I attended three events in the last two days that reveal coming changes in the religious and political landscape of America.
On Thursday, I went to the National Press Club to attend a press conference on some recommendations on how to deal with North Korea. They had good ideas for what the US, the UN, and China should do, but even more significant is who they were. At the table were six men each representing an organization: the Open Society Policy Center, the Hudson Institute, the Korean Church Coalition, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Yes, at the same table as the Open Society (founded by George Soros) sat Richard Land the head of Southern Baptist political action and talk radio host. Next to him sat Richard Cizik, head of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, who has been a leader in convincing his thirty million member organization to care about creation. During the press conference Cizik referenced Ronald Reagan’s famous “evil empire” speech as a pivotal moment that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now whether or not one agrees with that analysis, it clearly functioned rhetorically for Cizik as a moment of moral clarity and he wanted to draw upon that moral moment to bring North Korea to justice.
The second event of that day was a Senator Rick Santorum speech at the National Press Club. Up in the press gallery, a few yards away, I listened as Santorum also referred to the “evil empire” speech. But he was using it to argue that America needed to confront more vigorously the specter of “Islamic fascism.” In fact he criticized Bush and Condi Rice for using the term “terrorism,” as Santorum apparently wants to confront, not just the acts, but the faith as well.
Here were two events with men using the same moral framework for different causes. One singing the usual religious Right songs against the press and Islam. But in the other room, I heard a new song about human rights and multilateralism. The senator just might lose his job in November; Cizik was part of a photo spread in Vaniety Fair along with George Clooney and Al Gore.
A reporter in front of me asked Cizik if evangelicals are getting too spread out politically. No worries, Cizik assured: Not thinning, rather moving in new directions.
I asked Richard Cizik if Rick Warren and Jim Wallis had joined this coalition. Cizik said not yet, but that Warren’s concern for poverty, Africa, and the environment might become more visible in Washington in the near future. Cizik also pointed out that while evangelicals have had a history of being “cowboys” on foreign policy, they also have a growing tradition of working for human rights. And looking in his eyes, I got the impression that caring for the least of these might just dominate some day.
The third event. On Wednesday, I attended a California constituent breakfast hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. I was seated next to a happy, blonde Republican flight attendant. She informed me that she attends a Calvary Chapel mega church in Southern California. I jokingly told her that it is up to folks like her to save the evangelical soul. She laughed demurely and reminded me that there is only “one who saves souls.” Fine, she can have her private faith, but she nodded throughout Feinstein’s talk on supporting stem cell research and the environment. After the talk I asked my new evangelical friend about solving global warming, she looked worried for a second, then sung out: “stewardship.”
Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. For those willing to listen, these local anecdotes may just say something about the new global values of the American evangelical.
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The Pew Internet & American Life Project just released its survey of bloggers and their habits.
Interestingly, only 11% of bloggers focus on politics and only 2% write on religion. The report points out that most bloggers use their platform for self-expression. With so few people posting on politics and even fewer on faith, this gives progressive bloggers significant voice compared to other forms of mass media such as radio or television. There’s room for progressive-minded folks to write on how their faith informs their politics and doing so just might make a difference.
Also, in thinking about the future of media coverage of religion and public life, it’s important to note that more than half of all bloggers are under the age of 30 which suggests that the blogosphere will grow in importance both as a tool for information and mobilization in the years to come.
Read the press release here.
And read the entire report here.
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Support for school vouchers has become one of the myriad of strategies used by some Republicans to convince Americans that only they care about religious people in America. The transparent logic goes, ‘See, we’ll give your Christian schools money. We must love you! Especially when you vote for us.’ It helps that this vote-seeking melds with the general conservative idea that equal education is not something that the government is capable or obligated to provide.
Luckily, our friends in the blogosphere have been active in taking on the idea that people of faith must blindly buy into the vouchers bonanza. As Peter Laarman writes over at the Huffington Post,
School choice, as part of the GOP’s “Values Agenda,? is quite deliberately framed in biblical terms to appeal to both the white “values base? of the party and to anguished African-American parents whose children may be doing poorly in school whether or not the school itself is underperforming.
Other incisive faithful critiques come from Mik over at JSpot, Bruce at Mainstream Baptist, and the Talk to Action crowd. We’re working on getting an education resources page together here at FPL to join the topic-based resources we already offer to the community.
