So where are the liberal Christians?

I rarely use this space to talk politics and almost never to discuss religion, but last night's GOP debate, and really everything about the Republican national party these days, has essentially made the two inseparable. I didn't watch the full debate last night because I feel the same way about those things as I do about punching myself in the face - it's pointless pain. I did, however, catch some snippets and read about it afterwards.

Make no mistake, these candidates terrify me. Primarily because the front-runners think that their personal religious beliefs should be the foundation that guides national policy for the next four years. We're not talking about their beliefs on the role of government in healthcare or in guiding economic policy, or even the role the US should play in global affairs. No, we are talking about the role they feel their religion plays in these arenas. And the worst part is these are the front-runners, so a lot of our country thinks this is a good approach.

Not too long I ran across the following, which sums up my thoughts pretty well:


In the coverage I read on last night's debate, one of the most striking statements was from Santorum, who said "You can't be a Christian and a liberal" (EDIT: I'm unclear whether this was stated by Santorum last night or just several times in the recent few years.). Now I'm no expert on religions, not at all. I have, however, read more of the Bible than I would have liked and it seems to me that that Jesus dude was pretty liberal. Something about helping the poor and giving up material goods for the benefit of the downtrodden. I realize of course, that mainstream US Catholicism likes their idea of who Jesus was much more than what the Bible says he actually did, but has it gone that far astray? Can a social ultra-conservative make such a ridiculous statement* that flies in the face the very document he holds most dear without anyone objecting?

Where is the vocal faction of liberal Christianity? Perhaps it is out there in large numbers in places I am generally blind to, but the world is seeing Santorum as the spokesperson for US Christianity right now. It's embarrassing enough to be associated to that guy via geography, but if I identified myself as a Christian as well I would be bullshit right now.

So where is the outcry? Either liberal Christians have just started tuning Santorum's frothy ravings out or we, as a country, are in far worse shape than I thought.

*Yes, yes. I realize facts are harder to find at a political debate than Waldo

34 responses so far

  • This GOP thing is scaring the hell out of me right now and completely flies in the face of the supposed separation of church and state. There would be a huge outcry if one of these candidates were of a non-Christian faith and insisted that US policy be dictated by the beliefs of Other Religion.

    Why has there not been major pushback about this bullshittery? Hopefully this will happen at next year's election and sanity will prevail. If not, we're all in serious trouble.

  • pramod says:

    Hmm. I'm a bit uncomfortable with this question because it sounds a lot like the "where are the liberal muslims?" question which is often used to push thinly-veiled islamophobia.

    I'm no expert on US politics but I doubt Santorum has a realistic chance of winning the general election. So I think the fact that these nutjobs are the frontrunners of the republican primary says more about the flaws in the primary system than it does about general support for batshit insane bible thumpers.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thinking back on my 11 years of Catholic school, I always thought Jesus sounded like a hippie.

    I am truly terrified at what may happen if a Republican candidate becomes president.

  • Heavy says:

    Amen brother.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I don't know if he repeated his no-liberal-Christian line in the debate. I saw it referenced to an interview circa 2008, I believe.

  • lylebot says:

    I know liberal Christians (and liberal Muslims for that matter), but generally what makes them liberal is that they just aren't that invested in their religion to begin with. Certainly not invested enough to speak out against people like Santorum.

    I still think the vast majority of voters are extremely turned off by Santorum-style rhetoric. Primary voters are a very small and biased sample. If Santorum gets nominated, he'll lose in a landslide. I'm actually hoping he does get nominated, because it would help shine a light on what the Republican party is.

  • anon says:

    I think in the orthodox/fundamentalist religious sense, Santorum may be right. Religions are extremely conservative - it is sinful to be gay, sinful for a woman to have sex without a motive for having children (and she is "damaged" if she does so before getting married), and certainly women have no place in any sort of leadership position (how many female catholic priests do you know?). In fact, they need to be home to make babies and to care for the babies. People like Santorum and other lunatics would like to see society revert back to 17th century ideas, and so we have an all-male panel assigned to make decisions about contraceptives for women. Chiseling away at women's rights has been a persistent annoying topic in the republican agenda - changing the definition of rape, introducing laws to restrict abortion rights, and now we have contraceptives at the table. Republicans are now using the excuse that they are only trying to protect religious freedom.

