Almost always Sightings takes off from the sighting of a particular recent news event. This week, for fun and games, weâ€™ll make an exception and address a generic theme: the religious left.
Several weeks ago we commented on Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourners (a progressive, Christian social justice organization), who is often cited as being a long-time advocate of causes marked â€œLeft.â€ He sees himself as a bridge-builder across religious camps separated by the divides and poles that disrupt discourse and creative action in â€œsecularâ€ and â€œsacredâ€ America. Among responses to that Sojourners column, some asked why Sightings did not more frequently treat the Left, the subject of so much criticism by the easily-identified Right.
Some internet word-checking suggests that through the years we have pointed to and analyzed the Right four times for every three notices of the Left. In the public media, the Right, the Religious Right, and the Christian Right draw far more attention than does the Left. Why?
First, because the Religious Right is more noticeable than the Religious Left. The Westboro Baptist Church, that independent Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, whose tiny but noisy membership disrupts military funerals, knows how to snag media coverage, as more liberal or moderate causes and movements do not.
A second reason given by noticers of these things is that the Religious Right is far more extravagantly funded, and has the means to generate publicity.
Third, the Right's membership is more mobilizable than its counterparts in moderate and liberal camps. And so on, and so on.
The sounds of advocacy for many causes by the Left have been drowned out because â€œsexâ€ has grabbed attention. Gay marriage these years, atop old arguments over homosexuality isâ€”shall we say?â€”a sexier topic than debates over justice, equality, care of others, and the like. We trust youâ€™ve noticed that.
What do people tabbed as being on the Religious Left talk about? For a change Iâ€™ve attached a couple of references. I could also have pointed to Tikkun, a leftist-progressive Jewish magazine, and to other Jewish approaches to justice, or to the rich library of Roman Catholic documents promoting â€œsocial justiceâ€â€”the term the Right despisesâ€”while only Catholic teaching on sex-and-â€œlifeâ€ issues gets public attention.
Protestants for the Common Good, â€œPeople of faith advancing justice in public life,â€ is a well-established organization that reveals that not all Protestant/Evangelical concern is on the Right.
Larry Greenfield, old colleague and friend, regularly posts a â€œthinking theologicallyâ€ column on Protestants for the Common Goodâ€™s website, for which readers can sign up to stay informed on all this. In his May 8, 2013, post, appended in Sightings today, Greenfield opens with a sardonic â€œWhoopee!â€ after the news, â€œDow Breaks 15,000.â€ Good for his personal retirement account, he says, but he still reminds his readers of urgent issues, even as he holds up the mirror to â€œus Christians.â€ He asks, are we yet â€œa part of that cadre of advocates demanding that the nation recover its devotion not just to freedom but also to equality as an essential part of our national unity?â€
â€œWe,â€ with retirement accounts, can celebrate this week, Greenfield writes. But what about others? The 100,000 homeless people who are being removed from emergency shelters because of â€œsequestration?â€ The elderly who wonâ€™t get hot meals any more? The children in poverty who will experience the loss of $2.7 billion in programs like Head Start? He points to many other victims of bad policies in our prosperous land.
Read Greenfield and his kind. If I say more, I may get typed as being on the Religious Left: A polarized polarizer.
Antoniades, Andri. â€œLiberals in our Midst: How the Religious Left Is Changing Americaâ€™s Future.â€ TakePart.com. December 10, 2012. http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/12/10/lefties-our-midst-how-religious-left-are-changing-our-futures.
FitzGerald, Garrett. â€œLanguage of the Left: Liberal, Progressive, and Radical.â€ TheReligiousLeft.org. March 11, 2013. http://www.thereligiousleft.org/2013/03/language-of-left-liberal-progressive.html.
Greenfield, Larry. â€œSubjunctive Unity.â€ TheCommonGood.org. May 8, 2013. http://ww.thecommongood.org/blogs/author/lgreenfield/.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center.
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