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Monday, June 14, 2004

Designated prayer.

Who will give the invocation at the Democratic Convention in Boston? It won't be a representative of the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Bishop Tom Shaw, or UUA President Bill Sinkford — the leaders of the largest and oldest Protestant denominations in Massachusetts, each of which is "too liberal" to provide the impression that the Party is welcoming to the big blocs of "religious" voters the Democrats want to woo — and it certainly won't be Archbishop O'Malley. Hmm.

David O'Brien has some ideas in "Who Will Bless the Democrats?" (Boston Globe 6.14.04).

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 14 June 2004 at 8:28 AM

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Jogues Epple':

June 20, 2004 11:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bishop Tom Shaw is scholarly, compassionate, and prayerful. So, that means he is not "right" to bless the Democratic Convention? Geez, can we only be fed by the Right's clergy who are theologically naive, ruthless, and arrogant?

Jeff Wilson:

June 21, 2004 11:14 AM | Permalink for this comment

This right here is more or less the reason I left the Democratic Party in 1996 and don't intend to ever go back. While the Republicans forge ahead with maintaining a genuinely conservative party, the Democrats endlessly backtrack to keep from being truly liberal. And it's just so insulting that somehow political liberals think that religious people are automatically non-liberal, or that they can't find fellowship politically with people they disagree with religiously. Meanwhile, the Republicans don't give a rat's ass about what the other side thinks about who delivers their prayers--they invite speakers and preachers without worry that they'll rile their opponents, and happily hang out at Bob Jones U. This is what makes folks like Nader attractive to me, because his platform actually closely resembles my own values, and he doesn't back down. I voted for him in 2000 and have no regrets, the Democrats didn't do one thing to earn my vote as far as I could see it. This time round I'll throw in an anti-Bush vote for Kerry, but until an actual liberal party with actual liberal values and some backbone shows up (and maybe some simple respect for the idea that religious people can be thoughtful and socially concerned too), I won't be supporting their weak, lukewarm party.


June 21, 2004 07:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Maybe because I didn't summarize the article that inspired my comment, I've left a misleading impression. I happen to be very fond of Bishop Shaw. ("I'm Tom," he always says when you meet him, so I call him Bishop Tom.) Mrs Philocrites and I have had Easter dinner with him and the brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and I've been delighted that he remembers me by name. I agree, Jogues, he is an extraordinary religious leader. Personally, I'd think it was awesome if he opened the Democratic Convention. And, I might add, as a Unitarian Universalist I'd be proud if President Sinkford were asked.

But here's the thing: It's a political convention, and the politicians are looking for votes. They don't need to attract any more Unitarian Universalist voters — they've got that corner locked down as well as they can without alienating lots of other people. And they don't need to expand John Kerry's base in Massachusetts. The politicians are looking for ways to expand their base in November's presidential election. And their choice of a religious leader can help.

(Please note: My initial comment was an attempt to understand how politicos approach religion, not about which religious groups I personally favor.)

So the convention planners want to find someone with whom a sizable number of religious voters in swing states can see themselves — voters who could feel some alienation from the Democrats when the Party appears aggressively secular but who also have all sorts of reasons to vote Democratic. This emphatically does not mean picking someone who is "theologically naive, ruthless, and arrogant." There is a vast terrain between the Christian right and the religious left — and it's time for liberals to stop ignoring the people who live there.

As for Jeff's comment: A party that hopes to elect a president must attract a majority. The day that liberalism is popular with a majority, I will go mad with joy. After all, one of the reasons for this blog is to help bring about that day. (I happen not to define liberalism the same way some of my friends on the left do, but that's a subject for another day — or perhaps a UU World book review.) But the fact is that liberalism has a small fan club these days, and the Democrats can't get very far by trying to woo the readers of "Z Magazine" and "The Progressive." They've tried it. It doesn't work. Liberalism wasn't even a majority perspective during the heyday of liberalism! (Adlai Stevenson lost twice. Liberals haven't come close to winning since then.) Liberals can only be part of a broader coalition in a successful presidential bid. To pretend otherwise is to ignore what America is really like these days.

James field:

June 21, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris: Other than a critique of sixties worship, what exactly is your take on liberalism? I'm more comfortable with the movement left than you are (What is so wrong with Chomsky that one has to be between him and Cheney?) I used to be a left critic of liberalism but some combination of age and UUism has moderated my views somewhat. Does liberalism own the terrain between the eschatological reservation and JLA's mediating structures?


