Friday, October 12, 2007

More "Reasoning Together"

I've received a number of emails off line about yesterday's post on "Come Let Us Reason Together" and I've now had the time to read the paper carefully several times.

First, here's the link directly to the paper: Apparently, some of you couldn't get to what I posted yesterday.

And I do encourage you to read the paper -- slowly and carefully. The authors say that they are "writing primarily for progressives who too often have an impoverished understanding of Evangelicals." If that's you, this presents a good history, up-to-date polling data on attitudes and voting by Evangelicals, and I think some encouraging data about how half of evangelicals are progressive or moderate on social issues (I think the one fifth, one third, one half formula is very helpful.) I also think that the section on "shared principles for the role of religion in the public square" is very useful, especially for those of us who work with people whose religiophobia protests public engagement by religious leaders.

Second, I misspoke in yesterday's email about the role of some organizations -- I now know for sure that colleagues at Americans United and HRC were asked for review and comments, and the Union of Reform Judaism's President was included in a list of supporting statements. Nevertheless, (and please Third Wave correct me if I'm wrong), pro-choice religious organizations were not interviewed, quoted, read, or consulted for the section of the report on these issues.

Indeed, had this report been titled and promoted differently, I might have easily recommended it to you as what one supporter identifies it is: "a response to progressives about evangelicals." Had the report been labeled as an effort to find common ground for "those who consider themselves progressive and evangelical" with those who are conservative evangelicals (which indeed is what it seems to be), I would have hailed it as a vital first step. Both one of the authors and a staff person from Faith in Public Life have written on a faithbloggers list serv, partially in response to my post, that this is only a first step and that they know that they didn't present the history, polling data, or wide range of views of progressive religious people on these issues.

But, then why promote it, as the subtitle and the press releases suggest as "A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Progressives and Evangelicals" while acknowledging that you are aiming it at a particular audience. Does Third Way have a report planned to help evangelicals understand US? Because surely the history of the progressive movement for social reform, the attitudes of progressive and mainstream religious people, and the movements for sexual and social justice would be equally enlightening to the evangelical movement.

But, let me take their conclusion at face value: they say that this report offers "first steps across that [the cultural divide] bridge." It is indeed important to seek common ground, and I believe that there is vast mainstream support for the vast majority of sexual justice issues. Just for starters, Americans of all types of backgrounds support sexuality education, HIV prevention, the availability of contraception, safeguards for children on the Internet, the need to strengthen families, stem cell research and the civil rights (including employment rights) of gays and lesbians in large majorities. At the Religious Institute, we've participated in some very exciting common ground efforts on reproductive rights (and I'll be sending that report on to the folks at Third Wave) and our Open Letters provide solid theological support for sexual justice.

We believe that there is common ground and a need for respectful dialog and engagement. We don't believe that we are part of a "cultural war" but rather responding to people's deep need and hunger for sexual healing and justice. Third Wave, we look forward to talking with you about your planned next steps and how to bring religious professionals who are progressive on sexual justice issues into your conversations -- and next reports.

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