Taking Religion Back | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Taking Religion Back

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Politics and religion: two subjects that should never be introduced in polite conversation. When I moved to Mississippi, the admonition became a hard and fast rule for me. Mississippi politics contains a lot of bizarrely coded language that, as an outsider, I can't penetrate. And religion? Well, let's just say that I got invitations to about a half-dozen Baptist and Methodist churches within a couple of weeks, none of which I accepted. There are some who will likely never forgive me for that Yankee faux pas. Being in the buckle of the Bible belt came to mean only one thing to me—evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity.

It was surprising, then, that the Young Democrats convention earlier this month included a panel discussion entitled "The Religious Left: Being a Democrat and Believing in God." I had spoken with YDMS Vice President Kate Jacobson prior to the convention (see jacksonfreepress.com for the interview), and we agreed that this panel in particular was bound to produce some lively discussion. We also agreed that the Republican Party had hijacked Christianity for political purposes. Jacobson made a point of telling me that Democrats needed to take religion back.

At the convention, the small room filled up quickly with eager participants. I was hopeful that these young people could provide some insight into why the Republicans were so effective in pulling people of faith to their party, regardless of their actions. I wanted to hear an action plan to counter Republican dogma here in Mississippi and across the South.

Republicans had been speaking with forked tongues when it came to "walking the talk," they said, but they had done a stellar job of convincing people of faith that the Democratic Party and Christianity were mutually exclusive.

The first two panelists had much in common: Being Democrats fit well with their faith. Frenchye Magee, a Duke University divinity student, stated: "I never had any problems being a Democrat. I never had any problems being a Christian. For me, my faith informs my political choices. … I self-identify first as a Christian, and then everything else comes under that rubric. … In the end, it's what you do that people remember and not so much what you say. So for me, it comes down to an emphasis on action and service."

For New Yorker Stephanie Hausner, a member of the Jewish council of the Young Democrats of America, things were even more clear-cut: "In Judaism," she told the group, "we have this concept of Tikkun Olam, (which) means 'repairing the world.' … Being involved in social action and looking out for others who need help wherever they are, which is what the Democratic Party does … goes hand-in-hand (with Judaism)."

Moderator Amanda Watson, from Jackson, provided what I consider an alarming statistic: In a recent survey, 63 percent of Americans said the Bible should have more influence over the laws of this country. I didn't think I'd heard right. Are our laws un-Christian in some way? Certainly, many of our laws don't follow the historical Bible, or adulterers would still be publicly stoned to death.

"One of the ways our more conservative brothers and sisters have really hurt the idea of religion in general," Magee said, "is to set up the model that says it's a zero-sum game: There's so many souls, there's so many people, and we've got to get ours. What that does is make it really difficult to talk about real-life issues."

Hausner went on to imply that religious leaders must combine their strengths to search for common ground, and they must lead by example. "When the ministers and the rabbis and the priests and the imams can stand together in a room," she said, "it shows the rest of the community that we can stand together."

Magee and Hausner agreed that progressive people of faith must be clear about how their beliefs support their political positions. It's not about arguing with the other side, they said. It's about having a clear stand fully supported by faith. When preachers are telling their congregations they'll go to hell if they are Democrats, it's up to Democrats to clearly present and demonstrate their truths. That is, Democrats need to work hard to create and communicate a consistent message.

Magee said that fear plays a big part in people wanting to rigidly hold on to the familiar. And attacking the familiar only brings about defensiveness.

Regena Thomas, former New Jersey secretary of state and ordained minister, joined the panel late in the conversation. Her powerful presence hushed the room as soon as she started speaking: "As Democrats, we have to begin to go back to what the Civil Rights Movement did, and call upon each of our clergy and our churches as a political tool. …We must begin to raise the issue of Christianity coldly. To represent the oppressed, I must question minimum wage … Social Security … (and) health care (policies). I don't want to have a religious debate with anyone," Thomas said.

She later added: "We're going to win this fight on politics. They haven't taken religion from us; we've given it to them."

Previous Comments

ID
80770
Comment

Good article. Am I the only one who finds the timing of this eerie, given some of our recent discussions? :o) Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-20T20:26:14-06:00
ID
80771
Comment

This needed to be done in the last election! Bout time to take it back! I don't think anyone, including Bush, holds the mainline to Jesus.

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-20T20:29:18-06:00
ID
80772
Comment

Well, I do, but that's to be expected. The rest of the world? Psssh. And certainly not Bush. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-20T20:37:20-06:00
ID
80773
Comment

I don't think either party holds anything religous. They simply use it as a tool to gain votes. Nothing more, nothing less. And churches in Mississippi are actively recruited to elect candidates. Shameless. I'll reiterate a comment from another thread, divide us somehow and we become easier to manipulate.

Author
Doc Rogers
Date
2006-12-20T20:49:05-06:00
ID
80774
Comment

Good one Doc Rogers! And that's what they've done! NOOOOTTTTTT a virtue there! I don't want my politics in my church or my church in my politics. I'll vote on MY spiritual convictions, thank you very much!

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-20T20:53:20-06:00
ID
80775
Comment

Agreed. The day I take religious instruction from politicians is the day you can sell me a bridge in San Francisco. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-20T20:54:31-06:00
ID
80776
Comment

So... [quote]As Democrats, we have to begin to go back to what the Civil Rights Movement did, and call upon each of our clergy and our churches as a political tool. …We must begin to raise the issue of Christianity coldly.[/quote] Democrats can now muster the religious to them, and the Republicans can't? I thought all was fair in love and war?

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-12-20T22:35:04-06:00
ID
80777
Comment

Actually, I didn't attend that program. The only YDA thing I attended was the women and disabilities caucus, and I did that to support my friend and hero Shannan Reaze, who was on the panel. I have nothing against politicians referring to their personal faith as part of their story, using religious language and religious metaphors. What I don't like is seeing politicians preach from on high about anything, and yes, if the Religious Left starts doing this, I'll call that out, too. Well, hell, why wait that long: News story from the Irish Examiner. Seems the Democratic Congress is not all that much more eager to follow the U.N. Millennium Development Goals than the Republican Congress was. You know, little stuff like preventing the deaths of 29,000 children from preventable diseases every day (two will die of malaria between the time you started reading this post and the time you get to this sentence). So part of me is thinking: Well, I despise Santorum as much as I do any politician. You all know how delighted I was to see him lose last month. But the one thing he did right was he supported paying for those mosquito nets. Will Bob Casey? And if not, what's this "Religious Left" business really worth, in the grand scheme of things? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T00:50:10-06:00
ID
80778
Comment

(I notice now that the Irish Examiner quoted the less-than-credible New York Post, but that's a direct quote from Bono and he hasn't issued a denial, so I'm guessing that's still where he stands. Anyone seen that quote elsewhere?)

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T00:54:02-06:00
ID
80779
Comment

Thanks for writing this Ronni. God need to take back his religion real soon. The way the repubs have used, abused, perverted, distorted and degraded it, we'll soon become a nation of atheists, oligarchy, or arch-factions then have a religion/religious war that will wipe thousands if not millions of us out. Everybody wants to be right without compromising or letting others be.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-27T12:52:00-06:00

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