To Change the World, Essay II, Chapter 4

The Christian Left comes under Hunter’s scrutiny in this chapter.  Progressivism in general finds its anchor in the French revolutionary demand for “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” with the primary concern being for justice, which progressives tend to think of as economic equality.  There is also “a tension between the communitarian wing and the social libertarian wing, and the dividing line between them is far from clear-cut.  Christian progressives often talk about systemic economic injustice and tend to be critical of war as driven by elites to expand their power and wealth.  The Christian Left often draws from the Hebrew prophets’ calls for justice and criticisms of injustice.  While progressivism was often identified with mainline Protestant denominations and supporters of Catholic liberation theology, Hunter believes that these movements have lost much of their steam.  A new evangelical progressive movement has come on the scene recently, with leaders such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo and organizations like Sojourners.  They have come into the news especially following the 2004 election again showed that Democrats had difficulty reaching religious people.  Hunter believes, accurately in my opinion, that the Christian Left has been used by the Democrats for votes just as thoroughly (though for a shorter time) as the Christian Right has been used by the Republicans.

Hunter notes that the Christian Left often shows great resentment, which, you may recall, he believes is a major characteristic of American political culture.  The target of this resentment is often the Religious Right, who the Christian Left (echoing their secular counterparts) blames for taking over the faith and supporting the unjust practices of American capitalism.  While they often criticize the civil religion of the Christian conservatives, they really want the same “righteous empire” governed by their own interpretations of the Bible (147).

I felt that Hunter characterized the Christian Left well.  The usual refrain is about social justice, usually through government programs that echo the Democratic platform.  There’s rarely much challenge to the Democratic policies that protect abortion rights from almost any challenge, and the Christian Left, from what I can see, doesn’t want to make too many waves on homosexuality issues either.

I should say that there was a time that I had higher hopes for the Christian Left as a genuine challenge to the Christian Right’s support for Republican policies that I didn’t like.  Of course, there’s a lot to dislike about Democratic policies too.  That said, some of the people that he lists as Christian Left leaders – Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, and John Perkins – have been important in my growth as a Christian, I think.  Some of the criticisms that the Christian Left makes of our political and economic systems are important to grapple with, even if the solutions aren’t right.

(Note: I think that Hunter misplaces John Perkins as a Christian Left leader.  I’m actually going to see Dr. Perkins later this summer, Lord willing, and one of my goals is to ask him about how his experiences have confirmed or altered his political outlook.  His book And Justice for All is mostly about nongovernmental solutions to poverty.  Perhaps time has changed his point of view.  You can see my review of two of his books here.).

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3 comments

  1. I’d be interested in Perkins’ response to your question, too. I’d be surprised if he didn’t take government money; it is so tempting and it is the way the system is currently designed. It is fascinating how Right or Left can be distinguished not by what is done, but by whether government is the one doing it or funding it.

    The other issue that still lingers with me after reading his book together is the “for us, by us” (fubu) mentality, and how that sort of independence tends toward self-segregation rather than integration.

  2. “It is fascinating how Right or Left can be distinguished not by what is done, but by whether government is the one doing it or funding it.”: Nice one! True in so many circumstances.

    I think that the fubu in some ways was a temporary resting point for Perkins, and his later stuff is much more focused on reconciliation. He does support economic independence for poor people. I don’t know what role he sees for government in all of it, although I know that he supports affirmative action as a way to make up for the years of segregation. I find it hard to completely disagree, although I think that there needs to be some kind of endgame for affirmative action.

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