Yale Divinity School just concluded a most interesting conference titled, “Voices & Votes: Religious Convictions in the Public Square.â€ As you’ll be able to tell by the conference agenda, the panelists were both distinguished and from across the ideological spectrum. Not every day you get to see Ralph Reed and Eric Sapp at the same conference. In between jokes about who sat to the left of whom at the presenter tables, there was a good bit of serious discussion of the state of religion in American public life today.
Many themes resonated throughout the day, perhaps none moreso than the increasingly diverse political priorities of the evangelical community in America. Whether driven by disenchantment with the Bush Administration or a theological dedication to what Ron Sider called Biblically balanced politics, evangelicals are prioritizing things like creation care, protection of human rights, and combating global AIDS with increasing vigor. As Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals pointed out, this isn’t only good policy, but makes good news when working with media outlets that expects little political diversity from the evangelical community.
Hopefully some of the day’s proceedings will be available through the Internet at some point. The discussions, even when touching on points of serious disagreement, featured an honesty and civility that could be a model for our discourse on faith in public life.
On Tuesday John Broder at the NYTimes published a piece picking up Bill Donohue’s noise making about the past posts of two bloggers recently hired by the Edwards campaign.
As Glen Greenwald pointed out, “But when the Times claims that the Edwards campaign is “in hot water,” what they mean is that there are complaints from a few bloggers fueled by the right-wing Catholic League’s Bill Donohue.”
Wolf gets on the situation and then CNN’s internet reporter collects a bunch of no-comments from campaigns that, yes, have bloggers too. So the narrative emerges: the Edwards campaign hired two bloggers whose past writings are vulgar and highly critical of some religious mores. Catholic League head Bill Donohue finds out about the offending posts, and as he always manages to do gets substantial press coverage with accusations of “anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Pointing to “a February 2 article in Women’s Wear Daily that described Donohue’s efforts to “manufacture controversy,” Media Matters for America includes the definitive list of discrediting quotes from Donohue and also critiques the unquestioning early media coverage treating Donohue as the representative of Catholicism. In fact, many Catholic organizations disagree with his POV.
“We also invite Catholic League president Bill Donohue to focus on promoting the values and message at the heart of the Catholic faith — the common good, and a concern for the least among us — and to address his own political hypocrisy. In 2000, Mr. Donohue called out Gov. George W. Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University. Gov. Bush later condemned the school’s anti-Catholic views, and Mr. Donohue quickly accepted the renouncement. Mr. Donohue rapidly accepted Mel Gibson’s apology for anti-Semitic remarks. We ask him today to join us to renew focus Jesus’ message of the common good, social justice, and forgiveness, to drop his rhetoric of division and personal defamation. We invite him to join in debate about an authentic Catholic response to the real problems facing our nation and culture.”
Donohue’s response, as usual, is about silencing political enemies cloaked in hyperbole that drives the MSM’s coverage of religion. As David Goldstein points out Huff Post: “For his part Donohue now promises a “nationwide public relations blitz” against Edwards, attacking him for his religious “bigotry”… this from a man who freely laces his own public statements with anti-semitic rhetoric.” Evidence? From the 12/08/04 broadcast of Scarborough Country, Bill Donohue everyone: “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth. It’s about the messiah.”
And yes, even arch conservatives like William F. Buckley criticized Donohue for attacking an ethnicity as ideology.
Responses have come in from many corners of the blogosphere, blending varying degrees of disgust at Donohue and discomfort with the writings of the bloggers in question.
At MyDD, Nancy Scola sums up her feelings with this: “And it’s absurd to claim to know that Amanda is anti-Catholic deep within her soul because of a few blog posts. But in her writings she certainly warmly embraced the tactic of mocking that faith. To pretend otherwise is to run away from a nut that does need to be cracked at some point: have we made the Democratic tent big enough to welcome religious activists without constantly snickering behind their backs?” A variety of similar posts at the Catholic blog/magazine Commonweal strike on similar notes.
Pastor Dan of Street Prophets is having none of it. He writes that “This is a reprehensible and feather-weight charge, and it should be rejected. I was particularly upset to read the posts in question and discover that there’s nothing there that others haven’t already said – including Catholics – albeit less colorfully. That is to say, the entire case for the alleged bigotry is a matter of tone and vocabulary, not substance.”
Faithful Progressive hopes that this would lead some bloggers to give religious ideas more respect. Tone matters.
Faithful Democrats (Edwards is Southern Baptist) grants Edwards a kinda pass on this, but objects to the from-the-gut (or lower) rhetoric of the two bloggers. Jesse writes:
They’re not political arguments; they’re condemnations of people who hold certain religious beliefs. They’re not funny; they’re sardonic; they’re mean; they’re contemptuous. And calling out Marcotte and McEwen is entirely appropriate.
