That is when it hit me forcefully that the religious right has thoroughly hijacked the language and agenda connecting faith and public policy. I had worked extensively in ecumenical settings over the years and I knew very well that religion had no political affiliation. I knew that there were eloquent voices of faith speaking to issues of peace, justice, and equality. But those voices were seldom mentioned in the media, and were largely ignored by the politicians who needed their insights and their support.
After the Democrats got thumped in 2004 some politicians who embraced the cause of social justice discovered they were in need of some pastoring, and perhaps some mentoring. I posted some thoughts on this at the time, focusing particularly on Jim Wallis and his very influential book, God's Politics. It became evident that a broader understanding of faith and politics was being birthed in the national media.
Now comes a post by Brian McLaren, chair of Sojourners, one of my favorite faith and justice organizations, in which he describes the need for a new name to attach to folks like him:
A lot of us are people without a label these days.
Media folks want to call us the “Religious Left,” since they can tell we’re not the Religious Right. But that bipolar terminology brings a lot of baggage we neither want nor believe in. There’s “Progressive Christians” – but that’s interpreted by some as a euphemism for “Religious Left.” Some people like to mix red/Republican and blue/Democrat and speak of “Purple Christians,” but the image for me evokes bug-eyed believers who have held their breath too long.
Despite the progress made since 2004, it seems that the "faith agenda" is now dominated by Huckabee evangelicals and Romney Mormons--a fascinating thing to watch but certainly not something driven by social justice issues. Obama has pulpit oratory reminiscent of the black preachers but religion is not really at the heart of the man or his policies. The efforts of other candidates to utilize faith talk has been at best uninspiring and sometimes embarrassing. Once again the presidential campaign is lacking the voice that finds justice, not creationism, in faith, and that names the poor, not the privileged, as a religious cause.
Labels are often a negative thing. They oversimplify. They divide. They minimize.
But sometimes a wisp of an idea, however virtuous, needs first to be named. A label will guarantee nothing. It is by deeds that we shall be known. But those of us whose faith embraces social justice need to find a name that gives voice and identity to the cause, perhaps the calling, that defines us and unites us.