Changing the Script to Envision a Religious Left
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 06:06:41 PM EST
I happened on this post from two years ago, that has some considerable relevance to today. I am reposting it with a few small edits, as part of the fourth anniversary of Dispatches from the Religious Left. (Note that comments may be two years old.) -- FC

As the mid-term national elections loom, it is worth considering where we are going in light of where we have been. That's why when others are writing on the zeitgeist of the political moment, I often find myself absorbed in the evolution of Recurring Themes here at Talk to Action.

We have, for example, discussed how the manufacture of a faux Religious Left by Beltway Insiders a few years ago didn't work out so well.  Then we further discussed the way that separation of church and state is a value that can be vigorously and successfully defended against theocratic candidates of the Religious Right. (Earlier this year, we discussed how a progressive minister running for local office navigated matters of church state separation.)

Today we return to our general, ongoing discussion of the Religious Left. Among the many reasons why we do -- perhaps chief among them -- is that a more dynamic Religious Left would be a major factor in thwarting the theocratic ambitions of the Religious Right.  There are now, and always have been, many politically active religious progressives and many significant organizations within the span of religiously based political progressivism. But a coherent contemporary movement of political consequence has yet to emerge.

The book of 19 essays by 22 authors I published in 2008 was an effort to get a more serious discussion going about an authentic Religious Left. This effort met with mixed results, in part due to a certain hegemony of discourse in which anything that did not neatly conform to the views of the Washington-based consultantocracy was marginalized, and sometimes if not worse.

In Dispatches from the Religious Left:  The Future of Faith and Politics in America (Daily Kos review here) we sought to highlight religious progressives who are unconnected to the faux Religious Left and, as I told Bill Berkowitz at the time that we intended that the book serve as "application of jumper cables to start a necessary conversation."

The conversation now continues with the publication of Dan Schultz's book Changing the Script:  An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century. (Daily Kos review here).  I am not going to delve into the ideas of the book here, except to broadly agree that his view that we need to be able to think for ourselves and to ask good questions, and not merely line up behind given answers, is an essential part of the project.

I started out this post wanting to highlight a review of Changing the Script by theologian (and friend of this site) Brent Hege at The Revealer.  Here are a few excerpts:  

He points a way forward for religious progressives yearning for a new order by tapping into that long and noble history and Christian hope. Taking his cue from Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann's critique of an American narrative of "therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism," Schultz suggests that just such a fundamental shift of narratives, a "change of scripts," is required to pull America back from the brink of economic, social and psychological collapse and to direct us toward a new, more just future where the dignity of every person is valued, where American power is expressed through mutuality and cooperation rather than force, and where inequality, not difference, is the scourge to be defeated.

The use of "narratives" to address the problems facing American society at the dawn of the 21st century and to suggest a progressive vision to correct those problems reveals the scope of Schultz's vision in Changing the Script. The problem, as he understands it, is not merely one of policy or individual motives or the trajectory of current events. Rather, the problem lies in the narratives we inherit and continue to tell ourselves in order to make sense of the world and navigate our way through it; the scripts we follow when living our lives. History does not unfold blindly, nor does it stretch bare before us for interpretation. We understand the world and the events of our lives always with the aid of a certain narrative, a comprehensive framework from which we draw meaning and value. We follow scripts prepared for us, often unknowingly, that instruct us on how our lives should unfold and we chart our paths forward with their aid, often, understood as "the way things are." We inherit them from our culture, from our history, from politicians, media and corporate advertising, and, yes, from our religious traditions. But there is nothing inevitable or obvious about these narratives; nor is there any reason why they cannot (and, Schultz argues, must) be changed if we are to chart a new course for our national life. From Brueggemann, then, Schultz borrows this theme of narratives to unravel the stories we tell ourselves and to reveal what we have long suspected, that our unexamined scripts are corrupting the "soul" of the nation and leading us into an unsustainable, perilous future.

