Top missteps of the last year.
Emblematic of the Religious Left’s melt-down is a recently vandalized “gay” Nativity scene at a Claremont, California United Methodist Church. This scene on the avant garde church lawn, under a star of Bethlehem, included an opposite sex couple, and two same-sex couples, with a sign declaring “Christ is Born.”
Naturally a protest against the vandalism was scheduled in what one indignant community member described as an otherwise “progressive college town.” According to The Los Angeles Times, Claremont United Methodist Church’s previous Nativity displays have not “shied away from controversial topics, including a scene of war in the Middle East, a mother and baby in prison and a depiction of the U.S./Mexico border fence.” Another Nativity scene portrayed a homeless family.
"Christ's birth in a stable had a lot to do with poverty and being marginalized," Pastor Sharon Rhodes-Wickett explained to The Times. "What this church has tried to do through these scenes is say, 'What would that look like today?'"
Deconstructing the founding historical event of Christianity, at Christmas time no less, to advocate for various multiculturalist political causes is typical of today’s Religious Left. For it, the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is insufficient. So the significance must be amplified by an anti-war statement or a blast against U.S. immigration policy.
United Methodism in Claremont, California and throughout the West Coast, so faithfully progressive, has been imploding for over 40 years. All the radical inclusivity apparently got too boring even for true leftist believers. More significantly, the Religious Left has evinced a national melt-down over this last year that potentially bodes well for the future of American religion.
The rush to embrace Occupy Wall Street was ultimately discrediting to the Religious Left. Actual Occupiers nationally probably never numbered beyond the thousands or perhaps low ten thousands. It was primarily a fad for recent college graduates in between jobs, heralded by aging baby boomers in the media nostalgic over the now ancient protest movements of the 1960s. Protesters of 45 years ago at least had grand causes. The Occupiers offered only ennui and resentment. Ultimately, few Americans, especially church-going ones, identified with whiney complaints from bedraggled campers despoiling parks and disrupting traffic. But Religious Left elites, from Sojourners chief Jim Wallis to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, could not help themselves from spiritually blessing the Occupation as a virtual Second Coming.
The equally fervid embrace by religious elites of Big Government and the entitlement Welfare State during the Summer 2011 federal debt ceiling crisis will also prove discrediting. In July, representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, Jim Wallis’ Sojourners and U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops formed a “Circle of Protection” ostensibly around the needy but actually around the engorged federal bureaucracy. They decried in the name of most American church members any limits on spending for social welfare or entitlement programs, by implication backing higher taxes and military cuts as the only morally acceptable remedy for burgeoning debt. Their meeting with President Obama clearly aligned them with the White House and against Congressional Republicans. Such partisanship aside, no realistic American believes the debt crisis can be addressed without serious limits on growth by entitlement and social welfare spending. Equating true faith with unlimited Big Government will be remembered unfavorably by history and by American church goers.
Also to be remembered negatively in 2011 was the Religious Left’s discomfort and distress over the U.S. killing of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Traditional Christianity has long taught that the state is divinely ordained not for wealth redistribution or environmental regulation or indoctrination in multicultural diversity. Rather the state is divinely ordained to “wield the sword” against evil doers and to protect the innocent. But old time Religious leftists like the National Council of Churches and newer Evangelical leftists like Brian McLaren almost mourned bin Laden’s death as egregiously unjust. The Religious Left seemed far more upset over the few hundred youngsters who celebrated the al Qaeda killer’s demise than they were over 9-11 itself. Blind pacifism and an inability to distinguish between lawful justice and lawless terror are suffocating the Religious Left.
Similarly, the Religious Left largely continues its stunning silence about Islamist and communist repression of Christians globally. In contrast, New York Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently editorialized that 80 percent of religious violence internationally is against Christians. But to hear the Religious Left, “Islamophobia” is the major hateful specter haunting the world. A National Council of Churches delegation to Cuba in November upheld its long-time tradition of refraining from all critique of the 52-year-old communist dictatorship. And when mostly Christian South Sudan finally achieved independence this year from the Islamist north, it was no thanks to the Religious Left. Religious leftists rightly have bewailed the torments of African Muslims in Sudan’s Darfur region by Khartoum’s Arabists, but they never cared much about South Sudan’s even longer suffering Christians. Recently the 4.5 million member Episcopal Church of Sudan de-recognized the U.S. Episcopal Church. The issue was the U.S. church’s sexual liberalism, but surely the Sudanese also noticed American indifference to Islamist terror. Responding to a recent church bombing in Nigeria, the U.S. National Council of Churches cited the “Islamist” perpetrators. It was a rare admission. Overall in 2011, Religious Left blindness about international religious persecution strode forward unabated.
Finally, the Religious Left’s ongoing hostility towards Israel, even amid indifference to human rights abuses by nearly all her repressive neighbors, remains a scandal. In 2011, Presbyterians and United Methodists prepared again to debate anti-Israel divestment. And prominent left-leaning U.S. evangelicals enlisted for an upcoming 2012 “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in Jerusalem, where they will bemoan Palestinian suffering without admitting that Palestinian refusal to accept Israel is the major obstacle to peace. An even lower point for the Religious Left was prominent evangelical ethicists David Gushee and Glenn Stassen in 2011 publicly threatening Israel with Iranian nukes as divine punishment for abusing Palestinians.
Christianity thrives when adhering to its transcendent themes of redemption and human dignity. Its spokespersons become trite and discredited when they align faith with narrow, faddish political demands rooted more in secular academia than in the church’s historic councils. In 2011, the Religious Left achieved new levels of triteness. The good news is that their failure to reform leaves them more marginalized than ever. In 2012 and beyond, more responsible religious voices will displace the Religious leftists of yesteryear.
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