It isn’t every day you get mentioned in a book (at least not for me) but the pages of Bill Donahue’s “Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America” is the last place I wanted my name published.
Donahue is the president of the Catholic League, a far right political group that has designated itself as the watchdog and protector of Catholicism in America.
You might remember him from his comments in 2004 speculating as to whether or not Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” would win an Academy Award. Frank Rich reported at the time:
Will it be the Jews' fault if "The Passion of the Christ," ignored by the Golden Globes this week, comes up empty in the Oscar nominations next month? Why, of course.
"Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular," William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, explained in a colloquy on the subject recently convened by Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. "It's not a secret, O.K.?" Mr. Donohue continued. "And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth."
Donahue also took part in a series of events – Justice Sundays - put on by the Religious Right during the Bush Administration to promote then-President Bush’s judicial nominations. As I noted in 2005, at one appearance:
Donahue…called for a Constitutional amendment that would require a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court to overturn any decision of Congress. He spoke wildly against civil rights for gays and lesbians.
You can see where we might disagree theologically and politically.
Donahue mentions my name in a chapter of his book that assails Democrats in general and attacks the Clergy Leadership Network, a short-lived group of national religious leaders that formed in 2004 to oppose much of the Bush Administration’s policies.
The group‘s executive director, The Rev. Brenda Peterson, was tapped by the Democratic National Committee to serve as the religious outreach coordinator in the run up to the fall election between Bush and John Kerry. At the time, Donahue unleashed a viscous attack on Rev. Peterson, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, which questioned her moral values and patriotism.
Donahue sent out a press release at the time that noted Peterson’s ties to CLN and CLN’s ties to me. As he writes in the book now:
Incredibly, the CLN website also had link to an anti-Catholic site, Chuck Currie’s blog, which featured a piece titled “When Catholic Girls Go Wild” and to MoveOn.org, a left-wing group that has nothing to do with religion.
The actual title of my post was:
It was a satirical title from a post that reviewed a document released by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) attacking feminism.
Cleary, I have a different theological perspective than official Roman Catholic Church teaching on many issues - such as the rights of women – but on many other issues – such as poverty, war and peace, and climate change – I deeply admire the Roman Catholic Church for their advocacy. My entire career has been spent in partnership with Roman Catholics working on issues where we have been able to find common ground.
But I’m not the only person Donohue finds anti-Catholic. As I’ve mentioned, he has issues with gays, lesbians, Jews and all Democrats. He also has issues with many other Roman Catholics. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter of his book to attacking other Roman Catholics.That prompted John Gehring of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to ask on The Washington Post's blog On Faith: Why is Bill Donohue angry ... again?
Donohue makes righteous indignation and throwing rhetorical bombs into an art form. He is about as subtle as a fist in your face. If you are looking for reasoned and sensible analysis turn on PBS, Donohue seems to snarl. His latest depiction of cultural doom probably elicits a yawn from most religious Americans who are not obsessed with the bogeymen of multiculturalism, secularism, homosexuality and Hollywood hedonism that Donohue rails against with a bullying style.
Everyday in our churches, mosques and synagogues people of faith gather humbly to pray for wisdom, compassion and justice. We give public expression to this faith by comforting the sick, welcoming the strangers among us and seeking peace in a world torn by violence. We lobby Congress to pass health-care reform, fix a broken immigration system and address global climate change as profound moral issues. Even on difficult issues, we reject culture-war showdowns by encouraging pro-choice and pro-life elected officials to find common ground and reduce abortions by increasing support for pregnant women, expanding adoption opportunities and preventing unintended pregnancies.
It's a shame, if unsurprising, that the media regularly turns to Donohue for a "Catholic view" on issues. While Donohue's bluster makes for sensational television, he rarely raises his voice to speak about issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching. While the U.S. Catholic bishops' 2008 election-year statement on political responsibility emphasized a consistent ethic of life tradition that recognizes torture, unjust war, the death penalty, genocide, racism and poverty as "direct assaults on innocent human life," Donohue is uncharacteristically mute on these points. Abortion is not the only "life issue" for Catholics. As Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles told Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. last year: "We are not a one-issue Church...but that's not what always comes out."
We live in an age where the shrillest voices often drown out sober debate and thoughtful insights. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh watch their ratings soar with every outrageous remark. Bill Donohue gets invited on TV because he bellows and bloviates with the best of them. While some enjoy the antics, most of us are tired of the noise machine. Faith and reason are not enemies, but together can help illuminate our path through the dark forests of fear, ignorance and injustice. Sometimes we just need to turn down the volume and tune out the shouters to find our way.
Watching Bill Donohue go wild is never a pretty sight.
For weeks I've been looking forward to seeing Rabbi Steven Jacobs tonight in Portland. We were scheduled to be on a panel discussion together. I first met Rabbi Jacobs during the 2004 election cycle when we were both involved with the Clergy Leadership Network. But as I was getting ready to head off to the Interfaith Alliance town hall meeting where the panel would take place it was announced on CNN that Jesse Jackson, another veteran of the Clergy Leadership Network, would be leading a peace delegation to the Middle East. The AP reports:
CHICAGO -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday he would lead an ecumenical delegation to the Middle East this week to meet with political and religious leaders about troubles in the region, including the kidnapping of two Fox News journalists.
Jackson, the veteran civil rights leader and head of his Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said the group would leave Friday night for meetings in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. He declined to release his planned itinerary because of security concerns.
"We had been working with the Middle Eastern Council of Churches, but couldn't get in earlier because of the bombings," Jackson said.
He said his delegation would consist of about 10 people representing Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant groups.
Jackson said his mission would have three goals: urging the extension of the cease-fire in Lebanon, arranging humanitarian aid in Lebanon and in the Israeli city of Haifa, and inquiring into several hostage situations.
He said his group is concerned about the fate of Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah, as well as by the kidnapping of Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, who were kidnapped Aug. 14 from their TV van near the Palestinian security services headquarters in Gaza City.
Jackson has had success several times in the past in negotiating the release of political hostages.
So instead of hanging out in Portland, Oregon Rabbi Jacobs, a longtime associate of both Jackson and Martin Luther King, is heading off with Rev. Jackson to save the world. Again. Please pray for their safety and the success of their mission.
Action Alert from Clergy and Laity Network
The second phase of the Break the Silence Bus Tour will kick-off Sunday evening, June 12 in Chicago, at the Rainbow-Push Headquarters. The full details are below.
If you would like to volunteer to be part of the a local host committee please contact Zev Kanter, our Washington Coordinator.
Bus Tour Day 1: Sunday, June 12
Chicago, IL - 2:00 PM event, 4:00 PM rally and bus tour sendoff at Rainbow Push Headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., Chicago
Bus Tour Day 2: Monday, June 13
Indianapolis, IN - 11:30 AM rally at Central Christian Church,
701 N. Delaware, Indianapolis
Lexington, KY - 6:30 PM rally at Red Mile Club, Red Mile Road, Lexington
Bus Tour Day 3: Tuesday, June 14
Columbus, OH - 11:30 AM rally location TBD
Pittsburgh, PA - 7:00 PM rally at Holy Cross Episcopal Church,
7507 Kelly St., Pittsburgh
Bus Tour Day 4: Wednesday, June 15
Cleveland, OH - 4:30 PM rally at First United Methodist Church,
3000 Euclid, Cleveland, OH
The Bus Tour will energize and rally the progressive people of faith against a government that pursues war instead of peace, abandons a stewardship of the environment and repudiates economic justice for the poor, while creating a group of local interfaith leaders who will develop an ongoing local progressive religious presence in politically important states.
Possible and invited speakers include: Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Barack Obama, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, Lexington Mayor Theresa Isaac, Kentucky State Representative Kathy Stein, Dr. Glenn Hinson, and Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.
FaithfulAmerica.org is offering another opportunity for us to send letters to members of the US Senate protesting Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist's decision to take part in a political rally (put together by the religious right) charging those who disagree with President's Bush judicial picks as being "people against faith." Click here to send your letter.
And Clergy and Laity Network sends along this message:
SOCIAL JUSTICE SUNDAY * April 24, 2005
You are invited to a Public Gathering of Progressive Religious Communities and Progressive Community Groups:
2:30 PM Sunday Afternoon, April 24
Central Presbyterian Church 318 W. Kentucky St. (the corner of Kentucky St. and 4th St.) Louisville, Kentucky Phone: (502) 587-6935
Progressive Religious Communities, our leaders and our community friends are gathering to witness:
OUR OUTRAGE over the attempt by the Family Research Council and its radical Christian Right colleagues to highjack the judicial selection process for their politiclal/theocratic agenda
OUR DISMAY Senate Majority Leader, Senator Bill Frist, is lending his name and influence to the Family Research Council's claim of universal support from "people of faith" for its strategy, thereby giving false religious credentials to a thinly veiled political agenda
OUR POSITIVE COMMITMENT to defend and strengthen our social context in its commitment to fairness for all people, free of biased religious doctrines and prejudiced attitudes which are inimical to a mature religious understanding of the standards of inclusiveness and justice in American life AMONG THE SPEAKERS:
• Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Kemper, Executive Director, Kentucky Council of Churches
• Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin, Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, former President, Interdenominational Theological Center, ordained minister, Church of God in Christ
• Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell. Director, Department of Religion, Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York
• Emily Whitehurst, Director of the 100 year old ecumenical council in Austin, Texas
• Rev. Dr. Albert M. Pennybacker, Chair and Executive Officer, Clergy and Laity Network (CLN), former NCCC Associate General Secretary for Public Policy, former Professor, Lexington (KY) Theological Seminary
• Local and State Religious Leaders Please share this invitation with progressive people
(Update 4/24: Click here to ready my entry following the conclusion of the Justice Sunday event)
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is set to attend an April 24th telecast where Democrats will be portrayed as being “against people of faith” because of their opposition to President Bush’s judicial choices. The telecast – called “Justice Sunday” - is sponsored by fundamentalist right-wing Christian groups and will also include “Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Chuck Colson, the born-again Watergate figure and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; and Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” according to The New York Times. This purely political event disguised as a religious event is the most obscene use of religion in a political context since the Republicans declared last fall that Democrats planned to ban the Bible.
