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Let's Clear the Air

I was trying to make a distinction between those, like Kos, who are doing a better job regarding religion, and those who are not.
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Kos, you have responded to my post on the Left and religion from yesterday by saying, "Huh?"

I have no idea what Wallis is talking about. Isn't his point exactly what I wrote? Maybe I'm missing something, but it's as if Wallis didn't bother reading my post and merely heard about it second-hand.

Atrios likewise expressed frustration:

As I always want to scream when Wallis writes, WHO ARE THESE DEMOCRATS and how did they ... "manage to appear hostile to faith and to people in faith communities."

It seems like we're talking past each other, so let me try to clear up the confusion. Kos, of course I read your post. I liked it and that's why I responded. Yes, I think we agree on 99% of this issue and I'm glad we're mostly on the same page here, which is why I said:

I read your piece, Religion, values, and politics, and liked a lot of what you said. But I have a few responses to it. You and I have discussed this before, and you are clearly not attacking religion per se, as too many secular progressives have done for a long time.

I was trying to make a distinction between those, like you, who are doing a better job regarding religion, and those who are not. Perhaps I should have been more clear, but I was simply asserting that not everyone in the secular Left agrees with you, and that the problem is the more strident fundamentalist elements on both sides of the secular-religious divide - those in our respective camps with whom we have influence. And we each have a responsibility within those camps - which is I lump myself in with the religious folks who can appear exclusive while proposing my deal:

How about if progressive religious folks, like me, make real sure that we never say, or even suggest, that values have to come from faith - and progressive secular folks, like you, never suggest that progressive values can't come from faith (and perhaps concede that, in fact, they often do).

It's unfortunate that my post has been interpreted by some as personal criticism of you and by extension the entire Left blogosphere. That was not my intention. I've been asked to name names of the worst secular fundamentalist offenders that I'm complaining about, but I have done my best to take the high road - which is why I addressed my post to you, someone I consider to be an ally, especially for creating faith-friendly spaces like Street Prophets.

However, we both know that there are powerful voices on the Left that have no tolerance for faith. As I said, I won't name names, but here are just a very few specifics: I've been attacked publicly by leaders of major progressive organizations who've said that the Left has no need for religion. They've said that religion, "whether conservative or progressive" should have no place in politics. "It's still religion," they say. I remember one particularly lovely comment from after I'd done a talk at a progressive political gathering (with me still in the room), saying that the kind of religion I subscribe to "puts signs out in front of churches that say 'Jews and gays need not apply - just white Aryan men!'" That kind of diatribe says much more about that person's own experience and view of religion than it does about my track record over three decades.

Friends on the boards of major progressive publications tell me they have fought this kind of intolerance of religion for years. A few brave writers in those magazines, who aren't even religious themselves, have labeled this "shooting ourselves in the foot," which is where I got the title for my response to your piece. Friends who've tried to help the Democratic candidates understand religion have been marginalized and disregarded - until after embarrassing losses. I've had Democratic members of Congress who are people of faith tell me for years that they felt marginalized within their party as people of faith; that they were not really allowed to speak as who they were as people of faith. And for those who don't think the Democrats have appeared hostile to religion, read the polls. That can't just all be blamed on Fox News.

Gratefully, much of that is now changing, and dramatically. The media is now featuring more diverse religious voices, including progressive ones. "Progressive evangelical" used to be thought a misnomer, but now it's becoming a movement, as a new generation of evangelical pastors and students leave the Religious Right. And, very significantly, the Democrats are doing much better at connecting issues with values and faith with politics.

In the House, for example, Catholic Democrats have defended their progressive agenda on matters like poverty by directly citing Catholic social teaching, etc. But even here, some of the progressive religious activists who have been working hard on helping the Democrats in changing their attitudes toward religion, and doing so successfully, have also now come under attack from secular progressives who clearly don't want Democrats to be more "faith friendly." And when Barack Obama gave one of the best speeches this capital has ever seen on how faith can enter the public square in ways that are entirely consistent with and respectful of our democracy, pluralism and diversity, he was pretty harshly attacked by the Left blogosphere. I think that is unfortunate, and frankly, it makes religious progressives mad.

My post in response to yours was an effort at peacemaking, mutual respect, and better collaboration. That is has been interpreted otherwise makes me sad.

Let me conclude with a story. I was asked to address the annual meeting of the Democratic state party chairs, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just a week or so after the election. Howard Dean welcomed me warmly and said we and other religious progressives had really helped the party by addressing the religion and "moral values" issues, that they had listened to us. I spoke to the group about how the outcome of the election was more an "opportunity" than a victory, because the things the American people voted for and against had yet to change. I strongly urged a clear populist and progressive agenda, and spoke against a soul-less centrism that many others seemed to advocate. The response in the discussion period and in personal conversations afterwards was almost like a "camp meeting" with Democratic officials eager to say "I'm a Presbyterian," "I'm a Baptist," "I'm a Catholic," "I'm a Jew," "I'm a Unitarian." Everybody was "testifying," as we say. The level of comfort about being "religious" for these Democrats was very new according to almost everyone there.

But here is the relevant thing for our dialogue: Several people spoke in the general session and came up to me later to say that they were "secular" and not religious at all. Each one said, "The way you talked about this subject didn't make me feel left out, or just kicked to the curb. You called for a moral discourse on politics, not just a religious one, and said we were all needed for that."

Kos, I hear that virtually every time I'm out speaking, where "secular" progressives always show up. Consistently, they thank me afterwards for making them feel included too. That is very important to me: Sojourners has been building bridges between religious and secular progressives long before there was a blogosphere, and I have never wanted to "insult our secular progressive allies" as somebody accused me of on your site. My intention in responding to you was the exact opposite - to continue to dialogue and help the process of healing between progressive religious and seculars along. If there were ways my wording failed to do that, I am genuinely sorry. And I certainly wasn't coming after you, as some of your readers thought who rose up in your defense. I suppose it all just shows how important this dialogue is.

As recent campaigns show, these realities are changing significantly, but only due to the efforts of folks fighting an uphill battle against entrenched attitudes and popular perceptions. I'm glad for the efforts of folks like you and the progressive religious blogs I have on my blog roll, but I think we can all acknowledge that there's still plenty of work to be done.

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