Thursday, October 11, 2012
Final Installment of my Interview with David Swartz
All that said, many neo-Anabaptists populate the evangelical left. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they had much loyalty at all to the broader American Left. Take, for instance, the Post-Americans (the group that would eventually be called Sojourners). Seeing their primary identity as global Christians and committed to the Church, they were suspicious of any temporal structure or political label. It probably would be most accurate to call them New Leftists, and as such, they critiqued liberals and conservatives alike. They thought the idea that liberalism’s essentialist creed of equality would gradually end segregation and achieve military victory in Southeast Asia was naïve and ridiculous. Only direct protest could end segregation. They saw big government as oppressive in its global imperialism. Similarly, they saw the conservative commitment to big business as economically oppressive.
Progressive social action outside of electoral structures, practiced by neo-Anabaptists and many others, 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. In fact, third-way action outside electoral politics may be the future of evangelical social action, which may fit their idiosyncratic interests and views. Researchers at Baylor found that evangelicals who read the Bible every day are more likely to favor more humane treatment of criminals, to be more concerned about issues of poverty and conservation, and to more clearly oppose same-sex marriage and legalized abortion than evangelicals who do not. Evangelicals, anti-confessional and revivalist in sensibility, are more religiously and politically creative than the electoral structures that try to contain them.
Jared: Many CCCU schools, such as Grace College (where I teach), are what George Marsden has described as “post fundamentalist.” Is there any hope that we can eventually reflect the kind of diversity that exists in the broader evangelical landscape given our fundamentalist past?
David: The short answer is “Yes—eventually.” Some evangelicals, for reasons I discuss in the book, are now tied to conservative politics and the Republican Party through identity politics. That is, they vote Republican because their parents did and because the media says they should. But historically and globally, evangelicalism has shown the capacity for stunning diversity. And in the United States now, even within the Republican Party, more young evangelicals are talking about peace, poverty, and caring for God’s creation.
A lot depends on outside conditions. Prior to the 1970s the Republican Party was arguably less pro-family and pro-life than the Democratic Party. But activists pushed the Democrats decisively in a pro-choice direction. The structural conditions that brought down the evangelical left in the 1970s and 1980s might be changing. More and more Americans are becoming pro-life on the abortion issue. If that trend continues and anti-abortion views become more common across the political spectrum, the Democratic Party may be forced into reconsidering its pro-choice orthodoxy (though that seems a bit hard to imagine after this year’s convention!). And, in turn, some evangelicals who hold progressive stances on economics and diplomacy may feel released from Republican identification because of the abortion issue.
That said—and I’m speaking more as a theologian than a historian now—I’m not entirely certain that success, at least in the way that the religious right “enjoyed” it, is something that any Christian should want. Its success depended largely on money, coercion, and demonization of “the other” (which, to be sure, is a temptation for each side)—all elemental political realities that Jesus clearly warned against. I worry that those who identify very closely with one political party—whatever party it is—will be tempted to compromise their faithfulness and their ability to speak out prophetically on issues that matter to us as disciples of Christ.