Congress is currently debating a plan – often called the “nuclear option” – that would allow Republicans to do away with the Senate’s filibuster. Fundamentalist right-wing Christian groups (like the Republican Party-aligned Focus on the Family) support doing away with the filibuster to move the president’s judicial nominees forward. Many Christian organizations, however, oppose the president’s nominees. It is disgusting to suggest that Democratic Party leaders – most of whom are people of faith – are somehow against religious values because they oppose the president's right-wing agenda. The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, recently wrote Senate leaders:
As you know, one source of the Senate’s great power is the guarantee that every Senator has the right to filibuster a piece of legislation or even a particular judicial nominee. Our entire system of checks and balances depends on a full debate in the Senate. In the confirmation process, the filibuster was meant to be used sparingly to promote accountability and compromise. Throughout our history, both political parties have benefited from the opportunity to utilize the filibuster. The “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster would destabilize our system of checks and balances and set a dangerous precedent that threatens other important issues. This would leave the majority with the power to reign with absolute tyranny over everyone in both the minority and dissenting majority. Recognizing that power in both houses of Congress has repeatedly changed hands over time, we are concerned that your rights as a Senator, to speak for your constituents on this issue, would be lost if the unprecedented “nuclear option” is enacted.
The Family Research Council has released a statement explaining the intent of Freedom Sunday:
A day of decision is upon us. Whether it was the legalization of abortion, the banning of school prayer, the expulsion of the 10 Commandments from public spaces, or the starvation of Terri Schiavo, decisions by the courts have not only changed our nation's course, but even led to the taking of human lives. As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism.
For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the ACLU, have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms. Federal judges have systematically grabbed power, usurping the constitutional authority that resides in the other two branches of government and, ultimately, in the American people.
The United Church of Christ is among the Christian bodies opposed to the “nuclear option.”
A coalition of progressive religious leaders and organizations today expressed outrage that Republican leaders are attacking the faith of Democrats and progressives in a cynical, partisan effort to win support for a handful of extremist judicial nominees.
Such an action is immoral, deceitful, and beyond the pale of even politics as usual. We call on Senator Frist to immediately cancel his plans to attend the event, and we urge all elected Republicans to condemn this wholesale attack on the religious practices of their political opponents.
According to the New York Times, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist will join an organization called "The Family Research Council" in a national telecast on April 24. They are calling it "Justice Sunday." They are saying Democrats want to use the Senate filibuster "against people of faith."
The Clergy and Laity Network and DriveDemocracy.org will sponsor a national prayer vigil on April 24 and urge citizens of all faith traditions to protest this unprecedented and intolerant act by a few misguided, extremist elements.
The CLN and DriveDemocracy are the coordinators of a national coalition of more than 60 progressive religious organizations. Their national "Breaking the Silence" campaign kicked off April 4 at Riverside Church in NYC and is continuing with a national barnstorming tour of America. Details of these and other events can be found at www.clnnlc.org and www.drivedemocracy.org.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Bill Frist or his right-wing allies represent Christianity. What they truly represent are political hacks willing to misuse Christian tradition for their own political agenda. The president wants to pack the courts with people who have opposed civil rights legislation, worked to limit health care options for women, and who support intrusive governmental powers to pry into our personal and political lives. We cannot allow them to succeed.
Interfaith Leaders Respond
Today I contacted prominent interfaith religious leaders and asked for their response to this issue.
Statement from Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs and Dr. Nazir Khaja
In seeking an understanding of ethical-moral issues that now face us in a technology-driven society, we the people of faith are finding ourselves increasingly disadvantaged. This is mainly because of how political power is being used in Washington; it is not by any means caused by a lack of moral courage and conviction. The continuous assault by those who wish to impose their own values on how others must think about these complex issues is very much exemplified in the latest foray by Senator Frist. In total disregard of the best traditions of our faiths which emphasize tolerance and respect for others, he is using the bully pulpit to coerce and further divide us. We shall not have this happen.
In our traditions, we are told that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by hatred between one human being and the next. The Quran also admonishes people against sowing dissension and obfuscating truth.
Sen. Frist is on dangerous grounds in setting one American against another. He disgraces all faiths and the work that we have done in the interfaith community to establish "common ground" that leads us to higher ground, regardless of one's political affiliation or faith.
People of faith, Republicans and Democrats, have expressed disgust with Sen. Frist's disturbing power play. People of conscience, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, know they are being manipulated. The "Culture of Life" should affirm the dignity of every human being. The Senator negates this.
Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, Temple Kol Tikvah Woodland Hills, CA
Nazir Khaja, M.D., Chairman, Islamic Information Service, Los Angeles, CA
Statement from Rabbi Jack Moline
It is a measure of insecurity when advocates attack the messenger. It means they have no confidence in their ability to respond to the challenge of the message.
Progressive people of faith have a profound respect for the varieties of belief. We have had our activism kindled and nurtured by the very religious devotion that impels us to resist the imposition of a particular faith perspective on others. It is not by sufferance that people of differing faiths -- or no particular faith at all -- are participants in American society. It is by right, by law and by principle. And while we acknowledge -- even insist -- that faith must inform the public service of judge, legislator or average citizen, the only righteous standard of conduct when representing the government of the United States or the individual states is the law of the land, drawn from our foundational documents.
Our founding fathers were people of faith whose combined wisdom kept specific religious language out of the the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They appealed for rectitude to universal values and natural law. Had their intention been to establish a default tradition -- Judaic, Christian or otherwise -- they most certainly had the skill to have crafted a less ambiguous way of declaring it and constituting it.
Denominational rallies for unnamed nominees who judge with a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other strike me as not much different than public demonstrations by organizations promoting racial, ethnic or religious superiority. My grandparents came to this country to escape societies that celebrated that kind of prejudice. My faith in God and in the United States compels me to shine a light on the shadow message of those who would demonize dissent.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Message from Clergy and Laity Network United for Justice
Iraq War and Beyond
A Community of Conscience is gathering across our country! In a witness to the nation it will convene at the Riverside Church in New York City, on April 4, 2005. The date reclaims the great antiwar sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence!"
For too long, attacks on freedom and justice by religious voices from the right have gone effectively unanswered. Greed, fear and imperialism have been endorsed. Beginning now progressive religious communities are organizing. Their respected leaders are speaking out. Others are joining in. Please add your voice!
Service and Rally
April 4, Riverside Church, New York City
On Monday, April 4, at The Riverside Church in New York City, as the climax of initiatives across the country, an open gathering will come together in a service and rally of public witness. First proposed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on behalf of Clergy and Laity Network, it has now been embraced by an inclusive body of co-sponsors.
Led by interfaith leaders, antiwar and social justice voices, young and old, it will claim for our time the faith and courage voiced in Dr. King's prophetic sermon. It was delivered from the pulpit of Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. Insert "Iraq," change a few words, and his antiwar heritage and social justice commitments speak strikingly to our day. This service marks a new beginning in the public witness of A Community of Conscience, including progressive religious and ethical communities.
April 4, Schedule of Events
The April 4th event will begin at 7 pm with service in the Church and concludes at 8 pm with a rally in the street and the Break the Silence Bus Tour send off. A press release of the event can be downloaded here.
Speakers will include Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Senior Minster, Riverside Church; Cindy Sheehan, Gold Star Families For Peace, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow Push Coalition, Honorable Jane Campbell, Mayor of Cleveland; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center, Sister Joan Chittister, Catholic OSB, Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary General of the World Sikh Council, Imam Feisel Rauf among dozens more from the inclusive religious coalition. A full list of speakers for the event can be downloaded here.
The Riverside Church is located at 490 Riverside Drive, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. Driving, bus and subway directions are available on the Riverside Church website.
In anticipation of April 4 at Riverside, one million committed Americans of conscience are being drawn together to write a Declaration to the Nation. It is made possible through Internet technology. So, get this Write-In invitation to everyone:
Join a virtual "Write-in Rally"
Send a declaration to the nation against the Iraq War and affirm God's future for us all.
One million Americans committed to peace and justice will share their ideas, faith and vision online. The write-in uses a friendly new collaborative writing system. You can participate from any Internet computer anywhere. You can focus your passion and concern over the Iraq War, share your insights, and create fresh new ways of speaking for peace and justice in our time, all while participating from your own computer space. You will need to register March 20-27 at www.peacenotpoverty.org. You can also receive further details from that site.
"Break the Silence" Bus Tour
From Riverside on April 4, the "Break the Silence" Bus Tour kicks off. A national bus tour, it represents taking the peace and justice message back home. It provides a rolling forum for hundreds of thousands of caring Americans who want to speak out against the Iraq War and its conduct, and to speak out as well for economic, civil and social justice in our own land.
The "Break the Silence" bus tour will leave from New York April 4 and initially visit Philadelphia, Washington. Later is will visit Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. Then it will head south to Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta. It will be stopping for rallies along the way. Suggestions for route stops are welcome. To learn more about "Break the Silence" bus rides and how you can make them happen visit drivedemocracy.org.
