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For some years now, religious progressives (I know one when I see one) have been looking for a way to make themselves felt in society as a proper counterweight to the religious right. They may not have the numbers, but surely there ought to be a way to get the troops cranked up and marching to the beat of a spiritual drummer of their own.
Among the would-be drummers have been Jim Wallis and Michael Lerner, moderate evangelical and liberal Jew, who have with modest success promoted their respective lines with the magazines Sojourners and Tikkun. On the book front, another candidate is United Church of Christ Pastor Daniel Schultz, who made his name (“Pastordan”) as the principal blogger at the Daily Kos religion site, Streetprophets. (These days, he’s to be found over at Religion Dispatches.)
Pastordan’s new book, Changing the Script, advances a “progressive political theology for the 21st century” by focusing on abortion, economic justice, and militarism as avenues for liberal religious folks to march down. He’s got good arguments, but arguments alone, I’m afraid, do not a religious movement make. Judging by the history of anti-slavery, woman suffrage, temperance, and civil rights, you need a cause that is at once morally incontestable and, in fact, contested. Its message must be simple and capable of creating a broad and diverse coalition. And it must be plausibly related to the religious sensibility of its time.
One of these has finally come along: Call it anti-Islamophobia. It stands for the religious liberty that Americans recognize as central to their national identity. Its opponents are real and (increasingly) vocal, but are easily confronted and have difficulty holding their ground (cf. Koran, burning of). Its message is simple and bespeaks the powerful contemporary spirit of inclusion; and the makings of the necessary coalition have long since been in place. The only question is whether the fight can last long enough for a real movement to form. We’ll see after November.