    I hope not all republicans are like this and that the religious right-wing elected officials (who could care less about what voters think) all lose their jobs in the next election cycle.

  • Lin says:

    Over here (far far away) the general idea is "OMG! Santorum. Really?! What a joke" on the one hand and "OMG! Santorum. Really?! Scary shit might happen when he get's the job" Both groups are hoping some sane person will step up, or the voters will in the end be wiser and pick some one less xenophobic.
    I don't know of there are any other options (left), I am not that into US politics, but Santorum does not seem to be the wisest choice to make... I mean, this guy will need to fly all across the world, needs to talk to all sort of leaders (some of them are female), with all sorts of religions (some of them very anti-Christian). Or will he stay in the White House keeping the curtains closed while introducing some sort of "safe" all-male all-Christian utopia while stroking the launch button of the nuclear bombs...
    The other option is that he is in fact more moderate than he looks right now, and in the end things will work out less scary than things look right now?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I don't know if he repeated his no-liberal-Christian line in the debate.

    Maybe i got my wires crossed in reading a few different articles. I also caught a reference to a 2006 speech where the same statement was made, but I'll have to poke around for that.

    Anon @ 11:50, I'm not sure I agree if you want to project that across all religions. It sounds like you are basing your statement on the Catholic/Christian umbrella of religious beliefs.

  • anon says:

    PLS - As a non-religious person, I am no expert and I am definitely generalizing, but I think it's safe to say that many religions are male-dominated. There are several, non-Christian religions in which bearing and raising children are a woman's priority. It so happens that Santorum et al believe the US to be a Christian nation, and eliminating women's rights would be an interest that would not be restricted to Christian fundamentalists alone.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Anon, I agree with your statement as it relates to the culturally dominant US religions, but others (for example, Judaism and Buddhism among others) do not necessarily have the same socially conservative agenda.

  • becca says:

    First, for the sake of clarity it's important to recognize that "Liberal Christianity" doesn't necessarily refer to "Liberals" in the political sense. Santorum's saying you can just pick and choose the parts of the Bible you like.

    At the same time, there is definitely some overlap of the two philosophies. I first saw the bit you posted about religion on Facebook. I also saw this there:

    So there definitely are individual Christians who have pointed out that some of the most political active (on the conservative side) who call themselves Christian are Doin it Rong(tm).

    That said, no one who is a recognized leader in a Church seems to be out-quoting the Elmer Gantry types. It's odd, because I'm pretty sure that for every quote you can find about homosexuality, you can find two about charity. Oh look, by the magic of Google I found a tool for checking:
    Biblical quotes about charity outnumber biblical quotes about homosexuality about 4:1. But I'm sure that's just because God thought the homosexuality stuff was obvious.

  • Cecil says:

    As a Christian i agree with the disconnect between the real Jesus and His views on money on the one hand and where American Christendom has come to on the other hand. It is a generalization, of course, but American Christianity is completely sold out to materialism at every level ... Personally i would examine the ethics and voting records of each candidate and see no reason to raise a "liberal Christian " voice against all this. I'm sure many American Christians must feel the same way. This side of the disastrous GW Bush presidency i don't see use of the religion card by any candidate getting them too far in terms of results. The Republican campaign is looking more and more like an Obama second term.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Becca, your statement "Santorum's saying you can just pick and choose the parts of the Bible you like." is mutually exclusive from your last paragraph. My point is that the ultra-conservatives are doing EXACTLY that by emphasizing one interpretation (or focusing on Old Testament wrathy God) and refusing to acknowledge that acceptance and goodwill are ALSO fundamental values of the Bible.

  • @pseudoknot says:

    Perhaps liberal Christians are more inclined to be tolerant of differences in religious opinion. Whereas a conservative fundamentalist Christian might insist on the accuracy of his or her views on a particular religious interpretation, a liberal would be less inclined to, because they are, well, liberal. So they're not in a position to be ultra-proactive about "correcting" a particular religious view, because they understand that there are many, many perspectives beneath the umbrella of Christianity.

