Sunday, October 7, 2012
My Interview with David R. Swartz on the "Moral Minority"
Jared: How did this book materialize? How does it connect to you personally?
David: Professionally, it was important that I find both archival materials and a gap in the scholarship of American religious history. When I read a piece by Ron Sider online suggesting that some “enterprising graduate student” take a look at the Evangelicals for Social Action archives, I knew immediately that I had a project.
On a more personal level, this project was an attempt to figure out my own parents (all history is ultimately autobiography, right?). They had grown up in the 1970s. They ran a pretty egalitarian marriage. They sang “They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love” during worship services and would have been dismayed by an American flag in the church sanctuary. I ate food my mother (and father!) cooked out of More-with-Less, a cookbook with lots of vegetarian recipes. And I knew many like them, people who were not comfortable with the idea of American as a Christian nation, with a budget that prioritized the military over poverty, a punitive criminal justice system, and the like. And yet they shared their faith and lived out the kind of warm piety so common within evangelicalism. This was an idiosyncratic combination that I never read about in news reports and scholarly books. So I dedicated my research to learning about non-rightist evangelicals. How common were they? Why did they seem so marginalized?
Jared: What are a couple goals you would like this book to accomplish?
David: I wrote this book with several audiences in mind. For non-evangelical scholars and observers, I wanted to complicate perspectives on theologically conservative Christians. So many of my research subjects have had to qualify their evangelical identity by saying things like “I’m not that kind of evangelical!” There are millions and millions of evangelicals who won’t vote for Mitt Romney (because they’ll vote for Obama or not vote at all) or won’t otherwise resonate with politically conservative sensibilities. I want to promote awareness of evangelical cultural, racial, and political diversity.
For evangelical readers, I want to offer a sense of context. Just about everyone, folks on the right and the left, seem so certain that they’re correct, that there’s a direct line from the Bible to the ballot box. But everyone comes to faith and political commitments out of a particular history. Given different historical and cultural circumstances, we could have very different views about poverty, war, capital punishment, and gender roles. This ought to inculcate a profound sense of humility—and hopefully an instinct to conduct more civil discussions.