Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

For Powerless, This Contract Is on America

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

For Powerless, This Contract Is on America

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, students and faculty related to our Peace and Justice Center at the seminary met to discuss the contract on America and what the ready acceptance of its proposals means for the state of social consciousness in America today. Faculty who had been active in civil rights and peace issues in the 1960s asked themselves how a constituency for social justice that seemed so strong in those days has seemingly eroded so totally. What had happened? Why is there so little evidence of protest from the churches.

Rabbi Robert Marx, a longtime peace and justice leader in Chicago, spoke of how important the coalition of progressive religious people was in those days, but also how they were all male and white, and so felt "very comfortable with each other." Today the ethnic pluralism of Asians, Indians, blacks, Hispanics, women as well as men, in urban justice groups makes consensus much more difficult. Rabbi Marx also told us that the contract leaders have carefully pretested all the items in the "contract" to see that they had broad acceptance. Issues, such as the criminalization of abortion and enforced prayer in the public schools, which evoked conflict, were not included.

As we discussed the developments of the past 35 years, it became evident that the current right-wing power surge did, not happen through a sudden backlash. It has been built by a persistent effort of religious, economic and political conservatives, beginning in the 1960s. At that time, liberals had a stronghold in mainline Protestant churches, which had experienced a period of growth, and their statements and actions on behalf of civil rights had ready access to the major media.

Conservatives began to organize to undermine both the political and church base for justice issues with mainline media access. The coalition of fundamentalist religion and economic and political conservatism was new, something that had not existed before. It bore fruit in the Reagan election. There has been a systematic undermining of liberal control in the mainline churches, moving church agencies out of New York to the South or Midwest and cutting the agencies that sponsored antiracist, poverty and anti-war concerns.

This attack on liberal church agencies continues today, with the United Methodist Church facing a major effort to move its social justice boards from New York and then to cut them altogether from the church structure. The Republican effort to slash government agencies concerned with education, welfare and the environment has its counterpart in a war in the churches. The media and the humanities face similar efforts to slash funding for the remaining bastions of somewhat progressive opinion.

What became evident to all of our group was the diversionary and misleading nature of the conservative political rhetoric. …

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