  • MZ says:

    Great metaphor in your graphic! I would just add: "You don't need to have one to be a happy, fulfilled, and worthwhile human being."

  • Geeky Girl Engineer says:

    I am a born and raised Episcopalian. I am extremely liberal, and a good portion of my fellow Episcopalians are too. While I was raised Episcopalian, I would not have stayed in the church if it did not regard women as equals. The Episcopal church started ordaining women as priests in the 1970s. I will admit that we might have been slow with regards to equal status of homosexuals, but a good portion of Episcopalian churches will marry gay couples. In short, we're liberal, some more than others. I believe part of the reason for that is that we are taught to question the Bible and reason through it. Thus what did Jesus focus on, not what arcane rules are in the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus, which is where lots of conservatives like to troll for rules. Jesus was a hippie who treated women as equals, hung out with the "bad" people, and never once mentioned homosexuality. The same people who quote Leviticus "a man shall not lie with a man" are the same people who wear mixed fibers, don't eat Kosher, and forget about all that bird sacrificing. Are we as loud as the conservatives? No, because we are too busy leading real lives and focusing on important matters such as helping the poor, caring for God's creation, namely the Earth, and other such matters. Liberal Christians as well as liberal other religious leaders are the ones signing interfaith letters asking government leaders to keep religion out of government. I want no religion in school or government. Also the liberal religions tend to be more fragmented without the hierarchy such as the Catholics, and this we don't speak with one loud voice.

  • anon says:

    PLS - I disagree about lack of conservatism in Judaism (I have no idea about Buddhism). I don't say this to bash any religion, but their views should not be imposed on the public or be part of the political discussion (I think we agree on this). Here is one example:

  • pramod says:

    Anon, I agree with your statement as it relates to the culturally dominant US religions, but others (for example, Judaism and Buddhism among others) do not necessarily have the same socially conservative agenda.

    I'll just leave this here:

  • out getting abortions?

  • anonymous 2 says:

    President Obama is a longtime member of the UCC, perhaps the most liberal Christian denomination in the US. (Maybe a tie with the Disciples of Christ.)

    Liberal Christians aren't as loud about it because they don't think everyone should have to adhere to their religion, and they generally think that religion and politics don't mix. I think they are generally vocal about their beliefs and moral convictions in the public sphere, but they are less likely to bring up their religion as part of that.

  • yvr_fca_osl says:

    Totally off topic, for which I apologize, but I have a question this blogger and/or readership may be able to answer. If I wanted to find a technical description of the mechanism by which nudibranchs maintain internal moisture levels at equilibrium in conditions of slightly changing salinity levels, what should I read?

    Sorry to threadjack. I'm working on a (nonscience) paper and this example would be really helpful. And the deadline is uncomfortably close.

  • becca says:

    EEK! Sorry. That should have read "Santorum's saying you can't pick and choose"
    My point was, if you can't pick and choose, then charity needs to be 4X as important as homosexuality, if you are a *bible-based Christian*.
    In other words, Santorum's approach (average charity giving judging from his tax returns, exceptionally rabid opposition to homosexuality) is the "Liberal Christian" approach here.

    If we lived in a world where words have meanings, Santorum is a Liberal Christian, and a Conservative politician. Instead, he somehow gets to tell self-described Liberal Christians (who are generally liberal politically) that they aren't Christians. The mind boggles.

    @psudeoknot- yes, I think you have a point. I still don't see it as overly presumptuous/vain/excessively self-aggrandizing to tell people who have got their charity: homosexuality preaching ratio backwards that they DoinItRong(tm).

  • chall says:

    PLS> I think that the "liberal Christians" are - as many others in the media debate climate today - getting lost in the importance of being LOUD and strict. Also of course that the larger protestant religious affiliations today in the US are fairly "strict" and "non-debatable" on certain issues (gay, abortions, equality to name a few).

