Progressive clergy unveil new political network

Progressive clergy unveil new political network

April 30, 2004
Written by Staff Reports

Loose-knit coalition of liberal clergy to take aim at Bush administration's 'imperialist' foreign policy

Progressive clergy who marshaled opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the civil rights movement a generation ago have re-emerged to counter what they call the "partisan God" proclaimed by the Bush White House.

Organizers of the Clergy Leadership Network (CLN), a loose-knit alliance of liberal clergy, have promised to be a "coalition of conscience" in opposition to President Bush's economic and foreign policies.

"We will be a coalition of conscience... at a time when there are those who would tell us that to be patriotic means going along with anything at any time," says the Rev. Otis Moss, a Cleveland pastor and leader in the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

The fledgling network is led by a who's who of mostly mainline Protestant clerics who rose to prominence in the 1960s over Vietnam, the civil rights struggle and social justice concerns.

Among them are the Rev. William Sloane Coffi n, UCC minister and former pastor of The Riverside Church (UCC/American Baptist) in New York City; John Buehrens, former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association; retired United Methodist Bishop William Boyd Grove; civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and Jimmy Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The lone Catholic on the board of directors is an outspoken Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister. Two prominent rabbis, Arthur Hertzberg of New York and Steven Jacobs of Woodland Hills, Calif., also are involved, and the group hopes to attract support from Muslims.

The group will be required to file with both the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission in order to "influence" political races.

The CLN hopes to raise money for issue advertising similar to a political action committee but will not endorse particular candidates.

The clerics have taken aim at Bush's "imperialist" foreign policy and his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes to topple regimes the administration does not like. They also said public schools had been "abandoned" and the president's faith-based initiative had threatened religious liberty.

Leaders carefully sidestepped the question of whether they would prefer a Democrat in the Oval Office.

"We can't do endorsements," said the Rev. Albert Pennybacker, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister who chairs the new group, "but we can stand for change."

The group's estimated budget of between $300,000 and $400,000 will be "cobbled together" by gifts and grants, although donations are not tax-deductible under IRS rules. Conservative activists doubted the group's potential influence.

"It represents a generation that came of age in the 1960s and is trapped by that mind set," says Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy. "I see no evidence that these leaders have the energy or initiative to bring forward creative solutions to 21st-century problems."

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Does God care if you vote?

A new, interfaith coalition believes that voting is a matter of faith, and it's a lesson that organizers want taught in more U.S. churches.

"Faithful Democracy," launched March 30, was founded by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) and 11 other faith groups to confront "dangerously low levels" of civic participation. Bernice Powell Jackson, JWM's executive minister, represented the UCC at the project's unveiling in Washington, D.C.

As part of the coalition's effort, the UCC's Justice and Peace Action Network recently launched a new comprehensive website that includes multiple resources for UCC congregations interested in encouraging church members to vote. The site also allows for online voter registration.

"Apathy and cynicism are bad for democracy and bad for the soul," the Rev. Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches said.

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