Friday, September 18, 2009

Making Strides

This morning I watched CNN jump to cover the “Values Voters” confab, interviewing Tony Perkins and treating this like the biggest event since last weekend’s Tea Party (which, contrary to Fox News, was covered quite thoroughly by the networks. But more on that later.)

MSNBC and Fox also sent reporters to the event, apparently disrupting those in attendance.

In fact, do a Google news search for “Values Voters” and you get coverage by all of the mainstream media outlets. In short, there’s plenty of media attention on this event. And I’m not saying there shouldn’t be but...

I wonder how many news outlets will cover this?
Yet as the numbers show, the religious right is increasingly being matched by a nascent “religious left.” Some 24 percent of the adult population, about 45 million Americans, shares the “traditional” religious mindset of conservative religious activists, but 18 percent, about 38 million adults, shares the “modernist” mindset that is characteristic of progressive religious activists.

As for the survey, “I don’t think this project would have occurred to anyone 10 years ago because I don’t think people took the idea of progressive religious activism seriously 10 years ago,” said E.J. Dionne, a liberal-leaning Catholic and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who was on a panel presenting the new study of religious activists, conducted by Public Religion Research and the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. Michael Cromartie of the conservative-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center was also at the release in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. He noted that the report puts to rest the question of whether there is a “God gap” between Republicans and Democrats: “Clearly, from this data, it’s not only closing. It’s closed.”

When it comes to theological and social issues, the survey does show that the divide between the two camps remains vast. Conservatives are focused on two main issues— abortion and same-sex marriage — while liberals spread their concerns more widely and focus on pocketbook issues like poverty and health care and jobs. Faith versus works, one might say.

I find this very encouraging. Because, although the media hasn’t seemed to notice, the progressive Christian message is being heard. It’s Biblical and it makes sense: you can’t follow Prosperity Jesus or Rifle Jesus and not have at least a few of your cherished views challenged by Scripture.

There have been dozens of liberal Christian conferences, marches, summits, you name it. I don’t recall seeing any media attention of the scale the Values Voters get. Back in 2005 over 100 religious activists were arrested for protesting President Bush’s budget. The event did not go completely unnoticed by the media but it didn’t generate the non-stop coverage that conservative Christian groups routinely receive.

I wonder why that is?

In covering the treatment MSNBC received at the Values Voter summit, Josh Marshall opined:

Later Update: Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, the sponsoring organization, just went on stage and apologized to MSNBC for the incident. It was an entertaining moment. But there's something the whole turn of events illustrates. And that is that the event planners from FRC and the cable net folks are basically the same people. Each part of the same business, the same game. They know each other, understand each others rules, etc. It's the incensed attendees who are the ones who are sort of out of the loop. I'm not sure who that puts in a better or worse light. But that's what I mean by at least one of the culture clashes.

I think there’s a lot of truth to that observation. Cable news and right wing groups like the Family Research Council are part of the same game, each with its prescribed role, each comfortably in tune with the other. And that’s why it’s so difficult for a group like progressive faith voices to get attention. We’re not in the Rolodex. We aren’t on their radar, but maybe we don’t need to be. Maybe we don't want to be part of that game. It's corrupting, after all. And the message is getting out, regardless.

God works in mysterious ways.