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Neither Right Nor Left…Means Left

April 1, 2013

“I was talking recently to a dynamic young staff member of Focus on the Family.  She was lamenting that in recent years the most socially and culturally active young Christians have stood squarely on the Left — almost all, she said, were Obama supporters in 2007 and 2008.  This observation confirms empirical data that I have informally gathered.  Young Christians are more culturally active than ever these days, but they are increasingly active as socialists, sexual and gender egalitarians, global warming prophets, and racial reconcilers.  The earlier generation of young Christian culturalists labored to reverse the evils of abortion, statism, pornography, homosexuality, relativism, and Marxism.  Their successors are worried about the evils of the free market, global trade, racial under-representation, consumerism, and dogmatism.  Both generations are committed to the “cultural mandate” (God’s call on humanity to steward all of creation for God’s glory), but they disagree radically about what that mandate looks like….A paramount task of older Christian culturalists is to inculcate a rigorous, objective explanation for a non-Leftist (which is not identical to pro-Rightist) Christian cultural mandate and the specific views and polices that comprise this mandate.”–P. Andrew Sandlin, “The Cultural Mandate Youthenized”

In my experience as a student at a Christian Liberal arts college, (a college which I am in no way trying to attack or repudiate), I have found that Sandlin’s diagnosis has been, at least in part, correct. The Zeitgeist of cutting edge evangelicalism and Christian culturalists has been towards the Left. And as someone who is definitely not a Leftist, (Although I have problems with the Right, as will be seen below), I am not entirely happy about the outcome.

First of all, let me give some caveats. I am not trying to characterize Christian Leftism as being exactly the same as Secular Leftism–my college is a far-cry from the post-whatever world of “secular academia.” Nor am I trying to raise doubts about the salvation of any Christian Leftist’s soul–that is between them and Christ. I find the name-calling and insulting that goes on between fellow Christians nauseating and unedifying.  Nor, finally, am I trying to say that Secular Rightism is a better alternative to Christian Leftism. I will take Cornel West over John Derbyshire any day.

Bet you thought you’d never see a positive reference to this guy on this blog.

I will, however, say that Christian Leftism has begun to exercise a hegemony of thought over evangelical thought. Christian Leftism, like secular Leftism before it (and like some strains of Rightism as well), tries to occupy a “moral high ground” by implying or stating  that the only viable solutions to different social problems (the gay marriage question, social justice, environmentalism, etc.) are the Christian Leftist positions. Leftism is not framed as an argument, but as an objective starting ground. “Everyone knows that [insert Leftist ideology here].” This is the main problem that I have with the Christian Leftist dominance. I am not bothered by Christian Leftists presenting their ideas as arguments–in fact, their ideas might be right sometimes. What I am bothered by is when these ideas are presented without alternative, when they are expected to be accepted without evidence or argumentation, and when those who disagree with them are marginalized within the evangelical intellectual community.

Who is to blame for this? I place the fault on the Christian non-Leftists (henceforth CNLs). There are three primary ways that I suggest that they have led the way for Christian Leftists to dominate the discourse.

The first is the abdication of key issues to Leftism. CNLs have repeatedly ignored or refused to seriously engage with some serious issues. As a result, the only Christians talking about those issues were the Leftists. And because the Leftists were the only ones talking about them, the CNLs took that to mean that those issues were exclusive Leftists property. Feminism? Racial Reconciliation? Environmentalism? That’s stuff for liberals. We don’t talk about this. By ignoring these issues or chalking them up to liberal lunacy, CNL have left the field wide open for Leftists to come and talk about these. Then, when young people start learning about an issue, many of them start to drift to Leftism because the Leftists are the only ones talking seriously about it. And then the CNLs are surprised–why did this happen? The simple answer is that if you do not talk serious about something, someone else will.

The second way that CNLs have opened the door to Christian leftists is by making their entire position a reaction to liberalism, as opposed to a Christian worldview that would necessarily reject the non-biblical elements of both sides. Thus the reaction to feminism becomes unwavering acceptance of the patriarchy. The reaction to socialism is a full-out embrace of the worst of capitalism’s materialistic excess. Environmentalism?  “BURN ALL THE COAL!!!” This kind of thinking may provide an adolescent thrill, but it is a poor substitute for wisdom. Greg Gutfelt is funny, but he shouldn’t be our source for public policy. Serious thinkers in the Church will get tired of this juvenile rhetoric. The worst part of this kind of thinking is that it posits “not-being-Liberal” as the ultimate value, as opposed to “following Christ.” A Christian’s true code should be “I will follow Christ wherever he leads. Even if it means people think I am a liberal.”

