Exley’s premise is that “secular progressives” ought to take a second look at Evangelical Christianity. He writes:
Right after the 2004 elections, a cynical map made the rounds of progressives’ inboxes everywhere, separating “Jesusland” from the “United States of Canada.” Several other self-righteous riffs followed.
The image was a hit because it expressed a sinking feeling in the hearts of many progressives that America had been taken over by an incomprehensible cult of ignorance, intolerance and hate–a cult they knew as “evangelical” or “born again” Christianity.
Most secular progressives are comfortable with mainline liberal Christianity. But when it comes to evangelicals, many can only think of anti-gay ballot initiatives, clinic bombers, street preachers with megaphones and corrupt televangelists. And they tend to be confused and disturbed by a movement that reads the Bible “literally” as the “inerrant word of God.”
Personally, I’m not so comfortable even with mainline liberal Christianity, and I’m not at all confused about how Evangelicals approach the Bible. Otherwise, Exley has presented an accurate picture of my own views towards Evangelical Christianity. Spend some time living in Central Kansas and it is difficult to have any other view.
But here’s the real reason I linked to this post:
There are two really big reasons to come along on this tour:
First, progressives will never achieve their goals as long as they are hostile toward and ignorant about the faith of 100 million of their own people who are born again Christians.
Second (and we know how difficult this is to believe) there is an incredibly large and beautiful social movement exploding among evangelicals right now that stands for nearly all of the same causes and goals that secular progressives do. Those goals include: eliminating poverty, saving the environment, promoting justice and equality along racial, gender and class lines and for immigrants–and even separation of church and state.
I’m afraid point two completely contradicts point one.
For the moment, let us accept Exley’s premise that large numbers of Evangelicals support progressive causes. Why, then, should that support be threatened by the presence of progressives like me who are hostile to their religious beliefs? I have yet to meet an Evangelical who was not hostile towards atheism, but this fact has no bearing on my own support for progressive causes.
Progressives may generally be hostile towards Evangelical religion, but all we want the government to do about it is to keep religion separate from government. According to Exley, that is what large numbers of Evangelicals want as well. So why should the hostility of some progressives towards Evangelical faith make it impossible to achieve progressive goals?
If the argument is that Evangelicals go running to the anti-progressive Republican party because of a perceived hostility emanating from the Democrats, then I would suggest that they are not progressives at all. Instead, they are people who have decided on their priorities, and who have decided that their support for Exley’s list of progressive causes is less important to them than having political leaders who pay lip service to supporting their faith. Forgive me for not wanting to walk on eggshells to appeal to such folks.
Exley seems to be parroting the old and ridiculous argument that somehow atheists are hurting the cause by being too uppity about their beliefs. I’m afraid the reality is far simpler. The Evangelical left is not a large and beautiful segment of the Christian population. It is, instead, a beleagured minority within the community of Evangelicals generally. For the last twenty-five the government has pursued anti-progressive policies on virtually every front. They have done this in large measure because Evangelicals have been fanatically loyal to the Republican party. They have voted in large numbers for people who do not support Exley’s list of progressive causes. Progressives perceive Evangelicals as mostly hostile to their causes because their voting behavior bears that out. Add to that the fact that the most prominent and powerful Evangelical leaders for the past two decades, people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Ralph Reed and many others, have been uniformly anti-progressive.
There are some hopeful signs that things are changing. The resurgence of the Democratic Party in Kansas, for example, or the apparent loosening of the stranglehold of the religious right on the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates. I hope Exley is right that a revolution is brewing in “Jesusland.” But so far the evidence for it is thin on the ground. Perhaps instead of lecturing progressives, Exley should instead find some time for scolding the majority of Evangelicals for ignoring what their religion says about the proper treatment of the poor. Perhaps he could remind them that they are not absolved from having a social conscience just because there are other people with consciences who do not like their religion.
When Evangelicals start voting in significant numbers for progressive candidates, then I will take another look at the merits of their faith. Until that happens, I’m afraid I will have to view reflexive support for the Republican party as something that arises naturally from this especially blinkered and irrational sort of religion