Theyre not a bad lot, my hard-right ministerial colleagues here on the southern Minnesota prairie. Theyre not the ignorant, arrogant, belligerent proselytizers some liberals envision when the subject turns to the Bible-Thumpers-and-God-Hates-Faggots crowd. As far as I can tell, they dont beat their wives or children. They dont go stealth with tacit endorsements on behalf of their favorite socially conservative candidate. Given what I gather from our monthly meetings and occasional ecumenical services, they pretty much do the same things as ministers most everywhere else in the country: preach a message that will help get their people from this Sunday to next Sunday; sit through unnecessarily long meetings, struggling to keep in mind that our imperfect institutions are worth the inane fuss over which shade of beige is best for the nursery; hold the hand of a dying parishioner who seeks finite answers in an infinite universe; and, toughest of all, try to be a person of integrity not a simple thing when your salary and benefits (and in some instances, the roof over your head) come from people whose idea of church is stuck in the 1950s.
Nope, if youre into gathering evidence that every pro-life preacher is a redneck, illiterate, ill-tempered conservative fit only to be shipped to the nearest psychiatric ward and sized up for the old canvass blazer, dont come round these colleagues of mine. They just dont measure up to the kind of hate-mongering Christian pastors that see Gods wrath in hurricanes.
But thats not to say that my local clergy group lights up when I arrive at our monthly meetings. (Sometimes I feel about as welcome as Michael Vick at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.) Im pro-choice, pro-GLBT civil rights and marriage, anti-Creationist and vegetarian. (The latter is more troublesome than you might guess; think the Land of Corporate Pig Farms and all-you-can-eat-lutefisk dinners.) Add to my unabashed liberal politics my unabashed liberal theology, and youll not be surprised to learn that I didnt receive any Christmas cards from my orthodox clerical colleagues.
Were serious news junkies, all of us, so a good deal of gloating goes on every time a Supreme Court decision touches on religion or Congress passes some hot-button bill. Im not above gloating. But if reveling in a victory for my side makes me a bad person, my fundy colleagues are no better; they pick up a line from Hannity or Coulter, hoard it until our next meeting, then lay it on me as though I should be cowed, contrite and smitten by the wit and wisdom from their political Higher Powers. So we take our shots where we can. We take our lumps, too.
Last month, I took my biggest lump to date. And it came from the Democrats, not my peers in ministry. It is the culmination of three-plus decades of focused, measured, hostile political takeover bids that began with Jerry Falwells Moral Majority and has now co-opted both parties presidential debates. Mercy.
When did faith become a legitimate criterion right alongside Iraq, health care, poverty and immigration for selecting the Democratic candidate come next November? When did Democratic Party officials, candidates and handlers drink the Kool-Aid on this one? Whose idea was it for Hillary and Obama and the rest to prattle on about how faith informs their lives, personal and professional? Not that anybody with a working brain believes that the Democratic Party is the go-to source for American political salvation, but is theological pandering what weve come to Dems making sure their candidates are on speaking terms with Jesus before presenting them to the unwashed electorate? Mercy.
All this liberal pandering is not lost on my Limbaugh-loving colleagues. They see in the Democratic rush to God the fruits of the Great Struggle for the Soul of America, crediting a most unholy Trinity for such blessings: Falwell, for his bold vision of a theocratic nation; Robertson, for the genius to meld wild-eyed evangelicalism with the right wing of the Republican Party; and Dobson, for championing the cause of family-friendly Christianity through lobbying, political federal, state and local.
And now, as two of our ministerial group noted at our last shindig, even old school Dems like Joe Biden are telling us about the role their faith plays in their lives. Joe Biden?
So, this just might turn out to be the Winter of Lumps We Didnt See Coming for liberal pastors here on the frozen tundra of Middle America. Its not enough that we endure the skunk eye from the puritanical crowd at our ecumenical or interfaith meetings. Now we have to come up with a good defense for the shoddily-crafted, politically-expedient theology emanating from even the frontline Democratic candidates. Thanks, Dems. We flatland liberal preachers needed you to come to God like a submarine needs a screen door. Mercy.
Rev. Don Rollins is pastor of the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church in Hanska, Minn.
From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2008
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist