Faith Groups and Political Activities

April 14, 2010, 3:15 pm | Posted by

Quick multiple choice question.

Which of these faith groups is the most politically active?

  1. White Mainline Protestants
  2. White Evangelicals
  3. Black Protestants
  4. Roman Catholics

If you answered B, you would be … wrong. At least, according to some new analysis from Mark Chaves at Duke Divinity school.

The chart below is making the rounds around the blogosphere, probably because it contradicts the conventional wisdom that when it comes to politics white, mostly conservative, Evangelicals leave all other faith groups in the dust.

While we’ve talked before about some of the reasons the media tend to be much more interested in the political activities of Evangelicals than, say, Mainline Protestants, this chart might shed some more light on the issue.

Painting with the broadest of brushes, Mainline Protestants tend to focus their activities on discussions and meetings, while Evangelicals tend to focus on more direct political organizing.

The kinds of direct activities that Mainline Protestants do participate in are likely to be either small-scale and quiet (lobbying) or so entwined in a greater effort that religious participation goes unnoticed (for example, coverage of an anti-war march will rarely mention the faith community’s presence).

As Professor Chaves says, “differences among religious groups in how they do politics seem more important than differences in how much politics they do.”

For Mainliners and others to close the media gap with Evangelicals, it might be a simple as continuing to employ new tactics in their already robust efforts.

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More on the religious right and the Tea Party

April 12, 2010, 5:10 pm | Posted by

Following up on last week’s post about the religious right and the Tea Party, some interesting new developments further complicate the relationship between the two camps.

Fox News – which has actively promoted the Tea Party movement – published an article today about the nascent group, saying in part:

while organizers have held the tour as a way to stay front-and-center as a political force, the rallies have also attracted the kinds of mistruths, exaggerations and conspiracy theories that make Tea Party leaders cringe. Though the movement is still trying to shore up its credentials as a grassroots power that’s here to stay, the so-called “fringe” and its accompanying antics continue to give critics fodder.

The story quotes participants on the “fringe” of the Tea Party Movement

claiming that President Obama is a Stalinist, a fascist, a “secret Muslim,” and/or a non-citizen, as well as perpetuating debunked myths that health care reform will establish “death panels.”

In another troubling report, a recently released poll from the University of Washington reveals a prevalence of racism among people who identify with the Tea Party:

On whether blacks were intelligent, 45 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 59 percent of the tea-party opponents. And on the issue of whether blacks were trustworthy, 41 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 57 percent of the tea-party opponents.

The survey, which included about 1,000 respondents in six battleground states (like Michigan and Nevada) and California, found similar margins on questions regarding Latinos.

In a recent Christian Post essay, Harry Jackson said “[d]espite the machinations of a handful of fringe participants, I am sure that racism is not the source of the movement’s energy,” and recommended that Tea Party leaders get a “PR makeover.” It’ll be interesting to say what Jackson and other Tea Party apologists have to say about this new poll data, and continuing reports of racist outbursts and conspiracy theories within the movement. (It should be noted that Jackson condemned protesters for actions such as spitting on Rep. Cleaver at a rally on Capitol Hill on the eve of the House health care reform vote.)

The Tea Party is going through a rushed adolescence right now, seeking to channel its youthful outrage into mature political power before the November elections. And the religious right – which is politically weaker than it’s been in decades – is trying to figure out how to rebuild its influence in this changing political environment. The way in which conservative Christian political leaders address the delusional, incendiary beliefs and deep-seated prejudices of their potential allies will speak volumes about their principles.

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Having a little fun with Glenn Beck…

April 1, 2010, 5:17 pm | Posted by

Glenn Beck’s recent crusade against social justice Christians is serious business. As others have said better than I ever could, he really is attacking a core tenet of Christianity. But in addition to thorough and forceful rebukes, Glenn is attracting some well-deserved ribbing.

Exhibit A: Jewish Funds For Justice set up haikuglennbeck.com, giving social justice-minded folks a forum to respond to Beck in the versatile 5-syllable/7-syllable/5-syllable format.

One of my personal favorites:

He knows not of what

He speaks; I mean, really, he

Hasn’t got a clue

Go write one of your own. It’ll be a well-spent couple of minutes.