Simultaneously CALC-I (Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq) will be launching its prophetic public witness. Starting on March 20 with a dramatic gathering in New York, it will bring a spiritual voice to condemn the continuing Iraq violence. CALC-I will be taking peace and social justice teachings to every local faith community where its witness is welcome. It looks ahead to initiating a "sanctuary movement" of pastoral care for those who resist participation in the Iraq War.
Contribute and Learn More
To contribute and learn more about this emerging progressive interfaith movement, visit drivedemocracy.org. More information is also available from Clergy and Laity Network (CLN). A schedule of events for CLCI's social justice witness is available here. And for direct information about the Write-In, contact: www.peacenotpoverty.org.
Co-sponsors include the National Council of Churches, United for Peace and Justice, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq (CALC-I), Fellowship of Reconciliation, Unitarian Universalist Association, The Shalom Center, Faith Voices for the Common Good, Drive Democracy, Disciples Justice Action Network, Pax Christi USA, Progressive Christians Uniting, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Christians for Justice Action, Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, World Sikh Council - America Region, Faithful America, True Majority, Tikkun Community, Bruderhof Communities, Protestants for the Common Good, WHALE Center, Call to Action, Church of the Brethren Witness / Washington Office, The Witness Magazine, Global Justice and Peace Ministry - Riverside Church, Episcopal Divinity School, Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, Lutheran Human Relations Association, People for Peace and Justice, Gold Star Families for Peace, Peace and Security Project of Iowa, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Mercury Public Media, House of Imagene Shelters, Jewish Voice for Peace, African American Women's Clergy Association, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Disciples Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Peace Fellowship of East Carolina, Plowshares Institute, The Witherspoon Society, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Independent Anglo-Catholic Church of America, OneLife Institute for Spirituality & Social Transformation, American Ethical Union, Dare to Dream Network, Interfaith Alliance, The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers, South Texas Alliance for Peace and Justice, Word and World, Starr King School for the Ministry, Lexington Diocesan Council for Peace and Justice (Catholic Diocese of Lexington, KY), Peace and Justice Committee of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, CA, and a growing number of religious and social justice bodies. The Riverside Church is graciously serving as the April 4 host church. Clergy and Laity Network (CLN), also a co-sponsor, serves as coordinator. A regularly updated word document is also available that contains the growing list of co-sponsors. For links to the co-sponsoring organizations visit http://www.peacenotpoverty.org/.
THE IRAQ WAR AND BEYOND
End the Violence! Embrace Our Neighbors!
Claim God's Future for Us All!
Join a faith witness to the nation: March 19 - April 4...and Beyond!
For too long the attacks on freedom and justice endorsed by religious voices from the right have gone effectively unanswered. Now progressive religious communities are organizing and their respected religious leaders are speaking out. Please add your voice!
On March 19 America's people of conscience are turning up the volume. That's the day a coalition of antiwar believers, social justice organizers, progressive interfaith leaders including conservative and evangelical Christians, and others led by their ethical commitments -- a remarkable and growing Community of Conscience! -- will begin a new address and challenge to the nation and its directions.
On that day, CALC-I (Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq) launches its prophetic public witness against the Iraq violence, in a dramatic gathering in New York at the Riverside Church. CALC-I will be taking peace and social justice teachings to every local faith community where its witness is welcome. It looks ahead to launching a "sanctuary movement" of pastoral care for those who resist participating in the Iraq War.
Simultaneously from the Midwest FREEDOM RIDE 2005 kicks off. A national bus tour, it provides a rolling forum for hundreds of thousands of caring Americans who want to speak out against the Iraq War and its conduct, and to speak out as well for economic, civil and social justice in our own land.
To contribute to and learn more about this progressive interfaith movement go to www.drivedemocracy.org. More information is also available at the Clergy and Laity Network (CLN): www.clnnlc.org. You can find more about CALC-I's antiwar and social justice agenda at www.unitedforpeace.org.
FREEDOM RIDE 2005 will initially visit Dallas, Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia, stopping also for rallies along the way. Suggestions for route stops are welcome. FREEDOM RIDE 2005 will arrive in New York on the eve of April 4 for the major event planned there. To learn more about FREEDOM RIDE 2005 and how you can help to make it happen, click here: drivedemocracy.org.
These events, begun in March in New York at Riverside Church, will now climax in an open gathering on April 4, also at Riverside Church. A MEMORIAL SERVICE AND RALLY on Monday, April 4, will claim for our time the faith and courage voiced in Dr. Martin Luther King's prophetic sermon "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." It was delivered from the pulpit of Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. Dr. King's antiwar heritage and social justice commitments remain strikingly relevant today.
Also to be presented in the service will be A DECLARATION TO THE NATION drawn from one million committed Americans! So, get this WRITE-IN invitation to everybody:
JOIN A VIRTUAL "WRITE-IN RALLY"
with ONE MILLION FAITHFUL PEOPLE
Sending A DECLARATION TO THE NATION against the Iraq War
and Affirming God's Future for Us All
One million Americans committed to peace and justice will share their ideas and visions online. The WRITE-IN uses a friendly new collaborative writing system. You can participate from any Internet computer anywhere. You can focus your passion and concern over the Iraq War, share your insights, and create fresh new ways of speaking for peace and justice in our time, all while participating from your own computer space. You will need to register March 20 - 27 at www.faithvoices.org. You can also receive further details at that site.
Co-sponsors include the National Council of Churches, United for Peace and Justice, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq (CALC-I), Fellowship of Reconciliation, Unitarian Universalist Association, The Shalom Center, Faith Voices for the Common Good, DriveDemocracy. org, Disciples Justice Action Network, Progressive Christians United and a growing number of religious and social justice bodies. The Riverside Church, New York, is graciously the host church. Clergy and Laity Network (CLN), also a co-sponsor, serves as coordinator. A growing list of co-sponsors is posted on the Clergy and Laity Network website: www.clnnlc.org.
The Clergy Leadership Network has a new name and a new focus.
CLN was originally started to serve as a progressive religious voice during the 2004 campaign. The group will now be called the Clergy and Laity Network to reflect that the membership of the group is larger than just ordained clergy. CLN has reformed as a 501 ( c ) 4 organization and dropped their status as a 527 group.
“CLN energizes and equips progressive religious leaders of all faiths for public advocacy for justice and peace, shaped by faith-inspired social principles. CLN, in collaboration with an emerging progressive coalition, forms and coordinates networks of local, regional and national interfaith action groups committed to a progressive public policy agenda,” according to the newly adopted mission statement.
Brenda Bartella Peterson made national headlines this summer when she was named the first religious outreach advisor for the Democratic National Committee. Religious right groups quickly denounced her selection and the DNC, in a terrible move, caved to pressure and allowed Peterson to resign.
The Rev. Peterson didn’t stay down for long. She quickly assumed a position in her home state of Kentucky to fight an anti-gay ballot measure. The Courier-Journal reports:
Peterson said her message in Kentucky is the same as when she worked for the national Democratic Party: Conservatives do not have a monopoly on the religious vote.
While conservatives are organizing on issues such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality, she said, many liberals also draw on their faith to mobilize for such issues as economic equality and gay rights.
"On all these justice issues, we turn to the Scriptures too," she said.
Read about her compelling life story by clicking here.
Message from Clergy Network for National Leadership Change
Election Day is nearly here, a day of critical public choice. The one focus now is voting, progressive religious people voting, everybody eligible voting. It's called "Voter Mobilization."
Just a few weeks back, the focus was "Voter Registration." Now, it is "Voter Mobilization." Religious communities can play a crucial voting role. Our initiative "PASTORS AT THE POLLS" is all about Voter Mobilization.
Pastors - and religious leaders by other designations -- can make a definite difference. Pastors can lead, urge, influence and teach. Pastors lead best by an active example. The example in our initiative is simple, available and clear: Pastors who spend Election Day at the Polls.
Pastors at the Polls is strictly nonpartisan, inclusive of all religious leaders, both ordained and lay, who want to take part and grounded in a basic American ideal: democracy works best when all free citizens who are eligible actually get to the voting booth and cast a secure and private ballot.
Pastors at the Polls is not about participating as an election official. Some may want to do that, and we can point you in the right direction. But if you serve as an election official, you will have to leave your Pastors at the Polls lapel pin behind.
Pastors at the Polls is a simple public witness that every pastor and every religious leader can undertake. By telling your congregation or religious community in advance that you are spending Election Day at the voting places, you underscore the importance of voting. Your urging them to vote can then take the form of an invitation to meet you there: "See you on November 2!"
Pastors at the Polls can welcome and commend those arriving to vote. Some are timid, some intimidated, some confused. A pastoral word of suppport can help.
Pastors at the Polls is a silent reminder to voting officials that they are mandated to conduct a clear, clean, inclusive and accurate voting operation. Pastors symbolize moral integrity, which reminds public officials of ethical accountability, beyond government requirements.. 'A pastor watching' continues to be powerful.
Let's be clear what Pastors at the Polls is not: no 'politicking!' No, strictly and absolutely. It would be pastorally compromising, and it is normally illegal! The purpose is not influencing; it is encouraging. Incidentally any pastor seeking to influence or instruct voters at the voting place, especially from the Christian Right, is out of place, can be challenged and should be reported to election supervision officials.
No intrusion into the polling place or inside the limits set for non-voters. No distribution of campaign materials for any candidates. No wearing of any campaign pins or clothing. Pastors need to respect the election laws absolutely.
Let's put this simple plan in context: is it worth doing? Here are the facts: Progressive religious people, largely moderate and not caught up in either political extreme, actually outnumber extremists by an enormous margin, even as much as 3 to 1. The problem is that they have not voted! Progressive religious communities have preached and even pontificated but neither organized nor led on the side of actual voting. This is the year for progressive religious people to take voting very seriously. Pastors at the Polls can make such voting happen.
