Saturday, January 08, 2011

Where are the religious liberals?

David Dunn, a dear friend from our church, wrote this article that ran in the Post-Gazette.
Where are the religious liberals?: "Where are the religious liberals?
They have let conservative politicians and talk-show hosts claim the high ground
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
By David Dunn

Two generations have passed since it was common to see people of liberal religious faith take to the public square to champion worthy causes, fight for those with no voice and demand justice from the powers-that-be.

Religious liberals served as the moral battering ram of the civil rights movement and took to the streets in waves to confront those who sought to justify wars in southeast Asia.

Since then, however, religious liberals have faded into the woodwork, doing good works with humble voices mostly in the safety of their own congregations."

Of course, there have been certain occasions in recent years when their voices have been raised. Many protested the invasion of Iraq in 2003. More recently, many traveled to Arizona to protest that state's enactment of an ethnic profiling law that posed as immigration reform, and the Catholic Church displayed qualified support for the health care law passed last summer.

But these few points of light have failed to illuminate a righteous path out of the woodwork.

This has not gone without notice. Religious conservatives have moved in and laid claim to the moral high ground once occupied by religious liberals.

For the most part, religious conservatives have been good tenants and have served this nation well in many ways. They have been doing the heavy lifting in the public square over the last 40 years.

That said, conservative politicians and media entertainers also have carpetbagged their way onto this moral high ground, finding religious conservatives to be the most genial of neighbors.

How can any people of religious faith, conservative or liberal, condone the hateful speech so often delivered these days under the cloak of religion?

Radio show host Dr. Laura practiced Orthodox Judaism until 2003 and authored a book on the significance of the Ten Commandments in everyday life. Her show, in her own words, is supposed to offer "advice infused with a strong sense of ethics." Instead, she routinely demeans, discredits and puts down callers who come to her in a time of need. People of faith should forgive individual mistakes, but they also should hold people accountable for their body of work.

Glenn Beck professes that religious faith is the cornerstone of his life and guides his vision for America. That is fine, but it does not excuse comments referring to President Barack Obama as a racist or a Nazi and or claims that people like himself were central to the civil rights movement and somehow need to "reclaim" it.

Former U.S. senator and likely presidential candidate Rick Santorum, perhaps more than any other modern politician, employs his religious faith as a weapon against those who do not fit into the limited confines of his ideological box. He routinely invokes his religious faith to essentially condone war against Islam and the persecution of homosexuals.

Jesus sought the persecution of no one and simply called upon the religious to live their faith more perfectly. Perhaps Gandhi had someone like Rick Santorum in mind when he said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Eventually, those who use hateful speech and ideas to further their own ends behind the guise of religion will fall under the weight of their own hypocrisy, but without an organized challenge to hateful ideas, this can take a very long time.

Religious conservatives have the most to lose when such personalities are taken as de facto ambassadors of their religious faith, but all people of faith need to confront them and their ideas.

Religious liberals need to reclaim the religious landscape they let slip away over the last 40 years. Modern political and social conservatives have done an excellent job of making "liberal" a dirty word. Religious liberals need to come together and become again an uplifting voice for America that counters those of hatred and intolerance.

Religious liberalism has much to be proud of in the story of America. Our founding fathers held a variety of religious beliefs but many today would be considered liberal Christians. They were activist revolutionaries who drew upon their religious faith to envision a radical democratic country and make it a reality.

Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," a speech essentially regarded as a sacred testament to the meaning of America, drew from ideas conceived by liberal clergy. His closing words about "government of the people, by the people, for the people" were inspired by liberal Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who had earlier expressed American democracy as a "government of all, by all, for all."

If people of liberal religious faith wish to further this vision of America, they need to start organizing and start acting in the public forum. And they need to realize that religious conservatives are not the enemy.

Doctrines may differ, positions on emotionally charged issues may differ and cooperation may at times be difficult, yet there is much upon which all people of religious faith can agree. With this, a true pluralistic vision of America, consistent with the ideals of our founding fathers, can be rediscovered.

David Dunn, an engineer, lives in Eighty Four and is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills, Mt. Lebanon (

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