"In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians." – Nicholas Kristof, NY Times
The preceding quotation landed in my inbox today courtesy of a progressive religious activism group I follow. While most members would likely describe themselves as “liberal”, “progressive”, “populist”, even some “compassionate conservatives” (think Christian Democrats of Europe, not the current president), there are strong egalitarian undercurrents in this non-profit, general activist organization. As a religious person myself (raised Christian, still essentially Christian, though Unitarian Universalist, open, inclusive, questioning of all things, and still searching as well), my religious morals drive my convictions. After turning away from the church of my youth and being fairly non-religious for a few years, I found myself going through a re-awakening of sorts in the past year. This re-awakening led to the Unitarian church, led me to follow Sojourners, and, most important to this article, led me to involve myself with the national and international political participation through DSA.
Before I go on, I must mention that the work Sojourners does is nothing like the work of certain other churches. Aid is not dependent on belief, just need. To tie it to moral and political conditions would not only be reprehensible, but would also go against the teachings the organization is built on. I do not agree with or condone any organization, from the first Catholic explorers to the present-day missionaries from the conservative American churches, that conditionally gives aid. In any event, Sojourners is not an aid organization, they are an advocacy group fighting for things like fair trade, debt relief, living wages, and hunger reduction worldwide.
So what does the quote have to do with us? Well, here in America, and worldwide, we all see the need for a new social and political movement based on timeless ideals. It will have to be built on sustainability, which will require equitable distribution of income, fair trade rules, and the meeting of the basic needs of all. Who will participate in such a movement? Who will lead it? It will, as you well know, take crazy people such as ourselves. We are like the Doctors Without Borders (Activists Without Borders?). We won’t be restricted to party lines, simply waiting on the Democratic (or Green, or whatever) Party to come to a point where the prime issues are our issues. It might be pragmatic to work with a party for short-term gains, but inevitably people with a far-reaching vision such as ours must leave any big tents for broader pastures.
Like those doctors, we have natural allies in the “crazy Christian”, as well as other “crazy” religious groups. To live a faith, be it a belief simply in humanity or God or a written law, is to be devoted to seeing your beliefs through, be they personal or public values. So many of the world’s faiths have strong commitments to many of our similar values, and they make key allies in the struggles which must be won: the struggles against poverty, inequality, hunger, disease, and other negative affects which a callous world economy has left with people worldwide. Some of the most well-known and successful socialist movements all over the world have been headed by religious socialists, from Oscar Romero in Latin America, to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement in the United States, to the Christian Socialists who became major parts of the
Labor and Socialist parties of Europe, socialism and faith have won major victories.
Whether you are simply religious, simply socialist, or an amalgam of both (as well as many other moral and political persuasions), you have allies all over the world and in your backyard you’ve only begun to meet. To see our plans through, we will have to build a new big tent: people of all types who are committed to global justice. Socialists have always been at the fore-front by their very nature, as have religious people, both socialist and otherwise. I know more orthodox Marxists might squirm at the mention of alliances with people of faith, but more than likely you’ve already allied with them. Besides, Jesus came not just to make peace, but to deliver the sword and, to the followers of liberation theology, liberate humanity from evil. With secular socialists, religious persons, and religious socialists working side-by-side, who will stand against us? Our cause, after all, is all of humanity.