“How can the nation expect that the Republicans will solve the problem of the president not being able to drive the nation’s bus properly when they’re the ones who punctured the tires?” The voice coming from the stereo on the back of Reverend Ray Dubuque’s van lilts and breaks on “tires”—it sounds wise; a little paternal. Dubuque drives in circles, down College Street, right on Chapel, up High, and back around again. “That’s my voice you’re hearing,” he says. “I just recorded it this morning and burned it onto a CD. I’d use a mic, but I’m not sure how to rig it up in here.”
So here he is, this friendly, red-sweatered man in his mid-seventies, driving the car that I’ve been trying to track down for weeks. You’ve probably seen him—his tan sedan and trailer are now part of the afternoon landscape of downtown New Haven, looping around the Yale campus on clear weekday afternoons, blaring Frank Sinatra and slow jams, plastered in slogans for websites called “LiberalsLikeChrist” and “Great-Liberal-Insights.” In the past, Dubuque was a Catholic priest, then a Methodist minister; now, he is retired. He has run these websites since the late 1990s. The ones advertised on the van are the main sites, but a bit of clicking on large, grainy gray buttons will lead you to over 400 html pages—“JesusWouldBeFurious,” “theGodlessConservativeParty,” “ColumbusNoHero,” “MorePartisanshipPlease,” and “CatholicArrogance, ” to name a few. Some of the pages are meticulously researched exposés on conservative corruption, some are detailed analyses of scripture, and some are plain rants. Full of blinking buttons and big, blue hyperlinks, with most of the text resting on a background motif of computer-generated linen, they seem to be a relic of the Web’s frontier days in the late nineties, bold but unsophisticated. Dubuque says all his pages serve a common goal: “I want liberals in America to wake up. Seventy percent of Americans identify as Christians. Instead of treating them as rivals, we should aggressively persuade them to support the party that supports the ideas of Jesus Christ”—by which he means, of course, the Democrats.
Dubuque pulls over onto Hillhouse Avenue and waits for an opportunity to turn around. Some students walk by as we wait for a green light. They look at the car for a few seconds, a little amused, then keep moving.
“Anyway,” Dubuque continues, following them with his eyes, “I’ve been wanting to advertise for years. I watch television all the time—MSNBC, and sometimes I go over to Fox to see what they’re up to—and I see that they’re spending millions of dollars on commercials. I don’t have that kind of money. So I bought this caravan this summer and hitched it to my car.”
I ask him why he wants to get the word out. Is there a Liberals Like Christ community? He tells me he has a Yahoo group moderated by one of his friends. It has just over five hundred members, and averages a few hundred posts per month. The forums are used for discussion, but Dubuque never tries to organize in-person events. “Organizing liberals is like herding cats,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of chiefs, but no Indians.”
But never mind the organizing—Dubuque has a lot to say. The sun is setting as we round Chapel Street again, and the pink horizon illuminates one side of his face through the windshield. For a second he has the stoic and collected look of a world-weary visionary. “You’re probably wondering what my definition of ‘liberal’ is,” he says slowly. “Now, by my definition, Stalin and Lenin were conservatives. Conservatives aren’t about conserving the past—that’s a huge mistake. They’re about conserving power for themselves. Us liberals, we’re about distributing wealth and power. We’re about equality.”
As he rattles off the hot-button issues, he says his websites give Christian liberals fodder for argument. On taxing the rich, according to Dubuque’s page “ChristvsChurch,” Jesus is pretty clear: “Anyone who wishes to be first in the kingdom of god should make himself the last and the servant of the rest” (Matthew 20:26-28). Jesus doesn’t even mention homosexuality, or abortion, says Dubuque. “Of course, people on the Christian right will say, ‘But the Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill!’” Dubuque laughs a little. “And what’s that supposed to mean? The Bible doesn’t say thou shalt not kill a fetus anymore than it says thou shalt not kill a mosquito.”
