December 2, 2010
It's been a rough week. Ireland got sold back into serfdom, unemployment benefits expired, and in a bid to bring the spirit of peace and generosity back to Christmas, Republicans threatened to filibuster the START treaty until tax cuts for the upper 2% of wealthy Americans were made permanent. Oh, and like a maraschino cherry high atop a lollapalooza of suck, we find out from Wikileaks that the Obama administration-with GOP help-basically has quashed the investigation into torture by slow-marching it to death.
It's starting to feel a lot like 1983 around here. Or, as one friend put it, "Pretty sure the way I feel about human politicians right now is how Skynet starts."
And where, might you ask, was the religious left (such as it is) during all of this? Begging for scraps, I'm afraid. They were "urging" Congress to pass the DREAM Act and "urging" them to ratify START and "asking"(!) the House to pass the Child Nutrition Act. These are all fine and worthy causes, to be sure. Yet somehow I don't think they're going to be effective. Put it to you this way, it's one thing to go up against a giant with a slingshot. It's quite another to take your rock out and replace it with a crumpled-up piece of paper.
I've been asked a lot over the course of this fall why we don't have a politically effective religious left in America. The short answer is that there's a significant trade-off between being nice (or engaging in "civil discourse," as it's called these days) and being potent. All the commitment to moral suasion, to building consensus, to reconciliation between political opponents, all the commitment in the world to "speaking out" about your values isn't going to accomplish squat.
What will? Identity politics. I'm afraid they're everything these days. Simply put, the religious left is far less effective than the religious right because it won't turn political questions into us-versus-them. It's too divisive for them, to use one of the president's favorite terms.
Yet, as I seldom tire of pointing out, the God of the Bible is quite partisan and quite divisive. You can't read about camels and the eye of the needle, let alone the Magnificat, without understanding that God is on the side of the poor.
If the religious left (such as it is) wants to be effective on economic issues-tax cuts, employment, child nutrition-it's going to have to learn to take sides too. It's going to have to say:
My God is the God of the poor. Someday, that God is going to bring down the powerful and send the rich away hungry, but lift up the lowly and fill the hungry. I know which side I'm on. Which side are you on?
My God is the God of the poor. He takes notes, and so do I.
Or simplest and perhaps best:
My God is the God of the poor. A vote against [unemployment benefits, child nutrition] or a vote for tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy is a vote against that God, and it's a vote against those who follow him.
There's nothing nice about that. But then there's nothing nice about the absurd, reactionary, vicious and apparently successful class war the rich and powerful are waging on the rest of the nation, either.
My God is the God of the poor. You can be for the poor or you can go to hell.
Daniel Schultz, a.k.a. pastordan, is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He serves a small and very patient church in rural Wisconsin. He is the author of Changing the Script: An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century, forthcoming from Ig Press.