It's no secret that George W. Bush is one of our most vocal presidents when it comes to religion in public life. With his faith-based initiative, he champions religious groups as the key to solving the nation's persistent struggle with poverty, and he grasps every occasion - including his first environment speech last week in Sequoia National Forest - to inject a religious touch into public concerns. "Had Christ himself stood on this spot," Bush said, "he would have been in the shade of this very tree."
So it's no surprise that religious groups are responding in active voice themselves - in the "prophetic voice" tradition - seeking to bring shared moral concerns to bear on a range of public issues. It isn't always what the administration wants to hear.
From rebukes to the administration's dismissal of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, to protests over the energy policy, to warnings on the dangers of missile defense plans, religious social activism has been galvanized. Even on the tax-cut legislation, a religious coalition that supports the faith-based proposal linked its continued support to a last-minute compromise on the bill, preventing the elimination of tax credits for low-income families.
A group of 165 Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist clergy recently formed Religious Witness for the Earth to urge action on global warming, oppose drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and seek a conservation-friendly energy policy.
A new network of clergy and congregations called Religious Progressive Partnership - supported by People for the American Way and the Regas Institute - will join the debate on a host of economic and social issues.
That religious groups can be effective on big issues was demonstrated last fall when the Jubilee 2000 coalition won a victory in Congress on writing off US debt to the world's poorest countries. Some are calling for a similar effort on missile defense. In Britain, where Jubilee 2000 got its start and where there is heated debate because of the two US bases there crucial to the proposed system, Methodist and Quaker groups are spurring a campaign against the missile shield. On May 31, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, a coalition with a 30-year history on disarmament, wrote to world leaders warning of a new arms race and urging caution.
This week in Washington, the faith-based initiative comes under scrutiny in House and Senate hearings. Religious voices will lead the debate pro and con.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor