Religious left continues to mull over its future

And this just in from the "values" wars. Sen. Edward Kennedy has asked member of his staff to investigate how liberals can talk about God. They may even need to do a better job of talking about God on television and the Internet, in order to compete with those mass-media superstars Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Say what?

It is a bit hard to make sense out of the recent Boston Globe report by Glen Johnson, which ran under the rather weak headline, "From left, religious figures make a push." The big news seems to be that (a) the religious left exists, (b) it believes that moral values affect topics other than gay rights and abortion, (c) that religious liberals are very, very mad about the outcome of the Nov. 2 elections and (d) they need another Bill Clinton who knows how to sin, confess and preach and sound like he knows what he's doing.

Of course, regular readers of GetReligion, The Revealer or any major newspaper with a solid religion reporter already knew all of this. What is interesting about Johnson's report is its clear assumption that the mainstream left is ready to get down to business and crack this God thing in time for the 2006 elections. I mean, brace yourself, they are holding conference calls about it.

It appears that the dreaded religious right is not going to quit on its own, even if its old guard has all but vanished from the national scene. The Globe report notes:

'The religious right has been effectively organizing for 35 years, and as I always say, it took Moses 40 years to lead his people out of the wilderness, and it's going to take us a few years more to catch up," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

Edgar is part of a group that holds a conference call each Thursday to discuss the liberal response to national and world affairs, a telephonic gathering convened last year in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq. . . .

Among as many as 40 people on the line any Thursday are Jim Wallis, who convened Call to Renewal, a faith-based response to world poverty; the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance; the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., pastor of the Riverside Church in New York; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund.

There's a lot more to report, including the interesting details about Kennedy's staff plunging into research into how Democrats can get religion. It also notes some complex poll results that show just how small the true "values vote" impact was in the election. It was strategic, but small.

Meanwhile, one of the most outspoken voices on the religious left openly asked -- once again -- if progressives would be willing to make any kind of compromises in order to walk their talk on cultural issues such as abortion.

Wallis, who edits Sojourners magazine in addition to leading Call to Renewal, said the most urgent challenge for Democrats is to open up about their moral values, as well as their faith, where appropriate. Wallis said abortion offers one such opportunity.

'They say, 'Keep abortion safe, legal, and rare,' but they do nothing but try to keep it legal; they do nothing to make it rare," he said. 'The Democrats ought to say, 'Let's work on reducing abortion rates, adoption reform, helping low-income women.' We could work on that together, prolife and prochoice, and reduce the abortion rate in the process."

Here is the question that I have yet to see asked in one of these valid and timely reports on the religious left. How many of these clerics represent denominations, churches or movements that are growing? The whole oldline world represented by the National Council of Churches has lost about a third of its members in the past generation or so and its membership lists contain a high percentage of older Americans. Meanwhile, the churches on the moral right are either holding their own or continuing to grow, especially in all of those red zip codes.

Meanwhile, the number of secular or post-Judeo-Christian Christian believers is rising -- the segment of the population that I like to refer to as the Da Vinci Vote. However, these voters will not be found in the facing sanctuaries of the oldline world. You are more likely to find them at the multiplex or at the mall.

The problem for the Democrats is trying to find a message that appeals to those who cherish traditional religious values, while appealing at the same time to those who sincerely hate traditional religious values. That will be hard to do. Where is Oprah when you need her?

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