Here’s another reason the evangelical left has failed to gain traction as an organized movement: discomfort with their label. Over at “Q,” Lisa Sharon Harper explains why her views don’t fit on the political continuum. She writes, “So, I reject the moniker “Christian Left.” It is a moniker drawn in hasty response to the “Religious Right” a political movement (not a theological one). I do not set the standards of my political engagement in response to some random political point on a line. No. Rather than anchoring my politics on the shifting sand of a linear continuum, I ask a higher question: “What is my axis?” What does my political engagement revolve around? Is it political ideology? Is it political party? Is it biblical theology? I choose the later.” You can read the rest of Harper’s interesting post here.
This sentiment reflects a significant direction for evangelicals. Those who are leaving the religious right are often unwilling to join the evangelical left. Many, as I describe in an excerpt of Moral Minority,are headed for political independence:
Such obstacles suggested that the bulk of evangelicals were likely headed for less partisan identification. The 15% drop in Republican identification resulted in a mere 5% rise in Democratic affiliation, but a 10% jump for independence. Political scientist John Green called these new evangelical non-rightists “freestyle evangelicals.” Michael Lindsay called them “cosmopolitan evangelicals.” . . . Bill Hybels, pastor of the megachurch Willow Creek outside of Chicago, told the New York Times that he considered politics a path to “heartache and disappointment.” He envisioned a less political (at least electorally), but no-less-socially engaged path that, according to the Times, “would warm a liberal’s heart.” “We have just pounded the drum again and again that, for churches to reach their full redemptive potential, they have to do more than hold services — they have to try to transform their communities,” Hybels said. “If there is racial injustice in your community, you have to speak to that. If there is educational injustice, you have to do something there. If the poor are being neglected by the government or being oppressed in some way, then you have to stand up for the poor.” Progressive social action outside of electoral structures stands as one of the principle legacies of the evangelical left. Its political relevance goes well beyond its marginal influence on the Democrats or Republicans. It has helped to launch engagement around a much broader array of issues—from African poverty to peacemaking to simple living—to which neither party pays much attention.