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An Alternative Voice – Part I: An Alternative to What … and Why?

Among my interests is that of developing and promoting the so-called “alternative voice” both for the church and in the public square alike. The purpose of the alternative voice is to provide a counterweight to a prevailing perception that a large swath of the Evangelical church, encumbered by and aligned with a rightwing political agenda, is the public face of all things Christian and the sufficient authority when it comes to understanding the words and ways of Jesus.

In framing a response to this misperception, it may help to picture a continuum with three
stopping points:

                                                           Left     •     Center     •     Right                                                            

The theological continuum, or spectrum, has corresponding positions:

                         Liberal-Progressive   •   Moderate   •   Evangelical-Fundamentalist                          

There are important differences between Liberal and Progressive (though they are  sometimes used almost interchangeably) and between Evangelical and Fundamentalist
(which are not used interchangeably), and Moderate can mean so much that it ceases to mean anything at all, but for present purposes, the labels serve their purpose.

On the right side of the theological-ecclesiastical spectrum we find a sizable number of churches—largely Southern and ostensibly Evangelical—that have entered into common cause with an extreme rightwing political ideology. Its roots go back to President Nixon’s infamous Southern Strategy that began picking off traditional Democrats for the Republican agenda following the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 respectively. Its momentum increased following 9/11 and even more so leading up to and following the 2016 general election.

It would be a gross injustice to color all Evangelical churches and persons identifying as Evangelicals with the same brush, but the fact is that those identifying as Evangelicals do form a significant portion of the current Republican base, and in supporting Republican candidates, they necessarily endorse at the same time the Party’s prevailing rightwing political ideology. Attached to that ideology is a culturally conditioned and thinly veiled white supremacy lingering from the Civil War and Reconstruction through Segregation and Jim Crow. Its voice is unabashedly xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynistic.

Socially, culturally, and religiously, we are all conditioned by the community in which we live and move and find our being. Of course, if we so choose, we can break free from the various environments that have shaped us. This includes the influences that have formed our religious identity. It may take an added measure of intentionality and effort, but religious liberals and conservatives alike can recognize the cultural setting (some might say the cultural captivity) of their religious institutions and, freed from their limitations (if not errors), pursue a fuller expression of, in our case, the Founder.

Short of taking those hard steps, though, we find today a situation where a distressingly
large number of churches and church members on the Evangelical-Fundamentalist end of the theological spectrum are quite at home in the extreme political mindset that dominates the current Republican party, and having merged religious and political identities, they necessarily become identified with and give voice to rhetoric and policies antithetical to the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, not to mention the Hebrew prophetic voice with which Jesus was well acquainted.

Divisive, hostile, racist, all that and more: not quite the voice of Jesus who advocated an all-inclusive love for neighbor corresponding to an all-encompassing love for God, the Jesus who sided with the least and the last, the oppressed as opposed to the oppressor.

Some Evangelicals will say that aligning with a political culture of any kind is the price that must be paid to achieve specific religious goals. (Fair point, the Left taking note.) In this case, the religious right has wanted and now has a growing cadre of federal and a sufficient number of Supreme Court judges supportive of their social agenda (especially as pertains to abortion but also addressing supposed threats from the secular left to their religious freedom generally), but they paid a high price indeed, for a compromising Faustian alliance has claimed the soul of a large swath of the Evangelical church, and the wider community, the body politic, is the poorer for it because a public not otherwise connected to or even aware of an “alternative voice” from the larger faith community will come to associate Christianity as a whole with the hateful views spewed from rightwing media, laced with Evangelical blessings and sustained by key pulpits.

Against that milieu does an alternative voice emerge.


Coming … Part II: A Primer on the Religious Liberal and Progressive