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Defining Common Ground II

From today's Washington Post:

"The Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical Christian and a leader of the religious right. Rabbi David Saperstein is a Reform Jew and a leader of the religious left. Both head political advocacy groups in Washington, and they have battled for years over abortion, gay rights, stem cell research and school prayer.

This summer, each intends to preach a bit of the other's usual message.

Schenck said he plans to tell young evangelicals at a Christian music festival on July 1 that homosexuality is not a choice but a "predisposition," something "deeply rooted" in many people. "That may not sound shocking to you, but it will be shocking to my audience," he said.

Saperstein said he is circulating a paper urging political moderates and liberals to "demonstrate their commitment to reduce abortions" by starting a campaign to reduce the number by half within two years.

Schenck and Saperstein disclosed their plans in separate interviews. They are not working together. The minister remains a die-hard opponent of same-sex marriage; the rabbi staunchly supports a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion. But both are trying to find common ground between liberals and conservatives on moral issues -- and they are not alone.

After a year in which religion played a polarizing role in U.S. politics, many religious leaders are eager to demonstrate that faith can be a uniter, not just a divider. The buzzwords today in pulpits and seminaries are crossover, convergence, common cause and shared values.

Last week in Washington, representatives of more than 40 U.S. denominations took part in the Convocation on Hunger at the National Cathedral, where they sang a Tanzanian hymn while the choir director shook a gourd full of seeds and children laid breads from around the world on the altar.

It may have been mistaken for a hippie ceremony were it not for the sight of clergy from the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God and other evangelical churches praying alongside Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, mainline Protestants and Jews.

The show of solidarity was partly a reaction against "the recent manipulation of religion in ways that are divisive and partisan," said David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister and president of Bread for the World, a nonprofit group that helped organize the service.

"Because religion has been dragged into political life in some ways, this is the religious leadership of the nation saying, 'No, let us show you what religion in the public square should really be about,' " he said.

The Rev. Don Argue, a past president of the NAE, is an informal adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation aimed at reducing the demand for abortions without restricting their availability. Jim Wallis, a left-leaning evangelical whose bestselling book "God's Politics" is a plea for liberals and conservatives to identify common causes, has worked with the staff of Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record) (R-Pa.), as well as with Democrats on antipoverty proposals.

Saperstein, who heads the Religious Action Center, the Washington advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Judaism, said he believes the search for common ground is "both strategic and substantive."

"I think it's genuine and real, this engagement of liberals in trying to cut the number of abortions in this country," he said. "And I think conservatives are sincere when they say, 'I may be against gay marriage, but the demonization of gays and lesbians is deeply troubling to me,' or when they say, 'You can't look at the Bible without seeing the call to care for the poor.'"
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