Of Geese and Ganders

goose and gander

One counter-criticism of two kingdom criticism is that in its attempt to apply analysis it is myopic and overly concerned with the foibles of the Christian Right and demonstrates little or no acknowledgment of the follies of the Left, causing some to erroneously speculate that Reformed-two kingdoms is little more than a theological cover for leftish political sympathies. One explanation for the perceived incredulity is that Reformed-2k emanates from the circles where a good deal of the Christian Right finds safe haven or at least very little pushback. So instead of visual myopia, it may be a case of taking seriously the teaching to remove planks from one’s own eye before moving on to others. Or doctors healing themselves.

Whatever the explanation, we can turn once again to James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World for a little ironic help (recall his relative bouncing of 2k). After showing just how extensive the Christian Right is in its bids for cultural and political power, Hunter turns his sights in what he calls the Christian Left:

Like politically conservative Christians, politically progressive Christians also are defined by and operate within a reading of myth and history. If conservatives are animated by a mythic ideal of the right ordering of society, and thus see modern history as a decline from order to disorder, progressives have always been animated by the myth of equality and community and therefore see history as an ongoing struggle to realize these ideals.

After briefly sketching out some those myths and a little of the history (particularly in economic terms) that undergirds religious progressivism, as well as identifying some of the organizational agencies that are typically associated, Hunter looks to individuals he associates with progressive evangelicalism: John Perkins, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, Brian McLaren, Sharon Gallagher, and Randall Balmer. But for Hunter no other figure represents progressive evangelicalism like Jim Wallis, who is arguably the evangelical Left’s version of the right’s James Dobson. Wallis is the founder and editor of Sojourner’s Magazine and author of God’s Politics, from which Hunter quotes to give a clue-in as to what are the socio-political and economic virtues in sight:

There is indeed class warfare raging in this country, but not from those who speak for the poorest Americans. It is the class warfare of tax cuts and budget priorities that make the rich richer while further decimating low- and middle-income families…that inequality is becoming intolerable. The ongoing costs of the war, combined with tax cuts for the wealthy, have led to a crisis for America’s poorest children. Indeed, America’s poor were the first casualties of the Iraq war, as U.S. domestic needs were pushed off the political agenda…The consequences of these actions have become a silent war, felt most severly in the poorest parts of the United States, where low-income families are desperately clutching onto the bottom rungs of the failing economy.

Wallis is also the convener of Call to Renewal, a Sojourner associated project aimed at ending poverty. According to Wallis, “God is angry with America and with the world because of the statistics of poverty.” Switch out the problem of poverty with that of abortion and Jim becomes James. Other assorted sentiments, whether from God’s Politics, Call to Renewal or The Soul of Politics are:

Is Jesus pro-rich, Pro-war? Pro-American? I don’t think Jesus’ top priorities would have been a capital gains tax cut and the occupation of Iraq. I go city-to-city and people say, “That’s not MY faith, the way it’s portrayed in the election or in the media or the way it’s invoked in the White House or Congress. I’ve a got a faith too, and that’s not it.”

For decades the religious right has held the upper hand in religion and politics. This is changing and they must share the stage.

It feels sometimes that our faith has been stolen in the public arena. And when your faith is stolen, it’s time to take it back…we need to take our religion back.

How? As is the case with the Christian Right in its bid to a will to power through all the “take back” rhetoric, the succinct answer is a thorough-going American one and lies in a turn toward politics:

Vote. The simple act of voting is one of the most empowering actions you can do to create a just and peaceful world.

Hunter enlists Katha Pollitt, writing for The Nation, to point out what should be obvious: “Wallis’ evangelicalism is as much a power play as Pat Robertson’s. And Wallis is as much a power player. By a remarkable act of providence, God’s politics turn out to be curiously tailored to the current crisis of the Democratic Party.”

