Thank you so much for reading.
I look forward to comments and discussion.
Nov 11, 2004
The City Museum
A dash of religion, a sprinkle of politics...
Thursday morning, I got up and rushed myself through the DC metro system to meet up with Troy, a very good friend of mine, and was greeted to a cup of Starbucks caramel macchiato to compliment my morning cigarette. Then at the City Museum, I walked in to find guests chatting and networking around the catered table which was filled with delicious Cosi bagels, pastries, orange juice and coffee. Troy was attending this panel discussion for his own professional concerns with the The Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, and I was there for my own personal interests and research, this being the 3rd panel discussion hosted by the The Interfaith Alliance & Foundation this year that I've had the opportunity to attend.
The discussions at these shin-digs are very intriguing and stimulating. The panelists have included a range of dynamics from all sectors of the American public-interest sphere that one could be surprised to imagine them having connection or interest to such an organization. Afterall, it was my mother who told me to never talk about two very "controversial" things in friendly conversation: Religion and Politics. She clearly recognized the ease at which such topics could inspire deep-seated disagreements that could lead to unpleasant recourse. She strongly advised against it. I, being the stubborn, problem-solving addict that I am, found great interest in this organization because it addresses exactly those two issues, and how they work together to literally create the world we live in.
Here at these discussions, and through this organization, and through my own personal experiences, research, and educational and spiritual goals in my life, I am looking to find where the disrupt lies, where the problem seems to be emanating from, and I want to find a way to gently break it apart, understand it, and thereby be able to see the answers of how to best apply my efforts into improving the situation. Healing the wound. In a country that was founded upon many precious personal liberties, including freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, it is important to understand where we are causing further divide and hurting our own culture. The expert panelists are knowlegable in the vast many religious groups and factions that live and thrive within the United States. "Christian", the word itself, has become a very general term, and the majority of Americans fall into a subcategory of some sort within that label; Catholic. Evangelical. Baptist. Protestant. Seventh Day Adventist.
Do you think all of these different groups of "Christians" voted the same in this election? No way.
That's where the Interfaith Alliance comes in. I looked up at these panelists, looked at their faces and tried to see who they really were, and took in the moment of zen of that time and space as the discussion began to settle in. No food or drinks in the auditorium. Damn. It was a good thing Troy was sitting to my right to whisper noteworthy side thoughts as the hour and half progressed. I had a ton of informational booklets in my lap from the outside information tables, including a free t-shirt that said Interfaith Alliance with the Vote 2004 slogan. I gathered my thoughts and noticed the nice looking old man with a cane sitting to my left that was smiling at me. The old man was cool. I smiled back and we talked about the strange set-up of the stage, and it being awkward with the curtain and the directors chairs.
I listened intently to the discussion and took notes. The panelists were Barbara Bradley Hagerty (Religion Correspondent: National Public Radio); Patrick Guerriero (Exec. Director of Log Cabin Republicans & President of the Liberty Education Forum); Dr. Keith Jennings (President/Founder of African American Human Rights Foundation); Amy Sullivan (Editor of The Washington Monthly- former editorial director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life); and Steven Waldmen (!) (That's right... CEO, Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Beliefnet).
The panel discussion was of course led by The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation and the Interfaith Alliance, Inc, and author of over 20 books, including Faith and Politics.
The notes I jotted were simple but interesting things that caught my ear. Hopefully this synposis makes even a thread of coherent sense, and I do the conference some justice. (By the way, the transcript and audio media of the discussion is available at the website.
Interfaith Alliance Panel Discussion
America is undergoing somewhat of a Constitutional reanalysis. Our rights and freedoms, as therein defined, are being scrutinized once again, as we look at the face of what America has grown to be since it's beginnings. It can be noted that for discussion purposes, religion can be defined as being comprised of a set of social beliefs, as in, how should we act? What is expected of us? Whom shall we marry, what shall we eat, how shall we dress, and what routines shall we follow?
In the 2004 election, the central divide between the Republicans and the Democrats were Values versus "clinical issues". The Democratic party's campaign approached the election from an economic and political standpoint, whereas Republicans were not hesitant to wave around the rhetoric of "morals and values".
