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RELIGIOUS LIBERAL
It isn't an oxymoron

By Melinda Barton | RAW STORY CONTRIBUTOR

Secular liberal. Religious conservative. According to the mainstream media, these are the two sides of every major sociopolitical debate in the country. In its attempt to balance all things with a "two sides to every story" formula, the media has perpetuated a view of American life that is simplistic at best, horribly inaccurate at worst. Removed from the story are the minor but still important characters that offer third and even fourth sides to the discourse. These minor characters reflect the complexity of the great debates. For the moment, I too must ignore some of the minor characters to shed light upon another. The focus on this one forgotten voice will, I hope, make sense in the end. For now, please be patient.

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Religious liberal. Have I lost my mind or do I simply enjoy oxymorons? (Well, both are true to some extent, but that's beside the point.) In this case, neither. Religious liberals have often been an integral part of American politics. Much of the social and political progress we so revere was brought about in no small way by religious liberals. From the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, from women's suffrage to gay liberation, these living, breathing "oxymorons" have been at the vanguard of the fight for justice.

Go to any Gay Pride rally or parade and you'll find the religious denominations/ organizations that have offered invaluable support to this cause. Find a pro-choice protest and surely amidst the crowds, you'll also find religious liberals. Religious liberals have somehow become the unheard, forgotten voice in our country despite the tremendous role they've played in our history and their continuing participation in the modern struggles against the forces of oppression.

We don't hear or see them, not because they aren't there, but simply because our vision has been blurred by the easy stereotypes that surround us. The media, the great narrator of history in the making, doesn't "need" them to create a "balanced" story, so they are ignored. We, the overwhelmed and overwrought denizens of the information age, rely so much on the media's representation of the world that we ignore what we could so easily see for ourselves.

When we do notice them, we paint them as the exception that proves the rule. Or we fool ourselves into believing that they somehow separate religious belief from secular ideals, so that they can act on one at the exclusion of the other. They support liberal causes despite their religious beliefs. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. They support liberal causes because of their religious beliefs.

For the religious liberal, in general, personal morality (the mainstay of religious conservatives,) is, well, personal. Decisions about private matters are best left to those involved and those immediately involved in their lives. The public expression of faith is directed to that which is public in nature.

The religious liberal publicly expresses his or her faith through what Jews call Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. They commit charitable acts and fight for justice. They act in their public lives in accordance with private morality, but do not seek to force their concept of morality upon others. Instead, they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. They march for the common dignity of human beings, for peace or economic justice or women's rights or gay rights or the environment. They do so because their religious beliefs demand it.

In the meantime, when they're not being ignored, they're attacked from both sides. The extremists on the religious right denounce them as heathens and heretics who support "sin." The extremists on the secular left attack them for their religiosity. After all, religion is the root of all evil, the cause of all of the injustices of the world. (Listen to the discussions where liberals congregate, you're sure to hear at least one person claim that all of the wars in man's history were caused by religion.)

There simply is no way to win if you're a religious liberal. Or is there? Victory is the progress steadily made in large part due to their struggle. Victory is knowing that whatever the outcome, you're playing the game fairly and justly. Victory is being so integral to the very structure of the nation that you can be taken for granted. Victory is being a living, breathing "oxymoron" and being proud of it.

Perhaps someday, the religious liberals will have their own parade and a catch slogan to for chants and posters. We're here. We're religious and liberal. You're welcome. Perhaps we'll notice them then and finally listen to what they have to say. If so, they will once again prove integral to social and political progress if only because they'll force the media and the general public to acknowledge the complexity of the issues that face us in the modern age.

A religious liberal pride parade. We definitely need one of those. If anyone decides to organize one, I'll be there with bells on.

 



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