If you would like to be a part of PASTORS AT THE POLLS, here is how:
- Record your name and address. Both clergy and lay religious leaders are welcome to take part. Those not ordained can be a 'pastor for a day!'
- Request "Pastors at the Polls" materials to be mailed to you. No charge, gifts welcomed. For your lapel button, indicate Pastor, Rabbi or Religious Leader.
- Publicize your participation. Use your newsletter, worship bulletin or bulletin board in your own religious community. Give the story of pastors present at the polls on Election Day to your local newspaper or religion editor or radio and TV media journalists. Urge other pastors to join you. Help the message to reach your whole community.
And when Election Day is over, keep your lapel button as a remembrance of having played a part.
United Methodist Bishop William Boyd Grove e-mailed me today from his home in Charleston, West Virginia with the following statement which he asked that I post:
The Republican ad being distributed in West Virginia, implying that the election of John Kerry would lead to the "banning of the Bible" is outrageous, and represents demagoguery of the worst sort. No one connected to the distribution of that ad could possibly claim fidelity to the Bible for themselves!
John Kerry is a Christian, and the policies of his campaign, concern for the poor and the middle class, care for the environment (God' creation), and health care for all, are far more faithful to biblical principles than are the policies of the President. This administration has ignored the needs of the poor, and has left no millionaire behind. Increaing numbers of people have fallen into poverty, laws that have protected the environment for 30 years have been set aside and little hope has been offered to persons without health care. Which candidate and party are really faithful to biblical religion? The answer should be obvious to anyone who really understands biblical religion.
+William Boyd Grove
Bishop, The United Methodist Church
Bishop Grove is a well respected and nationally known United Methodist leader. I am fortunate to know him through our work with the Clergy Leadership Network.
This post has been updated
By Alan Cooperman
The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page A04
Ten teachers of Christian ethics at leading seminaries and universities have written a letter to President Bush criticizing his campaign's outreach to churches, particularly its effort to gather church membership directories.
The Aug. 12 letter asked Bush to "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy." It also urged both presidential candidates to "respect the integrity of all houses of worship."
The letter's signers included evangelical Christians who teach at generally conservative institutions, such as the Rev. George G. Hunter III of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky and Richard V. Pierard of Gordon College in Massachusetts. Other signers included the Revs. Paul Raushenbush of Princeton University, Walter B. Shurden of Mercer University in Georgia, James M. Dunn of Wake Forest Divinity School in North Carolina and Ronald B. Flowers of Texas Christian University.
Anyone with much credibility would describe those who signed this letter as relatively conservative or at least moderate in their theological and social views. That hasn’t stopped Focus on the Family, the Religious Right group aligned with the Bush reelection campaign, from claiming the signers of this letter are actually liberals in disguise:
A group of mostly liberal seminary teachers is blasting the Bush campaign for its outreach to churches.
In a letter to Bush, the group demands Bush "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy" by urging members of churches to get involved in the electoral process.
But Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Bush/Cheney campaign, said the president and vice president aren't doing anything wrong.
Actually, the Bush campaign has done plenty wrong. They’ve urged churches to hand over membership lists and recruit volunteers for the reelection campaign during services, for example. Focus on the Family can make up all the stories they want, but the truth is that even some conservative evangelical Christians are questioning the motives and tactics of George W. Bush.
Update: One of the misstatements by Focus On The Family is that:
News reports in the mainstream media have referred to the letter's signers as evangelical Christians who teach at conservative schools. But a check of the names shows many are members of the Clergy Network for National Leadership Change, a group that attacks Bush administration policies and says it will do whatever is appropriate to get the president tossed out of office.
As a member of the Clergy Leadership Network, I know the people involved and have attended their meetings. Only three of the people who signed this letter are members of CLN. The fact that three evangelical Christians would join with more liberal members of the clergy speaks volumes about this president. However, the clear majority of the people who signed this letter are not members of CLN.
The full letter reads:
August 12, 2004
President George W. Bush Bush/Cheney 2004 Campaign Arlington, VA
Re: Playing Politics with Church
Dear President Bush,
When certain church leaders acceded to the request of the Bush/Cheney campaign to hand over the names and addresses of their congregants they crossed a line.
It is proper for church leaders to address social issues, but it is improper, and even illegal, for them to get their churches to endorse candidates or align their churches with a specific political party.
Christians, individually, should prayerfully seek God's direction when voting, but when any church leaders contend that they speak for God and have the right to tell congregants how to vote, such leaders have assumed prerogatives to which they have no right.
Whenever the Church follows such a path, it engages in a scandalous secularizing of the sacred. Whenever political parties use the church, they invoke absolutes in the passing parade of politics. Whenever the church has engaged in partisan politics, it has compromised its moral authority.
In the light of these developments, we call on church leaders to stand vigilant against entanglement in partisan politics. Likewise we urge both candidates to respect the integrity of all houses of worship. In that spirit, we call upon you to repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy.
Jimmy R. Allen, Former President, Southern Baptist Convention (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, Eastern University (Pennsylvania)
The Rev. Dr. James M. Dunn, Wake Forest Divinity School (North Carolina)
Dr. Richard V. Pierard, Gordon College (Massachusetts)
The Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Flowers, Texas Christian University (Texas)
The Rev. Dr. Walter B. Shurden, Mercer University (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. George Hunter, Asbury Theological Seminary (Kentucky)
Dr. James T. Laney, Faith and the City (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. Paul Raushenbush, Princeton University (New Jersey)
Rollin O. Russell, Lancaster Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania)
By GAYLE WHITE The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 08/14/04
When the Rev. Joyce Myers-Brown had to decide what image she wanted to project, she didn't examine her wardrobe. She looked over her collection of well-worn protest signs.
She narrowed her choice to two: "Regime Change Begins at Home" vs. "War Is Not the Answer."
At lunchtime Friday, she was at the corner of 14th and Peachtree streets holding "War Is Not the Answer," which, she said, "I think is the very basic message for a Christian in today's world."
Myers-Brown, a United Church of Christ minister, is proud of the label "liberal Christian."
"I wouldn't feel that I was living up to . . . my faith if I were not speaking out about things that are hurting people and killing people and destroying nations," she said.
During this year's presidential race, more people from the center-left of the religious spectrum are joining Myers-Brown, 67, in bringing their faith to bear in the public discourse. Some are spurred by concern about the war in Iraq and by what they see as a growing gap between rich and poor. Many complain that in today's politics, "religious" has become synonymous with "conservative." They look back nostalgically on a period 50 years ago when religious voices drove the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war move- ments.
This is a pretty good article and worth the read. It includes statements from The Rev. Albert Pennybacker (Clergy Leadership Network) and The Rev. Paul Sherry (former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ). Give it a look.
Right-wing fanatics dictate Democrat Party policy on religion
Under Fire Over 'Under God'
After less than two weeks on the job, the Democratic Party's first-ever director of religious outreach resigned Wednesday after her public positions came under fire, according to Religion News Service.
The Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson said it was "no longer possible for me to do my job effectively" after the New York-based Catholic League issued three blistering news releases attacking her positions. The Catholic League blasted Peterson for a friend-of-the-court brief she signed with 31 other clergy members that supported removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Today saw intense fire from the religious right over her appointment. The Southern Baptists, Focus on the Family and Lifesite joined The Washington Times, D.C.’s right-wing paper funded by The Rev. Moon, and the Catholic League in assaulting Peterson’s values.
Peterson didn’t just come under fire for the Pledge issue. She was also criticized for opposing the war in Iraq and the Bush tax plans. The right-wing made hay out of her involvement with the Clergy Leadership Network. It was through that group that I met Brenda.
All the groups opposing her appointment are backers of George W. Bush and take extreme positions on issues of war and peace, women’s health care, and civil rights. The Catholic League backs an extreme agenda that includes some far out apologetics for the Catholic priest sex scandals and the role of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.
It is disappointing that Terry McAuliffe allowed Peterson to resign under these circumstances. He has allowed the religious right to dictate the terms on which the Democratic Party will discuss religious issues. McAuliffe did a great disservice to the party today and to the cause of bringing together democrats and people of faith.
The Democratic National Committee has just named The Rev. Brenda Bartella-Peterson as their new senior adviser on religious outreach. I’ve gotten to know Brenda over the past year while she served as the executive director of the Clergy Leadership Network. She has enormous talent that will be put to great use at the DNC.
"Brenda will act as liaison to religious organizations and will encourage people to let their faith inform their participation in democracy," DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said...
"Brenda has dedicated her life to showing us all how religion and politics intersect with integrity," McAuliffe said. "We are proud to have her join the DNC, in order to spread John Kerry's positive vision to people of all faiths."
Everyone involved with CLN is excited to see her take on these new responsibilities.
Press release from the Clergy Leadership Network
Cleveland, OH – Hundreds of religious leaders from throughout the nation gathered in Cleveland this past week to call for change in the direction of our country and to challenge the Bush Administration’s misuse of religion for partisan political gain.
“George Bush’s rhetoric bears no resemblance to his actions. He talks of compassion, but his proposals harm poor families the most. He talks of personal integrity, but he lies about the reasons to go to war and hides the consequences of war. He talks of protecting Americans, but he cuts funding for police officers and fire fighters. Bush consistently soothes with his rhetoric, but then stings with his actions, and the American people deserve better,” said the Reverend Nathan Wilson, minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Wilmore KY.
The two day conference attracted over 300 clergy and lay leaders, primarily from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. The attendees worshipped and prayed together daily. They also participated in discussions led by experts on global security, international relations, job creation, environmental stewardship, heath care, education and poverty.
