Monday, October 8, 2012
More from David Swartz on the Evangelical Left
Second, there’s nothing inevitable about evangelicals taking conservative positions on a multitude of issues ranging from poverty, economics, capital punishment, and war. In fact, historically evangelicals often have been quite progressive in the United States. And globally evangelicals often scratch their heads at the American evangelical alliance with the Republican Party. The story of the evangelical left (and why it couldn’t keep pace with the religious right) helps make sense of why political conservatism is so closely tied to evangelicalism.
Third, the evangelical left helped broader evangelicalism to think structurally and socially. An excerpt from the last paragraph of the book articulates this point: “If a unified politics continued to elude evangelicals, political involvement itself did not. Evangelicals agreed by the end of the first decade of the new millennium—in far greater proportion than fifty years before—that the Gospel calls for holistic, not just personal, transformation. Followers of Jesus, evangelicals say almost in unison, must take up cultural, social, even political responsibilities. The evangelical left, representing one of the most serious postwar attempts to mobilize evangelicals for organized political action, hastened this broader plunge toward a sense of corporate obligation and activism, electoral and beyond. It carved out space for the rhetoric and activism of social justice—on both the left and on what became a much larger right. Even if evangelicals did not agree precisely on what the public good looks like, they no longer had to legitimize participation in debate over the public good itself.”
Jared: Why do those on the evangelical Right and the Evangelical Left find it so hard to get along? What can all evangelicals do, no matter their politics, to promote more irenic coexistence?
David: Speaking now self-consciously as a Christian, I suggest actually doing church together. The Mennonite church I attend in Lexington, Kentucky, contains the full spectrum of political involvement (and non-involvement). We occasionally talk politics, but our primary interactions revolve around worship, discipleship, eating food together, and serving the community together. Because we spend a lot of time together and because our focus is on churchly activities, it seems like passion for electoral politics inevitably diminishes. Face-to-face, embodied relationships (as opposed to Facebook debates) breed empathy. Jonathan Haidt, one of the most perceptive commentators on the contemporary culture wars, has offered a similar suggestion for Congress. He writes, “Other changes would work more gradually by making it easier for politicians to recover the sort of human relationships that have always lubricated the gears of government. For example, in 1995 Newt Gingrich changed the legislative calendar to encourage House members to keep their families in their home districts, rather than moving to Washington where they often fraternized with the enemy. Nowadays, all business is conducted midweek. Many members fly in on Tuesday morning and fly home Thursday evening, leaving few possibilities for meeting members of the other party off of the battlefield and out of sight of the press.”
Context also matters. When we understand the religious and cultural circumstances out of which our political enemies (and ourselves) emerge, we also learn empathy. Thinking narratively helps us to think less in terms of winning an argument and more in terms of finding common ground and cultivating spiritual virtues. Evangelicals would do well to follow the advice of St. Peter: “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”