I received a surprising
press release e-mail last night from Jason Gedeik, deputy press secretary of Sojourners:
I wanted to gauge your interest in the first big mobilization of the Religious Left in the Obama era - a signal of the shift in power dynamics. Sojourners is mobilizing over a thousand Christian activists and 70 religious and anti-poverty groups at a conference next week in DC to prepare a new poverty coalition for legislative battle this year. This is the Religious Left filling the hole created by the decline of the Religious Right but now we have the political power and ear of the White House - definitely a new trend and a "first" within this new political era.
What's fascinating isn't really the gathering of activists. That happens all the time. What's amazing is the repeated self-identification as "Religious Left."
For decades, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis has repeatedly argued that neither he nor Sojourners are part of the Religious Left.
"There is a Religious Left in this country, and I'm not a part of it," Wallis told me last year.
And earlier this year, he told CT's Sarah Pulliam he didn't like the terms Religious Left or Religious Right. "I would not be happy with labeling anyone just right-wing. That's simplistic and reductionist," he said. "Labels are shorthand, sloppy ways to describe someone."
He told The Seattle Times in 2004 that there should not even be a Religious Left. "People of faith should not be in any party's pockets, any candidate's pockets," he said. "The religious right was a political party, not a religious one. There should not now be a religious left."
"But isn't there the perception that you're part of the religious left?" Times reporter Janet I. Tu asked.
"The media only sees that," he said. "The media thinks everything has only two sides. People are hungry for a moral center."
The Sojourners website has several other quotes from Wallis saying things like, "The alternative to the Religious Right is not the Religious Left. It's time to transcend the old polarities of our public life."
In fact, his most popular book was subtitled, "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."
So is Gedeik off message by using the phrase? Or is Sojourners rebranding itself?
Update (9:30 a.m.): I just got off the phone with Gedeik, who said the use of the phrase is strategic.
"Part of that was to grab your attention and make you guys think," he said. "Regardless of how we want to be branded, the media likes to use phrases that are easily encapsulated. Progressive is the word Jim likes to use, but for the media progressive and Left or liberal are somewhat interchangeable."