U.S. Senator John Edwards, D-NC, gave a rousing address to the group on the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision. “The best way we can honor the Brown decision is to make this the year in which the promise of Brown is finally realized,” said Edwards.
Alluding to President Bush, Edwards said, “Leadership is more than nice words. Leadership is courage, and commitment, and action. It means doing everything we can to make equality a reality—not only in our laws, but in our lives, in communities where poverty and discrimination remain a scar on our nation.”
“What you and I and John Kerry believe is wherever you live, whoever your family is, and whatever the color of your skin is, if you are willing to work hard, you ought to be able to go as far as your God-given talents and hard work will take you. We believe in bringing them together. What we believe, what I believe, is that the family you're born into and the color of your skin in our America will never control what you're able to do.”
A panel of mayors discussed the harmful consequences of Bush Administration policies for U.S. cities. Mayor Jane Campbell of Cleveland stated, “This Administration has a reputation for disregarding the needs of our cities and those of us who make daily decisions on everything from the quality of our schools to the safety of our communities to the condition of our streets.”
“I’m the daughter of a minister and was raised in an environment of faith at home and at church. As mayor of a major city, I understand the role of faith in the decisions I make everyday. Opportunities such as this with people of faith give me hope and inspiration,” said Mayor Campbell.
The final day of the conference featured young and emerging leaders, including the co-director of 2020 Democrats, ministers from Detroit and Chicago and a seminarian from Lexington, Kentucky.
“Young adult leaders have been involved in every aspect of the Gathering,” said Wilson, himself a young adult. “From planning to promoting to presenting, the Clergy Network demonstrated that it values young and emerging leaders. Frankly, it is refreshing to see,” said Wilson.
Participants learned skills in media relations and basic community organizing to use in their local communities as the fall election approaches.
“We are ready to get in the game to make a difference,” said the Reverend Charles Bayer, a participant from Claremont, California. “Four more years of the current Administration would set our country back immeasurably.”
“While those of us present are following the election and realize how important it is, much of the electorate is yet to tune in. There will be lots of work for clergy and community leaders to do in order to overcome the harmful affects of the Bush Administration and begin moving our country forward again,” said the Reverend Brenda Bartella Peterson, executive director of the Network.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson delivered the final keynote for the Gathering. Jackson highlighted the importance of the next election as one step toward a more just America.
“Ours is a political struggle with corruption and oppressive power in high places. Our children’s sake, the sake of our brothers and sisters in this country and beyond, depend on our standing strong and working together,” said Jackson.
Participants committed to working for change in their local congregations and communities and the Clergy Network committed to being a helpful resource.
"This election year 2004 has become a critical time for those who care deeply for peace and justice in our world," said Dr. Albert Pennybacker, chief executive of the Network. "Why are we in Cleveland? Because we want to make it clear the religious community is not in the pocket of the present administration."
Today was the final session of the Clergy Leadership Network’s National Gathering. The Rev. Nathan Wilson moderated the first discussion with a panel of political experts who talked about voter registration, media, and coalition building.
The second session was led by The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, one of my professors from Eden Theological Seminary, and was built around the topic of “Our Common Future.” The Rev. Dr. Frederick Streets, chaplain of Yale University, and the Rev. Dr. Robert Frankin, professor at Emory University, used the forum to share their belief that religious progressives need to do a better job of communicating our theological assumptions and political goals. A group of young faith leaders that included Josh Green (2020 Democrats), The Rev. Jennifer Kottler (Protestants for the Common Good), Greg Mancini (Sojourners intern), The Rev. Charles Christian Adams, Jr. (Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit), and John J. Davidson (Lexington Theological Seminary) offered practical ideas for how CLN can reach out to a younger generation.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, president of Rainbow/Push Coalition, gave the final address. He called on CLN to reach out further into minority communities. He specifically asked the organization to help fight for the assault weapons ban that is set to expire in September and to join him in an upcoming tour of poverty stricken areas in the Midwest and south. Jackson said that we need a vision that is larger than just the 2004 elections:
We need more than a new president. We need a new direction. And some new assumptions. If you change presidents and don’t change assumptions you’re not going to get to a new destination.
This afternoon and tomorrow the governing national committee of CLN will be meeting to help further set the agenda for the organization. Make sure you become a member of CLN to receive updates as the organization grows and becomes more involved in the course of the 2004 campaign.
Here are links to a few news stories about the National Gathering:
Contributions can be sent to:
Clergy Leadership Network
499 S. Capitol Street SW
Washington, DC 20003
John Edwards’ speech this afternoon was not the only event held at the Clergy Leadership Network’s National Gathering. Several mayors were in attendance for a discussion on urban problems in America. Later panel discussions were held to talk about domestic poverty issues and global peace and justice concerns. Today ended with a conference call with The Rev. William Sloane Coffin. Coffin took questions from the audience and offered some practical ideas for how people of faith can become involved in the electoral process (register voters, hold issue forums, protest unjust policies, etc.) Jesse Jackson arrives tomorrow and there will also be presentations from America Votes and the Office of US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader.
US Senator John Edwards spoke today at the Clergy Leadership Network’s National Gathering being held this week in Cleveland. The former presidential candidate was here on behalf of the John Kerry campaign. He used his address to thank religious leaders for their efforts to address important social issues and to talk about the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. Edwards stressed racial justice issues and told the interfaith group:
The white only signs that I grew up with myself in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina are gone. I grew with an America that was growing up with this decision. I’ll never forget in 6th grade living in a small town in George watching my 6th grade teacher come in and saying that he wouldn’t teach the next year because it was being integrated. If you think for a moment that we still don’t have two public schools systems in America you’re living in a fantasy world. It’s not just educational equality; it’s economic equality.
The senator is frequently mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate. He forcefully advocated Kerry’s candidacy by reminding the audience about the importance of federal judicial appointments, public education funding, and Kerry’s support for social programs. Edwards never mentioned the incumbent administration. He also avoided any discussion of the Iraq conflict and his own support for the resolution that gave the president authority to launch the invasion. Iraq is clearly one of the most important issues for the crowd gathered here in Cleveland, but the senator received a warm reception and several standing ovations.
It is late here (after 1 am) and I'm not going to post much. The Clergy Leadership Network kicked-off with an orientation with The Rev. Dr Albert Pennybacker, Chair/CEO of the CLN, and The Rev. Brenda Peterson, CLN's executive director. Pennybacker told the group that the National Gathering had been called because:
It is a time of critical decision for those who care about issues of justice in our world. This group has been formed not by conversion, but by opportunity. Why in Cleveland? Why now? Because we want to make it clear the religious institutions gathered here are not owned by the present Administration in Washington.
Most will agree that the Bush Administration has attempted to co-op Christianity into their version of a state religion so to give theological cover for their ill-conceived policies at home and abroad. Participants at this gathering are speaking in great detail about their concerns regarding the war in Iraq and the declining economy at home. God did not create all of creation simply to allow humans to destroy it. What is now being done in the name of God is not God's will.
That was the message during the evening's interfaith worship service. Jews, Muslims, and Christians came together to acknowledge that we worship a common God known by different names.
Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Sr., from Kol Tikvah Temple in Woodland Hills, CA was joined by Bishop E. Lynn Brown, Presiding Bishop, Second District, CME Church, and Iman Clyde Rahman from Masjid Bilal in offering prayers of unity so that we can work for common issues of social justice during this difficult time.
Music (that kind that makes you want to jump up on your feet) was provided by the Olivet Institutional Baptist Choir, Richard Smith directing. The Rev. Dr. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. presided over the worship. US Congressman Sherrod Brown (OH) and Cleveland Mayor Jane L. Campbell brought greetings to us.
The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, gave the sermon. This was the second time I have heard Dr. Forbes preach. Maybe there is once in a generation a person with his talents for ministry who answers God’s call to serve. He told the assembled clergy, lay-leaders, and seminarians that:
* We are not un-American just because we dear to challenge the current trends.
* I suspect when the next great spiritual awaking occurs it will be out of a multi-faith dynamic.
*In order for America to rise out of the rubble there has to be a spiritual revitalization. After 9/11 churches, mosques, and synagogues – with a few exceptions – were as silent as church mouse, because people were intimated, they were discombobulated, dealing with delayed symptoms suffering from post-traumatic syndrome; loving their nation, but hating its deeds. Watching things that did not bring honor to the name of America. Having the sense that God said one thing and hearing something different from Washington. And hearing the people in Washington say that God told them to do it. Who to believe?
He went on to remind us that we might in our efforts do things that disappoint God. We might even misrepresent God. He challenged us in our efforts to remember that the Bush Administration’s effort to create a new dominion was something we could all be guilty of. All of us want power, but the only who how actually holds it is God. We must not replace one dominion with another. Instead we must always remember that we are just servants of God trying to help bring about God’s vision of justice, not our own. It was an inspiring message and there is no way I could fully to do justice to it.
More will come tomorrow.
The Clergy Leadership Network's National Gathering begins today in Cleveland. I flew in yesterday to take part and will be offering reports online as the events happen. Tonight there will be an interfaith worship service with a sermon from The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbs, Jr., senior pastor of New York City's Riverside Church. US Senator John Edwards (NC) will speak on Monday and The Rev. Jesse Jackson will be here Wednesday. CLN was formed late last year to help bring about national leadership change and to engage people of faith in the election process. More later.
The Rev. William Sloane Coffin is one of the founders of the Clergy Leadership Network. He was very kind to spend some time this afternoon on the telephone with me to discuss his views on the 2004 elections, the conflict in Iraq, and his views on what role churches should play on public policy issues.
