Chip Berlet on "Winning the Battle, Losing the Culture War"
In an essay
at Religion Dispatches
, Talk to Action
contributor Chip Berlet has what may be the definitive overview of the debate on the Religious Left about how "common ground" with conservative evangelicals has been pursued in the Democratic Party at the expense of progressive values. Indeed, Berlet develops what some of us have been discussing here for some time: that some party operatives and related interest groups have adopted some of the framing and arguably some of the goals of the Religious Right itself; and goes on to say that it doesn't have to be this way.
I know that some of those we have written about here dispute much if not all of we have had to say about these things, but Chip's essay makes a strong case. And he graciously invites the leaders of Faith in Public Life and those who think as they do to reconsider in the interests of values we all share -- including separation of church and state, reproductive justice and gay rights.
Excerpts on the flip.
I had blogged on Daily Kos and Huffington Post about reports I had been getting in the summer of 2007 from progressive activists warning that they were hearing Democratic Party spinmeisters telling people to not emphasize Separation of Church and State, Reproductive Choice, or Gay Rights. I wrote a post, "For Progressives who Vote Democratic but Value Human Rights," arguing that "Human Rights are Not Political Commodities":
We understand that the same First Amendment that guarantees separation of church and state guarantees the rights of Christian conservatives to defend their views in the public square, and to seek redress of grievances through a variety of political and social channels. In recent months, however, we have seen indications that some in the leadership of the Democratic Party, and some of its candidates for public office, are seeking the votes of Christian conservatives by suggesting there is room to compromise on reproductive rights and gay rights.
I first became alarmed about Democratic Party backpeddling on these issues when Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic Party, came to the 2007 Yearly Kos conference in Chicago. Before a crowd composed primarily of progressive or left-leaning Democrats, Dean spoke of reaching out to evangelicals mentioning just one name: the Rev. Rick Warren. While Warren may, as he appears, be a nice guy, he is certainly not a progressive; he is, at best, a moderate (with some baggage about gay people, especially in Africa). A buzz went around the conference typified by blogger Pam Spaulding who wrote: "I respectfully refuse to consider women's rights and gay rights as a commodity to be traded for votes from evangelicals."
Fred Clarkson, "Pastor" Dan Schultz and I began alerting our readers on Talk to Action and Street Prophets to the perils of election cycle political compromises that threatened the core values of the progressive community. Others posted similar concerns. When we saw our allies among the Progressive Pragmatists appear to jump on the bandwagon built by the backsliding wing of the Democratic Party we were flabbergasted. What happened to the progressive coalition I thought we were building together? I felt as though I'd just been tossed out of the lifeboat.
There are at least three intertwined issues in the ongoing debate:
* Adopting the Christian Right Frame
* Stepping on the Toes of Existing Allies
* Errors in Analyzing Evangelical Voters
Compromise implies both sides give up something. It is never a good idea to start out a negotiation by giving the other side everything they want at the beginning. The Christian Right wants "abortion reduction" because they want to deny women the right to choose abortion as an option when they become pregnant.
The goal of groups such as Third Way seems to be garnering votes from relatively conservative Christian evangelicals. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to Christian evangelicals and people from other faith traditions, I have been doing it for 30 years. But as an active member of the Christian Left who spent over a decade as a community and labor organizer, I see a problem. As progressives we should be reaching out to people of faith, including evangelicals, but we need clearer criteria for those with whom we seek to work.
If one wants to work in coalition with Christian evangelicals, perhaps it would be better to start by talking with Progressive Idealists, the Religious Left, and a variety of activist groups on women's rights and gay rights issues and line up our support. Then together we can analyze the source of the ideological opposition--in this case the Christian Right--and develop a counter frame. Finally, we can reach out to moderate and mildly conservative evangelicals using our counter frame in a way that emphasizes common interests.
Read the whole essay.