The Edwards camp, as most know, has decided to retain the bloggers:
“The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte’s and Melissa McEwen’s posts personally offended me. It’s not how I talk to people, and it’s not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it’s intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I’ve talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone’s faith, and I take them at their word. We’re beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can’t let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.”
The Rev. Chuck Currie provides some historical context about when the Donohue attacked his blog. Then the good Reverend Currie concludes: “I don’t like the rhetoric employed by the bloggers the Edwards campaign hired. We need more civil discourse than that. But Donohue is nothing more than another right-wing political activist trying to high jack the Christian faith for his own political gain. Make no mistake about that.”
Instead of retyping the tired old messages from the loudest bigots of religion, the “mainstream media” needs to listen to more mainstream folks [shameless plug warning] like these thoughtful religious Americans.
Go behind the faÃ§ade of any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings. Nearly 200,000 people live enslaved at this moment in the United States, and an additional 17,500 new victims are trafficked across our borders every year.
Sold into slave labor and prostitution, they staff our favorite local restaurants and work the streets just fifteen blocks from our nation’s capital.
NOT FOR SALE: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–And How We Can Fight It by award-winning journalist and professor David Batstone shines a light on this 32 billion dollar industry. Batstone traveled to five continents, chronicling a shocking investigation into the world of human trafficking and the heroic abolitionists combating this global epidemic.
Go to the campaign You Tube site for more videos of David Batstone talking about the campaign to stop human trafficking.
This week a huge coordinated effort to free the 27 million people in slavery kicked off. Visual artists, businesses, students, people of faith, athletes, actors and many others have formed a new global abolition movement.
On Feb. 23, Bristol Bay Productions (Ray) releases a major motion picture on the life of William Wilberforce who combined his Christian faith with a dogged commitment to abolition. I saw the film and it actually mixes a compelling story and a serious call to faith-based social justice.
There appears to only be one blog (this one) covering the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference in New Orleans. With 1500 in attendance it was the largest gathering of clergy in New Orleans since hurricane Katrina struck.
Here’s Mos Def offering a lil’ “Katrina Klap” as a reminder to us all (not just Bush) about what’s at stake.
On Talk to Action, Frederick Clarkson notes that Bush’s Religious Right Swat Team Takes Aim at Methodists.
Speaking of comity, here’s some atheists under attack by Christians? Catholic blogger Eamon posts video and takes on First Things.
At the Beatitudes Society Blog, food activist and writer Sara Miles relates the story behind her conversion by communion:
“that at the heart of Christianity is a power which continues to speak to and transform us. As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right. What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty.”
At Street Prophets: The Warewolf Prophet writes about the bought silence of former New Life pastor Ted Haggard. Pastor Dan provides a two part post on bigots and notes the rise of the KKK and its ideological connection to opine wingers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Michele Malkin.
Zeus takes on Racism, Sexism, Moralism, Christianism: Right-wing Idolatry as Vulgarized Christianity for CrossLeft.
Rev. Jennifer Butler writes to us live from the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference in New Orleans. She’ll check in throughout the event with updates on this important gathering.
The Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference launched last night with a night. With 1500 in attendance it was the largest gathering of clergy in New Orleans since hurricane Katrina struck. Dr Iva Carruthers, the conference’s General Secretary, has made this conference the “go to place” for social justice oriented African American clergy. The conference is especially attentive to raising a new generation of leaders-150 seminarians from 32 seminaries are present.
The conference opened with a remembrance of the Rev. Samuel Dewitt Proctor. The Reverend Dr. James Forbes spoke to how Proctor mentored generations of social justice oriented black clergy. Proctor once wrote, “Some pastors have given up on filling the shoes of Amos, Micah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah… God bless those pastors who stand tall and who, in love, tell the truth.” Forbes reminded the 1,500 participants that its not enough just to show up; they must “tangibilitate” the Gospel-that is make it tangible and live it out.
The conference opened with two women clergy speaking truth to power. The Reverend Dr. Susan K Smith of Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus Ohio and the Rev. Liz Walker of Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain Masachucetts raised the roof, challenging us on our personal faith journey as well as taking on our national leaders on issues like the genocide in Darfur, the War in Iraq, Katrina, the American culture of materialism and corporate welfare.
Most noted by all speakers was the fact that President Bush had failed to even mention the Katrina disaster in his State of the Union Address. Conference leaders in response vowed to meet in New Orleans again next year to continue with this year’s theme, “In the Wake of Katrina: Lest We Forget… Call to Renewal.” Many of the clergy arrived early to tour the Ninth Ward and other affected areas. Tomorrow, conference leaders will hold a sunrise service on the Claiborne Street Bridge, where many of the city’s poor were stopped by police while trying to escape the city.
It’s been an inspired gathering so far, with much more to come!