August 28, 2016


For Hillary Clinton and Democrats, a Public Shift Toward 'God-Talk' (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN AUG. 27, 2016, NY Times)

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has given voice to the religious principle of love -- an explicitly Christian concept that is espoused by most monotheistic faiths -- as the root of liberal policies.

"It was extraordinary during the convention to hear this discussed explicitly and implicitly," said the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and the author of a forthcoming book about the scriptural interplay of love and justice.

"Most of America views love in a very sentimental capacity," Dr. Moss said. "But the way God loves us -- agape -- is not about me liking someone or me feeling good about someone, but about God making a deep demand" on humans to seek the kind of equitable society that Dr. King termed "the beloved community."

Jennifer A. Herdt, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, made a similar observation.

"Liberals have been more comfortable talking about justice than love," she said. "What we're now seeing is the recovery of an understanding of love and justice as connected to each other, this notion of love reviving the heart of democracy. Because democracy has a heart. It's not just about your individual project. It's about coming together."

Indeed, Mr. Trump's serial disparagements of Muslims, Mexican immigrants, disabled people, African-American protesters and women -- and his campaign's popularity among white supremacists and anti-Semites -- gave the Democrats a wide berth to position themselves as the party of lovingkindness.

However expedient in this election cycle, the party's decision to use religiously inflected language reflects a shift. Of course, virtually every candidate for president has intoned the expected mantra "God bless America." The "civic religion" of Cold War America, with its evocation of a "Judeo-Christian tradition," was used by politicians of all stripes to contrast devout America from "godless Communism."

Yet the first Catholics to seek the presidency -- the Democratic candidates Alfred E. Smith, in 1928, and John F. Kennedy, in 1960 -- had to publicly promise not to take orders from the pope in order to quell bigoted attacks. On issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and aid to parochial schools, the Democrats have coalesced around separation of church and state.

The one contrary example in modern liberalism was the civil rights movement. No matter how much progressives might wish to play it down, that political effort was organized by members of the clergy, mobilized through churches and infused with religious language. In a 1962 sermon, "Levels of Love," Dr. King based the quest for civil rights in agape's command that humans should emulate God by loving others, even their enemies, however different in class, race, religion, and political belief.

In this exceptionally divisive presidential campaign, such Christian language has connected to people in other faiths -- especially those who have been on the recent receiving end of bias and hate crimes.

"The language of the civil rights movement is deeply familiar to anyone who is familiar with the Quran," said Omid Safi, the director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. "One of the most-known verses in the Quran is that God commands you to engage in love and justice. And to love your fellow human being in that way is to merge with the divine current."

Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker and activist who is Sikh, said she heard in the convention's language a version of her religion's concept of "chardi kala," meaning to serve God and humanity through "relentless love and optimism."

"We've seen a resurgence of the language of love this election season for a reason," she said. "The escalation of hate and vitriol has been so extreme and confrontational that Americans are hungry for a potent language in return."

Posted by at August 28, 2016 5:02 PM