According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Political History of Progressive Evangelicalism v. the Religious Right



Randall Balmer: The other evangelicals

President Ronald Reagan prays with National Association of Evangelicals President Arthur Gay (left) following his address to the organization's convention in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, March 7, 1984. Reagan asked the group's help in winning approval of a constitutional amendment permitting prayer in school. AP


President Jimmy Carter, accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn, daughter Amy, and grandson Jason tells supporters at a Washington hotel, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980, that he has conceded the election to challenger Ronald Reagan. AP

by Randall Balmer
For the Monitor
Published: 12/1/2019 6:45:14 AM

I should be over it by now, but I confess that the number 81 continues to haunt me. Following the shock of Election Day 2016, the further news that 81% of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump was devastating to me personally.

These were the same people who had been telling us for the past four decades that they were devoted to “family values,” but then they pivoted and, without hint of irony or apology, cast their votes for a twice-divorced, self-confessed sexual predator.

I understand that many New Englanders regard evangelicals as exotic or weird, and I expect that many of them weren’t terribly surprised by evangelical voting behavior. But as someone who hails from that tradition and who has spent much of his career studying and writing about the movement, I was, well, devastated.

For years, I have argued in books, articles, op-eds and even a couple of documentaries that evangelicalism, in contrast to the Religious Right, has a long and distinguished history. Evangelicals set the social and political agenda for much of the 19th century. They advocated for the poor and the rights of workers to organize. They supported prison reform and public education. They enlisted in peace crusades and supported women’s equality, including voting rights.

Charles Grandison Finney, the most influential evangelical of the 19th century, excoriated free-market capitalism as inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus; a “Christian businessman,” Finney suggested was an oxymoron.

What happened? The short version of a rather complicated story is that evangelicals went underground following the Scopes trial of 1925.

In the middle decades of the 20th century, they decided that the larger world was both corrupt and corrupting, so they began constructing what I call the evangelical subculture, a vast and interlocking network of congregations, denominations, camps, schools, publishing houses and the like to protect themselves – and especially their children – from the ravages of the broader culture.

It’s tempting at this point in the abridged narrative to skip directly to the emergence of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, when Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders abandoned Jimmy Carter, one of their own, for Ronald Reagan in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election.

Although leaders of the Religious claimed retrospectively – that is, more than a decade after the fact – that opposition to abortion summoned them to the front lines of political battle, the inconvenient truth is that they mobilized politically to defend the tax exemptions of their racially segregated schools, including Bob Jones University.

The emergence of the Religious Right was surely a turning point – a sharp and unmistakable turn to the right – but it wasn’t inevitable. The 1970s, in fact, saw a remarkable resurgence of progressive evangelicalism, a version of the movement consistent with the legacy of 19th-century evangelicals.

Two geographical areas, northern Illinois and the mainline of Philadelphia, served as the focus for progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s. In the greater Philadelphia area, Tony Campolo, a sociologist at Eastern College (now Eastern University), and Ronald Sider, a theologian at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary), led the charge.

Campolo was (and remains) a tireless advocate for progressive evangelical values; he is one of the founding members of an organization called Red Letter Christians, which seeks to remind the faithful to heed the teachings of Jesus.

Sider was founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of a bestselling book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, published in 1977.

The other locus of progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s was Deerfield, in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. There, Jim Wallis, a seminary student, together with his friends at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, formed a community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and began publishing a tabloid called the Post American. When the group relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1975, they took the name Sojourners.

On the same Deerfield campus, a cohort of young faculty at Trinity College, led by Douglas Frank, David Schlafer and Nancy Hardesty, began challenging their students to question the morality of the war in Vietnam and to take seriously both the teachings of Jesus and the example of 19th-century evangelicalism. I was one of those students. We learned about Jesus’s concern for the poor. We started to think about protecting the environment and defending people of color. We debated how to pursue justice.

Although a majority of the student body remained conservative, a substantial minority of us caught the vision of an evangelicalism untethered to the shibboleths of the evangelical subculture. It was a bracing moment, a glimpse of what a politics informed by the teachings of Jesus might look like.

When Sider convened 55 evangelical leaders at the YMCA on Wabash Street in Chicago in November 1973, these progressive evangelicals produced a remarkable document: the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. Echoing the emphases of 19th-century evangelicals, the declaration condemned the persistence of poverty, militarism and racism in American society. It questioned why so many Americans were hungry in a nation of such affluence.

At the behest of Nancy Hardesty, an English professor at Trinity College, the Chicago Declaration reaffirmed evangelicals’ historic commitment to women’s equality.

Within six months, the governor of Georgia addressed a gathering of the University of Georgia Law School, an appearance that effectively launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jimmy Carter sounded many of the same themes as the Chicago Declaration, especially the matter of justice for people of color and for those less fortunate.

The rest, as they say, is history. Carter, the Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, was elected president in 1976 and sought to govern according to his lights as a progressive evangelical – all the while, as a good Baptist, observing the separation of church and state: an emphasis on human rights, the renegotiation of the Panama Canal treaties as a matter of justice for those in Latin America, energy conservation and environmental preservation, pursuing peace in the Middle East.

The 1970s was in many ways the golden age of progressive evangelicalism. It was also its last stand.

With such challenges as the Arab Oil Embargo, high interest rates and a persistently sour economy, no president could have succeeded in the late 1970s. Add to that the taking of hostages in Iran in November 1979, Carter faced a daunting challenge as he faced re-election.

Reagan brilliantly exploited Carter’s perceived failures as president, and with the help of the newly organized Religious Right, won the 1980 election.

Progressive evangelicals – the other evangelicals – took a hit, a body blow from which they have never recovered.

The rest of the story is all too familiar. With progressive evangelicalism on the ropes, the Religious Right proceeded to steer evangelicals toward the far-right precincts of the Republican Party. That alliance has congealed over the past four decades so that 81%, four out of five evangelicals, as attested by the last election, are unflinchingly partisan. It appears that nothing – neither personal immorality nor public scandal – can shake those allegiances.

The number 81 continues to haunt me.


*Randall Balmer, a professor at Dartmouth College, is the author of “Evangelicalism in America” and “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.”