Do you attend “Middle Church?”

Are you part of the religious center? Not on the right, but not necessarily a lefty.

Then Bob Edgar wants you to speak out and reclaim the “values” debate from Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwall, Focus on Family, and the rest of the Religious Right crowd.

And buy his book.

I talked to Edgar yesterday. He is general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which represents 36 mostly Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations and is generally regarded as the old warhorse of the ecumenical movement. He’s a former congressman, a former seminary president and a well-known liberal.

He’s speaking tomorrow (Wednesday the 27th) at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 210 Orchard Ridge Road in Chappaqua.

Edgar’s book is called “Middle Church.” In it, he contends that countless religious and political moderates represent a national Middle Church (and a Middle Synagogue and even a Middle Mosque). But these independent-thinking moderates stay quiet and leave the public square to ultra-conservative evangelical Christians, who then convince the gullible media that America cares only about abortion, homsexuality, stem cells and Terri Schiavo.

“The group in the middle tends to be genetically nice, but exquisitely silent on justice issues,” Edgar told me.

He argues that the exquisitely silent really do care about saving the environment, fighting poverty and curtailing the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that these are “liberal” issues, he told me, when they are actually mainstream.

I don’t think anybody doubts that there is a silent political and cultural middle. But a lot of people are silent because they want to be. And moderates are going to have a hard time speaking with anything like a unified voice.

“You don’t need all of the middle to be courageous,” Edgar said, “but you need some of them to step back and say, ‘Regardless of my position on abortion or homosexuality, I care about the poor and stewardship of the planet and I care about peacemaking.’ ”

Edgar is the latest voice in a small, but growing movement of liberal-to-moderate Christians who are trying to stand up to the loud, organized and effective Religious Right (I hesitate to use the term, but you know what it means). Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners, has been the most public. John Danforth, an Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri, argues in his new book, “Faith and Politics: How the ‘Moral Values’ Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together,” that the Religious Right has taken over his Republican Party.

I wonder if Edgar is too well known for his liberal views to make inroads with moderates who hold some real conservative positions. His talk tomorrow is sponsored by the New Castle Democratic Committee. Edgar describes himself as being on “the right wing of the left.”

Edgar ends his book with seven “new beatitudes.” Here they are:
1. Blessed are the Faithful Risk Takers
2. Blessed is the Courageous Remnant (meaning those in the minority)
3. Blessed Are Those Who Love the Stranger
4. Blessed Are Those Who Read the Whole Bible
5. Blessed Are the Faithful Voters
6. Blessed Are Those Who Challenge Us to Work for Justice
7. Blessed Are Those with a Sense of Humor and a Sense of Hope

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.