Within the Church, Not Against the Church

A critical battle has taken hold between progressive and conservative Christians. For decades, the far right has dominated the image of American Christianity, but as political frustration has mounted, and as the war in Iraq continues to cost lives, more and more people are speaking out as Christians whose liberal political beliefs have been shaped by the lessons of Jesus Christ.

Signs of this trend come in the form of religious veterans and military families speaking out against the war as Christians, the publication of books like Jim Wallis’ “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” and increased civil liberties and anti-war activism among churches and congregations.

The interest of moderate and liberal Christians in civil liberties and human rights issues is something that all civil libertarians should obviously embrace.

The ACLU has long fought for religious freedom, for the right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all. Our support for the separation of church, for example, is not a position against religion. The framers of the Constitution were right: religious liberty can flourish only if the government stays out of the religion business. Religious liberty needs more than that to flourish, however.

In some liberal circles, people whose beliefs are based in Christianity are reluctant to share such personal information because they fear the judgment of those who have a distaste for religion.

Some free-speech loving civil libertarians openly criticize all kinds of religious beliefs and those who embrace them, confidently assuming that everyone present shares their viewpoints (or not caring if they don’t).

Among the ACLU-NJ leadership, for example, we have deeply religious members who are Christians, Muslims and Jews. However, they typically leave out any mention of the religious foundation for their civil liberties beliefs for fear of how their fellow liberals will respond. Consequently, some people cannot feel fully comfortable in a “liberal” setting, and others do not learn from hearing about the diverse paths that lead people to a love of liberty and commitment to justice.

This tension has played a role in allowing the right to be perceived as the home of religious values and the left as anti-religion, which has only helped the right build its religious base.

Now is the time for secular civil libertarians to relinquish stereotypes of Christians and embrace their involvement in the fight for civil liberties and human rights.

It’s a win-win situation. Our cause is strengthened, our circles are inclusive and comfortable, our understanding of one another is enhanced, and progressive Christians gain more power and momentum in their effort to reclaim Christianity as a liberal, humanitarian belief system.

-By Deborah Jacobs ACLU-NJ Executive Director

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