On my drive to work on Monday, I caught about ten minutes of The Takeaway on our local NPR radio station. Part of the Monday's radio program was dedicated to spiritual values in our world today.
John Hockenberry interviewed Reverend Dr. James Herbert Cooper of Trinity Church located on Wall Street. "Regarding a redistribution of wealth," explained Cooper, "some fear it's the redistribution of poverty." Still, he believes, "caring people would look for the dignity of all people and to look toward an equitable system of economics."
The Reverend Cooper also explained, "The idea that 'all things will work out' is not the basic theological doctrine but that God will always be with us, even when it doesn't work out... whether it's a hurricane or 9/11... and out of that promise, we take steps to rebuild."
While there was much more to the hour long program on The Takeaway, this ten minute segment was entitled "The fracturing religious right, the growing religious left."
I'm not sure that I've really seen this evidenced by many of the evangelicals I know, who seem fairly entrenched in the religious right-- many maintaining a fervent hold on their adoration for George Bush despite undeniable evidence of his failure in the role of president to the point of criminal misconduct.
Though I consider myself a Christian and have attended evangelical churches over the last 18 years, I have never felt very comfortable with the political stance and what I perceived to be self-righteous attitudes of many of those around me. I rebelled against the implication that there was something less Christian about me because my views about abortion, same sex marriage, capital punishment, evolution, environmentalism, government assistance and the economic policies that go with them, differed from the mainstream evangelical folks. And I've come to the conclusion that it simply has to be more than a different "interpretation" of scripture. It is more of a "heart" issue--the way I believe. I think God gets me, even if others don't.
Hockenberry commented that evangelicals have long been associated with the Republican base, though we may see that changing this year... and the Reverend disagreed. He says, "Evangelicals have historically been associated with those on the margins of society particularly in the 19th century. The aberration is the rise of the "religious right" beginning in the late 1970s." For much of the 20th century evangelicalism was lying low. But in the 70s it reemerged and, according to Hockenberry, became to the Republican party what the labor unions once were for the democratic party.
Still, that was then, this is now. Cooper explains, "the pressure from peers and older generations is to be single issue voters... with issues like abortion and same sex unions." Yet, he's finding more and more that there's a generation gap between the old line leaders like Chuck Colson and James Dobson and the younger generation.
And it's the single issue voting that just irks me. It seems sort of simple minded and unbending, a willful refusal to acknowledge every other pressing issue that truly ought to be considered. I really have no objection with someone's choice to vote in a way that differs from me, but I really want that to be an educated vote. It's just too important.
Reverend Cooper goes on to say, "the younger generation seems to have no interest is issues with sexual identity and if pressed they'll offer up the stance, Yes, I'm pro-life... I am against abortion, but even that issue is beginning to fade in importance. This is in part because there's no real passion behind it in terms of political will." He defends this statement by using the following as support:
"From Feb 1 2006 (Samuel Alito) to Jan 3, 2007 when democratic majorities took control of Congress.... the Republican religious right controlled all three branches of federal government. The chief executive, majority leader of the senate, and the speaker of the house of representatives all claimed to be evangelical Christians, unalterably opposed to abortion, and yet they made no effort whatsoever to outlaw abortion."
Cooper believes it's important that evangelicals reclaim their heritage. He says, "Not only in the teachings of Jesus, and Jesus expressed a great deal of concern for those on the margins of society, but also what I consider to be the noble legacy of 19th century evangelical activism that unfailingly took the part of those who were marginalized, those who are less advantaged."
I guess THAT is how I see my role as a Christian in today's society. I consider myself a compassionate realist. I know my God is with me and that my prayers alone are not the thing that moves mountains, but that through prayer I can find my grounding and God can empower ME to do the things that need to be done. Gandhi said, "we must be the change we want to see in the world." And I believe that. I hope Hockenberry is right and that there are others like me out there... those who fall into the evangelical "left." But really, it's more that I hope Cooper is right and soon folks who love Jesus and want to do right by others will be free from ties to any political party and will simply be able to live and serve others, especially those on the margins of society. I thank my grandmother who taught me to pray so I can know God's will for my life and I thank the generations of women before me who fought so I could have the freedom to vote, and, in one more way, I can impact the world in which I live.
You can listen to the actual takeaway segment here.