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of social justice, I shall fear no bad theology, for Thou art with me.”

This strategy of making every position a reaction to Leftism has also had the effect of squelching many of the bright young minds in the CNL camp. If all we are supposed to do is just repeat a reflexive reaction to every issue that comes our way, then that leaves little room for free inquiry. I say this with a degree of caution, because I myself am the product of CNLs–both my parents are profoundly conservative–and I do not find this to the case everywhere, all the time (and certainly not in my experience). But if we come to every issue with the mindset of “we respond in this way, and this is the only right way,” then we will disappoint those among us who are serious thinkers. Take feminism, for example. I am open to nuanced critiques and discussions of feminism–in fact, I offered what I hope was such a critique here.  I have a problem, however, with people whose response to feminism is something along the lines of “feminism is evil, the patriarchy is good, don’t ask questions.” I don’t believe that this is following Jesus’ command to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” We cannot address issues if we come to them with a set of pre-arranged responses before we have actually looked at the data. That’s no way to do research.

The third, and final way, that CNLs have opened the door to Leftism is by being too quick to jump on any “conservative” bandwagon that passes by. We have seen this with the unfortunate attractions that so many Christians have to Ron Paul anarcho-capitalism, where economic freedom means the ability to build a drive-through brothel where the employees are high on cocaine in your backyard. As tiresome as it is, the saying is true that God is not a Republican. Being a Christian, or even being a conservative Christian, does not mean that I need to immediately buy an assault rifle, the first season of Duck Dynasty, and twenty gold bars, and talk about how much I love ‘Murrca. I like the founding fathers–I like them a lot, in fact–but this does not make them saints. I have seen many Christians unfortunately defend things as inherently Christian when they are inherently American or inherently conservative or inherently who-knows what. These things may be good or bad, but they are not always based on explicitly Christian principles. The free-market is a great thing (depending on what you mean by “free”), but I would rather have more government regulations and more people going to church than a secular capitalist paradise. Jesus lived in under one of the most totalitarian, imperialistic, control-freak governments in history, and he spent little to no time criticizing it. He had more important things to do.

Sarah Palin is not a good source for serious theological insight. Whether she is a source for serious insight of any kind is, in fact, up for debate/

What can Christians do? The goal of the Christian is not to oppose Leftism, but to promote the kingdom of God. Mere Christianity, works of love and mercy, loving your neighbor and enemies–these will do far more for the kingdom than any amount of bills passed. There are other areas we can look at as well. One thing we need to work on is the state of theological knowledge among my generation. I have often found that myself and my peers are woefully uninformed in theological matters. This often leads to default liberalism–“everybody is doing it.” I don’t expect everyone to become a conservative or Non-Leftist, but let’s at least have people be smart and informed about their positions and the positions they oppose. We also need to realize that politics is downstream from the culture. Too many Christians have been taking aim at Washington when their real target should be Hollywood. To make things worse, the cultural involvement of Christians has often been negligible or harmful–too many Christian movies/music/books are entertainment fluff marketed to a narrow subculture. There’s a reason nonbelievers aren’t listening to our music–it’s because it stinks. Third, CNLs need to come up with nuanced responses to Leftist arguments. This may involve jettisoning “conservative” principles in favor of Christian ones. But we need to make sure that all the voices are being heard. Finally, CNLs need to be responding directly to the Christian Leftists. Read their articles. Become friends with them. Call them out when they present an ideological position as an “obvious fact.” And do it all in a spirit of love and charity. You don’t want your children to write a memoir about you called Cranky for God.

In the future, I’ll try to address some of these issues and responses in my blog, starting with the general lack of serious theological knowledge among my generation. Stay tuned.

Current Listening: Daughter. I don’t know which songs from which albums, because I’ve been listening to a mix CD that a friend lent me. Don’t confuse them with Daughtry.

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