Birthday Wish

This picture is my 6th birthday in 1971.  Monday April, 18, marks exactly 51 years later.  When I was six, my biggest wishes were for model cars and G.I. Joes.  The boy to my right was also named Adam the other boy was named Paul (?) and the girl Natalie or Natalia (?)…not sure why I remember these names.  They were my only friends at that time as I wasn’t in school.  I had started first grade early the previous fall while I was still five, but my parents pulled me out of public school shortly after I began, in part because of ongoing teachers struggles in the New York City school system.  Later that year, we tried me in school again.  I started at the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine where my brother was already a student, and where one of my classmates was Ben Stiller (albeit not famous yet.)  Funny how well I remember that ice-cream; I know I wished for that as well.  My wishes were much simpler then.

And yes, I am wearing a daishiki. #blackpowerchild

I think about heavier and more weighty things these days.  But considering the fact that the backstory to this picture includes teachers striking for equitable treatment, I guess it is no surprise that questions of justice are still part of my world.  Now however, I am part of helping justice emerge or stay present and not just the unwitting happy child benefiting from the hard work and advocacy of others.  Now, I hold my work to be just as important as education in that I am committed to ideas of equity in religious freedom in this country and the world.

In a democratic republic such as the United States, it is not enough to have “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” because the nature of democratic choice means that there also exists the freedom to use religion as a weapon or intentional tool of oppression.  In a truly pluralistic society, there must also be religious equity…that is, a commitment to balance, relationship, and accountability among religions.  This is how free entities of religion can remain in community with one another.  Without a tool of relationship, there is the potential for chaos, unchecked conflict, and total war.

Religious freedom alone as a definition was fine in the United States when “religion” was defined solely as coming from Abrahamic traditions as expressed and dominated by a homogenous population that maintained total power. In the 17 – 20th centuries, the primary tool of relationship maintaining religious freedom was hegemony.  The narrowness of an understanding of what religion was and how it functioned in a civil society and who had access to that understanding kept the definition of “religious freedom” contained.  In a globalized world, with the decentering of wealth based, white male hegemony and after the emergence of women’s rights to full humanity, the end of African enslavement and the recognition of Indigenous genocide, true diversity requires additional systems of accountability.

Yep, I think about heavier and more weighting things these days.

My birthday wish is that the principles of religious equity will become clearer and take hold in the United States.  And I pray that we will all benefit from an equal investment in protecting each other’s rights to living the faithful, ethical and or moral lives we choose.


Liberal Religion…Where Are You?

MIssissippi Aborton
The death of religious liberty, signed into law. (Photo: KTVZ)

Religious liberty is under attack, and liberals, progressives and even the centrist Democratic Party is nowhere to be found.  Not a single Democratic candidate has found their footing in addressing the religious based bigotry that is being put into law across the country at the urging of radically conservative Christian factions in the United States.  In the vacuum left by moderating faith voices, the shrill and draconian voice of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and numerous others in the Trump Administration has created an environment that has emboldened states to actively turn back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days and further.  The latest fetal heartbeat law, just enacted in Mississippi makes this state now nearly impossible for women seeking abortion services (there is only one clinic in the entire state.)  This law was driven by conservative religious groups just as was the “religious exemption” in the Affordable Care Act, the anti-transgender bathroom bills and the wedding cake bills.  What is more, the administration has aligned itself with global faith-based partners to limit access to a variety of reproductive health care and social protection options that make it clear that this administration is working overtime to push an agenda that is entirely shaped by a narrow religious perspective on human sexuality.

But this should be no surprise.  One look at the Republican Party Platform and the religious agenda is in plain sight.  The platform mentions the word “faith” in the context of religion 22 times in its 66 pages and includes an entire section on the first amendment and religious liberty.  This strategy has galvanized a portion of the party around a religious ideology that calls itself victim while restricting women’s rights, erasing LGBTQ people and ignoring the racial and economic realities of HIV/AIDS at the cost of yet more black and brown lives.  The Republican Party Platform should in fact be called the “Conservative Religious Party Platform.”

And Democrats are silent.

The Democratic Party Platform mentions the word “faith” once and the word “religion” four times and always in the context of civil rights.  Many applaud this absence, believing that the separation of church and state must begin in politics.  As I watch the march toward government endorsed limitation and oppression being led by rabidly conservative faith, I know that silence is the most dangerous response.  Ignoring these legislative efforts as being the actions of fringe outliers, is a mistake.  After blocking most of Obama’s court appointments, the Mitch McConnell endorsed Trump Administration has successfully stacked the national courts with young conservative justices who are aligned with the Republican platform and its faith based agenda.  They are the buffer that will keep these obscene laws in place.

I do believe that there must be a bright light between religion and government. But politics is an entirely ideological exercise and even just from a strategic standpoint, one has to recognize the power of religion in that dialogue.  Although politics should never be driven by religion, it must always answer to ethical, moral and yes, religious ideals, that are the personal level of the political game.  This is why we talk about a candidate’s family, or their like-ability or how we trust them.  The challenge for Democrats is that with such a ‘big tent’ attempting to be inclusive of such a wide swath of religious ideologies, this could appear to be an impossible task.  The result is that candidates largely avoid the topic altogether, except when trying to court orthodox communities or telling their personal stories.

The current and growing slate of Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election must recognize and address the religious war that is unfolding on the state legislative level and in communities across the country.  The candidates must put a stake in the ground around faith in the public discourse and they must be willing to take the counsel of not just traditional Judeo-Christian leaders with large and devout “flocks”.  What is more, they can’t just court Islamic leaders simply as a “show” of faith and solidarity.  The smart Democratic candidate will convene a coalition of faith leaders that also includes Unitarian Universalists (like myself), Bahá’í, Buddhist, Humanist/Atheist and other spiritual/ethical voices that have a broad reach to create a platform that defends true religious liberty by bringing in as many perspectives as possible.

Religious liberty is under attack.  If non-conservatives, religious nones and liberal faith leaders do not place themselves squarely in the dialogue about politics, religion and society, our voices will be permanently legislated out of the discourse.  WE will be the fringe. The evolution of belief, the ability to activate global reach and increasingly fluid dialogue between cultures requires that faith leaders of all stripes be ready to fight for both freedom of religion and freedom from religion when necessary.   This is the unique position on faith that a progressive candidate has the opportunity to leverage.  My fear is that without this effort, we will all be headed to a new dark ages and the tools to create enlightenment will be out of our reach, just like what has now happened in Mississippi.