American patriotism and the evangelical left

Progressive evangelicals have ambivalent feelings about the fourth of July. On one hand, they appreciate the prosperity and freedoms of the nation. On the other hand, they realize the dangers of prosperity and the historic role of the United States in perpetuating inequalities toward people within and outside its borders. I discuss this more fully in Moral Minority’s chapter on Senator Mark Hatfield. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Hatfield’s resonance with the New Left, disgust with the Vietnam War, and distaste for civil religion, however, did not mean that he went all the way with his most radical evangelical comrades. Unlike the Post-Americans, Hatfield never corrupted patriotic phrases—such as “Amerika” or “the American Way of Death”—to express contempt toward the nation. He still saw redemptive potential in the nation and sought to engage American political culture constructively. This impulse, even as he criticized the nation, made Hatfield significant and representative of growing evangelical trends. He sought to repair the nation, to invest it with spiritual resources. He worked his way up state and national political structures, seeking justice from within a corrupt system. Like the religious right that would follow, Hatfield balanced revulsion toward a fallen nation and a compulsion to reshape it.

For a sample of contemporary progressive thoughts on patriotism, check out some of these links:

Progressive evangelical spirituality

I just learned of Jan Johnson, a writer, speaker, and spiritual director. Jan is a good example of a progressive evangelical who takes both social justice and spirituality seriously. She has connections with Fuller Seminary, Azusa Pacific University, World Vision, and other places where moderate and progressive evangelicals hang out. Here’s how she describes her passions:

Spiritual formation: The key to getting rid of stubborn habits and ingrained character flaws – the tendency to criticize, complain and procrastinate — is to build an interactive life with God. Instead of trying to be good, we connect with God in order to let God transform us into Christlikeness. As we do the connecting with God, God does the perfecting in us.

Partnering with God in caring for the voiceless: We can learn to offer cups of cold water to the thirsty, to whisper words of life to the unreached, to love all peoples the way God does, to set aside the pull of materialism and spend our resources on worthwhile purposes. Such a life flows from cherishing the compassionate lifestyle of Jesus and arranging our lives to love this world that God so loves.

Living with Purposeful Intentionality: Life today is characterized by too much activity with too little meaning, on glitz instead of substance.  Focusing on how God is calling me to let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God prods me to partner with God in efforts that reconcile people to God, to others and even to themselves. This kind of life is exciting – interacting with God throughout all of life and hear God compel us, comfort us and nudge us along.

To hear her articulate her vision of spirituality, check out this youtube clip:

Toward an Evangelical Peace Movement

Mark down September 14 on your calendar. Evangelical leaders are meeting at Georgetown University for a summit called Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century. They will seek the following:

• To build and birth a network of evangelical scholars and activists committed to the pursuit of a Biblical, comprehensive, and proactive peace

• To reduce violence, work toward human flourishing, and prevent war

• To mobilize and educate a new generation of evangelicals committed to the pursuit of peace

• To convene a gathering of non-profit and pastoral leaders who are actively working for peace with justice throughout the world

• To give a special focus on peace as it relates to U.S. foreign policy

Read more here.

Pushback on “consistent life” platform

The book cover pictures a sign applying the pro-life position to nuclear proliferation.

One of the promising campaigns by progressive evangelicals came in the 1980s with its “consistent life” platform. Here’s a short introduction from Chapter 12 of Moral Minority.

As evangelical activism in Nicaragua faltered, progressive evangelicals sought to bring coherence to a fragmenting movement by appealing to a “consistent pro-life ethic.” They linked opposition to U.S. imperialism in Central America to a much larger agenda that also opposed patriarchy, capital punishment, pornography, assisted suicide, nuclear proliferation, poverty, and abortion. The Other Side magazine, for instance, mourned the double tragedy of the Pentagon’s importing of “45,000 human fetuses from South Korea for testing the effects of the neutron bomb on fresh human tissue.” Sojourners likewise grieved that “life has become cheap at the Pentagon and in abortion clinics, at the headquarters of large corporations and in pornographic movie houses, at missile silos and genetic research laboratories, in the ghetto and in homes where families are breaking up.” In its unconventional linking of issues from both left and right based upon an overarching concern for “life,” progressive groups such as ESA and Sojourners sought to reconcile its competing identities and shifting constituencies.

Many staunch pro-life abortion activists have been underwhelmed by this effort. They don’t see capital punishment, poverty, and pornography as moral equivalents to abortion. This internecine battle, as you might imagine, continues. Here’s the most recent volley by an antiabortion activist in a post entitled “‘Whole Life’ Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Authentically Pro-Life”:

Oh, I’m aware of the Evangelical Environmental Network. In fact, I’m very aware of the (generally progressive) argument that you’re not “pro-life” unless you’re “whole-life” — by protecting the environment, easing poverty, supporting education, etc. etc.  But I’m not “pro-life” when I use a low-flow toilet or drive a Prius.  Mr. Metzger’s linked example of pro-life environmentalism is particularly egregious.  The EEN’s commercials were in support of restrictions on coal-fired power plants that were not killing children, and those restrictions wouldn’t have any substantial effect on the very mercury levels they hoped to limit.  That’s pro-life?

The sad reality of the whole-life argument is it’s primarily a weapon of, yes, partisan warfare — a way to shame pro-life activists into silence or a method of diverting their attention from the atrocity of abortion.  It eases a troubled conscience.

