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Friday, March 14, 2008

David Gushee On The Evangelical Left

In Chapter 3 of his new book - The Future of Faith in American Politics - Dr. David Gushee answers the question Who is the Evangelical Left?

Gushee argues that the most visible voices of the evangelical left include Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren and in the black evangelical community Jesse Jackson and Obery Hendricks. Gushee also lumps Jimmy Carter, Richard Pierard and Randall Balmer into the evangelical left.

Here's Gushee's description of the Evangelical Left:
The evangelical left generally reflects the heavily biblical methodology and theology of other evangelicals. Like most evangelicals, their primary source of authority is the Bible...For better or worse, they tend to move directly from their interpretation of biblical passages and motifs to moral exhortation and policy advocacy. They do not stray from the categories of orthodox Christian theology. They reflect the characteristic evangelical emphasis on evangelism and conversion to faith in Christ and they draw on evangelical piety by calling on their readers to "follow Jesus" in committed discipleship, iwth the particular lifestyle and ethical configurations that ocrrespond with their reading of the scriptures.

The evangelical left is left because it reads scripture and interprets the demands of Christian discipleship to require what in our contemporary and American and Christian contexts are considered left-leaning moral commitments. Characteristically, the evangelical left argues that the teachings of the Bible, especially the prophets and Jesus, require Christians to be concerned about poverty, war, racism, sexism, and the environment.
What's right with the Left?

According to Gushee, the E-left is best at stating what it is for, rather than what it is against. Gushee traces the origins of the E-left back to Dr. King. In his famous 1967 speech against the Vietnam War, Dr. King referred to poverty, racism and war as the "triple evils" of American society. These are the three issues that remain at the heart of the moral vision of the evangelical left.

So, what's wrong with the Left?

Gushee claims that te E-left seems reticent to take on the issues of abortion and homosexuality. He notes that Jim Wallis "never actually articulates a position on what the legal status of abortion should be...but there is no evidence in his writings that {Wallis} would support the overturning of Roe v. Wade." Gushee suggests that the leaders of the E-left do not take "fully seriously the sanctity of ALL human life, including those lives developing in the womb." "Evangelical left authors proclaim that they are pro-life, but this does not seem to cash out in a real significant way on the abortion issue." Gushee believes that such leaders as Wallis & McLaren may risk forfeiting their prophetic voice because they make every effort to steer clear of taking a definitive position on the homosexuality issue. Gushee also criticizes the leaders of the E-left for basically being closet pacifists who cloak their opposition to virtually every war in just-war language.

I personally rarely use the word "evangelical" to describe myself (more on that in a later post) but as a Jimmy Carter-kinda Baptist my theology would likely place me in the E-left camp. First, I appreciate that Gushee acknowledges that these evangelicals like Campolo do root their faith in the authority of the Bible. And we do believe that social justice and evangelism are but two sides of the same coin.

Unfortunately, those in the E-left may have allowed the Right to claim the abortion issue for themselves. That's a dialogue that more left-leaning evangelicals need to be having. How can we reduce the abortion rate? Thankfully, some evangelical and Catholic Democrats in Congress have already moved forward on that issue.

Gushee chides the E-left for not pushing to overturn Roe. But perhaps overturning Roe v. Wade is not the solution - if such a solution was even possible or practical. Is it even reasonable to believe that Gushee can work to overturn Roe and meet his other objectives? The types of originalist Supreme Court justices that would need to be appointed to overturn Roe would likely (VERY LIKELY) not be sympathetic to Gushee's more liberal social justice concerns!

I do agree with Gushee that Wallis & McLaren risk forfeiting the opportunity to speak prophetically by more or less avoiding the homosexuality issue. Pardon the sexist language, but these guys need to "man-up" and be more open and honest about what they really believe. Some have done so but others have not.

My next post will focus on The Emerging Evangelical Center. I also have a few church-state concerns to address.

This is post #3 in a series on David Gushee & The Emerging Evangelical Center

Dialoguing With David Gushee, Part 1
The New Evangelicalism & The Evangelical Centrist

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Blogger Tauratinzwe said...

You are correct to question whether attacking Roe-Wade is the best way to deal with the problem of abortion. Other options are available, but demand more of the opponents than demonstrations and legal actions.

I seem to remember somewhere in the past a small insignificant group of people were able to turn the tide against infant abandonment in the Roman Empire without protests, without political influence and without demonizing those who abandoned infants. They transformed public opinion by rescuing infants and providing alternatives to abandonment to those with unwanted children.

Maybe that method will still work today -- but it won't make many preachers into TV personalities or give the thrill of protest to members of their congregations or allow them to feel persecuted for their beliefs/actions. It'll cost them in their wallets and in their time and will require the dirty work of changing diapers.

7:37 AM

Blogger Brian said...

Great post. I think that Gushee and others are helping us to disconnect evangelical faith from the public understanding of evangelical politics.

You might do some checking on McLaren's thoughts on Homosexuality. When he was preaching every week in his home church, he would open up about that very complex issue. I cannot remember his thoughts specifically. However, I remember them to be thoughtful and evangelical.

7:04 PM


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