By Larry Jones

A week before Barack Obama’s inauguration he received religious advice from a coalition which purports to include both conservative and progressive Christian leaders. However, the truth is that the signatories to the message are overwhelmingly from the religious right and hold firmly to the conservative message on the “hot button issues”. Women signatories are extremely scarce. With very few exceptions, all are opposed to reproductive rights, which include the right of abortion and to same-sex partnerships.

Evangelical big wigs have aligned with Third Way, a Washington, D.C. think tank which has been influential in forming Democratic Party policies, and with a group called Faith in Public Life, a tax-exempt organization which is seen as “left leaning” and seeks to facilitate such coalitions. In their epistle to Obama, they collectively claim to have reached compromise agreements on abortion, homosexuality, torture, and immigration reform. 

The headline of the press release reads: “Long Time Foes United to End the Culture War.” Would that it were true. But alas, it is not. In fact most truly progressive Christians have been left out of the so-called unity of the evangelical/Third Way/Faith in Public Life coalition (hereinafter the Coalition). 
By truly progressive I mean those that are not locked into backward theological notions of women’s submissiveness to men, and who also firmly believe in a woman’s right to an abortion. Further, they hold there should be full equal rights for LGBTs --- Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered persons. All of them. What two consenting adults do in the private is no one’s business but their own. 
Of course real religious progressives have many other noble concerns. These include poverty, global warming, protection of the environment, eliminating torture and holding accountable those responsible for its criminal use, humane treatment for immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking to support their families, providing practical prevention (including condoms) and scientific treatment for HIV/AIDS victims, as well as many other issues of concern to genuine progressives within the Christian community.
The group which wants to be in a position to influence the president has as its masthead on the letter to Obama and congressional leaders of both parties: “COME LET US REASON TOGETHER: A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars.” 
The agenda of this Coalition is miles away from even approaching an end to the serious disagreements in the “body politic” about “values issues” – unless, of course, their agenda is accepted. (Or shoved down peoples’ throats).. By the way, most all Americans care about values and families, not just religious people. Heretics, pagans, and atheists, too!! Fortunately, many of our highest values are not rooted in a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Here is what the Coalition arrived at regarding their key issues, which include the hot-button ones of abortion and homosexuality. They do not address a woman’s right to an abortion, but instead “agree on a goal of reducing abortion In America through policies that address the circumstances that lead to abortion.” However, the evangelicals in the Coalition have taken a step forward from their feudal past by calling for comprehensive sexuality education and family planning services.
Emphasizing reducing the number of abortions rather that calling for the right to an abortion was exactly Obama’s stand during the presidential campaign and presumably still is. This is different than wanting to make criminals out of doctors who perform abortions and women who seek them (as advocated by the Christian fascists), but it still does not address the crucial issue of a woman’s right to abort a fetus created through rape or incest or her right to abort a fetus for financial or any other reasons which she has a right to have. The Coalition’s stand is light years away from ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY, which is a just and crucial stand for all progressive minded people.
One of the main signatories on the letter to Obama is The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a Florida megachurch who claims to be an evangelical centrist and who Democratic politicians have warmed to. According to human rights author Sarah Posner blogging in The American Prospect, Hunter has “remarked that life in the womb is sacred to God” and that he favors an end to legal abortions. Her blog is entitled “Incrementalism Masquerading as Progressivism.”
On the broad issue of LGBT rights, the Coalition narrows their agreement down to a commitment to “protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people to earn a living,” and that gays and lesbians ( the Coalition explicitly excludes transgendered persons) should not be hired or fired or not promoted because of their sexual orientation, with notable exceptions for religious groups who can discriminate all they want. 
There is nothing in the Coalition’s statement about same-sex marriage or even civil unions, because such issues would keep them from agreeing on others. This says that the “Governing Agenda” is a contract on the least common denominators. According to Posner the National Association of Evangelicals, to which the evangelical signatories belong, holds that homosexuals should pray for deliverance and seek “therapy” which will turn them in heterosexuals. Such “therapy” has overall been proven to do far more harm than good, if any. 
The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in 1997 stating in part that “Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation…”    The compromising evangelicals in the Coalition don’t want to touch anything that sounds like condoning GLBT people and their loving relationships.
Another prominent clergyman who signed the document is The Rev. Sam Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, who endorsed the gay marriage ban proposition in California, yet he is not seen as stirring up the culture wars and is considered one of the more progressive evangelicals whom the Democrats like.
In order to help sell the ill stated progressive aspect of the document, at the top of the list of signatories is Rachel Laser of Third Way who is the former Health and Reproductive Rights group of the National Women’s Law Center, which has a long history of working for women to make their own reproductive choices. So there is one real progressive among the not-so-progressive and pseudo-progressive.
On other issues, the Coalition told Obama that they renounced torture as “immoral, unwise, and un-American.” No mention of holding accountable those persons in the Bush regime who authorized illegal torture such as waterboarding and many other degrading and inhuman acts. In his recent farewell comments, Bush called the horrors committed by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq “a disappointment.”
The group also called for immigration reform with policies “that create an earned path to citizenship and protect families, while securing our borders and treating American taxpayers fairly.” Paths to citizenship and preventing the separation of families (if that is what they mean by “protecting families”) are positive things. But the border issue portents real problems now that the U.S. has announced plans for a military “surge” at the border if necessary. Homeland Security claims it is to stop any spillover of the Mexican drug war violence, but nothing would stop the U.S. from also using such fire power in the hunt for undocumented immigrants.
A summary comment on this document might be to say that the unity sought among Christians can never be achieved by a group which excludes Catholics and mainline Protestants. In response to the headline “Long Time Foes United to End Culture War,” Pastor Dan Walker of St. Louis, Missouri, said: “I think a better headline would have been ‘Conservative and Moderate Evangelicals Move Slightly Left on Cultural Issues, Expect Everyone to Applaud’.”
While all the evangelicals are busy trying to influence Obama, we need to let our voices be heard with far more than a letter to politicians.


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.