    If you look at the westcoast (CA, OR, WA) and up north east (ME,Vermont, NH) you'll see that there are large groups of Christians who focus on (imho) core values from the Bible and Jesus - taking care of the poor, fighting for equality for all, being humble, enviromental issues as a religious responsibility etc. However, that's not catchy in the media. That's not providing sound bites. So.... they're not in your face but rather if you look at them... And then you've got some of the Catholic universisties (esp. Jesuitrun ones) where the debate about liberalism, purpose of what we Chruistians should do and focus on etc is running very well and being open and not "judgemental to others" but rather keeping the scholastic tradition that main belief is "do you believe in God, Jesus and the holy ghost? = you're a Christian" .

    Not this other thing that these Republican front-runners talk about (Note: I am very testy when it comes to telling other people that" you're not a true Christian since you are not anti gay-abortion-birthcontrol-women shoudl stay in the kitchen-whathaveyou views from the 14th century")

    ahem. guess I could've kept it short and concise: "I'm with my friends in the Southern city we live in and we're liberal Christians." So, should I expect a tvcrew outside my workplace now? 😉 (couldn't help it)

  • chall says:

    *larger protestant religous affiliations should read "Baptist, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Mega-churches a la Osteen, Hagee, Groeschel e.g. (some denominational or 'charismatic')

    I sort of left out the Episcopalian church party since my experience of that denomination is that they are fairly liberal (women priests for example). The teachings of the Methodist and Presbyterians I've encountered seem fairly liberal as well... but that's not "data" only anecdotal ^^

  • Mordecai says:

    If you listen to APM's "Speaking of Faith," you'll hear one articulate liberal Christian after another, week upon week upon week. So they're well represented among those who've thought Christianity through.

    A naive hypothesis: the US national press corps tends to ignore liberal Christians, and excludes them from public debate, just like they do tons of other groups (white supremacists, anarchists, etc.); we're a bit weirded out by people who admit they're motivated by religion. They'd ignore conservative Christians too, but they've recently demonstrated they can affect national elections. (Precisely because they're popular with religious conservatives, who almost universally haven't thought Christianity through.) We won't engage them on religious issues, but because they've demonstrated their power, we'll let them carry religion around and pronounce from it periodically.

    The consequence is that a) we've never heard of liberal Christians; b) conservative Christians get to pretend Christianity means whatever they want it to. Worst of all possible worlds, and all for lack of a better press corps.

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  • Dr. Sneetch says:

    Liberal Christian here....

  • I'm one, too!

    I said EXACTLY the same thing last election. I lived in a very conservative region and was told several times that it was clear who all the good Christians would vote for. I told them it wasn't clear, please explain, and told them why I thought Jesus may be a Democrat given his teachings.

    I hate that I had to make that argument at all. Jesus shouldn't even be in politics. I'm pretty sure our founding fathers were pretty clear about that one.

  • a sort-of-liberal sort-of-christian says:

    chall and geeky girl engineer (among others) said it really well. I think of fairly-mainstream protestant groups in the US as falling into two "camps": Baptist/Pentecostal/"non-denominational" fundamentalist and the like on one hand, and Episcopalian/Methodist/Lutheran types on the other hand. I don't know a ton about Episcopalian and Methodist beliefs and culture, but growing up in a Lutheran (ELCA, not the super conservative Wisconsin or Missouri Synod kinds) church in Minnesota, I would definitely say my church tended liberal. no one there really gives a shit about who people have sex with, but they are pretty into social and environmental justice issues, and that kind of thing. we even had a guy who left our church because he didn't like the ELCA's (too-welcoming, for him) position on homosexuality.

    oh, and there are also the Quakers, another small but awesome group. obviously not all liberal, but most that I've met are.

    I think, as others have said, this group of Christians is just less politically involved and maybe just less of a car wreck and therefore less appealing to the media.

  • Clarissa says:

    I'm one of those ultra-progressive Christians and I have been vociferating against the religious fanatics and their vile barbarity on my blog for years. I'm pro-gay rights, pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-complete and total separation between church and state, passionately against any form of prayer in schools, and I am all those things because I am Christian.

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