I ask him if he’s trying to use the sites to convert conservative Christians. “Those who really are conservative have a lot to lose. I don’t expect to convert the Koch brothers. But the other ninety-nine percent, the non-wealthy conservative Christians, are just being lied to. If they really believe in the teachings of Jesus, hopefully I can convince them.” I ask him if he’s ever had any meaningful discourse with members of the Christian right. “Not really,” he admits. But he doesn’t attribute their lack of dialogue to mutual stubbornness. “There’s not a lot of intelligence in that group.”
www.liberalslikechrist.org/about/morepartisanshipplease.html: Why is just about everyone who talks about “partisanship” these days buying into the idea that there’s something wrong with it? It’s the American way, for God’s sake! It’s just another word for “competition”!
If Dubuque makes a point of exposing conservative Christian hypocrisy, he’s taken care to live his own life according to the morals he espouses. He was raised Catholic; in fact, he says, his mother was a nun. (When I ask how that was possible, he’s not sure. “Boys don’t ask questions like girls do. Maybe she wasn’t a nun, maybe she just went to convent school. I wasn’t curious about things like that”).
He became a Catholic priest in the early sixties, and worked in churches around New England and upstate New York. In 1967, upset with the corruption of the higher-level clergy, he abandoned Catholicism and joined the ministry of the United Methodist Church. He got married soon after to a woman who already had five children from another marriage. The couple subsequently adopted five children with disabilities in the seventies and eighties. Dubuque retired from the ministry in the early seventies when his wife started having health issues. He worked in IT for the next twenty years. Most of his kids have grown up and moved out by now, but one son lives permanently with them in New Haven. Sometimes Dubuque takes him along in the car.
And what, exactly, to do with the car—Dubuque is still figuring that out. For now, it’s an experiment in publicity. He drives smoothly, and his large glasses reflect the empty road. “It’s hard to engage anyone from the truck,” he says. “Sometimes I get a thumbs up, or a finger.” Someone keyed his car last week, but that’s the worst vandalism he’s seen. New Haven’s a pretty liberal place, but not without its conservative dissidents. A few years ago, Dubuque had an anti-Bush sign in the back windshield of his Mercedes. One day someone scrawled on the glass, “If you don’t like America, why don’t you move to GERMANY?” But Dubuque’s more amused by these responses than outraged. “Dubuque treats people extremely courteously,” says Harold Helm, the moderator of Dubuque’s chat room, a retired minister and MENSA member who lives in Houston. “Even when they treat him terribly.”
http://catholicarrogance.org/about/Bushfamily.html: George Bush visited Auschwitz, where his grandfather Prescott became very wealthy off the labor of slaves. Mr. President, the dead want to know: WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR BALLS?
Dubuque doesn’t see Yale students as his target population, but instead as a way to get the word out, and eventually, start organizing for the cause. Maybe some of the students at Yale will start a Liberals Like Christ club, he hopes. It’s Helm’s vision, too: “You could do it! All it takes for this to balloon into a bigger movement is good management and a lot of money. You could manage, say forty million dollars for the cause. Seriously. That’s not very much money in the venture capital world. Or the Yale world!”
It’s hard to nail down Dubuque’s vision. He’s a measured man in person—thoughtful and considerate—but people are different on the internet. Online, he’s a bold, blue, hyperlink firebrand, and it’s hard to see how committed members of the Christian right would want to read accusations of their own depravity, or even think to Google “Jesus Liberal.” Internet rants are a long way from political organization, and the people who walk the streets around Yale University are a long way from the seventy percent of Americans who identify as Christians.
Dubuque lets me out in front of the School of Management. I can still hear the music wafting from the car as he drives off. It’s a quiet cycle, how good people get obsessed with others’ hypocrisy, how good thinkers leave the exposed pulpit and get comfortable in radicalized isolation, how good ideas of truth and reform blaze vividly on the internet but burn out slowly in an old sedan. Then again, Dubuque is top of the list on a relatively simple Google search. He’ll be out with the car in the spring. Throw him athumbs up, or a middle finger. Or tap on his window, if you’re curious.