The Christian Left left?

Tuesday, 27 July 2004, 12:01 | Category : Politics
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A comment in response to a post on Dean’s World brought me back to this subject. Here’s the comment:

” I keep thinking the old-guard Christian Dems- Catholics and Baptists come to mind- and wonder what they think of their party now.”

This is something I’ve often thought about. The Republican/conservative/religious right believes you don’t solve a problem by throwing money at it. They believe the Federal government isn’t capable of being an effective solution. But what do you call the hundreds of billions of dollars the US spends on defense each year? I’m certainly not opposed to defense spending, but defense is simply another Federal program. When a military base is kept open because it’s closure would have a negative effect on the local economy (and don’t kid yourself; the local demonstrations we see when the Base Closure Committee visits are orchestrated as surely as any protests), that’s welfare, not defense. We have no need for hundreds of military bases scattered around the country, but we keep them open anyway. The churches should take care of the poor? Sure, I agree, but the reason the government got involved is because the churches failed to do this. And they still fail. Look at your local church budget. I fought this battle in a church I once attended. The money spent to build and maintain our temples of holiness far, far, far exceeds moneys spent to help even the local poor. Do we need church buildings? Yes. Do we need them as fancy as we build them? I think not.

However – however – I don’t really blame the “religious right” for moves such as this. They certainly have the right to push their ideas for solutions to our problems. You read your Bible, you contemplate the light God has given you. I do the same. We come up with different solutions, based on the same source of information. God made us all different. Where I place the blame is on people like me who try to live as Christians, and who tend to believe in “liberal” solutions – i.e., a strong Federal role in environmental protection, because we are stewards of God’s world; who see that the government of a country as
rich and blessed as the United States, a government of, by, and for the people, could and should ensure that children have a solid roof over their heads and a decent diet. Quite honestly, I couldn’t care less about people who refuse to work, who want to exist on public dollars without contributing anything to society. But I haven’t seen a solution that punishes them without also punishing the children that live with them. “Right to life” implies more to me than just picketing clinics and screaming slogans – a child that is born is a child that
must be clothed and fed and housed. And if the parent won’t, or can’t, provide for that child, *we must*! The Federal government is admittedly a poor channel as presently constituted, but it’s the only game in town if we want a consistent response throught our nation. So in my mind, to “feed my sheep” as Christ commanded, we must have a strong Federal role. But, (returning to where my point was originally going) Christian liberals have failed to speak up, and offer alternatives to a system that has obviously failed to produce the desired results. Many “Christian” liberals have wasted energy and testimony by chasing issues that appeal to many liberal agendas but cannot be defended as Christian issues, to the point that they are scarcely recognizable as Christian. *These* are the people I blame – where once they defended civil rights from a
scriptural basis, they now defend it from what seems to be humanist principles. Where once they proclaimed “This is my Father’s world”, they now proclaim Gaia. And we shouldn’t stand idly by while the Democratic Party is threatened by a humanist agenda that is too often actively hostile to Christians.

18 Comments for “The Christian Left left?”

  1. 1Dave

    I don’t think, even as an agnostic Democrat, I have ever advocated any policy that is “actively hostile to Christians”. I do admit that there are some moonbats on the far-Left that hate religion (just as there are some on the far-Right who hate all religions but their own), but I think the stereotype of the Left as hostile to religion has been fostered by the Right in order to wedge the very people you are writing about away from the Democrats.

  2. 2scott

    I’m with Harry on this one. His excellent post goes right to the heart of many of the problems U.S. society is dealing with today.

    Like it or lump it, we have a Christian heritage, and the vast majority of Americans still base their value systems (though, far fewer, their actual worldviews) on Judeo-Christian morality. But this heritage is one that the the American church *itself* has in many ways abdicated. If the people who make up the Christian church were doing their job (that is, actually living authentic Christian lives), we would not have to talk about many of the welfare issues that plague us today. Most of these issues don’t need money so much as they need somebody to care, somebody with the guts to reach out EVEN IF it hurts, not just when it’s comfortable.

