Jesus Nation

Television is a great forum to pit opposites against each other
for a feisty debate. Still, when NYU journalism and religious
studies professor Jeff Sharlet got a call from a news producer
seeking recommendations for a talking head from the religious left,
he demurred. Writing for
High Plains Messenger (in a piece
reposted on
The Revealer), Sharlet argues that the
mainstream media has it all wrong in thinking they can find a
mirrored opposite of the powerful religious right. ‘[T]he
religious left — if there is one, or if there is to be one —
cannot be a person. It must be a story,’ Sharlet writes. ‘That’s
what movements are made of, a fact forgotten by the would-be
spokesmen of the religious left as well as the media that
strokes them.’

The differences between the two groups are more substantial than
opposing stances on hot-button political issues. To illustrate the
point, Sharlet reaches back to the religious left’s doctrinally
conservative roots. Take the 19th century’s ‘then-radical notion
that you could provoke the presence of the Holy Ghost by organizing
religious revivals rather than waiting around for them.’ This
revival movement insisted on organizing people and breaking down
barriers to participation, creating ripple effects seen in
abolition and the Civil War. These revivals also laid out two
cornerstones of the religious left movement — organizing and
empowering.

Today, those concepts aren’t reaching a broad audience. Part of
that has to do with the mainstream media’s portrayal of liberals as
bleeding-heart helpers of those in need — a misguided notion given
that conservatives outpace liberals in how much of their incomes
they give to churches and charities. The error doesn’t just
perpetuate a faulty stereotype. It also obfuscates the potential
power of the religious left: the ability to foster solidarity
through empowerment and organizing rather than charity. As Sharlet
writes, ‘Solidarity doesn’t mean asking for help from the powers
that be, it means organizing to become a new kind of power.’ —
Rachel Anderson

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Jesus Nation

Related Links:
Religious Left Gears Up to Face Right
Counterpart

Related Links From the Utne Archive:
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