Evangelicals & Catholics Link Pro-Life Stance to Creation Care

This story in the Huffington Post on a “Joint Declaration on Life” is fascinating on many levels. First, it’s another attempt at the “consistent life ethic” that the evangelical left pursued in the 1980s. In this case, religious activists are linking abortion and environmental degradation. Signatories of the “Joint Declaration on Life” speak of creation care and respect for unborn life. Second, it’s a continuation of one of the most important trajectories of the 20th century: ecumenical activity between evangelicals and Catholics. This began on all points of the political spectrum in the late 1970s with the Moral Majority, Sojourners, and Evangelicals for Social Action.

Supporters of this Declaration include many names found in Moral Minority. They include Shane Claiborne, Wheaton Professor Jeffrey Greenburg, Joel Hunter, David Gushee, Ronald Sider, and Southern Baptist author and spokesman Jonathan Merritt. To see other signatories–or to sign it yourself–click here.

Will this gain traction? Or will it be victimized yet again by an electoral system that doesn’t allow for the evangelical left’s platform of idiosyncratic planks?

Here’s an excerpt:

So that together we may all choose well—and encourage others to do so—we urge understanding and the building of bonds between those who, in their own way and through their own calling by God, seek to champion and defend the great, glorious, and mysterious gift of life—human life, born and unborn, and life throughout all creation, here and now, and for the ages and generations to come, until the end of time.

Snarking Wild Goose

As you can imagine, politically conservative evangelicals often see the evangelical left as a threat. So it’s no surprise to see the arts and faith festival, Wild Goose, come under attack. Leading the charge, as he usually does, is Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Every month or two, he writes up an articulate denunciation of Jim Wallis or Maryknoll or Ron Sider or anyone pronouncing themselves both religiously orthodox and politically progressive. Wild Goose, which began today in the hills of North Carolina, has lots of them, including Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Mike and Julie Clawson, Brian McLaren, and Jay Bakker.

Here are some of the juicy quotes (taken from this Christian Post article):

  • Mark Tooley: “Most Religious Left groups that advocated leftist policies in past generations are now in severe decline, and their activists are now targeting evangelical youth.”
  • Ken Silva: “The wise Christian will have nothing to do with these neo-Gnostic fools who’ve unbuckled themselves from the Word of God and have embarked upon their Wild Goose Chase of subjective experience.”
  • Mark Tooley: “Many ‘Wild Goose’ voices flatter themselves with fanciful dreams of sophistication and praise from secular elites. Their 1960s-style hoopla is supposedly updated for the 21st century. But ultimately this featherless old Wild Goose won’t fly.”
  • D.A. Carson: Many of the movement’s thinkers take a reductionistic view of modernism, are dismissive of confessional Christianity, and are reluctant to assert that Christianity is true and authoritative.
  • Mark Tooley: “Wild Goose exemplifies how the Evangelical Left translates ‘social justice’ into Big Government and pacifism.”

Any Wild Goose alums want to tell us about their experiences?

What would Jesus brew?

Here’s another example of “lived religion” among some progressive evangelicals: mixing theology and beer. In this newspaper article (and in his just-released book Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith, Michael Camp of Washington state describes how conversations in bars increased his faith. “People think you have to go to church to talk theology, but a pub works fine,” Camp said.

This reminds me of my grad school days in South Bend. There was a weekly event at Notre Dame called “Theology on Tap.”

The “lived religion” of the evangelical left

Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, launched the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good in 2010.

This post from the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good highlights several important elements of the evangelical left. First, it emphasizes the communitarian ideal of the evangelical left. Most reject the individualism of libertarian thought, arguing that the New Testament inscribes a sense of obligation to your neighbor (and enemy). In this case, the NEPCG is advocating for the mentally ill and children. Second, it reveals some of the movement’s spiritual practices: fasting, prayer, and advocacy for the “least of these.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Monday at 1 p.m., I am joining hundreds of people of faith across the nation to fast for 23 hours, symbolizing the 23 hours per day that tens of thousands of Americans, including children and the mentally ill, are warehoused in solitary confinement.

The fast will be held in conjunction with the first-ever Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. federal prison system.

Immigration reform and the global reflex

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also serves on the Board of Directors of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today.

The call for immigration reform yesterday by evangelical leaders got coverage from all the big media outlets. The New York Times did an especially nice job highlighting the role of Hispanic evangelicals in helping to transform views on immigration. This is the sort of movement, I argue in Moral Minority, that will turn the evangelical left into a viable, even vibrant, sector of evangelicalism. Here’s a taste from the Times article:

Some of the nation’s most influential evangelical groups urged a solution to illegal immigration on Tuesday that defies the harsh rhetoric of the Republican primary race, which continues to undermine Mitt Romney’s appeal to Hispanic voters.

The call by the groups represents a recognition that in one bedrock element of the conservative movement — evangelical Christians — the demography of their followers is changing, becoming more Hispanic, and that Republican leaders risk being out of step with their hawkish talk of border fences and immigration crackdowns like those in Arizona. . . .

“This is the tipping point to finally convince Republican operatives that they must redeem the narrative on immigration reform in order to be a viable party in America’s political landscape in the 21st century,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Mr. Rodriguez said he met last week with aides to Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, to urge him to moderate his positions.

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