CLN is hosting a National Gathering of progressive religious leaders on May 16-18 in Cleveland. This interview is the second in a series with CLN leaders before the May gathering. The first was with The Rev. Dr. Albert Pennybacker. A video presentation featuring Rev. Coffin will be shared in Cleveland.
William Sloane Coffin has been a leading voice for religious progressives for decades. For many years he served as the Chaplin at Yale University and as the senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City. He later served as president of SANE/FREEZE.
The first time I heard him speak was when I was a student at Pacific University and he was brought to campus by Dr. Russell Dondero. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, a professor of mine at Eden Theological Seminary, is a CLN member and is a friend of Rev. Coffin's. He helped to facilitate my conservation with Rev. Coffin this afternoon.
Rev. Coffin, how important is it to you that George W. Bush not serve a second term as President?
Since 9/11 he has squandered the solidarity we had with the people of the world. The French said on 9/11 that “we are all Americans.” Our wonderful relationship with so many nations has been squandered.
He has turned enormous profit and surplus in the United States into deficits and cutbacks for programs for the poor.
I can’t say he gets high marks on security because the effect of his policies is that terrorism has spread and not receded.
When he calls himself a Christian, I think he should remember that it was the devil who tempted Jesus with unparalleled wealth and power. What does that say about Bush’s dreams about wealth and power? He has reversed Biblical priorities by making our economic policies be about helping the wealthy to acquire more wealth while abandoning the poor.
How does the Iraq conflict compare with Vietnam?
Both were about deception.
In the first place, this is a very unilateral effort. Few support us in Iraq and that was true of Vietnam.
We had an overblown ideology of anti-communism in Vietnam that got us into trouble. Now we have an equally over simplified notion that we can bring democracy to Iraq.
We were misled into Vietnam with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and of course we were lied to about going into Iraq on the basis of weapons of mass destruction and a connection to 9/11. No evidence of either exists. Iraq has been a combination of deception and self-deception on the part of the Bush Administration.
You’ve worked through Vietnam and two Gulf Wars, you’ve worked on an international scale to stop nuclear proliferation, and you’ve worked to expand civil rights for African-Americans and gays and lesbians. Do you have much hope for the future?
I think that hope reflects the state of our soul rather than the circumstances that surround our lives. So hope is not the equivalent of optimism. Its opposite is not pessimism but despair. So I’m always hopeful. Hope is about keeping the faith despite the evidence so that the evidence has a chance of changing.
As I wrote in my book Credo:
Hope criticizes what is, hopelessness rationalizes it. Hope resists, hopelessness adapts.
What is the most important role the church can play in this century? What issues should we be focusing on?
Live and let live….
We need to get beyond that to live and help live. In America, “We The People” is meaningless unless it really means all of us. In the world at large, people have made the world great for some and now it is time to make the world great for all.
Economic justice is a great big, fat issue that churches need to address. Charity is not the same as justice. Charity mitigates some of the horrors of injustice, but the Bible is far more interested in ending injustice.
The second issue for our churches is peace. It is stunning to realize that individuals and small groups will shortly have the means of using weapons of mass destruction. As far as terrorism goes, economic justice would certainly slow down the recruiting of terrorists. Several billion dollars should be taken off the military budget to wage real war on poverty. Our policies energize terrorists, help recruit more of them, and are totally self-destructive. Iraq has become Bush’s West Bank.
The two great Biblical mandates are peace and justice. They need to be at the top of our agenda as churches.
That’s asking a lot, but we have to ask a lot. The country is now in spiritual recession.
Make sure that you register and attend the Clergy Leadership Network’s National Gathering where you will be joined by other religious progressives working to address the “spiritual recession” Rev. Coffin is talking about.
A Message From The Clergy Leadership Network.....
After listening to President Bush's address to the nation last night and his comments to reporters last weekend, we realize more than ever how zealousness and pride have prevented this President from seeing moral issues about Iraq clearly. For weeks and even months, President Bush suggested that the violence in Iraq stemmed from only a "few people." Yet, though he admitted that times were tough, he failed to genuinely take responsibility for his decisions. In effect, he has failed to acknowledge just how grave last week was for our soldiers and for the Iraqi civilians who have been caught in the crossfire. The tragic facts are that more soldiers died last week in combat than in any other week since the conflict in Iraq began.
While President Bush spent most of the week on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, approximately 76 American soldiers lost their lives. During a time that included days of religious celebration for Christians, Jews and Muslims, nearly 76 families learned that they would never again welcome loved ones to their holiday tables.
In light of these events and despite Bush's visit to soldiers' families in Fort Hood, Bush's comments seem, at best, callous and, at worst, frighteningly detached from the harsh reality so many Americans and Iraqi civilians are facing.
Since our inception, CLN has opposed President Bush's war in Iraq and his Administration's failure to bring peace and stability to that area. We agree with the comments of Rev. Dr. James Forbes, "A righteous superpower must have a global vision, strong values of respect for the rights of others, and a rational sense of purpose to promote justice, peace, and compassion."
Last week's events obligate us more than ever to call for a new vision for America's actions in Iraq and our foreign policy in general – a vision that is rooted in our shared values of justice and peace.
We urge you to speak truth to power! Join us in challenging America to forge a new path in international relations, a path that ends with America offering authentic principles of freedom and hope to Iraq and the world.
Please support our work and demonstrate that people of faith are deeply concerned with these issues by:
1) Writing your local Congressman or Congresswoman about this issue. To identify your Senator and/or Congress person go to http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/index.html.
2) Writing the Kerry Campaign and/or Senator Kerry's office about this issue. Go to http://www.johnkerry.com/contact/ for details.
3) Registering to attend our National Gathering to empower yourself and to learn more about the role of people of faith in politics. Go to our website at http://www.clnnlc.org/news_events.html for more details.
The Clergy Leadership Network was formed late last year to help the progressive religious community organize against Bush Administration policies. The Rev. Dr. Albert M. Pennybacker is CEO/Chair of group’s National Committee. Rev. Pennybacker is a former executive with the National Council of Churches.
CLN is hosting a National Gathering of progressive religious leaders on May 16-18 in Cleveland. He took some time to talk with me about the National Gathering and the goals of his organization. I have been working to help get seminarians involved with the CLN.
This will be the first in a series of interviews with CLN leaders as the National Gathering approaches.
The Clergy Leadership Network will be holding a National Gathering on May 16-18 in Cleveland. What is the general purpose behind the gathering?
There is deep dismay, even outrage, among clergy over the current national leadership of our country and the policies being pursued internationally and domestically. Clergy from all religious traditions - liberal, moderate and even progressive evangelical religious leaders - need to be heard. To stand together - priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, and other religious leaders, both men and women, ordained, seminarians, and even lay supporters - serves to make clear that the present Bush Administration does not have a lock on the religious communities of America. The National Clergy Gathering offers the opportunity for such a witness. And that may make it one of the most significant gatherings of religious progressives in our nation's history!
You and others have said that clergy have a prophetic role to play this election year. What are the issues that are of deepest concern to the progressive religious community?
International policies, including starting war and including the present tragic occupation, has been rooted in America swagger and made our country a bully in the world, contrary to God's will as we understand it. Domestic policies have been rooted in insensitivity to the vast numbers of normal American households and in rampant greed. The President's rhetoric bears little resemblance to his actions. He talks of compassion but poor families suffer. He talks of personal integrity but lies about the reasons for war and its consequences. He talks of peace and freedom while death continues to take young lives away. He talks about protecting Americans but cuts funding for firefighters and police. He soothes but then stings. He often uses a religious vocabulary to distort circumstances and mislead Americans. The Clergy Network and the thrust of its National Clergy Gathering are to stand up to the Bush Administration's abusing and cheapening of religion.
What are the ways the CLN hopes to be involved in the election? Will the group register voters? Will you run commercial advertising?
Clergy Network offers a way to move beyond classic religious nonpartisanship and pursue an influential clergy role on behalf of national leadership change. Short of endorsing a candidate, there are many options. Clergy Network encourages local religious leaders to affirm political involvement as a spiritual witness. It asks local pastors, for instance, to urge their congregations to register voters, participate in voter education programs and follow up with voter mobilization when election day comes. Clergy Network will recommend clergy for prayers and other public campaign roles. Organized in local and state Clergy Network committees now being formed, clergy will be asked to speak out and give moral leadership once again to the election decisions of 2004. Many feel that this is the most crucial social justice election in our history. The impact of four more years without change can warp our nation's life for generations, socially, economically and internationally. There are no plans for public ads by Clergy Network due to funding limitations but support for the ads others place compatible with Clergy Network's leadership change goal is being encouraged.
Jim Wallis has done a good job of bringing together conservative evangelicals and progressive Christians to work on issues of common concern. Are there issues you could identify with which you could see conservative and progressive Christians working on together?
First let me say that some outstanding conservative Christians, including evangelical seminary professors, have joined Clergy Network. They see collaborative political action for leadership change with liberal and progressive Christians as urgent. They want to reclaim the radical social vision of evangelical Christianity and the absolute independence of the evangelical community from vest-pocket political party captivity. Shared issues abound: war and peace, environmental stewardship, international policies that affirm and build up life free of coercion, a common fear of American imperialism, a commitment to address the causes of terrorism as well as protection from terrorists, a sharing of wealth with a special concern for the disadvantaged and the poor, a militant rejection of our continuing racism, a firm commitment to the separation of church and state. Work of these issues together occur daily. Unleashing our shared political action capacities in addressing these issues is the special focus of Clergy Network.
