- taught to never look beyond their own faith to learn to be understanding and accepting and non-judgmental of others. That's sad, and a recipe for disaster in a country build on principles of freedom of thought and religion. As Todd likes to say, we need to back to some plain ole civics basics. In general, I find that some people who have never left Mississippi are more prone to this type of religious-centricism -- perhaps because they've never had to work and live in a more pluralistic environment. I'm generalizing, of course, and I really want to see us keep our best and brightest, but it's sure a good idea to be exposed to different cultures and mores for a little while. I believe that makes you more respectful of religion (including your own) than less. Of course, I'd rather see these folks cherry-picking the "Creative Class" concept grow up a bit right here in Jackson and Mississippi, and figure out tolerance is at the heart of a successful Creative Class movement. (Read all the chapters, guys.) And that includes tolerance of different religious beliefs (and people who choose different lifestyles). In essence, many folks need to work on their own house more. The reason I left Mississippi in the first place was being around too much extreme hypocrisy of people who were so dogmatic and unaccepting of others -- who then didn't practice themselves what they preached. You know, the fundamentalist deacon cheating on his wife, for one example. There's room for us all here. That's what America is about.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-12-10T10:22:42-06:00
ID
77929
Comment

kate, philip, ladd, thanks for those great comments. I've only been here in Miss. a year and am still flabbergasted (polite term!) cannot imagine going to a meeting like yours, kate. let's just say perhaps it's more of a challenge here than just about anywhere else (along with maybe Texas, Utah, Wyoming...) Fine, if you like challenges!

Author
sunshine
Date
2004-12-10T14:22:14-06:00
ID
77930
Comment

Texas? No Way! At least we ( I live here now) have: *Austin, as in The Peoples' Republic thereof (quickly turning into The Lone Star State's answer to San Francisco!). Bush had NO chance in Travis County despite his home state status. *Houston - Montrose District, one of the nation's largest and most active GLBT communities, has (or at least did have) an openly lesbian city councilwoman. *Dallas (my current residence) - the county just elected as sheriff aHispanic lesbian Democrat. Plus there's the Oak Lawn and Lower Greenville sections of the city (Kerry took the former by 3-to-1, and had a slight lead over Bush in the latter). Oak Lawn is the gay-dominated section of the city, while Lower Greenville is like Fondren/Belhaven - only more so. We'll forget about the suburbs in those areas

Author
Philip
Date
2004-12-10T14:50:50-06:00
ID
77931
Comment

Philip, Texas is still the home of Bush. You're just going to have to accept that. Much the same way California is home to both Reagan and now the Governator. We all have our crosses to bear.

Author
kate
Date
2004-12-10T15:54:13-06:00
ID
77932
Comment

philip, you are right about Austin, I love that town , even tho they have resorted to say ' keep it weird.' and the Dallas sheriff , whow, who would think. so, does that mean there is hope here? Jackson could maybe be Austin someday, I do think, but the sheriff, don't think so!

Author
sunshine
Date
2004-12-10T18:35:50-06:00
ID
77933
Comment

and kate, california is really a conundrum isn't it. we can only hope for the best, I love LA as much as Austin. also love MPLS/St. Paul. every city with creative people has a community , big or small, it sustains.

Author
sunshine
Date
2004-12-10T18:44:46-06:00
ID
77934
Comment

Progressive Christians are really starting to talk back to the folks who are telling lies about them. Part of a letter to The Clarion-Ledger today: It bothers me that "Christian people" slander their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My salvation does not depend on who I voted for or what political party I am affiliated with. I will pray for those who feel that way about those who might sit beside them in church next Sunday or their neighbors next door. Jimmy C. Martin Sr. Crystal Springs

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-12-17T10:55:12-06:00
ID
77935
Comment

Being that this story quotes a bunch of progressive Mississippians of faith, it seems a good place for this little bit I just found on the Web: There's no way to get around this basic fact: Mississippi is one of the most hostile states in all America for progressives to live and work. That doesn't mean that there are no progressives in Mississippi. On the contrary: We know there are. However, progressives in Mississippi are forced to live underground, and to shield their political beliefs from their neighbors' eyes. It's at IrregularNews.com, and on a page devoted to progressive resources in Mississippi (which characterizes the JFP as a "mainstream" news source. Guess everything is relative! ) What do all y'all underground, scared-to-admit-it progressives think of this? I'm going back into my converted bomb shelter now. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2004-12-28T19:40:48-06:00
ID
77936
Comment

Donna, I happen to have run across one of its affiliated sites - irregulartimes.com . It was started by a guy in Memphis resident who's a native of upstate New York (near Rochester). I would call that site as almost radical left, if not actually so. As evidence, I point to a Dec 28 story that really stretches the analogy between the Asian Tsunami and 9/11 (the author blames the disaster on the greed of the rich nations refusal to help poor asian nations, among other things) Yes, everything is relative.

Author
Philip
Date
2004-12-28T22:00:08-06:00
ID
77937
Comment

that's what's funny about Mississippi, after years in northern california. There is such a huge spectrum on the "left" that people here just have no concept of. And, conversely, there's a huge spectrum on the "right" that folks in Berkeley can't even begin to conceive. Everything is indeed relative. We shifted from being a bit to the right of the middle in California to being wacked out extremist lefties when we moved here.

Author
kate
Date
2004-12-29T08:00:42-06:00
ID
77938
Comment

I've always found it kind of funny how some Americans get so into this left vs. right thing, seeing how in this county pretty much everyone is a centrist. In some parts of Europe, left means communist and right means fascist. Taking the worldwide view, everything is indeed relative.

Author
Justin
Date
2004-12-29T08:51:41-06:00
ID
77939
Comment

What locale would be half way between Berkeley and the Jackson suburbs? Metro Denver as a whole, perhaps? Central Florida?

Author
Philip
Date
2004-12-29T13:36:35-06:00
ID
77940
Comment

Consider this link Casey's Story, The Sequal The Religious Left Fights Back. Apologies to Casey though, for starting another thread in the forum under "Culture and Society" with the same name as that thread - not trying to steal your continuing thunder. If you want, you can have Todd merge my thread into this discussion. I ve started another thread about this story under "Culture and Society". It'd make for a smoother discussion anyway, since we won't be posting on two boards at onece.

Author
Philip
Date
2005-08-14T23:47:23-06:00

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