[Fwd: Re: Abortion and the Death Penalty (was Re: abortion litmus test)]

Michael Eisenscher meisenscher at igc.apc.org
Mon Jun 1 20:50:36 PDT 1998

There is plenty of room for differences with the "religious right" over doctrine, social policies, assumptions, and theology. I think, however, that there is a tendency on the Left to take issue with the most stereotypical characterizations of those who are assumed to be part of these movements without taking the time to explore the substance of their beliefs in order to identify differences between them. I count myself guilty of this error. It was only after I came into contact with members of some of these faith traditions (Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, etc.) who disassociate themselves from the Christian Coalition's views on a range of issues that I began to learn something about what some of these folks actually think and believe.

I learned, for example, that in the 19th Century these faith traditions were in the forefront of the abolitionist movements and that in the early part of the 20th Century they fought for women's right to vote. It was only in the period after WWI and into the 1920s that these movements divided racially and turned inward to embrace a more private and conservative intepretation of religious doctrine.

There is now an effort to rekindle some of the older progressive traditions in the form of a network of congregational and lay leaders and theologians that cross denominational lines in the form of Christians Supporting Community Organizing. The theological foundation for their interpretation of scripture is quite radical in its implications. For those interested, check out the work of Robert Linthicum.

Does this mean they all agree on issues of choice or divorce? No. But it also does not mean that they all advocate the most extreme reactionary conservative positions on these or other issues. Broadly, however, they embrace many precepts of social and economic justice that most left of center activists would have a hard time falting.

In learning to be less sectarian and knee-jerk in my own reactions to differences on the Left, I also have had to confront some of the biases that came along with uncritical dogmas buried deep in the socialist movements with which I have been either associated or in conflict over the years. That required that I put aside old stereotypes that got in the way of finding common ground around the immediate challenges we confront. It meant I had to learn how to work with people who I had previously written off with flippant sectarian characterizations without ever bothering to learn what they really thought. It meant I had to learn also to distinguish those with whom I could work, despite our differences, from those whose own dogmatism and sectarianism prevented us from finding any meaningful common ground.

Perhaps we of the Left might benefit from a bit more ecumenism in our approach to the religious movements that we have heretofore dismissed as hopelessly reactionary... at least to the point of differentiating between them in order to identify those with whom we actually have more in common than in conflict. In theprocess, we might also learn that they have something to teach us.

In solidarity, Michael

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