When the Religious Left is Right

By Daniel Schultz founder and leader of streetprophets.com My response To Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: Not for the first time and … Continued

By Daniel Schultz
founder and leader of streetprophets.com

My response To Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite:

Not for the first time and probably not the last, I am going to steal a bit from Woody Allen, this one about a surprise reincarnation:

“Take Phil Pinchuck. The man keeled over with an aneurysm, he’s now a hamster. All day, running at the stupid wheel. For years he was a Yale professor. My point is he’s gotten to like the wheel. He pedals and pedals, running nowhere, but he smiles.”

“Take Phil Pinchuck. The man keeled over with an aneurysm, he’s now a hamster. All day, running at the stupid wheel. For years he was a Yale professor. My point is he’s gotten to like the wheel. He pedals and pedals, running nowhere, but he smiles.”

Happy hamsters, as it turns out, remind me a great deal of nominally liberal religious centrists, who spend their time chasing after the elusive goal of compromise on social issues.

It seems like a good life. Lord knows they don’t lack for friends or attention. All they have to do is pedal and pedal.

They smile while they do this, and some of them dream that if they could only run the wheel in reverse – just a little bit – to forge a post-ideological “strategic alliance” the path to forward motion would open up before them.

And really, what’s not to like about giving a little to get a little? After all, according to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, it’s the “broadest possible coalitions” that get things done. What could be wrong with that?

Well, for one thing, it’s completely unnecessary. Studies show a durable majority in support of legalized abortion, and rising numbers in favor of some form of marriage for gays and lesbians. There is simply no need for progressives to give ground here. The numbers are and always have been in the left’s favor, and we have a skinny new president to demonstrate that it’s not necessary to move right on social issues to get elected as a Democrat. It’s one thing to build coalitions; it’s quite another to give away the store for no good reason.

The “middle ground” strategy is also fundamentally dishonest in the sense that it demonstrates an utter lack of willingness to challenge one’s own positions.

For example, proponents of compromise like to speak of a broad middle supporting their position. This is disingenuous to begin with, since the “center” turns out to be a lot closer to the “left” they like to decry.

But the point of such a tactic is to marginalize those who disagree with their premises, of course. And on closer inspection, their supposed middle ground turns out to be exceedingly narrow, excluding many of the progressive representatives you might expect to see if a true consensus were being built. Democracy, as it is said, is not two foxes voting to divide up the chicken for breakfast.

My favorite piece of mendacity, however, is the charge that religious progressives not interested in finding the middle ground on core principals are somehow intolerant and therefore guilty of betraying both Christian unity and liberal ideals. Thistlethwaite chides people such as myself to “honor diversity” and be open to “possibility, unexpected joy and the movement of grace,” as if we were narrow-minded partisans closed to God’s fondness for surprises.

As a political point, this is egregious. As a religious point, it’s little more than a passive-aggressive claim to the high ground dressed up in church clothes. Many of the people being called out as divisive ideologues have been in favor of strategic alliances for years. And as Thistlethwaite know full well, there is a difference between demanding agreement on every point and demanding meaningful engagement on those same points. I for one am unafraid to engage people who disagree with me politically. My work as a pastor demands it.

But citizens of a democracy owe to one another good reasons for their positions, says the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Likewise, St. Peter instructs Christians to be prepared to make a defense of the hope that is in them.

Instead of slamming their opponents’ political and religious positions, faithful centrists might want to take that advice to heart and explain why exactly compromise is necessary and preferable, despite evidence to the contrary. Show us why we’re wrong. Demonstrate how your position provides hope to vulnerable people. Give us a good reason to believe that middle ground isn’t the lowest common denominator. It isn’t about labels at all. It’s about finding the best possible outcome.

As it is, these folks seem happy to pedal and pedal, running nowhere. Which wouldn’t be a problem except they seem annoyed that the rest of us don’t want to join them on the stupid wheel.

Daniel Schultz is founder and leader of streetprophets.com, the Daily Kos-affiliated blog on faith and politics.