June 22, 2004 10:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

James, your question is worth more time than I can give it right now, but maybe a way to start is to say that I don't think of liberalism primarily as a form of critique. It seems to me that liberalism has come to mean some variety of protest against an "established order" in the last 35 to 40 years. And this tendency has narrowed down the sort of work that people can recognize as liberal. My interest is in liberal institutions: dynamic social forms that can sustain and defend human freedom, things like checks and balances, constitutional law, liberal education, voluntary associations, and so on.

I'd love to hear more about what you mean by "eschatological reservation" and James Luther Adams's "mediating structures." JLA's legacy for many UUs seems to have been his emphasis on institutional justice-making, which I salute, but I tend to emphasize something he didn't expand on very often: the expansion of domains in human life that are characterized by persuasion rather than coercion. Whereas JLA is a justice-focused and "Protestant Principle"-focused figure for many UUs, I'm more intrigued by his freedom-focused and "by their groups ye shall know them" themes.

Short answer on Chomsky v. Cheney: I don't see how a democratic consensus on America's role in the world can presume the illegitimacy of American power. Chomsky requires his readers to already be deeply suspicious of America, and I don't see any way for an American president — or Congress — to be characterized by that sort of view. And Cheney is just as much an elitist as Chomsky — his elite, though, is economic rather than intellectual — but he's much more dangerous because his power happens to be yoked right now to some very popular ideas and symbols.

Liberals need good ideas and popular support. Chomsky doesn't provide the symbols or tools for a popular, liberal foreign policy. That's why I tend to avoid him and others on the unreformed left. I'm looking for thinkers who seem to know how to "speak American" while proposing achievable ways to promote truly liberal ideals here and abroad.

James Field:

June 22, 2004 11:55 AM | Permalink for this comment

By eschatological reservation, I mean that all good works are partial. Theologically, utopia is for god and the rest of us can just do our best. Sharon Welch explains it well:

By mediating structures, I am referring to James Luther Adam's analysis of religious and civil associations as mediating structures in relation to state power.

I am closer to Chomsky's anarchism than you. My view of power is more like his. Power is only legitimate to the extent that it is exercised legitimately. American power is no more inherently legitimate or illegitimate because of its being American.

I would say Chomsky does ask a reader to view the exercise of American power the same way one would view the same behavior by any other real or hypothetical country.

The only way I think "a democratic consensus on America's role in the world can presume the illegiteimacy of American power" is to see the role of liberal democrats to challenge as profoundly undemocratic attempts to impose American business interests on others in the world.

I see a lot of your concern as more strategy than principle.

It's funny because I see your view of liberalism as protest as a good explanation of what is wrong with the left in general more so than liberalism in particular.

I believe that we have mostly liberal institutions in our society (schools, mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, NGO's etc) but mostly rather illiberal results in economics, criminal justice and foreign policy.

My thinking is somewhat influenced by Robert Bellah et al's Habits of the Heart. If liberalism (and liberal religion) is to mean anything, it must stand for more than just procedural justice and some notion that America is good.

Alas, this is a lot to drop on you as you leave for GA. Wish I could be there.

Jeff Wilson:

June 22, 2004 11:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

I understand your argument, Chris, and can sympathize with it and the plight of the Dems. But you're basically telling me that my views don't count in America, and that I have no voice and basically no hope of a voice in American politics. Meanwhile, I believe that the policies of the Republicans (and often the Democrats) are wrong and cause harm in many cases. It is very frustrating to spend your whole life being told that your views will never play in your country; or to put it another (biased) way, that compassion and rationality aren't welcome in American politics (told ya it'd be partisan).

My political awakening came at age five with the election of Reagan--I can remember my parents feeling sad because "the bad man won." Since then I've spent every day of my life either under alarming Republican administrations, or the utter letdown of Clinton (welfare "reform", defeat of health care, backdown on gay issues, excessive military intervention overseas, etc, etc, plus that whole idiotic Lewinsky thing). Not that Clinton was a liberal anyway, of course.

So the Democrats take me for granted even though they don't represent my views. I'm supposed to roll over year after year for my entire life, while the Dems have no intention of ever implementing the sort of policies I support--in fact, they're too busy trying to capture the votes of people on the opposite side to even throw me a bone. They don't even apologize for taking liberals for granted, they ignore us completely unless it's to call us traitors for voting for the occasional option like Nader who actually addresses our concerns. And that's all I have to look forward to for the next 65-70 years. It makes me angry. And meanwhile there's the nagging wonder whether if the Democrats actually went out there guns blazing and sold the exciting, inclusive, progressive ideas of political liberalism--instead of always slinking around trying to avoid being called bad names by the conservatives--whether they could begin to convince people and turn the tide which has been backsliding ever since I was born.

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