    I disagree with Harry’s thesis “So in my mind, to “feed my sheep” as Christ commanded, we must have a strong Federal role” because “it’s the only game in town if we want a consistent response throught our nation”. I think that the last thing we need is a consistent response. What we need is a lot of people trying *different ideas*, finding the ones that work, then spreading the word. You don’t necessarily need a government to do that. But the operative words there are **people trying**. Lots of people. Not just a few tired, burned out ones.

    The whole liberal/conservative thing came about in the American church over humanitarian issues. The “Left leaners” were rightly searching for ways to meet people’s needs, but went too far afield in their search. The exuberance of the 18th century caused them to place so much faith in humanistic principles, like the value of education, that false doctrines like “sola bootstrapsa” came about: that is, we can pull *ourselves* up out of the mire of human misery. The “Right leaners”, those who saw the protection of doctrine as more important than relief of human misery, were so alarmed by these ideas that they distanced themselves from the “Left leaners”, thereby preserving doctrine in the large part, but also insulating themselves from that part of the Church which was most inclined to be the “hands of Christ” to the world.

    The Church’s effectiveness was neatly hamstrung. On one side you had folks trying to heal the world, but only having increasingly questionable medicine to heal with. On the other you had folks with stockpiles of medicine, which they were jealously guarding for themselves.

    And so we come to today, where, as Harry says, “Many “Christian” liberals have wasted energy and testimony by chasing issues that appeal to many liberal agendas but cannot be defended as Christian issues, to the point that they are scarcely recognizable as Christian.” Examples of this would be the abortion and homosexual rights planks in the Democratic platform. These ideas are undebatably “actively hostile” to classical Christian doctrine, and by extension, to classical Christians. Which is just what the “Right leaners” in the Church see themselves as. So they spend all their time trying to counter these issues, rather than making a personal difference in people’s lives.

    The solution is a new Reformation of sorts. The two sides need to re-form, to realize the hatchet job we have done on Christ’s Church, own up to it, get our butts back in gear, and start healing with the Good Medicine. We should start by taking healthy doses ourselves. It can mend U.S.

  3. 3Harry

    But Dave, there have been instances of this, and it’s at least in part because, as Christian liberals took their voices out of the debate, both within the Democratic Party and within the Christian Church, that silence was filled, in liberal politics by some whose attitude was hostile (my view being because the only “Christians” they were seeing were those of the “Christian Right”), and withing the church by the same Christian Right that provoked the reactions of some on the left. I didn’t say the Democratic Party had become actively hostile.

  4. 4Dave

    Well, let me say that I’m sorry you have had a bad experience with some on the Left. I can tell you as someone who is not religious that most of my experiences with the vehemently Christian have been unfavorable – but I also understand that strong Christians like my roommate who are decent people and open-minded tend to not be as public about their faith, precisely because they don’t want to offend anyone.

    I was just having a conversation with him the other night about how when some people find out he’s a very devout Christian, they make all sorts of assumptions about him (he’s actually a very conscientious liberal, btw).

    I think, if I may be permitted to make an observation, that Christians on the Left have to start making their faith part of their public life again, and lend their voice and viewpoint to liberal causes. We have started to see this even in the speeches and presentations at the Convention, where the spirit of Christian charity and being one’s brother’s keeper has been a theme.

    I think the great thing about modern Christianity is that there is a very strong humanistic current that can work well alongside secular humanism to achieve positive social change. It’s something that’s not just in the far-Left churches either – I’ve seen it at work in the Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, and Episcopalean traditions, and I’m sure it’s in other denominations as well.

  5. 5Dave

    As an aside, I’ve been to church services where I really felt that the congregation and I were “on the same team”. Even though I don’t have faith, I see how powerful a force of good faith can be in the world. I could even see myself joining a congregation that I felt was committed to good works, though I suppose I would always be worshipping some abstract notion of order and good rather than any particular deity.

  6. 6Harry

    That’s what I was saying. At least, that’s what I was trying to say.

  7. 7Dave

    I have to ask: if you’ve been watching the DNC, do you think the DNC is doing a good job in reaching out to Christians?

    As far as I can tell, nearly all of the speakers at the convention were practicing Christians, and they seemed to finally be including aspects of their faith into their politics… but I guess some might see it as pandering. (Then again, it’s also really easy to see the Republicans’ policies as pandering, so whatever.)