What Schultz presents in this book is not a systematic description of American political life, nor is it a professional work of academic theology, biblical scholarship, or ethics. It is, true to his style, a work that blurs the line between church and society, between academy and populace, between religious and secular progressives (this is, I suspect, precisely what he means by subtitling his book "an authentically faithful and authentically progressive political theology for the 21st century). The vision of the "big tent" drives the style and the arguments Schultz makes, preferring coalition-building to the further entrenching of divisions, common ground to a siege mentality. What Schultz is after here is not the impossible dream of a sudden end to the divisions between Right and Left. Rather, he insists that among progressives (both religious and secular), there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

Commonalities that emerge from our shared history in the struggle for equalities while navigating our religious differences, is a theme of much of my work, such as how to find a common narrative of religious equality in American history, and not allow religious and non-religious progressives to be pitted against one another.

But what I tried to emphasize in assembling Dispatches was that am authentic  Religious Left cannot be created in specific response to the Religious Right, or explicitly to counter it (although it may have that effect if it is a successful movement.) Rather, a Religious Left must become what it needs to be on its own terms.  To my mind, this means, as Dan and Brent say, that religious progressives must find and speak from their own identities and religious traditions.  I think it also means figuring out how these things can better shape our politics. I told Bill Berkowitz in our interview:

"...religious progressives seem to be politically stalled, distracted, and lacking a coherent strategy and effective tactics. Therefore, it is safe for government officials to ignore them, and we can see the results on just about everything that really matters.

Both the secular and religious left have generally failed to learn any lessons from the tremendous successes of the Religious Right over the past few decades. And what lessons have been taken are too often the wrong ones. Several Dispatches contributors are exceptionally well informed about the Religious Right, and discuss what lessons can be drawn from the experience of this formidable movement--and rightly caution us about others. One of the themes that emerges in the book is that the religious left needs to reestablish a significant capacity for "organizing" in the broad, social, political and electoral sense. It has been a key to successes in the past but seems to have been abandoned in favor of think tanks and public relations strategies....  it is time for a conversation about what is and is not working and to consider what might be done differently and to go out and get it done."

Two years out, [now four] I would add that any nascent Religious Left political movement must of course, not only not ape the Religious Right in organization and style, but to actively seek ways of acquiring and wielding power consistent with the values of justice. These values are rooted, as Hege notes, in the great religious traditions. But respect and advocacy for the democratic values of religious pluralism and separation of church and state are also essential, even as learning how to navigate it can be tricky.  While church and state need to be separate, religiously rooted values and democratic political and constitutional values must be considered together in order to achieve justice in an American political context.  Part of what this means, is learning to master the tools of grassroots electoral politics, which were intended as, and are still available to effect democratic political change. Failure to do these things, pretty much means abandoning the playing field and ceding the game.

