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Public Theology: Promoting a Religious Left
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Promoting a Religious Left
Progressive Christians must be leery of duplicating the evangelical right by becoming aligned with one political party.

By Byron Williams

I have been asked several times since the election to participate in organizing meetings for what I define as the evangelical left. The post-election results that loosely suggest morality was important to a number of voters have prompted left-leaning Christians to attempt to counter the effectiveness of the evangelical right.

Such actions are not only commendable, they are necessary. But I hope they not be birthed out of the passion of reactionary emotion, which could lead the evangelical left to be nothing more than the antithesis of conservative brothers and sisters.

It is easy for progressive Christians to take issue with the evangelical right's linear and selective interpretation of the bible; to question how they can view Jesus as pro-tax cuts and pro-death penalty. (The scriptures clearly suggest that he was a radical nonconformist committed to helping the poor by speaking truth to those in power. Moreover, I have it on good authority that Jesus might be opposed to capital punishment.)

But progressive Christians must be leery of duplicating the evangelical right by becoming aligned with one political party. Instead of a theological response to the right, a la talk radio's Air America, the country needs a prophetic voice that is neither Democrat nor Republican -- nor exclusively Christian.

Since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the most popular theological voice has mirrored American politics at large, focusing on fear and ignorance to produce greater emphasis on exclusion than inclusion.

As Princeton professor Cornel West writes in his latest book, "Democracy Matters," America is suffering from political nihilism.

According to West, "Our politicians have sacrificed their principles on the altar of special interests; our corporate leaders have sacrificed their integrity on the altar of profits; and our media watchdogs have sacrificed their voice of dissent on the altar of audience competition."

It is no mystery that Republicans as well as Democrats feed at the same trough of corporate contributions. Both are compromised by special interests. Democrats are no more immune than Republicans from seeking to co-opt a progressive theological movement if it meets their political objectives.

If theological progressives are serious about assuming their rightful place in the public square of ideas, they must avoid the Orwellian moment when it realizes that it has become indistinguishable from those with whom they claim an adversarial relationship.

The theological left must reclaim the prophetic tradition of King, who found his greatest ally in President Lyndon Johnson when he signed landmark civil rights legislation into law. But this did not stop King from condemning the Johnson administration for its misguided actions in Vietnam.

The time has come for America to hear a truth that is not swayed by polls, popularity or even victory by one's political party of choice.

We have seen over the past few years the seductive use of rationalization and scapegoating that has the country deceived about itself. This has led to a severe case of psychological cataracts, blinding us to the mendacity that this administration calls policy.

Moreover, the theological left is further challenged to rise above the spineless nature that has befallen the Democrats. The country must hear a theological critique that talks about its values of fairness, justice, opportunity and hope.

The time has come to discard all notions of superficial patriotism. The theological left has reached the crossroads where it must decide between radical nonconformity or theological milquetoast.

A prophetic voice does not pin its hopes to the fortunes of a political party. It is voice that is heard in season as well as out of season.

Therefore, it must be prepared to stand alone, against popular opinion if need be. That is the only way movements germinate into change.

In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Others have considered history from the point of view of power, judging its course in terms of victory and defeat, of wealth and success. But the prophets look at history from the point of view of justice, judging its course in terms of righteousness and corruption, of compassion and violence."

Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, California. (c) 2004,

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Date Added: 11/22/2004 Date Revised: 11/22/2004 11:57:27 AM

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