Exhibit B: Sojourners, which Glenn has been attacking with the tenacity of Captain Ahab, posted a Youtube clip of a dialogue between Glenn and Jim Wallis that must be watched in its entirety to be appreciated. Watch it:

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Theology Lessons for Glenn Beck

March 24, 2010, 11:49 am | Posted by

Glenn Beck is “hammering” back at people of faith who speak up for social justice.

Yesterday, in a distortion-filled rant, Beck claimed seeking social justice is part of a “Marxist” plot and objects to moral framing of issues like health care and immigration. Beck claims to helping the poor is ok, just as long it is doesn’t involve large-scale social intervention.

Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who has been firmly in Beck’s crosshairs this week, stepped in once again to set the record straight:

…While social justice begins with our own lives, choices, and sacrifices, it doesn’t end there. Those of us who have actually done this work for years all understand that you can’t just pull the bodies out of the river, and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. Serving the poor is a fundamental spiritual requirement of faith, but challenging the conditions that create poverty in the first place is also part of biblical social justice.

The entire piece is well-worth a read.

It’s pretty clear that Beck does not have a firm grasp of the centuries-old tradition he is trying to marginalize.

Over at Just Words describes just how important social justice, even the “radical” kind Beck denounces, is for Catholics:

The Catholic Church has been speaking about social and economic justice since at least 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical on capital and labor that began the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching.

These teachings were recently reaffirmed by Pope Benedict (who has never been known as much of a liberal). The fact that a conservative like Benedict would critique un-regulated capitalism and affirm government’s role in shaping just societies shows how central this tenet is for the Catholic Church.

Will Glenn Beck stick to his guns and call Pope Benedict a Marxist?

I suspect not.

Beck has not yet had the courage to engage in civil debate with Rev. Wallis, opting instead to use his bully pulpit at FOX to, well, bully people of faith with threats and false attacks. I doubt he’d have the courage to take on the spiritual leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

By trying to make his fight all about out-of-context statements from Jim Wallis or other spurious attacks on Sojourners, Beck thinks he can win. But he’s wrong.

Social justice is bigger than one leader or organization. It is the heart of faith for countless believers around the world. And every time he opens his mouth, it becomes more and more clear Beck doesn’t yet know what he’s dealing with.

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Donahue defends Beck, but who’s the “phony”?

March 12, 2010, 1:50 pm | Posted by

While an amazingly diverse array of faith groups have condemned Glenn Beck’s smears on churches who follow the call to social justice, conservative Catholic Bill Donahue has jumped in to defend him:

Beck didn’t say Christians should abandon their religion. He recommended shopping around to find a more conservative parish if one is dissatisfied with hearing left-wing sermons. Nothing new about that. In the Catholic Church, there are priests who are stridently left-wing and stridently right-wing; many parishioners shop accordingly. Protestants shop by leaving one denomination for another. And so on.

Some of those who have criticized Beck have done so in a sincere way. Others are just phonies.

Donahue goes on to downplay Beck’s remark as “flip” even though Beck’s made similar accusations several times before.

Donahue’s defense is rather perplexing. First, Beck did not say “shop around.” He said to “run as fast as you can” if you find the words “social justice” on your church’s website.

As Matthew Yglesias points out, this would require all Catholics to leave their churches since “social justice” is all over the Vatican and USCCB websites.

Furthermore, contrary to what Donahue implies, “social justice” is not just some “left wing” concept Catholics are supposed to take or leave as it fits their political sensibilities — it is a core tenet of the faith:

  • The Catechism says social justice (in particular the principle of solidarity) is a “direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.”
  • Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical Caritas in Veritante was all about social and economic justice. It even included a healthy critique (gasp!) of unchecked capitalism.

Donahue is generally quick to chime in when a conservative Catholic, fairly or unfairly, is criticized in the press.

But does Donahue, the self-anointed defender of the Catholic Church against “defamation” “whenever and wherever” it occurs speak up and quote the Catechism or the Pope when a tenet of his Church is attacked by a conservative?

No. Instead he makes excuses for his ideological compatriot.

I’m not sure Donahue is in a position to call anybody else a “phony.”

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