Over recent weeks, we've witnessed the greatest resurgence of religion in public life since the emergence of the Moral Majority in the 1980s. But this time it comes, not from conservative Christians, but from Senator Joe Lieberman--Democratic candidate for vice president. Now I for one welcome Senator Lieberman's talking openly about his faith, praying in public, quoting Scripture, and calling America back to its Judeo- Christian roots. We can do nothing but applaud, though we do note the very obvious irony that a Jewish candidate can say things for which born-again Christians would be--and have been--vilified. The press, however, is beginning to put an interesting twist on all this. Last week, writing in The New York Times, Eleanor Brown, a fellow of the New American Foundation, enthused that Lieberman is reviving the religious left--which is, of course, in her mind, superior to the religious right. The religious right, she says, has a "particular set of dogmatic political opinions," uses "strong-arm tactics," and is unwilling to entertain debate on our political views. (Those are her words.) Then she chastises us for our position on abortion and "wonders what Christianity has to do" with things like supply-side economics. She paints a dark and sinister picture of the religious right, but the religious left is all good--a potent force, she says, in the abolition of slavery, labor reform, and the civil rights movement. Whoa! I'm afraid this is a
case of shaping the facts to fit the argument. The first great campaigner for abolition was William Wilberforce, a committed evangelical and disciple of John Wesley. In this country, the majority of abolitionists were evangelicals, including the great evangelist Charles Finney. The labor reforms of the 19th century were begun because of John Wesley's preaching and the political leadership of the evangelical Lord Shaftesbury. Remember, too, it was William Booth, another evangelical, who cleaned up the slums of East London and founded The Salvation Army, an evangelical movement to this day. As scholar Gertrude Himmelfarb and others have documented, the great social movements of the 19th century were carried out by conservative Christians. As for Ms. Brown's second point, that evangelical Christians are hung up on the abortion question--indeed we are. The sanctity and dignity of human life is the same exact moral issue that caused us to fight slavery, to demand human rights for workers; and the same convictions that caused evangelicals and Roman Catholics to stand against the forces of Communism and be persecuted for their faith. The New York Times may not like it, but the evidence is that the big, bad religious right has been the primary force for social good--and this is something you should point out to your neighbors. In any event, I hope Ms. Brown is right about Lieberman's reviving the religious left. I lead a movement of 50,000 volunteers working in prisons and inner cities across America and in 88 other countries. Our volunteers are conservative Christians, but we would surely welcome volunteers from this newly aroused religious left. They can come join with us and work alongside the evangelicals who have been doing the job all along.
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