Malcolm Gladwell's recent article in the New Yorker, "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted" cites the weaknesses of the electronic networks in creating REAL change. Networks are a step toward action, but they are built on low-sacrifice actions, things that don't cause the actor to break a sweat much less stay the course. He cites the lunch counter sit-ins in the pre-electronic era as a case of movement organizing through face-to-face relationships and commitment based on that trust. In contemporary movements he cites the power of the Black church - but it is the power of faith congregations everywhere, on all sides. The anti-abortion movement built their alliances and momentum that way, and the pro-choice movement flourished only when women and men came together outside clinics, week after week, to defend women and staff, then built a real organization resting on familiarity and trust. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples - these all are the real fundaments of social movement organization today. We know that the liberal-progressive faith organizations have massive capabilities since people already know and trust one another, know who's a good schedule planner, who is great at mobilizing members, who has the best long-term planning skills, who's a great talker and who's not, and who is super at organizing food and other supports. For the past decade those skills, honed in the civil rights, women's, and many other movements that once incorporated people of faith, have come back doing that work and more. The progressive faith community has built new skills in community and state or federal advocacy. It is not insignificant that during the press for federal health care reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a special shout out to the faith community. Missed in the mainstream reports of health care reform passage is the incredible work done daily by people in the faith community who never stopped pressing Congress to pass the bill. What distinguises this movement today is its commitment to full inclusion. Religious Right folks target limited topics designed to keep other people from their rights. The broad progressive movement is working to extend rights and protection of those rights to all people. The perception that all negative views of GLBT people come from religious leaders is accurate - because those who do not hate and reject LGBT men and women are given NO attention in the media. That does not mean they are absent or a tiny minority or mostly silent. What we are is ignored. Part of that reason is that secular groups, natural allies, also ignore the faith community. Fearful that all people of faith are just Pat Robertson Lite or, more to the point, creepy because they are people of faith, the secular community pays lip service to the alliance but runs the other way when it's time to stand in front of the cameras. Think what would have happened in California in 2008 were marriage equality to be affirmed by clergy. And there were thousands who stood with the No on 8 position, but the summation of our work was: "The faith community has nothing to say." Oh, yeah we did. And it would have changed history if we'd been present to say it. Elbowed out of the room, we were silenced by the very people we supported. The PR firms came to a few faith meetings - and handed us "faith messages" that were drivel and meaningless. Then, because we stayed on message but not on their words, we were cut out of press conferences. So here we are, the single largest organizational infrastructure in America or any given state, and we continue mostly to speak to one another on any given topic. If we are to get beyond low-sacrifice and therefore limited tweets in order, as Gladwell argues, mount real change with real staying power, the secular progressives must ally with us, let us reach our own members and bring them into the political arena. We can do it, we have the right messages and are the trusted messangers. And we can make all the tweets add up to something that can not be eroded - real organization with real outcomes that we all desire. With the partnership of secular and faith groups we can move mountains.

by Churchlady on Mon Oct 25, 2010 at 12:04:37 AM EST
simply needs to begin among people of some standing and vision.  

Dispatches was ignored and marginalized far more than it was discussed and I fear that the same thing may happen with Changing the Script.  

When people are ready take seriously the idea of forging a more politically dynamic Religious Left, I still think that these books will be helpful.  


by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Oct 25, 2010 at 01:10:08 AM EST

We posted this on The Christian Left: 3,778 People Like This Join us!

by The Christian Left on Mon Oct 25, 2010 at 11:24:53 PM EST

I'm really not qualified to speak that much about it, but the UU churches seem to have found a model that works really well.  They practice acceptance and not just tolerance, they are not dogmatic except against being dogmatic and for being accepting, they are very democratic, and work quite hard for social justice (and some are rather vocal about it).  Religious pluralism is not only a major part of the thinking, but I would say that it defines the core tenets of the church.

My short experiences with them (so far) shows that the structure would be defined by "Religious Left".  Needless to say, the dominionists (or Religious Right or whatever you want to call them) are quite hostile towards us.  Most of the churches in this area defines the UU church as a "cult".  Yet nothing could be further from the truth- in fact, I would call THEM the cult compared to what I've observed.  In the few short months we've attended, we've never encountered even the slightest hint of trying to manipulate or control us-  not even the removal of "welcome" in order to make us be more like them.  Indeed, they have expressed gratitude that we're active (and that is not our usual experience- our experience was constant, unending pressure to do and give more).

The only time they aren't welcoming (and I totally agree with this), is when a P/D/F (Pentecostal/Dominionist/Fundamentalist) tries to come in and "save" people.   Our little church has served as a refuge for people who have been harmed by those types, and they might even be accepted if they would accept others (which sadly, they don't) and not try to dictate the lives of others, which seems to be an addiction for the P/D/F types.

I had hoped to draw someone in from the church to comment on this thread.  We do need a viable "Religious Left" movement.

I rather laugh when I say this, but it seems that the UUs are very self-critical and always struggling with issues that would define a "Religious Left".  I think that might just be an attribute that would arise in the Religious Left, because of the 'nature' of such a movement.  

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Oct 26, 2010 at 12:08:15 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (330 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (180 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (99 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (93 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (106 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (127 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (115 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (79 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (228 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (154 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (173 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (53 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (55 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (210 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (241 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (88 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (171 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (143 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (141 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (151 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (144 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (125 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (186 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (143 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (83 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (189 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (77 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (107 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (105 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.