By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Burns Strider, one of the Democratic Party's most influential faith operatives—he was faith outreach director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign—is playing a lead role in launching a progressive faith group called the American Values Network. "We believe America needs leaders who understand public service is a calling and who know they will be held accountable not only by voters but by their Creator," the group's newly launched website says. "We should not be afraid to proudly embrace the traditional and fundamental values that have guided and defined our country since its inception and helped make America a shining beacon of hope and freedom around the world."
Such language sounds as if it was plucked from the literature of conservative Christian groups like the American Family Association or Focus on the Family.
The American Values Network is organized as a 501(c)(4), meaning it can do issue-based organizing, advertising, and lobbying and that it will raise money through non-tax-deductible donations. Strider says the group is set for a "nationwide launch to bring on active members and begin engaging the public square" in coming weeks.
A key feature of the group's website is its "Guide to Scripture and Policy." "In the frantic pace of campaigns," the introduction to the guide explains, "this guide is intended to act as a quick reference on Biblical principles and to help progressives expand our Biblical vocabulary."
Sections of the guide are devoted to such subjects as "The Responsibility of the Nation and Its Government to 'the Least of These,' " "The Policy Implications of Praying, 'Thy Kingdom Come . . . ,' " and "The Sin of Helping the Rich at the Expense of the Poor." The guide draws heavily on passages from the Old and New Testaments.
A section entitled "Wealth, Materialism, and the Bible's View on an 'Ownership Society' " includes this commentary:
One would think that those who supposedly care so much for the moral and spiritual well-being of their fellow Americans would not be so eager to pass legislation with the sole purpose of enabling their friends to store up treasures in earthly places, where moth and rust destroy (Matthew 6:19). After all, was it not Christ who suggested that we give all we have to the poor so that we can have treasures in heavenly places where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:20).
If members of the religious right are so eager to legislate morality, perhaps they should start by doing all they can NOT to appeal to our base desire to increase our own wealth, because Jesus told us that we "cannot love both God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24), and as Paul said, "the love of money is the root of many kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).
The American Values Network grew out of a desire among left-leaning faith activists to "build a national organization committed to grass-roots building, networking, communicating, and activating a mainstream and authentic voice that would organize and speak out for progressive policy and issues from a faith and values perspective," Strider says. "We wanted something that would amplify and work in harmony with groups such as [progressive faith groups] Sojourners, Faith and Public Life, and Catholics in Alliance."