Michael: The Rise of the Religious MainstreamUPDATE 4/28: a 'God's Politics' meetup will be held on June 1st. If interested in the politics of prophetic religion, consider attending.
The political activation and organization of the religious right is going to motivate the emergence of a much larger and more powerful force in American politics: the religious mainstream. Unlike the Right, the religious mainstream is unwilling to walk in lockstep with any ideological program, drawing its positions from the real material needs of its parishioners. It is likely to be more loosely organized, but will no doubt bring a similar passionate belief and serious financial and electoral clout to bear on political issues, especially those directly related to faith and the interaction of church and government.
Already many organizations on the religious mainstream have been founded in reaction to the threat of the Right, and are growing swiftly. One of my favorite organizations nationally is the Interfaith Alliance founded in 1994 and how representing over 150,000 members. The Alliance is organized in local chapters that you can join, and which hold local Meetups.
The Alliance stands for a positive, healing role of faith in public life. They are non-denominational and welcome people from many religious and spiritual traditions – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – more than 70 faith traditions in all, including Agnostics and Atheists.
The Alliance stands witness against intolerance and extremism. Rooted in faith traditions from the world over, they offer America a mainstream, religiously based agenda committed to individual dignity and the importance of community.
What the Alliance believes:
FOR the participation of people of faith in political process and AGAINST the view of the Religious Right that one’s political beliefs are the measure of one’s faith.
FOR treating religious diversity as an asset and AGAINST the notion that only the majority faith tradition deserves public acknowledgement and respect.
FOR giving all faith traditions a voice in national life and AGAINST attempts to use government resources or authority to give special preference a to any religious institution or view.
FOR inclusion and diversity in American society and AGAINST efforts to sow discord or hate, especially under the guise of religion.
FOR healthy interaction between religion and government and AGAINST efforts to impose religious litmus tests on public policy or service.
These are the sort of ideals that will resonate with average Americans. These are the ideals that define the proper and traditionally American relationship between a faithful, patriotic citizenry and a fair and open democratic government of all the people. Mainstream Americans know how to maintain a dignified and principled faith that does not require them to dominate their fellow citizens in a misguided attempt to force their faith upon their neighbors.
A model of such interfaith mainstream political involvement flourishes right here in my backyard. The Pima County Interfaith Council, part of the Arizona Interfaith Network, was founded in 1990 and does an excellent job in advocating for the real needs of its parishioners in local and state politics, and training people of faith in community based organizing. Organizations that are similarly non-ideological and inspired by faith will one day soon make the Religious Right look like Perot’s Reform party.
Extremism in America has always been extinguished by the distaste it generates among regular folk. From it’s hateful pogrom against gay Americans, to its leadership’s suspect fidelity to our constitutional traditions displayed in the Schiavo and filibuster affairs, and the lingering stink of corruption that the GOP leadership’s lack of ethical rectitude has created in the Congress, in our White House, and even in the Pentagon, the Religious Right has proven over and over that is it is fringe movement deserving of the scorn and repudiation of all Americans. When America wakes up and starts handing down the indictments, the common lament will be, “why didn’t we see through these hucksters, con men, and demagogues?” For a preview of what that process of awakening will look like to millions of Americans who have been duped by the lies of the Religious Right, I recommend “Blinded by the Right” by Media Matters founder David Brock. If a summary is possible, it is to hate the sin, not the sinner.