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Pew Forum: Sizing up the religious left

June 13, 2008

Here is an article from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on the development of the religious left.

Here are some excerpts, but please read the full article to get the full effect.

“For years we have been hearing about the “religious right” and its impact on American politics, but liberal and progressive religious voices are becoming increasingly prominent in media reports and at campaign stops. What is happening?”

“In addition, there are a large number of left-leaning religious and political organizations that are active these days, offering an alternative to the religious right.”

“Terms like “religious right” and “religious left” are shorthand for describing particular connections between religion and politics.”

“Two factors are central to the reality behind the terminology. The first is a “liberal” theological perspective that involves less traditional views of the divine, spirituality and religious authority. The second factor is a liberal perspective on political issues.”

“All three of these groups appear to be united by social welfare issues, especially addressing poverty in the United States and abroad. Other sources of unity are environmental protection and foreign policy. However, social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are potential points of division, especially between theological and political liberals and moderates.”

“Another thing that these groups share in common is a negative reaction to the religious right.”

There are some things to like in the article and some things to dislike. That of course will differ based on your views of scripture, and of religion and politics. I would say that I am glad to see some balance coming in the discussion regarding our faith and its practice in the political/public realm, but what I am afraid I see is a bad balance, a balance that primarily comes from having weight at the edges rather than a balance toward the middle and living graciously in the tensions that exist there.

Here are two concerns I have regarding the growing Religious Left and a Religious Right:

  • Both groups trusts in politics and specific politicians to solve humanities problems. This is idolatry. To say it is less than idolatry is to misunderstand the story of scripture. From Genesis through the historical books, the wisdom literature, the prophets and the NT placing trust in man is an exaltation of man and man’s wisdom over the exaltation of God and His wisdom.
  • The polarization of issues and allowing ourselves to be carried away with the polarization. Christians have an opportunity to bring redemption to the political process in way we discuss our differences. I am afraid that we will soon see what takes place in politics, and that is selecting one side of an issue because the opponent already has staked out ground on the other side of the issue. In battles where we have invested so much in one candidate or one party, we are bound to have their issues become our issues. Where we once held common ground, we will step further apart as we choose sides.

We have an opportunity for the world to see the transforming work of Jesus Christ in the redemptive manner in which those who claim Christianity conduct themselves with one another and in how we engage the power structures that exist today.  According to John 17, that is one of the ways that people will know that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ.

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