Citing bulleted assertions (complete with scriptural proof-texts) that range from tax policies aimed at compassion for the poor to environmentalism to arms reduction, Hunter then quotes at length a portion of God’s Politics that clearly make the case that leftish concerns are biblical and those who oppose them are being unbiblical, explaining himself thus:

It’s the kind of talk we don’t hear much of these days in America. But we need it. If the Hebrew prophets were around today, they would surely be preaching about our tax and budget policies that enrich the wealthy and ‘make money for the poor.’ And I don’t think they would have worried much when accused of class warfare. If biblical prophets like Amos and Isaiah had read the news about what happened to child tax credits for low-income families, for example, they surely would be out screaming on the White House lawn about the justice of God—and be quickly led away by the Secret Service.

Oy vey. More screaming prophets. One can scarcely take it in.

But Hunter then lowers his critique, which could just as easily come from any two kingdom adherent:

The problem, of course, is that Amos, Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets were living in a Jewish theocratic setting. The only way that Wallis and others can make these strong statements is to confuse America with Israel and the political dynamics of modern American democracy with the divine laws mandated for ancient Israel. It isn’t that the wisdom of scripture is irrelevant for the formation of political values, but one can only make the close associations and specific political judgments Wallis does by turning progressive religion into a civil religion of the Left. It may be a more compassionate religion than what one finds in the American mainstream, but it is just a different expression of the same phenomenon, not something different from it. Both Right and Left, then, aspire to a righteous empire. Thus, when he accuses Falwell and Robertson of being ‘theocrats who desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state,’ he has established the criteria by which he and other politically progressive Christians are judged the same.

In its commitment to social change through politics and politically oriented social movements, in its conflation of the public with the political, in its own selective use of scripture to justify political interests, and in its confusion of theology with national interests and identify, The Christian Left (not least the Evangelical Left) imitates the Christian Right. The message is obviously different, their organizational scale and popular appeal are different, and their access to media outlets are different, but in their framework, method, and style of engagement, politically conservative Christians are very similar to their politically conservative counterparts.

So there you have it. What with Hunter’s eventual dismissal of two kingdom theology, it may be odd for a staunch Reformed-two kingdom adherent say it, but: yeah, what he said. What is good for the Rightist goose is good for the Leftish gander. The religious Right and Left are two sides of a skewed coin. Though the applications differ, the abiding principles are identical: Christianity is nothing if not relevant to the social, political, economic and cultural felt needs of those who think the gospel has direct and obvious bearings on the cares of this world. And when Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world, he was really talking to the other water foul.

This entry was posted in Culture, Culture War, James Davison Hunter, Jim Wallis, Two-kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Of Geese and Ganders

  1. John Yeazel says:

    The plight of the poor is certainly a difficult and complex issue which almost seems insoluble in this life. But having spent some time around them and seeing that there are ways out that they refuse to utilize because they can be better off staying where they are at utilizing black markets and con-activities you kind of throw up your hands and give up. It is very difficult to make a lifestyle change and change someone’s ingrained habits that help him/her survive from day to day doing things (often illegal and against the law) that they are comfortable with. The money, food and shelter from the more wealthy does find ways to them. A lot of government money (perhaps too much) does get to them too. Many of the poor I knew became good and convincing con artists and thieves. It was almost comical observing them but then you realize how destructive it is to their souls which they could give two hoots about. It is a surreal environment in which they function. Interesting for types like me who enjoy observing how the down and outers survive and function but not a place where the uninitiated want to end up at or go to.

    I guess my point is if I was to err in my political activism I would rather err to the left but your point about the dynamics of both left and right political activists seems to be correct to me. They are both the same and to bring your faith into political activism is fraught with problems. Better to go the 2K way which provides the liberty to swing either way you think is best politically.

  2. John Yeazel says:

    I hope no one takes my comment as me being a liberal. I am more conservative than liberal but I do hold a place in my heart for those who are down and out. I would do anything to help them out of their situation if they desired to get out of it. I have found few who really want to get out of it. It is very difficult to get out.

  3. RubeRad says:

    I can’t imagine anybody reading that comment about the correlation between poverty and con-artistry, and come away thinking you’re a liberal!

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