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Sam Smith: Where Are The Christian Moderates?

Where Are The Christian Moderates?

By Editor Sam Smith

PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - The failure of Christian moderates to take on publicly religious extremists who claim the same Bible and theology sadly brings to mind the failure of liberals to take on Joseph McCarthy. As with McCarthyism, extremism thrives in the valley of fear and silence.

In McCarthy's case it was some New England Republicans - not liberals - who finally stood up effectively against McCarthy. They, like the liberals, had kept silent too long, but at least they finally got the courage to speak out.

Christian moderates need to look no further back than the civil rights movement for a model of reaction. For it was some of the same sects - including the white southern Baptists - who most fiercely opposed desegregation. Judge Thomas P. Brady, a deacon and Sunday school teacher at a Baptist church in Mississippi described the Supreme Court's desegregation decision this way:

"Black Monday ranks in importance with July 4th, 1776.... May 17th, 1954 is the date upon which the declaration of socialistic doctrine was officially proclaimed throughout this nation. It was on Black Monday that the judicial branch of our government usurped the sacred privilege and right of the respective states of this union to educate their youth. This usurpation constitutes the greatest travesty of the American Constitution and jurisprudence in the history of this nation."

As late as 1997, Jim Wallis could write in Sojourners that:

"White evangelicalism simply has been wrong on the issue of race for a very long time. Indeed, conservative white Christians have served as a bastion of racial segregation and a bulwark against racial justice efforts for decades, in the South and throughout the country.

"All during the civil rights struggle, the vast majority of white evangelicals and their churches were on the wrong side - the wrong side of the truth, the Bible, and the gospel."

These are the same voices that have transferred their hatred and targets for dominance from blacks to women and gays, who want their mean myopia to be national policy, and who blaspheme the very icon they profess to worship by their cruelty, prejudice and intolerance.

There are two big differences, however. The first is that the media refers to and pictures these extremists not as bigots but as "people of faith." To a remarkable degree, the press has accepted the virulent public policies of the Christian right as worthy of respect and even admiration.

The second differences is that the voice of rational, moderate Christianity is largely silent. Not only is there no Rev. Martin Luther King Jr offering an appealing alternative to hate, but white bishops from the Episcopal Church are not being pictured with locked arms walking with the weak towards freedom. There are few coalitions of conscience in major cities and there is a lack of sermons, donations, and activism.

By the 1960s, the reactionary religious right found itself with a vigorous opponent helping to open the doors of hope it was blockading. Even the Catholic Church was better known for its worker priests and liberation theology than for its opposition to abortion. The secular and the religious had joined in making America a better land.

Nothing similar is happening now. This is not a sudden transition. The observant have noted the retreat from progressive social action on the part of moderate Christian churches over the past couple of decades. Just one small example: how often have you seen a moderate Christian service or commentator on television?

But, as with McCarthyism, it is better to be late than not to act at all. Faced with the rise of the American Taliban, it is past time for moderate Christians to return their own faith to honor and social good rather than to let it be defined by the tainted turmoil of false prophets. Humanists and free thinkers can't do all the work. These moderate Christians must stand up to our contemporary religious bigots just as their predecessors did during the civil rights struggle. And time is running out.

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