December 9, 2004

Liberal theology

Research by Allison Bloch, Newsdesk.org intern 

Are all faith-based politics necessarily conservative? A survey of recent media coverage of religion and politics finds a distinct left-liberal trend that splits with the dominant dialog on war, homosexuality and the democratic process.

Peace Activism

American Politics

Foreign Politics

Religion & Homosexuality

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PEACE ACTIVISM

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For all the history of religion as a justification for war, the tradition of pacifist theology remains alive and well.

The Catholic-led SOA Watch is at the front of an ongoing movement protesting the School of the Americas, a training facility for Central American security forces and officers based in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

On November 20-21, 16,000 people turned out for the latest round of protests. The Corvallis Gazette-Times, following a community of 25 Oregon residents to the protests, reported that “Catholic nuns mingled with Buddhist monks [and] Jewish Stars of David were raised high.”

According to the paper, the ceremonies included a Catholic mass in a tent attended by 4,000 people on a rainy Sunday.

“They do Communion and everything,” one participant told the newspaper.

Renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the school is controversial for ongoing human-rights violations by its graduates, which include Panama’s former strongman Manuel Noriega, and the El Salvador death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson. Among the more notorious acts attributed to SOA graduates include the 1989 execution of six Jesuits, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, in San Salvador. A U.N. truth commission said 19 of the 27 soldiers implicated in the killing were trained in the SOA.

“Thousands protest SOA”
The Nation, November 23, 2004

“Protesting for peace”
Gazette-Times, November 29, 2004

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AMERICAN POLITICS

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Right now, faith-based politics in America are inevitably associated with conservatism. But the “religious left” is alive and well, with active dialog among congregations and church leaders alike.

“Progressive churches … appear to be taking a page from the playbook of conservative megachurches that have long used small groups to reinforce Christian morality,” reports the Christian Science Monitor.

According to Rev. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania who was quoted in the Boston Globe, “the religious right has been effectively organizing for 35 years, and as I always say, it took Moses 40 years to lead his people out of the wilderness, and it’s going to take us a few years more to catch up.”

He’s part of a movement that has a weekly teleconference with as many as 40 participants, including representatives of the Interfaith Alliance, the anti-poverty group Call to Renewal, the Catholic human rights group Pax Christi USA, and the editor of Sojourners magazine.

Jewish Americans also search for political motivations in their sacred verse. In a column for The Jewish Press, Richard Schwartz said that environmental issues transcend politics: “Whether one lives in a blue state or a red state, there is a need for clean air and drinkable water.”

He called for a renewed environmental movement based on Jewish obligations to “preserve and protect” the world which “God has created and entrusted to us.”

“From ‘liberal’ pews, a rising thirst for personal moral code”
Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2004

From left, religious figures make a push
Boston Globe, November 27, 2004

“Environment Ripe for Political Unity”
JewishPress, November 24, 2004

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FOREIGN POLITICS

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In Cuba, according to Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, director of the Center of Civic and Religious Formation of the Diocese of Pinar del Rio, the Catholic church has provided a “nongovernmental place from which to examine national issues, especially human rights.”

In rejecting communist totalitarianism, materialist capitalism and corruptible electoral politics, Hernandez said the church needs to take a guiding role in the formation of new civic institutions, and developing a form of Cuban democracy focused on “common good and social justice.”

In Indonesia, a meeting between the Asian leaders of 10 major faiths was part of an effort to “curb the causes of terrorism” by promoting “inter-faith and inter-communal harmony.” The political and economic conditions that provoke violence can be addressed by religious leaders who create “understanding between people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.”

According to Dr. Farid Alatas of the National University of Singapore, the primary weakness of interfaith dialog is that it is limited to “religious elite” and “certain intellectuals.” Change can only occur, he said, by bringing the conversation to “other levels of society,” in part through educational reforms.

“Cuban dissident sees church role in shaping Cuba’s future”
Catholic News Service, November 12, 2004

“Can religious leaders do more to curb the cause of terrorism?”
Radio Singapore International, December 8. 2004

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RELIGION & HOMOSEXUALITY

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The issue of gay marriage is credited with propelling George W. Bush to a second term as President. With the possible exception of abortion, there is no greater spiritual and political wedge in America right now.

The wedge is real, but it is not so neatly divisive.

In Stockton, Calif., two Methodist congregations expressed disappointment over their parent church’s decision to defrock a lesbian minister living with her partner.

“My reaction is profound sadness,” said the Rev. David Bennet in the Record, the local newspaper. His church hosts a “reconciling congregation” open to people of all sexual orientations.

A Baptist pastor in Alaska, Howard Bess, had his Church of the Covenant kicked out of the Alaskan Baptist delegation after he came out as gay. He runs a thrift store and food bank in the town of Palmer, and focuses on a “bread and butter” Christianity that brings together “good people wearing scuffed shoes doing good work.”

His congregation is joined in supporting gay rights in Alaska by the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Methodist Church in Sitka, and the Immanuel Presbyterian ministry in Anchorage.

In Louisville, Ky., the Rev. Todd Eklof of the Clifton Unitarian Church said he will not perform any marriages until all of the 11 amendments banning same sex unions passed on November 2 are off the books.

“I hope not to have a long wait,” says Eklof. “It is immoral for a group of people to force their religious values through legislation onto every other citizen in the country.”

“Divided Denomination”
RecordNet, December 4, 2004

“No Christian left behind”
Anchorage Press, November 18, 2004

“Minister says no more ‘I dos'”
WHAS11.com, November 11, 2004

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