With nearly 10,000 members, The Christian Alliance -- a new national spiritual organization dedicated to progressive causes, such as peace, gay rights, and environmental protection -- is challenging the stances held by the religious right through grassroots activism, national debate, and by reaching out to young people.
Disgusted with the outcome of the 2004 presidential election and the debate over moral issues, an electric group of thinkers launched the organization in June, 2005. The groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s founder, Patrick Mrotek, is a businessman from Alabama who belongs to the Episcopal Church. The groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Director of Religious Affairs, the Rev. Timothy F. Simpson, is a minister for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and an editor of the Journal of Political Theology.
Because of the swelling power and control the religious right harnesses over ChristianityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meaning and interoperation in the United States, the Christian Alliance seeks to network with Christians on the left, including young people, and support progressive causes often condemned by the religious right.
The organization strives to unite and motivate progressive Christians at the grassroots level in order to influence local politics, such as school board decisions and campaigns between mayors. Ã¢â‚¬Å“YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to be organized because the country is moving towards a theocracy,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Rev. Simpson said.
The organization has found over 250 leaders among its members, who agreed to mobilize their communities. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It really shows that people are ready for the message,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Kathleen LeRoy, the groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vice president of operations.
The groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leaders will reach out to young grassroots activists by visiting campuses and networking with youth-oriented Christian organizations. Jenny Wright, 21, who now works as the groupÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website manager and researcher, met LeRoy when she spoke at a Liberal Christian Society meeting, which she started at the University of North Florida with her husband, Joel Sumner.
Wright joined the alliance for several reasons. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I became stuck in this state of mind where I realized everything I had been taught about Christianity my whole life had been wrong,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I began to learn about Christianity for myself and saw that Christ was not an unloving man, rather he was an individual who sought out the most unloved members of society and loved them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Wright did acknowledge that some of her Christian friends have disagreed with her beliefs and have given her trouble. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My conservative friends shunned my ideas and felt that continuing a friendship with me would be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunequally yolked,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Wright said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was told that I was a rebellious sinner, wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t following GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s will, and that they would pray for me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She also acknowledged that The Liberal Christian Society was started as a response to the overwhelming number of conservative Christian groups on her campus. She said that at the University of North Florida, which has about 18,000 students, there are about 20 conservative Christian groups.
Besides sparking grassroots activism, the Christian Alliance is also working to spread their message at a national level. When the organization started in June, its leaders held a press conference in Washington, D.C. and received broad media coverage, including the BBC News.
To combat the views of the religious right, the Christian Alliance formed a declaration to state that leaders of the religious right do not represent progressive Christians. The Jacksonville Declaration contains signatures of Christians who do not stand behind the rhetoric of the religious right.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We say Ã¢â‚¬ËœNoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to the ways the leaders of the religious right are using the name and language of Christianity to advance what we see as extremist political goals,Ã¢â‚¬Â the Jacksonville Declaration says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We do not support your agenda to erode the separation of church and state, to blur the vital distinction between your interpretation of Christianity and our shared democratic institutions."
The Jacksonville Declaration has drawn fire from the religious right. Dr. Edward Hindson called the Christian Alliance and liberal Christians Ã¢â‚¬Å“nothing more than a small, inconsequential fringe of loosely organized pawns of political liberalismÃ¢â‚¬Â recently in the National Liberty Journal, which is published by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
The Christian Alliance supports several issues that the religious right has condemned. For instance, the organization believes gay and lesbian people are children of God and should be treated with respect and tolerance.
The organization supports equality under the law and believes that discrimination against any person or group violates the gospel. To support their argument, the Christian Alliance quotes JesusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ teachings, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Love one another as I have loved you.Ã¢â‚¬Â (John 15:12).
The Christian Alliance also joins the peace movement in demanding an exit strategy from Iraq. Ã¢â‚¬Å“By rushing to war and having no plan for peace, our leaders used their power irresponsibly and betrayed AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trust,Ã¢â‚¬Â the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website says.
The organization also believes it is immoral to ravage and pollute the Earth. The group believes that the Earth is meant for future generations to inherit, so the organization encourages its members to be responsible stewards.
One of the most surprising causes that the group supports is a womanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right to choose. For decades, many religious leaders, especially those on the religious right, have condemned abortion.
Instead of seeking to overturn Roe V. Wade and outlaw abortion, the Christian Alliance wants to protect a womanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right too choose, while seeking methods to lower the abortion rate.
The organization believes that emergency contraception should be made more available to the public, and the group is a vocal critic of the abstinence education programs supported by the religious right.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We believe that Jesus would recognize the inherent hypocrisy in decreasing support for family planning or reducing access to contraception while simultaneously seeking to criminalize abortion,Ã¢â‚¬Â a statement on the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website says.
It has yet to be seen how powerful the Christian Alliance will grow, but the organization does give a voice to progressive Christians that have been alienated from the mainstream religious debate for decades by leaders of the religious right.
In the future, the Rev. Simpson said that he hopes the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s local chapters will flourish and grow. He also wants values like compassion and peace to be the center of the religious debate, and he believes the progressive Christian movement will be successful when those values dominate religious debates and discussions.