Let’s talk about work. (Since this week at the office has exploded all over me like a flaming bag of poo, I thought Work would be an appropriate subject for this go-round.) And let’s think about the work that doesn’t get done when we try to say that ‘values’ and ‘faith’ is the same thing. The two aren’t interchangeable, though they are related; this is the problem I have with the way these two terms are used in our public political discourse because I think that while Faith and Values are good in themselves they may not be the best way to create social change or solve a problem. Rather, I think the solution rests in Work.
When I say Work, I mean the difficult labor of making change. It is the process (be it small or large, on a local or national level) through which a discernible difference can be made in someone’s material circumstance. Does this mean that a person’s spiritual change can't also manifest in social change? Brian McLaren doesn't think so; he posits that Christ’s gospel is really so revolutionary, it has immediate and radical implications for both private and public life – a truth that has been tamed in our church tradition so that the Gospel resembles nothing more than nicey-nice verses telling us all to love one another.
(Full disclosure: I’m only on page 40 of McLaren’s book. Sigh. I keep putting it aside to read my new serial killer thriller.)
Let’s back up. Last week I posted about Obama’s speech on the Democrats' need to engage more people of faith in an authentic way and not to shy away from issues of faith. While I agreed faintly, I disagreed, strongly, that we should be concentrating on Faith as Electoral Strategy. Instead, I wanted us to start looking at their Work, not as an Electoral Strategy (which puts a box around progressive work), but because it’s what has to happen.
Lately, the ‘religious left’ story has popped up in all sorts of places. Here , here , and here . And, even here . Adele Stan, in the American Prospect piece, writes:
At the root of all of the great faiths are fundamental beliefs in compassion, justice, love, and charity. We have the right -- dare I say the duty? -- to express ourselves as moral agents without the imprimatur of ecclesiastical authority.
Spoken the right way, arguments for the embodiment of these values in our civic life can ring with the divine provenance granted to them by believers. And indeed, religious activists -- especially our ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams -- are vital to our movement. But to expect them alone to create a moral counterforce to the destructive fear mongering of the right is not only unrealistic, it’s an expectation rooted in abdication of our own role as moral agents.
I want to concentrate on the word ‘movement.’ It’s a political word. It’s a word that brings to mind force, power (both of the people behind it and that which it is battling), and largeness – the largeness of the idea behind the movement and the largeness of the goal of the movement. For me, it’s a much more relevant and piercing call than one to Faith and Values. Yes, I have faith in Christ and through Him all things are possible; yes, I want to evangelize an ideology (which is what ‘values’ are) of equality, tolerance and grace. But to what end and do I really believe all that?
I am reminded of a church song that says “They will know us by our love.” For me, being progressive has always been about the fundamentals of love writ large. There is grace for everyone. We care for our fellow man, our fellow worker, our fellow struggler because they matter. They are not insignificant and they are not here simply as chaff for the fiery destruction of the world – nor are they meant to be soulless fodder for a corporate war machine.
But I’m suspicious of Faith and Values language because I don’t tend to believe the person who’s using it. The conservatives use it to hide their power and the left is using it to hide our rage. So let’s use a different language. Let’s use a language that was just fading from use when I was born – the language of a revolutionary love. Let’s start getting real about identifying who has power in this society, and who doesn’t. Let’s start being real honest about whose interests are behind which policies and who’s getting screwed by those policies – and how all of that must change. Let’s start thinking about a movement that’s less ‘Can’t we all get along?’ and more James Cone (as quoted in Sharlet’s piece in The Revealer):
‘authentic love is not ‘help’ — not giving Christmas baskets — but working for political, social, and economic justice, which always means a redistribution of power. It is a kind of power which enables [the oppressed] to fight their own battles and thus keep their dignity.’ [emphasis mine]
But since redistributing power means that those with privilege – class, race, and gender privilege - must confront it and then willfully step away from it, (thus personifying the whole ‘first shall be last’ thing in the Beatitudes), I have little hope such justice will occur any time soon.
We of the left seem to have forgotten that the personal is political – and that all politics are local. Instead let's forget electoral strategies. We already know that nothing trickles down, least of all change. Let’s get mucky on the bottom, on the street, in those grassroots we theoretically love. Understanding and evangelizing the ideological behind the ordinary is how we must affect change; it is how we must create a cultural shift. It’s not trendy, clean, or easy. It’s fracking hard. It means actually penetrating the communities we want to change; it means actually educating people about and implementing real, tangible, meaningful social change while transcending shallow election tactics that are only relevant every four years. It means ORGANIZING.
I do not accept the answer ‘it’s too much work’. It’s not Work when you mean it.