For those who have an antipathy toward religion, 2017 provided many instances to reaffirm such a belief. For example, Pastor Franklin Raddish of Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries went far beyond his fellow clergy who endorsed Roy Moore’s candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing Alabama. Raddish staked out the truly offensive position that women in general and those who accused Moore in particular are sexual predators.
Or consider Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support for Donald Trump’s disgraceful comments praising some of the White Supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a tweet on 16 August Falwell enthused: “Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville tragedy. So proud of @realdonaldtrump.”
And then there was Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who attacked the US Supreme Court’s decision granting equal rights to gay and lesbian couples by saying, “Religious liberty simply evaporates as a fundamental right grounded in the U.S. Constitution, and recedes into the background in the wake of what is now a higher social commitment—sexual freedom.”
But accepting these voices as the norm of religious sentiments in the United States rather than as extreme outliers would be a mistake. While there are myriad examples to make my point, I want to focus on the actions of one group of clergy, members of The Clergy Letter Project. I have the honor of being the executive director of this organization, a collection of more than 15,000 clergy representing a host of religious traditions all across the United States.
This group was founded to promote a deeper understanding about the relationship between religion and science with members recognizing that scientific advances pose no threat to their religious convictions. As 2017 draws to a close, it is well worth reviewing the array of actions and positions these clergy members have taken over the past 12 months.
- In February, hundreds of congregations all around the globe celebrated the 12th Annual Evolution Weekend by raising the quality of the discussion about religion and science.
- In March, members of The Clergy Letter Project overwhelmingly voted to endorse the March for Science and
- In April, many members took to the streets marching in support of science and demonstrating the important role science plays in our society.
- Also in April, members of The Clergy Letter Project overwhelmingly voted to endorse the Peoples Climate March and again took to the streets in support of action to protect our planet from climate change.
- In July, I testified before Congress about freedom of speech and highlighted the work of The Clergy Letter Project to demonstrate how differences of opinion can be productively aired.
- In August, The Clergy Letter Project took a strong stand against racism articulating the position on both religious and scientific grounds.
- In September, The Clergy Letter Project affirmed its belief in protecting First Amendment rights, including the right to peacefully protest.
- In November, as March for Science evolved into Vote for Science, The Clergy Letter Project offered its continued support and, along with other pro-science organizations, signed on to a letter to Congress protesting the preliminary decision to tax graduate student tuition remissions.
- In December, The Clergy Letter Project again joined with other organizations to protest the directive that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff were to avoid using seven words (vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based).
What does all of this mean? I believe that there are a number of simple but critically important lessons.
First, clergy members are often some of the best friends science can have.
Second, religion and science often complement each other very nicely and can lead to the same conclusions on many issues such as those dealing with racism, civility, freedom of speech and environmentalism.
Third, the loudest, most extreme religious voices do not represent the vast majority of religious leaders, leaders who care about people, their rights and their planet.
Fourth, the positions articulated by The Clergy Letter Project this past year have been popular, so popular, in fact, that membership has grown significantly over the course of this year.
As 2017 draws to a close, The Clergy Letter Project is preparing for the 13th Annual Evolution Weekend (9-11 February 2018). The theme selected for this year’s celebration is Our Shared Humanity and the goal is to demonstrate how both religion and science show that all people are closely related and that racism makes no sense.
I invite you to join us in our efforts and to encourage any clergy members you might know to do so as well.