Born-Again American: A Christian-Tinged Campaign From Norman Lear, a Religious-Right Foe

Norman Lear's latest project uses evangelical language to promote civic engagement.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The music video for Born Again American, TV producer and liberal activist Norman Lear's new campaign to promote service and volunteerism, might surprise you. The video, which features a new song that's also called "Born Again American," appropriates blatantly evangelical language: "I'm a Born Again American, conceived in Liberty/My Bible and the Bill of Rights, my creed's equality." How ironic, given that Lear has been battling the religious right—the evangelical right, really—for nearly three decades. Lear founded People for the American Way shortly after the Moral Majority had opened its doors.

Has Lear jumped on the bandwagon of progressives who've "gotten religion" in recent years?

Not exactly. I found a Washington Post article describing People for the American Way's 1980 founding, and it turns out that Lear has long used religion to battle the religious right:

Two organizations, one made up entirely of mainline religious leaders and the other with them predominating, have sprung up in recent weeks to fight the evangelists of the Christian right.

One group, People for the American Way, will be launched formally today by a coalition that includes television producer Norman Lear, former senator Harold Hughes (D-Iowa), the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee and Dr. William Howard and Dr. William P. Thompson, the current and past presidents of the National Council of Churches.

Their plans call for distributing five 60-second TV spots, already produced by Lear, dealing with the Christian right. "We are trying to communicate to the American people that the Christian community understands that people must make up their own minds" about political issues, explained Thompson, who is the chief executive officer of the United Presbyterian Church.

"The church has the right to express its views," Thompson continued, "but it does not have the right to tell people how to vote."

A helpful reminder that liberals have been fighting religious conservatives with religion—and not just arguments for church/state separation—since way before the religious left's post-2004 revival.