Brian McLaren is a Christian pastor who approaches faith and politics from within the compassionate tradition of Christianity, focusing on the Prophet Jesus’ AS example of charity and taking care of the poor, etc for his inspiration rather than judgment and brimstone. As such his politics take him leftward in opposition to the conservative Religious Right – the Religious Left, I suppose, would be the natural term, though of course it is a fledgling movement with no comparable political clout. It’s worth noting that McLaren just publically endorsed the Matthew 25 network, a pan-Christian political action committee with a focus on social work, and endorsed Barack Obama for President. An excerpt from his endorsement letter:
of us feel that we’ve watched large sectors of our Christian
community in the U.S. engage in several decades of divisive, ineffective,
and downright counterproductive political engagement. At best, many
attempts at engagement have been superficial, simplistic, and subject
to binary thinking where one or two wedge issues easily distinguish
the “good guys” from the bad. At worst, we’ve watched
too many of our fellow Christians slip into a “culture war”
mindset where neighbors became enemies to be defeated and silenced,
not loved as we love ourselves. In addition, we’ve watched too
many members of our faith communities be manipulated by cynical politicians
who knew what tune to play to get people of faith marching obediently
in their parade.
Many of us – sadly, I include myself here – stood on
the sidelines and complained about the wrong being done by “the
Religious Right.” In private, we might say that the major media
figures didn’t speak for us, but we responded to faith-based
misuse of the political process with faith-based disuse. We didn’t
realize, as we now do, that disuse tends to favor those in power and
support the status quo.
As I’ve watched with sadness what has happened in recent years,
I’ve promised myself again and again that I wouldn’t just
stand on the sidelines complaining this election season. That’s
why I’m so thrilled about positive, constructive initiatives
like the Matthew 25 Network. Drawing from Jesus’ powerful parable
about his solidarity with “the least of these,” this network
invites us as people of faith to step beyond individual self-interest,
and even beyond the interest-group politics of “what’s
best for us” – whether “us” is our denomination,
religion, party, or nation. It invites us to consider how to use our
vote on behalf of the neediest, the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken
… so that their concerns are our own when we vote. For us, this
is inherent in what it means to be followers of Jesus.
Based on these values, the Matthew 25 Network has chosen to support
Barack Obama. Does that mean that every one of us is in full agreement
with every detail of Senator Obama’s campaign? Of course not:
we’re electing a president, not a Messiah! Blind, uncritical
support is part of the misuse that we’re trying to move beyond.
This is a significant development, because it comes at the time when the influence of the Religious Right is at an all-time low. The Matthew25 group reject the single-issue politics of the pro-life wing, as well, with a sub-organization called Pro Life Pro Obama, which argues that there is no inherent contradiction in being pro-life and supporting the pro-choice Senator. The reason is that Obama has articulated a desire to reduce abortions by making them unnecessary, rather than illegal (a re-framing of the abortion issue that brings right and left together). In addition to seeking to reduce the need for abortion, they also quite wisely focus on “life” as a choice – and argue that women must be encouraged to choose life and be supported in that decision (that latter part conspicuously absent from most pro-life partisans’ considerations).
Of course, there is a backlash. McLaren’s approach to the Bible is not a literalist fundamentalist one, but rather interpretative. On issues like homosexuality, for example, this leads him to counsel compassion for the sinners rather than taking a hard-line stance. Those who disagree with him (“foundationalists”) invoke plenty of doctrine in their arguments, but can’t seem to avoid accusing him of depravity in the course of their arguments. In the political realm, his endorsement for Obama led to him being labeled a “heretic”, and far worse. In some ways this political schism reflects the tension within Islam in the modern era, suggesting that these theological and political issues transcend faith and represent a more universal trend. That trend, throughout world history, has pointed in the direction of increasing liberalism and less religious literalism.
There’s more to the Religious Left than just McLaren or Matthew 25, of course. Another great resource is the God’s Politics blog, which is headed by Jim Wallis and is a co-venture of Beliefnet.com and Sojourner.net. Also, Street Prophets is full-fledged blog progressive liberal blog community with an explicit focus on religion and politics, a spin-off of DailyKos. I think that as the Religious Left finds its voice, it will naturally broaden to Islam and Judaism as well; examples of this include Talk Islam and Ameinu. And there still remain strong voices on the right, such as Beliefnet’s own Rod Dreher, who still identify as conservative but whose approach towards politics is independent and principled. Inshallah we can all work together and undo some of the damage wrought by this closing era of conservative religious dominance.