  8. 8Harry

    Honestly? I think they’re feeling their way towards a more explicit inclusion of “faith”, in a personal/relational way, not an institutional one, if that makes sense. but some who might want to espouse their beliefs more openly are going softly on it. Just my opinion, based on nothing more than a hunch.

  9. 9Dave

    It’s going to be hard to reconcile the two elements of the Left. There has been a lot of mistrust – mistrust mistakenly generated by the religious Right, I suppose – but mistrust nonetheless.

    I *like* the fact that the Dems are finally remembering, for the first time since JFK, that faith, strength, and patriotism are values of (nearly) all Americans, and not just the Right. As for myself, two out of three ain’t bad.

  10. 10scott

    “I think the great thing about modern Christianity is that there is a very strong humanistic current that can work well alongside secular humanism to achieve positive social change.”

    They tried this already. In Europe. The result? Dead churches everywhere. The churches of the Reformers are museums now. Which may not be a big deal to a non-believer, but is a lesson which should give serious pause to Christians.

    1 Corinthians 15:33 says “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the two sides cannot work together. What I am saying is that when an individual church or denomination allows the driving force of it’s ministry to become humanistic in nature, for whatever perceived reason, it is destined for demise. The church’s focus *must* be God, not man.

  11. 11Dave

    That doesn’t mean that churches that *do* work for positive social change can’t “team up” with secular organizations. I’m by no means suggesting that the *primary* goal or activity of churches should be humanism.

  12. 12scott

    Again, I too am not saying they can’t work together. What I am saying, and what I think Harry was intimating at, is that when churches and secular humanist organizations start regularly agreeing on what “positive social change” really means, those churches need to see red flags and warning lights going off everywhere.

  13. 13Harry

    No, I wasn’t saying that – what I was saying was, once Christians begin letting others determine all the prioroties and determinations of social change, they’ve failed.

  14. 14scott

    What’s the difference? Assent thru silence or laziness is still assent.

  15. 15Harry

    There’s nothing inherently wrong in churches and secular groups agreeing on what constitutes “positive social change”. It’s only when churches or Christian groups allow their theological/moral to be compromised as a part of that agreement that the combination becomes a problem.

  16. 16scott

    My point exactly.

  17. 17dw

    The funniest moment of the DNC was when Kerry gave his spiel on religion and “whether we are on God’s side….” The crowd reaction shots that followed on from that were priceless. Obama used three Biblical metaphors and paraphrases in his speech, and those sailed right over the heads of a bunch of the delegates.

    To turn this back on Scott and others, it seems that the fundamentalist and evangelical sections of the Church are tying themselves too tightly to the Republican party. Yes, the Dems are losing their way in a secular humanist morality that is more pragmatist than humanist. Yes, as an evangelical Christian I am bothered by the Dems’ attitude towards pro-lifers, especially pro-life Democrats, who are relegated to the kids’ table at family gatherings. But, I see an evangelical church that more and more allies itself too tightly with the GOP, one that has stopped thinking critically about politics and what the LORD requires and more about how much power they can yield. When the GOP goes over the cliff — be it this year or 20 years from now — the Christian church runs a nasty risk of going over the cliff with it.

    I believe the Christian church should have a strong social voice in this society, speaking for the unborn, for criminals, for the poor, for the exploited. I worry that the Church has lost its way with the poor, falling back on “if a man does not work he shall not eat” and eliding the Old Testament smackdown of Judea for treating the poor like crap. More and more the Christian church wants to use the government to legislate morality but not social change. And the more they fall into this adulterous affair with the Republican party, the less they will care about what God cares about.

    I’m disenchanted with the Dems, but I’m voting for Kerry. I can’t deal with another four years of lip service to the values of God that borders on hypocrisy. I know what I’m getting with Kerry, though, and at least he’s not waving the Cross and saying he’s a Christian warrior while giving no mercy to the poor.

    I really need to stop using people’s comments to blog.

  18. 18scott

    I’m not gonna even attempt to argue with Dylan, ’cause I think he’s dead right. No matter what denomination you ascribe to, the fact of the matter is, the American church is anemic, bordering on comatose. It’s high time for the sleeper to awaken, if I may borrow from Herbert, and I AIN’T talkin’ about politics.

    I will vote Bush, all the while wishing to God there was viable alternative.

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