In January of 2012, political and religious conservatives declared a “war on religion” largely in response to the ruling from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requiring that birth-control be supported in employee health plans, even in the case of some religious employers. Now that the Obama administration has announced a compromise that states if employers object to birth control on religious groups, provision can made for women to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies, is the ‘war on religion’ over?
No. It is clear that on the political right, this “war” is just getting started. But this time, progressive people of faith are prepared to defend our values in the public square.
The conservatives’ so-called “war on religion” is the latest version of what used to be called the “culture wars”). The reason for the heightened rhetoric in 2012 about a “war on religion” is that conservatives have realized they can’t win the election this year on the economy. By all relevant measures, the economy is improving.
Thus, we see the ramping up of “religious war” rhetoric among GOP candidates. It’s an alternative to talking about the economy. This realization explains the mini-surge recently in support for Rick Santorum, who is an expert at playing the “culture wars” card. The conservative base has been lukewarm about Mitt Romney all along; this is called the “enthusiasm” gap. So nothing closes a “gap” like a “war” and political conservatives realize this.
It worked in 2004.
But this is 2012, not 2004 and this time, there’s no longer a “God Gap.” Progressive people of faith have found their voice in the public square.
It takes two sides to make a “war,” however, and religious progressives are getting the message they had better step up to the issues and declare their own religious values, or once again they will lose the “values” struggle. Progressive faith values are under attack in this new conservative “war on religion” and we are prepared this time to protect our values and lift our voices.
First, the “war on progressive religion” is not new; it has been going on for a long time. The “front” in this war can be most clearly seen in the language of “conscience.” Religious and political conservatives refuse to even recognize that progressive people of faith have consciences. But more and more, progressive people of faith make their arguments on their political convictions in terms of their consciences.
Second, progressive people of faith are able to articulate the connection between our faith, our consciences, and our commitments to reproductive responsibility, opposition to war, especially ‘wars of choice,’ to marriage equality, to the environment, and to economic fairness and opportunity among other issues. If you are in doubt about the “surge” in progressive faith arguments on all of these issues, subscribe to the Faith in Public Life news reel, “Bold Faith Type.” Every day, the top progressive faith articles are delivered to your inbox and it is always an impressive list. Many Washington Post “On Faith” posts are part of this list. Also, see ReligionDispatches for an in-depth analysis of progressive religion and the issues of the day.
But there’s the difference between the way progressive people of faith pursue issues in the public square, and those on the far right. Creative compromise, like the recent decision by the Obama administration, that builds common ground, we regard as a good thing and something that finally will produce a “cease-fire” through negotiation. We are open to a cease-fire, though not when it means our values are demeaned and violated. Negotiated settlements have to represent the real interests of each side and be made in good faith for there to be genuine and lasting peace.
That is why I, along with many other religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, signed and just released a joint statement that celebrates the Obama administration’s decision as a “major victory for religious liberty and women’s health.”
Conscience and common ground. It’s possible for there to be peace between us over religious differences.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is an On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008). Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.