The Common Good

Faith doesn't mean you're right

Source: Denver Post
Date: August 26, 2008

Is there a "religious left"?

Faith groups from evangelical Christians to Muslims answer, "Absolutely."

Galvanized by the Democratic National Convention's first interfaith service and faith caucuses, but hardly as monolithic as the religious right, progressive leaders hope to influence the Democrats' agenda in Denver this week.

The emergence of diverse religious voices in the political debate signals more than a pendulum swing from right to left, says Reverend Jim Wallis, founder of Sojournors magazine and author of "God's Politics," and other books.

He thinks the country is undergoing a sea change.

"I would say the issue of poverty has replaced gay marriage as a galvanizing issue for Christians," said Wallis when he arrived in Denver. "Now the religious issues include climate change, Darfur and the war in Iraq."

Younger evangelicals feel their elders made a mistake in allying so closely with the Republican agenda, he said.

"The new generation will no longer be in the political pocket of any party, they're not going to be 'delivered' to anybody," Wallis said. "A lot of evangelicals are leaving the religious right and the Republican party in droves. They're going to go with who speaks to their issues."

Wallis spoke Sunday evening at the St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch and will moderate today's faith caucus meetings at the Colorado Convention Center. He also will participate in the Faith in Public Life and Catholics in Alliance panel discussion on "New Faith Voters" at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Starz Theater in the Tivoli Center.

The Denver Network of Spiritual Progressives hosted a conference concurrent with the convention.

"I would not say there is an 'organized' religious left like the Christian Coalition," said conference organizer Judah Freed. He calls the religious right a product of "savvy marketing and public relations — they've done a very good job of marketing themselves, but the Moral Majority is certainly not the majority."

But it spoke to many.

"The religious right was meeting a dynamic spiritual hunger in a lot of people, a hunger for values, a spiritual connection with the sublime," said Freed. "The left abandoned that, and the right was able to meet that hunger."

Various groups are feeding the debate this week.

"We need to change the values debate," said Becky Vanderslice, organizer for We Believe Colorado, a year-old group of local clergy formed to proclaim common values among Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions. "Often the religious debate has been around a few divisive issues, and we feel that doesn't represent the values held in common by people of faith — poverty, immigration reform, human rights, economic issues."

By its nature, the "religious left" hasn't broadcast as consistent a message as the right, but Wallis says that's OK.

"The monologue of the religious right is over and a new dialogue has now begun, and that's a good thing for churches and for politics. There's been a sea change in the agenda of Christians and evangelicals. You'll see it played out in both conventions and the elections this fall," Wallis said. "I see more momentum now than I have in three decades of working on this problem."