One of the panelists, Mr Jennings, a vibrant and eloquent preacher, quoted that he's been aware of people having what he calls "Biblical Amnesia". The definition for this "disease" has to do with people of the Christian faith making claims about the beliefs of their God and of their religion, and imposing these opinions onto the "Liberal Lefties", in order to scare them into assimilation or to create a sense of superiority. What these Bible-thumpers don't realize is that many times, the things that spew from their lips are some of the most hypocritical claims ever made, and are being said to cause further divide and discord, while in truth, their Bible teaches them to "love thy neighbor". The Bible also tells us not to conquer the world, but to worry only of our own families and homes. Yes, preach the word and the gospel, but do not lecture too far from home when your own house is in shambles.
Anyway, moving right along...
The two opposing campaigns sounded very different from one another. Most people are aware that President Bush used what is being referred to as "the Language of Morals and Values". Waldmen quoted that "...Republican voters ranged from very religious to somewhat religious." This is defined by the frequency of which someone attends a religious service at their church each month.
The divide of religion in politics became a stronger concern in the 1960s. When the Pro-Life movement came to the forefront around 1975 - Catholics spoke up loudly about Roe V Wade. Prior to this time, most Catholics were registered as Democrats. When the republican party took this issue under their wing, Catholics began shifting their political allegiences to align themselves with their Church's stance on the issue. Since this time, many feel that the Republican agenda has been divisive - not unifying, to our country's growing cultures.
As the split continues to divide further, this election provided a perfect example of the skewed views from one side of the spectrum to the other. From the Republican view of the Democratics, the "Kerry Culture" was seen as a respresentation of the clumped issues of cultural pollution; the "Hollywood" pollution that ensues with scantily clad pop stars like Britney Spears, and boob-busting Janet Jacksons.
Amy Sullivan pointed out a severe gap in representation between the Evangelicals and the journalists that are reporting our own culture to us. Apparently, the zip codes of where journalists live do not cross in a single area that the Evangelicals reside. There is no clear-cut reason for this, aside from strengthened "morals and values" rhetoric that comes across as "fire and brimstone" to the liberals, but still Amy argues that "Liberals didn't leave the Churches, the Churches left the liberals."
The panel discussion began wrapping up at this time. It was summarized that in this election, political groups are taking on too large of issues, "safe" issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, and education, along with foreign policy issues that have very little effect on the communities actually waving the flag for it. In order to see the spirit of the Democratic party return to our Nation's capital, the religious left needs to focus on the main issues, decide on a straightforward agenda, and agree on the rhetoric that they will use. This is where the Republican party found its strength in this election year, while the Democrats were left fumbling through their own platforms to find ways to counter the campaign, unsuccessfully.
As the discussion wrapped up, and people began congregating toward the front of the stage, I waited patiently for Barbara Bradley Hagarty and Steven Waldmen to turn my way in a small group discussion that had already begun by the time I'd found my way through. A woman with long grey hair to my left, who said she was a religion professor at a nearby university, voiced concerns about the demographics being referenced during the discussion, and here I found my opportunity. Steve Waldmen replied with a statistic about 83% of the voters being Christian, and to that I said, "What of the other 17% of voters like myself, who are not primarily Christian, but identify with another faith group, such as Buddhism or Paganism? Interfaith spiritual persons, like myself?" I went on to comment about the weight of the groups that seem to have been left out of the American dialogue in what we want our country to be. "I feel very under-represented as a member of an alternative faith group."
There. I said it. I said it to people who might care. I said it to people who might give a damn.
My voice. My choice to be heard.
Steve Waldmen handed me his business card, and I told him I was a long-time reader and fan of Beliefnet, to which he smiled and seemed appreciative to have a dedicated reader at the discussion. I mentioned that I link many articles from the website to my blog, and he invited me to send him the link.
I began heading out of the theater area and waited for Troy to catch up with me. He was about to have a lunch meeting with some members of the Interfaith Alliance who have shown great interest in his organization, so I wished him well and walked out into the sunshine of a world where George W. Bush is my president, again.
17% of America is waiting to be asked for their opinions, but the focus of our country's electoral system is centered around the Christian churches, Jews being the next runners up in gaining such attention from politicians. I may have to speak up again and again over the next four years to represent the ideas and opinions of those who are all too often overlooked in the political spectrum.
But hey, it's nothing I'm not already used to at this point.