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  • onedunn

    CCNL seems to have achieved the utter nonsense of statistical information. He/She appears to have both big toes in the ears while spouting idiotic numbers. The mutual masturbators might wonder whether he/she has achieved the ability to stick both of his arms, through his anus, to result in regurtitation through his typing fingers.I’m stunned that WaPo has left this comment in as the first comment to this thread with no editorial intervention.Peace all,Bill

  • CCNL

    Bill, Bill, Bill,Hmmm, lots of “kind” words but nothing to refute the numbers!!

  • onedunn

    CCNL(the math, one million abortions per year since 1973 (the Roe decision) x 35 years x 2 parents= 70 million votes.)And then tell me how your comment that that”skinny” fellow win the presidency?? On the backs of 35 million aborted babies and the votes of their 70 million “parents” that is how!!!”Actually has to do with anything that our current President has done in the 70+ days that he has been in office that implicates him in your grand conspiracy that you appear to be subsumed into.You are just another nut – you have nothing to support your ravings – but rave on you will.We are past your age. You are a dinosaur. Please rebut with cites.Best.Bill

  • CCNL

    Bill, Bill, Bill,The skinny BO was the pro-abortion/pro-death candidate. And if you were a “parent” of an aborted child (35 million babies since 1973), who would you vote for?

  • coloradodog

    Neochristian Limbags hate the words “tolerance” and diversity like evil hates the light.

  • INGOODFAITH

    Please remove curly brackets in WAPO’s Editor & hit “Submit” button.””SH{i}L{O}H” [PEACE BRINGER]. So WHY would Washington Post or Geaorge Town University et al; be soo so afraid of a (biblical) word meaning, “PEACE”, Freidan, PAZ, Mir, SHALOM, Salaam, Ahimsah, Zhingyu”?…..?..Testing testing:”JO{}K}{T}AN” [The UNITED Anscestors] {WE [i] Cometh from This Father/Mother EBERu line} hence [i] WE; US? are innately evolved as “HUEMATES” not as HUMAN anymore. As Prophecy: WE [i] Removeth the “Scepter & the Rod.. from Both hand & between King DAVID’s realm who are “P{E}{L}E{G”ians [The DIVIDED Ancestors]. WE Reverseth the DRUNKIN NOAH [racist] CURSETH/SINETH preposterous Story of Moses & his Jealoused Co., And So INSTEAD of god, replaced “ITSELF” w/the knowledge of “IT” via the Holyi Cosmic “ME{L}{CH}{IZ{E}DE{}{K} PEACE-BLESSING” & more “Good TiDINGS”!Testing Testing:”P{E}{L}E{G” [Means the “DIVIDED” Eber/ABRAHAMICs branch/splinter, Isaac, Ishamael, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esau, Jesus, includes Muhammad Folks, Mormons too etc.., as their Lineage/Anscestor (NOT OUR’s, Never! or unlike US HUEMATE-arians of that Holyi Cosmic NEBULA awared “IT”s (G-D) Naturally Selected , aka, Chosen, “JO{}K}{T}AN”ian) EBERu race!WOW! WHY WAPO???????????? WHO {Sect?, Cult?, Preacher, Editor, Moderator(s) , Mormon, Evangelousical? , rick Warren? Chuck Colson? etc..} is Behind This Blatant 1st Amendment Violation & Anti Public-Internet DEVILISH/EVIL Censorings???Wow! Please WAPO & Co., stop Jealously Blocking OUR, not your, Intellectual works about the “IT” [G-D doing work & becoming what one is becoming] And then Borrow for Ye gains or Withholding such whiteboarding hard work from its genuine Authors!?

  • INGOODFAITH

    testing “”MELCHIZEDEK” PEACE BLESSING””

  • outragex

    Most of these comments so far make me worry about the quality of WaPo’s readership…it’s depressing. Back to the article under discussion, I fear that the author of the article is falling into the fundamentalist’s habit of discounting one’s opponents and “taking no prisoners.” We centrist or liberal Christians need to avoid the mistake of winning at any cost. The quality of our arguement is important, but so is the methods we use to advance it. I have many conservative Christian friends with whom I have a lot in common and from whom I have learned much. Careful listening, and respectful debate can allow us to find common ground. One example of this is the agreement between left and right Christians that we should take steps to make abortion less necessary. For example, both sides can keep arguing, or we can come together to provide more support for pregnant women and new families. For me, the second option appears to be most productive and the most “Christian.”