Dan Gilgoff has canonized the battle over commongroundism in a useful piece in U.S. News. On his account, it’s religious progressives v. religious lefties, with the latter (Schultz, Laarman & Co.) portrayed as ideological hardheads. I’m not sure I’d cast it quite the same way, however.
Substantively, the commotion is mostly about abortion, with some skirmishing over gay marriage and the hiring question in the Obama version of George Bush’s faith-based initiative. The “progressives” are for the most part pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and in favor of the Bush rule letting faith-based service providers restrict their government-funded hiring to their own religious kind. The lefties are pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and opposed to faith-based hiring. But on issues like poverty and healthcare reform, there’s been no conflict to speak of, although Laarman did let loose a broadside on the economic agenda of the “faux progressives” a couple of weeks ago.
Behind the substantive disputes, what’s going on (I’m tempted to say, what’s really going on) is a struggle for turf within the Obama administration. Despite his Mainline Protestant affiliation, faith, and moral values, the president has, since the beginning of his campaign, devoted the bulk of his faith-based energies to wooing such evangelicals as have been willing to overlook his liberal social views.
The 15 announced members of the advisory council of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood include a bunch of evangelicals but nary a white mainliner, and of the remaining 10 yet to be named, the two that have leaked are both socially conservative evangelical types–author Donald Miller and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. “Who’s next, Chuck Colson?” snorted Pastordan when Dungy’s name surfaced. “My Lord, they should just come out and admit
the obvious: the Council is a colony for socially-conservative
Evangelicals established as a reward for their help in 2008. What
The balance of the council is supposed to be announced any time now, so we’ll see soon enough what the entire colony looks like. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to connect the president directly with more liberal Protestant personages. This game ain’t over yet.
Correction: I’m persuaded that it’s not accurate to describe the commongroundniks as mostly pro-life. Some are, and some aren’t. And whether some who say they are, like Jim Wallis, favor overturning Roe v. Wade and criminalizing the practice, is unclear. What they are as a group is determined to avoid taking a position, at least institutionally, beyond supporting social policies and legislative remedies that, they think, should earn the support of both sides.