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A Resurrection of Progressive Religious Voices

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, as a guest of Tom Krattenmaker, frequent contributor to USA Today and Associate Vice President at Lewis & Clark. (Tom, by the way, has a great piece up today at USA Today on recent books that give a new perspective on Jesus and the church by New Testament scholars Bart Ehrman and Marcus Borg and church historian Diana Butler Bass). After the event, I talked at length with George Rede, Sunday opinion editor at the Oregonian, who focused his Easter Sunday column on my recent book, Progressive & Religious. In the piece, entitled “Religious progressives find new acceptance”, Rede talks about the resurrection of progressive religious voices in American public life.

Religious Progressives find new acceptance

by George Rede

Judging from recent headlines, you might think conservatives have a lock on religion. Whether the topic is same-sex marriage, stem cell research or President Barack Obama’s invitation to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement, the same sources from the religious right get top billing.

What’s going on? Robert P. Jones, a professor and ordained minister, has an idea.

Last month at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, Jones talked about his new book, “Progressive & Religious: How Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist Leaders Are Moving Beyond the Culture Wars and Transforming American Public Life” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

In the book, Jones cuts through the assumption that religion in America — and religious politics — are the domain of the religious right. (Think Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority; Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition; James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Recall their efforts to legislate morality on issues of abortion, sex education and gay rights.)

In reporting these hot-button issues, Jones found, the mainstream media fell into the trap of presenting a distorted picture, virtually defining religion and the public square in conservative terms. Jones’ research shows that for every progressive voice cited in the news media, three conservative religious voices were quoted.

That doesn’t match reality. After all, 14 percent of Americans define themselves as religious progressives versus 15 percent who self-identify as religious conservatives, according to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey.

Jones spent three years crisscrossing the country doing 96 interviews with progressive religious leaders representing Christianity (both mainline and evangelical Protestant), Judaism (Reform) and Islam. From those interviews, several themes emerged: an emphasis on social justice, a fundamental belief in humanity, a vision for America as a more generous country, an active role in community organizing — plus a conviction that “truth” isn’t the exclusive realm of religious conservatives…

Continue reading the full article from The Oregonian here.

You can also read a longer piece on Progressive & Religious by George Rede, Sunday Opinion Editor for the Oregonian, here.