by Carey Monserrate

Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

Substitute "Massachusetts" for "York" in the famed opening soliloquy of Richard III. This was to be the playful introduction to our editorial, back when the 2004 presidential election seemed to be headed in a very different direction (we still like the conceit, so we're sticking with it). Momentum had shifted the challenger's way, we were told, with early exit polls showing an appreciable lead for Kerry. Against the darkening advance of a long, cold winter, with oil prices driven up and thermostats turned down courtesy of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a new light would shine out from Washington, one opposed to the distinctly heathen doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive warfare. Across the globe, stern alarums would soon change to merry meetings.

Of course, that didn't happen.

Despite the spurious WMD claims, the botched post-invasion planning, the woefully insufficient troop strength, the grotesquerie of Abu Ghraib, the mounting death toll, the threat of a draft, the weekly kidnappings, beheadings, and bombings of a highly organized post-Baathist insurgency that the neocon strategists argued would never take shape amidst the liberated Iraqi people's overwhelming gratitude—in short, despite these overwhelming failures, this war President's narrow victory, according to conventional wisdom, hinged on the support of a single core constituency: evangelical Christians. True or not, the perception remains that yet another political event with profound consequences for America and the world has turned on the matter of religion.

Meanwhile, the wholesale appropriation of the terms "religion," "faith," and "values" by conservatives in this country continues unabated. "Christian" is now a term nearly synonymous with "conservative" in the American mind. In the wake of defeat, there has been plenty of soul-searching, hand-wringing, and ink spilling among centrists and liberals over this issue. For the time being, members of the religious right remain the perceived guardians of traditional morality and now enjoy an apparent stranglehold on the Republican party.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with the fact that many conservatives are religious and known to be so. What's wrong is that words like "moderate," "liberal" or "progressive" rarely appear alongside "Christian" or "religious" in this country. Throughout Europe, in Australia, South Africa, Cuba, Panama, and elsewhere, one finds Christian Democratic parties; here, the term would be considered an oxymoron. That faith, "moral values," and religion (any religion, it should be noted, not just Christianity) should be so shallowly conceived and so thoroughly identified with a single political party is not only a shame, it's an offense against the truth.

To be sure, CrossCurrents resides at the margins of this issue. While certainly progressive and interdisciplinary in outlook, this is primarily a journal of academic theology, not politics. The topics we address generally do not adhere to the political realm in the strict sense. But it's worth pointing out that the work of those who publish in these pages bears a relation to the election just past. The challenges of religious pluralism, the relationship of sexuality to religious identity, theological perspectives on popular culture—these and other themes familiar to our readers have consequential correlatives in the political discourse of mainstream American life.

For all their learning, many of those involved in ministry and the academy find it no less difficult than the rest of us to grapple with the role of religion in public life, to communicate across faith divides, or to apply the moral imperatives of various traditions to contemporary concerns. (A point borne out during last summer's Research Colloquium, hosted annually by CrossCurrents in New York, where inter-religious dialogue among the participants heated up on more than one occasion). That is as it should be, given the nature of the challenge.

Nevertheless, as we head into another winter of discontent, full of dreadful marches and stern alarums, the hope remains that the efforts of our contributors and the communities they represent will in some measure help to restore "religion," "faith," and "values" to their rightful place within our discourse—as terms of a collective heritage, belonging to no particular demographic. For, as the Bard lamented further on in Richard III, "Bad is the world, and all will come to nought / When such ill dealing must be seen in thought."

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2004, Vol. 54,  No 4.