…your opponents suddenly start acting worried about you. Such seems to be the case for the “Religious Left”, as shown by the recent NY Times op-ed piece by Joseph Loconte, a Heritage Foundation research fellow and regular commentator on National Public Radio. Mr. Loconte attacks Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, among others, for using religious language to advance their political agendas, warning that they are destined to “replicate the misdeeds of the religious right.”
But what exactly is Mr. Loconte’s objection to “religious progressives”? Is it their tactics? I don’t think so. After re-reading his article several times and scratching my head repeatedly (and I use a good anti-dandruff shampoo), it seems to me that his main objection is the content of their messages, rather than their style. What he really doesn’t like is that the religious progressives have agendas that include “global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council.” all obviously repellent policy considerations for Mr. Loconte.
He cites Professor Stanley Hauerwas’ contention that America has, at times, acted arrogantly in its foreign policy and that some folks out there in the world are legitimately upset with us, and goes on to describe this position as being morally equivalent to the Falwells and Robertsons of the religious right who initially claimed that the feminists and gays brought God’s wrath upon America in the form of the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, he asserts that while the Bible is a fine source of moral and spiritual insight, it’s “wrong to treat it as a substitute for a coherent political philosophy.” Unfortunately, Mr. Loconte forgets to quote the one candidate who cited Jesus Christ as his “favorite political philosopher” in the 2000 Presidential debates (hint: It wasn’t Al Gore).
Mr. Loconte does get it right on a couple of points. It is noteworthy that many conservative and evangelical religious groups (not always the same thing, although he conflates the two) are leading the fight to combat international sex trafficking, and are trying to rouse the American conscience with respect to Darfur. The left, by and large, has been too late to the table on these issues, and now should be playing rapid catch-up if it wants to maintain any sense of legitimacy on human rights issues.
Then again, those who cite Jesus as an influence on their foreign policy (see Presidential candidate above) must wrestle with the difficult question of Jesus’ own pacifism, even extending to his lack of self-defense – to loudly call oneself a follower of Jesus on the one hand and advocate for the widespread use of military force on the other yields a cognitive and spiritual dissonance that should be called to account. I’m not saying that a coherent case can’t be made for just war theory – I’m only saying that no one in the present Administration has seemed to want to bother to make that case, preferring instead the easier Old Testament imagery of a vengeful God smiting all enemies of his chosen people.
Mind you, I’m all for the separation of church and state – which means no establishment, and no hindering of free exercise either. But there’s a technical theological term for one who regularly champions the faith-based agenda of one side of a debate while disallowing faith-based claims from the other side. That term, a favorite of Jesus’, is “hypocrite.”