Is the Clergy Leadership Network just for clergy or do you hope to have lay people and seminarians involved with the group?
This is an easy one: the answer is No! The focus is clergy because progressive clergy have often been intimidated or driven into silence by the stridency of extreme right religious voices. Uninformed congregations have sometimes threatened progressive clergy with isolation or dismissal. Theologies of prosperity or self-adjustment have become popular and tend to replaced social ethics and a passion for justice. Christian exclusivism has built barriers out of human differences and estranged the valuable public ties of mutual religious respect. Renewing clergy courage often relies on active and mature lay partnership and support. So it is in Clergy Network. Seminarians are especially urged to affiliate. A special section - Seminarians Leadership Network - is a full partner. Lay religious partners have been members from the first. Every aspect of Clergy Network is open to lay and seminarian involvement except those entrusted by our religious traditions to established or ordained leaders. Further, on the clergy positive side, a recovery of the acknowledging and supporting of moral leadership from clergy can occur through Clergy Network. It promises a new sense of social justice at the heart of our various religious communities.
At the National Gathering, progressive religious leaders will come together to speak and to be heard! Outraged by economic policies that pander to greed and favor the rich, and international policies that set our nation against the world, we are inviting all clergy and religious community leaders to gather in Cleveland to stand together. The Gathering will express the Clergy Network's passion for change in national leadership and national policy directions.
In Cleveland, we will offer a brief but dramatic witness to God's gift of hope and to a future marked by integrity and compassion.
What will happen?
- the Democratic presidential nominee will address the Gathering
- prominent religious leaders will give voice to CLN's movement for unprecedented progressive religious involvement in electoral politics
- progressive political leaders will focus on current public policies for states and cities, for the elderly and the jobless, for the environment and for children being "left behind"
- workshops will better equip clergy for active leadership in the 2004 electoral process and help them guide their communities in political participation as spiritual witnesses
- special sessions will empower seminarians and theological students to sharpen their faith-based ethics and to organize for political impact
The National Clergy Gathering and its important events will provide a forum for our shared values of justice and peace and for our recommitment to them. It will conclude in an interfaith celebration with the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Senior Minster of Riverside Church, New York, as preacher.
From the Gathering will come a strengthened national network of clergy, religious leaders and lay men and women actively working for political leadership change and national policies of equity and opportunity that build up life for all.
Please return here for more information about the Gathering in the coming weeks.
If you have any questions, call the Clergy Network's national office: (202) 554-2121.
The Clergy Leadership Network is now offering membership to seminarians. By joining you'll be part of a network of interfaith leaders working to change America in 2004.
As religious leaders we will pursue a public role of influence for change in the communities where we and so many others live and vote. We will engage public issues and clearly voice our understandings of values rooted in our faith commitments. We will lead our religious communities to embrace political participation as a spiritual expression. With full respect for constitutional restraints, we will guide our religious communities toward fair and positive involvement in election awareness and activity. We will reach beyond nonpartisanship and work collaboratively with all those who share our commitments to progressive changes in leadership and in public policies.
"We are not your bought clergy, Mr. President. We are not bought religious communities."
Rev. Albert M. Pennybacker replied to President George W. Bush's first campaign speech delivered to a Los Angeles conference of ministers and religious workers. It was organized by his White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Speaking as Chair and CEO of the newly launched Clergy Leadership Network, a nationwide interfaith movement of progressive liberal, moderate and evangelical clergy, Rev. Pennybacker challenged the President's claim that he was "talking about healing our nation…not…politics."
"The President was addressing a religious leaders group organized by the White House. He was addressing those religious groups that have been the recipients of federal funds. And it preceded a $2,000 a plate campaign fund-raising event! He is stretching the truth when he says his address is not political."
Rev. Pennybacker continued, "The President actually described his readiness to violate the religious protections in our Bill of Rights when he said, 'It is hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice your faith.' That is the point. We believe faith-based programs should be financed out of faith-based pocketbooks, not federal funds through White House programs."
"Further," he continued, "these constitutional provisions have given our country a level playing field for all religious groups. They have also protected those who have no religious interests or even oppose religion from having their taxes support institutions of which they are not a part. That is fairness, and that is the American way. Both America and religious communities have prospered."
Pennybacker countered the President's description of those gathered in Los Angeles as "social entrepreneurs." "We are ministers of social justice. We believe when 'love of neighbor' goes public, it means justice and social caring. Individual benevolence is not enough. A pittance, relatively, for the poor from an office in the White House is only demeaning. Social policies that address poverty and joblessness are what we care about. On that score, the Bush Administration is sorely deficient."
"We reject the arrogant boast of President Bush, speaking of his faith-based programs, that he bypassed the Congress and '…I did it on my own.' We believe in the good judgment of the people's representatives, not an autocratic Chief Executive, especially where constitutional guarantees are involved. Arrogant exercises of office ill-become any President."
Pennybacker challenged President Bush again: "Clergy Network is convening a National Clergy Gathering in Cleveland May 16-18. It is not being arranged by a White House office. All clergy are welcome. There you will see that hundreds of religious leaders refuse to be compromised by federal funds in service to political advantage. We will pursue the 'justice for all' that is grounded in our faith."
CLN National Committee member, Rev. Conrad A. Braaten had this to say upon hearing President Bush's campaign speech on Wednesday evening:
The Bush administration's faith-based initiative works like this: Upriver, a pirate raiding party ravages a city, looting the middle-class and poor [of jobs, homes, health care, education, workplace protection...] and after throwing the hungry, homeless, jobless and disenfranchised into the Poverty River, hoping they will just disappear [a majority of whom are people of color], takes some of the loot taxed from these same victims to distribute to churches strategically located downstream and out of sight (i.e..awareness and understanding) of the big city carnage to help them pull a few folks from the current and give them a sandwich before they are dragged back into the raging waters. Then the pirate's PR people take pictures of the sandwich program and say to the world: "We are not pirates pillaging the big city and pummeling people into the river. Look! we are the ones giving 'our money' to help those poor people get a bite to eat." Meanwhile the churches, so grateful for the sandwich support, hail the pirate as "great benefactor" and vote for him. "Give them bread", said Caesar, "and you will have their heart".
For more information click here.
The Clergy Leadership Network sent out their first online newsletter today. It is posted below. You can sign-up to get copies of the newsletter on the CLN site.
The Clergy Leadership Network technology train has finally pulled out of the station! And the exciting news is that our train is headed to Cleveland, OH for a National Clergy Gathering May 16-18, 2004. Don't miss it! We will gather together to receive information, inspiration and influential messages from religious leaders. We will begin the conference by inviting the City of Cleveland to join with us in worship, music and sharing the message of CLN. We will hear from the Democratic Presidential Candidate! We will provide workshops and briefings on a vast range of topics to give you information and tools for active involvement in the Presidential Election 2004. Rev. Dr. James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York City will close the conference on Tuesday at noon. Other speakers and events will be posted as they are confirmed. Visit www.clnnlc.org/gathering for online registration and for up-to-date news of the conference events.
Now for those of you who have been patiently awaiting news of what's happening at CLN:
HOW FAR WE'VE COME
- Media coverage has been phenomenal! Over 30 print news stories and 50 plus Internet news stories followed our launching Press Conference. We have been covered by The New York Times, The Associated Press, Knight-Ridder, Religious News Service, ABC News, The Atlanta Constitution, The Lexington Herald-Leader and The San Francisco Chronicle, SRN News and The Washington Post as well as Christian Century, Newsweek, Boston Phoenix, DisciplesWorld, Church & State, and even The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD). We have been featured on TV programs from Al-Jazeera TV to The O'Reilly Factor. We have been guests of radio talk shows in Washington, Louisville, Lexington, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other cities.
- Membership Success: New members continue to sign on daily from across the U.S. with members from as far as South Korea and Paraguay ("We heard...You give us hope!"). CLN has received $20,000+ in gifts (averaging a little over the basic $25) from membership sources alone! While our support is overwhelmingly clergy there are a sizable number of laypersons signed on as well. An affiliated CLN unit focusing on seminarians is being developed. The initiative has come from seminarians themselves. Visit the website often to watch progress on the seminarians' unit.
- National Committee and Staff Development: Visit the website to meet new National Committee members who have joined us and several more who will be joining us in the coming weeks. We have added a full-time intern, Greg Mancini, in our Washington office. We have begun to use volunteers in numerous ways including: entering the database material, helping with the website and developing plans for fund development through e-mail and direct mail.
HOW FAR WE HAVE TO GO
- In order to bring about National Leadership Change, we need YOU! The development of state and local CLN groups is essential to the future and success of our mission. We will organize committees in the 19 swing states first, but we must develop networks in all states to accomplish our mission. Voting impact by moderate and progressive religious community members occurs only at the precinct level. That is where we have to be and that means your involvement on the local level. Please stay alert for news from your State Chair or local Key Contact person.
- The National Clergy Gathering in Cleveland will be an excellent opportunity for state and local members to receive training, briefings and excellent tools for local organizing. We hope to see you there!
- The ongoing cost of running a national organization requires continued financial support of a stable and growing membership. Please give more when you are able and direct friends and family to our online giving.
At our January meeting of the National Committee, National Committee member Rev. Dr. Jesse Jackson expressed the need for a CLN/Rainbow-PUSH relationship to be instrumental in reclaiming the commitment to social justice by both White and African-American clergy. At a time when personal adjustment and prosperity "theologies" are infecting religious leadership, we cannot compromise the integrity of religious voices. Rev. Jackson reminded us, It is "easy to love God; the problem is loving our neighbors." "It is not about black and white, but wrong and right."
