I got a subscription to The Atlantic in the wake of the 2016 election to support high-quality independent journalism and all that, and though I love reading things in print, the magazines have been sitting under my coffee table until the last week or so when I decided to play catch-up. And, as inevitably happens lately when I start consuming media, the newly religious part of me heaved a long, exasperated sigh at yet another mischaracterization. And, not for the first time, I decided to reach out and write something. Is this going to be a thing forever? I think this is going to be a thing forever.
I just read Peter Beinhart’s “Breaking Faith” article in the April 2017 issue, and I wanted to comment. Beinhart seems preoccupied with voter “discontent,” so much so that he seems to ignore where the presidential candidates stood on the basic political spectrum. Republicans presented a far-right candidate in 2016, one whose rhetoric did happen to clash against the messages of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that are preached weekly from many pulpits in the U.S. Hillary Clinton was just left enough of center to get Millennial liberals like me begrudgingly on board, but Bernie Sanders’ politics represented the changes that we really wanted to see – the changes that the Democratic party has been too afraid to put forward, and that the party didn’t have to risk putting forward in 2016 when the opposition was so far to the right. We didn’t necessarily agree with his Sanders’ populist rhetoric, but we wanted his policies.
And so did liberal faith communities, like the Catholic church I recently joined. You don’t hear much about these faith communities – and certainly, positing the appeal of organized religion to “the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition” only marginalize these voices further – but they exist, and their social teachings align more with Sanders’ vision of America than with any other vision that was presented by candidates in 2016. For many in my faith community, our discontent doesn’t stem from personal economic loss, or from anxiety over the erosion of some construct of tradition. Instead, our discontent comes from the presence of income disparity, poverty, homophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, lack of access to health services, and other injustices that continue to exist in this country, injustices that are in direct contrast with our most important value: love. Sanders seemed the most committed of all the candidates to the eradication of injustice and thus to the spread of love.
Sanders is a revolutionary voice, but he’s not the only one. Pope Francis is another controversial, outspoken leader working towards equality. You’d probably find a correlation between Catholics who strongly support Pope Francis and those who strongly support Sanders. And didn’t that Jesus guy hold some pretty radical beliefs about equality, too?
I want people to know that I exist, that “liberal” and “religious” are not diametrically opposed, and in my opinion shouldn’t be opposed. That my journey to faith made me more liberal. That my faith is completely intertwined with every aspect of my life, like my work, my economic decisions, even my politics. Especially my politics.
The religious right does not have a monopoly on religion, but the use of the term “religious right” in liberal-leaning circles has essentially made “religious” a synonym for “right.” Or for “textual literalist,” or “traditionalist,” or “anti-abortion,” or “anti-gay marriage,” or a number of other things that do not describe me or my views, or the views of many of those in my faith community.
My community includes health professionals who are happy about the availability of reliable birth control in high-poverty countries, and parents who are fighting for their LGBT sons and daughters to be not only acknowledged, but expressly welcomed by church hierarchy. My priest openly speaks about how the Church needs to start including women and gave an impassioned homily about it on Mother’s Day. My husband, who has been reading Dorothy Day and getting interested in the radical-sounding Catholic Worker movement, has recently started identifying himself as a “Catholic leftist” because the term “liberal Catholic” isn’t left-leaning enough for him. This is the left, and it is the religious left. We exist.