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On Wednesday, July 19, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss a public policy that intersects two issues important to people of faith. Guest worker programs implicate both immigration and the dignity of labor. Programs already in existence add 1,400,000 legal guest workers to the U.S. labor force. Many believe that an expansion of these programs is not only ethical but necessary to just immigration reform.
For more on immigration and labor beyond this blog entry, check out Faith in Public Life’s Resource Pages on Immigration and Just Wages. Also available in our Media Speakers Bureau are relevant faith leaders able to comment on immigration and labor issues.
Rep. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chair of the Committee, called the hearing one of many Republican-called hearings to openly reconcile differences between the House-passed immigration reform bill and its counterpart from the Senate, which McKeon identified as the “Reid-Kennedy Bill”. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) pointed out that the House bill lacked any mention of guest workers and the Senate bill — which he asserted would be better identified as the “Bush-McCain-Reid-Kennedy Bill” because of its bipartisan support — did contain an expansion of guest worker programs.
Since Republican leadership has ceded that a reform bill is unlikely to be passed before November, it is hard to believe that these hearings are an effort to constructively reconcile the two bills. They came off as more of a partisan side-show staged to divide the electorate on a wedge issue before midterm elections.
The hearing included testimony from Elizabeth Dickson on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Luawanna Hallstrom of Harry Singh and Sons, one of America’s largest tomato producers. Both affirmed the necessity of immigrant workers in the American economy. Ms. Hallstrom stated that despite heavy recruitment to American-born workers, her company was unable to attract enough and has no choice but to hire guest workers. Labor shortages in several other sectors and industries are predicted.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the committee’s senior ranking Democrat, shared his own concerns about the effect of guest workers on the livelihood of middle and lower class Americans. Economics would predict that increasing the number of industrial and agricultural workers would lower the wage for American workers, many of whom are already receiving sub-poverty wages.
Miller’s apprehension is understandable considering the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America, but it was addressed by Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project and Immigrant Worker Project. While in support of expanded guest worker programs, she contended that such expansions must be coupled with stronger enforcement of labor protections, which have ebbed over the past 30 years. More federal investigators and higher penalties to violators are needed to discourage the use of intimidation tactics to prevent unionization, incorrect classification of workers as independent contractors who receive less benefits, and other forms of exploitation. According to Ms. Smith, the dignity of guest workers will be best protected if the dignity of all workers are protected.
A minimum wage for American and foreign-born workers above $5.15 an hour wouldn’t hurt either.
The Book of Deuteronomy states, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (15:11) As Rep. McKeon pointed out during his own statement, people are hiding themselves in automobile gas tanks to come to America. They come out of desperation from their current bleak situation in hope of something better. If we focus solely on border enforcement and close our hands, these people will only continue to find new and far more dangerous means to come to America.
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The New Jersey Jewish News writes:
“Jews and Christians, Buddhists and Muslims, and at least one self-proclaimed pagan will gather to continue in person the kinds of conversations they wage on-line as authors of blogs, the Web diaries that range from the queasily personal to the politically influential.”
And the Times Union of Albany, New York points out that, “Because faith and politics have the capacity to both divide and connect the progressive faith blogging community, as evidenced by Obama’s editorial, organizers hope this conference will be a chance for bloggers of faith to unite and learn from collective perspectives.”
For me, two successes stand out from the first Progressive Faith Blog Conference: the four interfaith worship services and the conversations concerning the most productive ways to mix personal faith and prophetic politics.
Everyone present participated in a Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian worship service. Each service was hosted by a person of that faith. During the closing circle several people pointed out that while interfaith dialogue gets a lot of talk, the actual practice of sharing individual worship is rarely attempted. Throughout the weekend, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists, Buddhists and a Pagan mediated, chanted, shared the Eucharist, and knelt for Islamic prayers. And judging by the blog posts, folks are still thinking and talking about the significant experience.
The panel leaders and the audience discussed emerging technology, the nature of our community, and the path to political engagement. With thirty-seven of the most prominent bloggers in the community, attendees worked to define the parameters of progressive religion and how best to work with the secular left. Defending the separation of church and state emerged as a point of common ground. In addition, several small committees were organized to set up a roving blog carnival, to plan a conference for next year, and design an aggregated feed that compiles, organizes, and sends out a bundle of progressive faith blog posts. Perhaps the conference will emerge as a central event as the progressive faith blogging community unites?
I am off to sign up at Street Prophets.
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