Exposing a Regressive Alliance with the Religious Right
People are getting wise to the methods of the Religion Industrial Complex's peculiar dialogs and alliances with cherry-picked representatives of the Religious Right. They say that this is the best we can do. But Fran Kissling charges in a powerful critique
at Religion Dispatches
, we can do better, much better.
Here are a few excerpts:
Indeed, the new theo-politicians are by and large anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage evangelicals or Catholics who seem to want to get the Democrats off the personal freedom agenda they cannot support, and onto an agenda that would catapult them into the court cleric role.
Many feminists engaged in these issues have, therefore, avoided working within electoral-political organizations like Jim Wallis' Sojourners, Faith in Public Life, or Catholics United. Of those who have worked with these groups, a few have maintained a critical stance; others seem to have drunk the Kool Aid--as well as served it to the men.
This was driven home again in the composition of President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and the press statements and comments from the progressive groups. Most illuminating the problem was the Faith in Public Life organization--which happens to be led by a feminist. The press release was fawning and totally bereft of a gender analysis. In spite of the fact that the first set of ten "faith-based" members of the Council includes only one woman and one identifiable advocate for women's sexual and reproductive rights (the rabbi, of course), FIPL believes that the Council "captures a new moment in American faith and politics." That new moment seems to be one of unprecedented self-promotion of religion in service of politics and "voice" at any price. The "voice" however must be "moderate" and "acceptable." And the feminist project will not be included.
Much is made by the theo-politicians of their work across ideological differences. But this has been achieved by excluding from their ranks those religious leaders who are progressive and outspoken on gender, sexuality, and religion. It is then easy to stand side by side with Rick Warren and Joel Hunter, for they actually agree with these conservatives on sexuality and reproduction and have only minor differences on LGBT issues. Center-left theo-politicians are silent on the meaning of sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage; they have no interest in the theological construction of a new moral and ethical standard of relationship, justice, and friendship that governs sexuality. They are silent on the morality of LGBT sexuality, limiting their support to "civil rights." They talk about women only as victims, never as moral agents. They take on the easy religious issues--poverty and peace. They do so either out of political expedience or because they actually agree with the religious right.
I will add from my article on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
The notion of "abortion reduction," has been a cornerstone of the so-called "broader agenda" of the conservative evangelicals promoted by Third Way and Faith in Public Life. But Rev. [Anne] Fowler sees a certain "political expediency" at work:
Abortion reduction is not a position that recognizes the reality of many women's lives. I mean we talk about the incarnation. And the incarnate reality, the moral reality of women's lives is that sometimes abortion is the best moral choice.
Fowler, who has been a longtime leader in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood adds that, "what is missing from this document is any acknowledgment of women's moral agency and their capacity to make honorable sacred decisions for the welfare of their families and for themselves."
"What is missing from this document," she continued, "is recognition of the sacredness of all life, and a moral tradition that allows us to weigh relative values, of potential life versus a lived life in its full spiritual complexity."
"What is missing from this document is any invitation for faith leaders, both pro-choice and pro-life with whom we disagree, to talk about abortion--and other choices involving women's reproductive health and to model that dialogue to the country."
The idea that abortion is sometimes the best moral choice is the view of many major religious institutions representing tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians, and others. Many of these institutions are represented in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), including major mainline Protestant denominations (such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ), the major bodies of American Judaism, and such organizations as the YWCA.
Rev. Carlton Veazey, President of RCRC and a member of RD's advisory council, wrote recently in commemoration of the 36th anniversary of Roe: "I call on the faithful to protect the lives of women and children by fighting to ensure that reproductive health care is accessible and that abortion services are safe, legal, and available."
"The reality," he continued, "is that the cycle of poverty often revolves around unintended and unwanted pregnancy. A woman living in poverty is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as her higher-income counterpart. The link between family planning and overcoming poverty is well established."
There are theological as well as political choices at work here, as mainstream Democrats internalize the views of the Religious Right; express them as common ground, and at best perpetuate a conservative theological and political order. But there is growing evidence that rather than this debate being about the definition of progressive means and ends, that we are not seeing moderation, (however one may define that) so much as regression.
I think that many elements of the Religious Right must be pinching themselves, unable to believe their good luck.