Pay attention to Katie Paris and FPL …

You can get to know them here … or below. I’m a big fan of Katie and FPL – and any other groups that are helping us transcend the polarizing, paralyzing rhetoric typical in recent decades of both of religious people talking/using politics and political people talking/using religion.

You can read Jacques Berlinerblau’s delightful introduction after the jump …

Secular Americans: Take Heed!
By Jacques Berlinerblau
Today’s altogether fun interview with Katie Paris, program and communication director of the group Faith in Public Life, might be subtitled: How Things Get Done in Washington, DC.
A couple of years ago, Ms. Paris and other like-minded people of faith found themselves appalled by the way religion was being used in politics. Being pious folks themselves they probably declaimed something to the effect that they were as mad as heck and weren’t going to take it anymore. And then–note this secular Americans–they went out and did something about it. Something that actually worked.
It is my opinion that FPL was instrumental in wrestling control of faith issues out of the hands of the Religious Right in the 2008 election. They achieved that goal in a variety of ways, but none more spectacular than the Compassion Forum they hosted during primary season last year.
And, oh, how un-Religious Right The Compassion Forum was. Issues other than abortion and gays were discussed. The candidates were asked questions by a robustly ecumenical assortment of religious figures. Obama and Clinton were encouraged to speak about faith not in sound-bites, but in drawn out and thoughtful paragraphs (In fact, Clinton’s near disquisition on grace that night was one of the most remarkable and under-reported moments of the campaign).
FPL was doing nothing less than offering an alternative vision of how questions of faith could be discussed in American public life. That vision eventually synergized nicely with the candidacy of Barack Obama–a politician who had an interest in helping that alternative vision come to fruition.
So secular Americans surely owe Faith in Public Life a debt of gratitude. But at the same time they need to be deeply suspicious of a group that, after all, wants to put more faith in public life!. We secularists, you see, kind of want to keep faith sequestered in private life.
Ms. Paris and I jostled on this point. We disagree pretty strongly. Yet please notice how cogently, cheerfully and calmly she makes her arguments. Click around the FPL website and see how much her group is getting done. And while Ms. Paris denies that she has a red (or blue) phone by which to contact the Obama administration, my surmise is that the administration listens carefully to the ideas of Ms. Paris and her colleagues.
What I am trying to say is that secular Americans could learn a lot by observing the rise of a group that found itself frustrated with the status quo and then had the actual skills and strategy to go out and do something about it.
Watch the interview.
Jacques Berlinerblau is associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of several books including, “Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics” (Westminster John Knox).