Thank you for waiting patiently for this first CLN Membership Alert from us. The days have been full. In summary, there is much to do. Clearly we have become well established in a short time. Our work remains urgent: exerting public influence grounded in religious commitment to God's justice and God's inclusive care for all humanity.
May the blessings of God in these days fall gently and generously upon you all. And, remember, YOU are Clergy Leadership Network. The Network doesn't exist without you. Direct your friends to our website and our new online membership registration. Look for news about state and local committees. Make plans with friends and family to be in Cleveland on May 16-18th and stay tuned for the exciting future of CLN.
The Clergy Leadership Network has updated their website - now you can become a member online, sign-up for their e-newsletter and action alerts, and read recent news articles. The CLN is the new faith group working for regime change in 2004.
Also on the updated site is information on a national gathering sponsored by CLN to be held May 16-18.
CLN is a great group for progressive religious people to become involved with.
Read more of my posts on CLN.
“We’ve been concerned with the impression that all Christians support the present policies of the government,” Grove said. “We are seeking new leadership in the next election.”
“The policies that our government was operating under seemed drastically at odds with the social teachings of our churches,” Grove said.
Check it out.
The Clergy Leadership Network is a new interfaith movement of moderate and progressive clergy who are pursuing greater political participation as an expression of an inclusive faith and a religious social conscience.Just as the prophet Jeremiah spoke truth to power in ancient Judah, we find ourselves compelled, out of a sense of faith and patriotism, to give voice to our concerns about the integrity and well-being of our country.
It comes as no surprise to us that George Bush should find the state of the union so healthy. For himself and those he associates with, times have surely never been better. That is because, in spiritual terms, his Administration has been one that has coddled the wealthy and catered to the powerful at the expense of desperate and even destitute people. While this Administration seeks to aggrandize the corporation and the profiteer, millions of God’s children are plagued by unmet needs: the struggle to find jobs, to shelter their families, to educate their children, and to heal their illnesses.
We reject domestic economic policies that favor the advantaged and pander to greed. The pursuit of such policies is irreconcilable with spiritual commitments and biblical convictions. But worse, to wrap these policies in a false cloak of ‘compassion’ moves into the arena of cynicism and public hypocrisy.
Tonight, President Bush also defended – and even celebrated – his violent and unnecessary war in Iraq, which has brought so much human suffering to Americans and Iraqis alike. We share the President’s goal of security for all our people. But faith teaches that security realized through conquest is no security at all. Only policies that affirm human dignity, provide for basic human needs, and create global partnerships can lay fair claim to having enhanced security for us and for all nations.
Furthermore, it is unconscionable that public resources can be found to tear down and rebuild an entire society abroad, but when it comes to pressing human priorities here in our own communities, the nation’s coffers have mysteriously run dry.
The President persists in establishing a dubious link between his preemptive invasion of Iraq and the imperative of stopping terrorism. He addresses terrorism’s consequences but not its causes. Terrorism thrives where there is political oppression and economic exploitation. Rather than taming terrorists, the incineration of Muslim nations provides the seed bed for recruiting new terrorists.
Forsaking fellowship for a climate of fear, the Bush Administration has squandered the respect and admiration of the global community. We are now on a perilous path, trying to remake the world according to our own vision. Four years ago, Candidate Bush called for a more modest foreign policy. But President Bush has given us policies woven of international hubris, self-righteousness, and intimidation.
The President has also offered a vision of space travel that includes a mission to Mars. Has the Earth become so unmanageable that we must now seek new outposts? Science and discovery are certainly important forms of human progress. But before we take on this interplanetary frontier, we must take care of unfinished business here on Earth: lifting up the poor, comforting the afflicted and pursuing justice for all. That would indeed be ‘one giant leap for mankind.’
Just yesterday, the nation celebrated the 75th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January is also the month of the birth of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish scholar and colleague of Dr. King. In the most tragic of ironies, we celebrate two of history’s most passionate advocates of peace and social justice, while our government tramples their ideals as never before.
We had hoped to work with this President, especially given his promise to ‘change the tone’ and to be a ‘uniter, not a divider.’ But when it comes to those with perspectives different than their own, the leaders in this Administration are not interested in engagement and compromise, only arrogance and condescension.
We have concluded that the Administration’s faulty vision for our nation and our world, as measured against God’s caring, cannot be corrected. It must be repudiated – challenged from our pulpits and rejected in our voting places. We have concluded that this is a time for national leadership change. Nothing in this evening’s address leads us to believe otherwise.
"We realize that there are a lot of religious people that don't fall into what the conservatives have defined as faithful," Streets said. "We're trying to help people respect the relationship between religion and social justice.”
The article is a great introduction to a person I very much enjoyed meeting with last week. With people like him leading the Clergy Leadership Network the group is sure to succeed.
Salon.com has a new interview just published on their site with The Rev. Albert Pennybacker. Pennybacker is the driving force in the new Clergy Leadership Network. We've talked several times recently on the phone and via e-mail and I've agreed to help organize seminary students to become involved with the mission of the CLN. Pennybacker responded this way when asked if his efforts might blur the line between church and state:
I think the religious heritage has always affirmed a prophetic role for religious leaders and so I make no apologies about that. It's calling people to action, and it's calling around basic religious values. As long as we've got free speech, free press and free religious institutions, then we're going to make it. And one of the problems under this administration, in the Justice Department, for instance, is that it is infringing on those freedoms, infringing on human rights. There's a big decision here for America (in the next election).
I encourage my friends and readers of this blog to become members of the CLN. The work this group is doing is very important and the religious progressive community needs to step up and help.
Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a piece this week criticizing the new Clergy Leadership Network (CLN). The CLN is the new faith group organized to help bring political change in America on issues like the environment and international military policies. Mohler attacks the CLN as if Karl Rove wrote his script:
Their goal of resurrecting and reinvigorating liberal Protestantism and an ecumenical phalanx of religious progressives will be an uphill battle all the way. They are still living in the sixties, looking for the next sit-in and reciting the old liberal creeds.
Liberals are all pro-gay and pro-abortion, Mohler writes. He nearly comes apart when discussing the religious diversity embodied in the CLN. Mohler charges that the Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists involved don’t really believe in the Bible. He writes with distain about the involvement of former staff members of the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches (which he believes are left-wing groups). No one who disagrees with his politics is a real Christian.
The truth is that Mohler is just another powerful Republican Party operative in the tradition of Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson. He makes this claim at the conclusion of his long attack on the CLN:
The Clergy Leadership Network will be interesting to watch--but nothing to fear.
Actually, Mohler must be afraid to spend so much time attacking. Maybe he is afraid that the American public will be exposed to a more progressive view of what Christian faith is. The energy Mohler seems to be expending worrying about the Clergy Leadership Network makes me think something really good is going on.
Sometimes you just have to laugh....
Left-wing religious leaders announced this week the formation of the Clergy Leadership Network, a political advocacy organization designed to counteract the right-wing religious death grip on American politics, the Pentagon, and the YMCA.
The founding committee, which includes ex-CIA agent William Sloane Coffin and openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, stated it hoped, through a program of "dialogue, understanding and hot-dish potluck dinners," to present a more liberal understanding of politics and religion to the American people.
Read the full story.
If you’ve been reading the comments posted on my blog this week you’ve no doubt noticed the trouble I’m in with people upset about my theology. But you’ve only seen what people have posted. What about the e-mails that have been sent directly to me? Well, some of those e-mails aren’t suitable for a family site like this.
But another man named Chuck writes:
A humantarian, yes, a Pastor, NO. Nothing has been said about your group uniting in prayer. Your particular denomination is bordering on being a cult. The churches you are including in your "organization" have one thing in common. None believe that the Bible is perfect and that every word is true. You are leading your flock down the wrong road and including, of all people, muslims. We will pray for you because that is what Jesus Christ would expect of us. The least you could do is repent...if not...we will leave that up to God.
And Karl wrote:
You preachers had better keep out of politics in the pulpit. Church and State, remember are to be kept separate. Your freedom of speech ends at the church door.
But Jesus said:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. - Matthew 5:11-12 (NRSV)
I’ll stick with Jesus’ advice on this one.
People have been visiting my blog in droves today – all looking for information about the Clergy Leadership Network. Since my first post on this new progressive group they’ve launched their web site - http://www.clnnlc.org/ - and been quoted in today’s The Washington Post on a story concerning George W. Bush getting in trouble with conservatives for speaking theologically. There is great irony in that, but I don’t have time to write more right now. Welcome to all these new visitors to my blog! Feel free to stick around and comment.
Progressive Christians that hope to be a counter-point to conservative organizations like the Christian Coalition have formed a new faith-based political group.
The nonprofit organization, the Clergy Leadership Network, plans to formally announce its formation on Friday and will operate from an expressly religious, expressly partisan point of view. The group cannot, under Internal Revenue Service guidelines, endorse political candidates, and it will have no official ties to the Democratic Party. But the driving purpose of the organization, according to its mission statement, is to bring about "sweeping changes — changes in our nation's political leadership and changes in failing public policies."
Churches should never be involved in partisan political campaigns for specific candidates or political parties, but churches have a responsibility to speak out on moral issues as they attempt to discern God’s will. The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church have a great way of putting it:
We believe that the state should not attempt to control the church, nor should the church seek to dominate the state. `Separation of church and state’ means no organic union of the two, but it does permit interaction. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.
One great example of faith-based involvement on policy issues comes from the United Church of Christ. The UCC’s Take Action Center allows participates to directly contact legislative and political leaders on a variety of important issues. Many other denominations have similar programs.
Hopefully, the new Clergy Leadership Network will become a vibrant part of our nation’s policy debates.