Watch their language

A war of words, or a war about words, has apparently broken out on the religious center/left.

Many of the mainstream stories I've read have used "progressive" as a synonym for liberal -- or perhaps liberal with a little pepper. But to the left of center, apparently it ain't neccesarily so. And it's worth paying heed, because sometimes its not all about semantics -- it's about social issues, and sometimes about doctrinal nuances in particular religious groups.

In this case, the battle is being played out in controversy over Alexia Kelly, who was just appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services to head their Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Kelley has already made some political waves over at the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Note the clip above, where she says Catholics in Alliance isn't "progressive." My intutition is that she's trying to define the group before the media and her opponents define it -- which usually can't be done.

Catholics for Choice has a headline on its website that reads: "Antiabortion Advocate Appointed to DHS." Their press release picks up an angle of the abortion discussion that may also reveal internal argument between so-called "progressive Catholics" and Catholics to their left.

"From the beginning, Alexia Kelley directed CACG to ignore the question of access to abortion and reframe the debate in terms of reducing the number of abortion -- although polls consistently show that the majority of Catholics support abortion rights. This language around reducing the number of abortions should be a huge red flag to anyone who believes in and seeks to defend a woman's right to choose."

Framing is indeed important, as my GetReligion colleagues have pointed out before. How is the mainstream media going to frame internal dissent over reducing the number of abortions as opposed to reducing the need for abortions? To some, this might sound like a debate over whether kale is tastier than brussel sprouts -- but it's fascinating, and newsworthy, that a religious left organization sees it as a threat.

Over at Salon, Frances Kissling isn't too happy, either, alleging that Catholics in Alliance believes abortion should be illegal and opposes contraception.

But take a look at the way the Catholic News Agency wrote up the story. "Pro-Obama Catholic rewarded with government job at HHS" -- the headline sets the tone for what is a story filled with words that are going to be especially meaningful (and not in a good way) to conservative Catholics - but both CNA and Salon agree that Kelley's appointment is "payback" for her support for Obama.

So what's going on here? Should Alexia Kelley get a dog if she wants a friend? Or this appointment symbolic of a deeper split going on within movements that formerly worked closely together?

And is anyone in the mainstream press (with the notable exception of Dan Gilgoff at his U.S. News & World Report's God & Country blog) paying attention? Here's some of what Gilgoff has to say about it.

Another skirmish between religious progressives and the religious left has broken out. The group Catholics for Choice, which supports abortion rights, has come out against the appointment of a progressive Catholic activist to direct the federal Health and Human Services Department's faith-based office.

The new HHS faith-based director, Alexia Kelley, is certainly not a hard-core conservative. An adviser to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, she has since led the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which has came under attack from the conservative Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights for its messaging around abortion.

Read Gilgoff's link to one of his previous blog posts on the emerging differences between "progressives" and "religious left." Are you seeing this in the mainstream press? I'm not -- not yet.

But think about it, and it makes sense. A movement can contain dissent until it suceeds -- and then it risks splintering. Gilgoff may indeed be correct -- that the Obama administration's new policies may risk alienating pro-abortion-rights groups on the religious left, as well as those on the religious right. There's lot's of blog chatter about the Kelley appointment -- it, and the growing seeming division between progressives and the religious left deserves some mainstream attention and analysis.

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