Look before you loathe

Some of you aren’t liking religion much these days. If you’d begun to feel tolerant of religio-lingo, or if you’d ever chuckled over non-sequitur evangelism (pitching Jesus in the middle of a chat about, say, sales tax), Tuesday’s election may have squelched it.

You’re not alone. A few Kerry backers looked at election results and said, “We need to better understand religious conservatives.” Many others claimed that “understanding” was pointless because they see evangelicals as undereducated, misinformed, xenophobic and intolerant.

Stereotyping and invalidating the beliefs of others is a useful tool—if you enjoy living in a hateful, divided nation. What might work toward healing an ideological chasm?

For starters, realize that religious conservatives are (often) intelligent people with many shared concerns. Get to know one or two. Have a chat over coffee. Listen. Don’t worry about sharing your own “faith,” as it were. Try to remain agenda-free.

Second, check out a church. Not one of those liberal churches where peace and justice are already preached, where a House Jesus reserves fury for rich oppressors and religious pretenders. The religious left is already on our side.

Instead, pick a packed non-denom with jazzy music that’ll get your toes tapping. Dress is casual. You’ll encounter diversity. Pastors who recycle and evangelicals who favor bans on assault weapons. Classes for recovering from homosexuality. Bible study groups who volunteer for park cleanups. Clothing and food drives for homeless shelters.

You might encounter sexism and jingoism. In an article sent to me before the election, evangelist Mike Wingfield writes: “I believe that America has been raised up by God to help lead the world in these last days against evil. … Now, in reality, we find ourselves alone with our friend Israel in the war against global Islamic terrorism. Islamic terrorism has as its goal the destruction of America and Israel and the establishment of Islamic law on a global scale that will remove Jews and Christians from the face of this earth.”

That’s a nice slam to the psyche. But don’t flinch. Think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist. If you don’t reach out, others will—others who’ll obsess over the rare mention of homosexuality in the Bible rather than, say, a couple thousand Biblical references to poverty and oppression.

(Evangelicals who happen to be reading, don’t bristle. Think of this as an opportunity.)

In a book that outlines the need for an ecumenical approach to environmentalism, Caring for Creation, Max Oelschlaeger argues that religion, with its embedded moral code, might be humankind’s last best hope for staving off eco-disaster.

Add breadth to the concept, and you’ve got fodder for revolution, my good liberal friends. Imagine the world we all want—where freedom of religion applies to everyone, where 35,000 children don’t die daily from starvation-related conditions, where terrorism can’t thrive because humans have stopped thinking in terms of Us and Them.

Hang in there.

Said Pastor John Auer at the First United Methodist in downtown Reno on Sunday, “We have the witness of history that teaches us that social and progressive change has always occurred because of the groaning, pushing and striving of a minority, never the majority, of the oppressed, never the oppressor.”

Everybody say Amen.


Now, to cheer up, read “17 Reasons Not to Slit Your Wrists” at MichaelMoore.com.

No. 4: “In spite of Bush’s win, the majority of Americans (56 percent) still think the country is headed in the wrong direction, think the war wasn’t worth fighting (51 percent), and don’t approve of the job George W. Bush is doing (52 percent). Note to foreigners: Don’t try to figure this one out. It’s an American thing, like Pop Tarts.”