Liberalism rooted in faith, celebrating diversity
I am not a moron from Oxy. I am a progressive pastor.
Some say that it is impossible to be both a pastor and progressive or liberal. I have heard it said, time and again, that you can only be one or the other. Not so. I am very comfortable being both. In fact, I cannot separate the two. I am a progressive pastor.
Imagine how maligned and misjudged I felt when earlier this summer I heard my congressman, Todd Akin, say "...at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God..."
My liberal or progressive understandings - about religion, social issues and politics - are rooted in my faith. I fashion my life and my decision-making on the radical hospitality and extreme compassion of Jesus. He cared for the poor and vulnerable; welcomed strangers - even those who were intentionally alienated; consistently taught that we need to be less self-centered; raised his voice to hypocrisy and misuses of power; and spoke the truth in love. I believe that these are the things that God wants all of us to echo in our words and actions.
I do not appreciate being vilified and told, "You have a hatred for God in your heart."
More than 150 years ago, in 1858, while in his own race for Senate, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
I wholeheartedly agree. We must take the time and energy to weave ourselves together - especially when we find ourselves at odds. It is critical that we listen to one another and form partnerships that are authentic, respectful, focused on solving problems -- not creating more.
I am grateful that Mr. Akin has agreed to meet with a dozen local clergy in his district to talk through his inappropriate characterization of liberal people as God-haters. I appreciate this willingness to meet face to face, without media present, that we might focus first on the fact that we have much more in common than might be initially apparent. I believe that we all want the same things. We just see the means to those ends differently. We should celebrate diversity of thought and expression, not demonize those who come to conclusions other than the ones we do.
I consider myself blessed to be serving a congregation that is inclusive and eager to listen to those within our walls and those from other sacred places.
A St. Louis rabbi is at our church for two weekends this month facilitating our adult education class, which meets concurrently during our two Sunday morning worship services. Last week's theme was reproductive issues and next week she will focus on capital punishment from Jewish and Christian perspectives. We are not all of one mind on these topics. Yet we are committed to serious reflection and conversation because we are all in this together and we all seek shalom.
Unfortunately, in the world today we often find ourselves in a climate of dissension and even disdain for the other. This does not have to be a Harry Potter and Voldemort scenario where we feel the need to eradicate the other so we can gain complete power and control ... but it is a time to talk openly and honestly, not being caustic or bombastic. We are called to be one family.
While we may be far apart on what we feel needs to happen around health care, the deficit, armed conflict, reproductive rights, equality, Social Security, education, same-gender marriage and more, we need to stay close to one another.
I am confident that people labeled conservative and liberal share many of the same core values. The question, then, is not about how much we differ and what we should call one another, but about how we can move calmly into potentially difficult conversations rather than being stuck on the things that separate us.
I am delighted and encouraged to be part of the group of interfaith clergy who have been meeting, emailing, planning ahead so that when we do sit down with Mr. Akin, we choose our words wisely and faithfully. We do not want to offend, ostracize or disregard. We know what that can feel like. We do not want to draw more lines in the sand but want to draw the circle wide.
I pray that people in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, civic and religious communities will be more willing to embrace this idea of healthy communication and partnership.
I am not a moron from Oxy. I am a progressive pastor. I exist and there are many other clergy and even more laypeople just like me. We are people of faith and constituents of Missouri's 2nd congressional district. Our voice matters. We want to be heard, even as we want to listen to other voices.
Kevin Cameron is senior pastor of Parkway United Church of Christ. To reach Voices authors, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.