Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (XII)
There is a decided movement within what has historically been called evangelicalism to disassociate itself from the so-called Religious Right. This isn’t totally surprising for a number of reasons, not least of which is that evangelicalism has been moving to the left theologically and politically for a while. In addition, most Christians agree that neither the Democrat nor Republican parties represent Christianity. Unfortunately, there are some Christians that tend to identify being Christian with being Republican, but the two are not identical.
Christians do, however, have to make decisions with regards to certain public policies. For example, as a Christian, do you vote for a candidate that is pro-choice? Do you, or should you, vote for a candidate with poor foreign and economic policies? Is it wise to cast your vote for a candidate who is for big, ever-expanding government? How big of an issue is universal health care? Of course, we discuss these types of things all the time and Christians make decisions regarding them.
I preface my remarks this way because there is, among some who call themselves Christians, an aversion to the politics of the Religious Right. The phrase has almost become anathema in certain Christian circles. As a reaction to the RR, some who call themselves Christians have jumped on the global warming bandwagon, drive a Prius, and are in favor of “flex-fuels,” notwithstanding the fact that it takes a gallon-and-a-half of gasoline to produce one gallon of ethanol. That’s funny.
The reaction to the RR is producing its own brand of political animal under the guise of caring for the poor, destitute, and marginalized. In addition, they have formulated definite views on issues such as illegal immigration, “patriotic idolatry,” drilling in ANWR or offshore, homosexuality, mysticism, universal health care, the death penalty, just war, no tax cuts for the rich, and a host of other matters dealing with the redistribution of wealth. My point here is simply this: These are all liberal, left-wing, typically Democrat Party issues, along with their two other favorites: evolution and abortion. You need to know this as a Christian in your decision-making process about political and economical factors.
A few names need to be mentioned here. In 1972, Eerdmans published John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. Ron Sider has been a fixture in the cause for the poor and Third World countries for a while. In the more recent past, J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh co-authored The Transforming Vision, Glen Stassen and David Gushee co-authored Kingdom Ethics, Jim Wallis wrote God’s Politics, and has a new book entitled The Great Awakening, with the Foreword written by Jimmy Carter, and Brian McLaren published Everything Must Change. As another point of interest, I would mention the late James McClendon’s first volume of his systematic theology entitled Ethics. Finally, Tony Campolo has written Letters to a Young Evangelical (Basic Books, 2006).
No doubt, young evangelicals will pick up Campolo’s book and find it “cool.” While McLaren, Wallis, and Campolo rail against the Religious Right, I would like to add a disclaimer and postscript to Campolo’s book that reads: Warning: you are being indoctrinated in Socialist/Marxist ideology. You see that is precisely the problem with these compassionate theologians. They demonize the RR without explaining to you that they are truly the RL (Religious Left). In one sense, this is an unconscionable approach. It’s fine to warn against the dangers that they believe are lurking in the RR, but they should be up front enough to be willing to lay their ideological cards on the table while they’re explaining life and their worldview to you.
By his own admission, Campolo desires to bring about God’s Kingdom by “progressive politics” (p. 3). Campolo and Wallis are in league together and Wallis even wrote a blurb on the jacket cover that reveals that Campolo is his favorite evangelist. That’s fine. We all have our favorites as well as those of whom we are less fond. Campolo and Wallis are joined by Sider and McLaren in their efforts. The net effect of the merry band’s “advice” is worse than the cure. If the Religious Right has embraced the Republican Party wholesale, this group has done the same thing with Socialism/Marxism. Unfortunately, in their zeal to demonstrate just how bad the RR really is and to convince young evangelical minds that it is their sworn enemy, they conveniently forget to mention that they are liberal, left-wing theologians whose views definitely have a profound impact upon our current political and economical structures. All of them seem to have let that little tidbit slip through the cracks, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.
Like others in this camp, Campolo ostensibly uses the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) to give us the ethics of Jesus. This is a ploy used by many of these so-called “neutral” theologians/political commentators. One clear example will suffice. Old Mr. Starbucks with Birkenstocks himself, “Good Guy, Bri” gives us an explanation of the Sermon on the Mount that is completely bereft of exegesis, but is big on left-wing creativity. After introducing some select verses from Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, Bri opines that if Jesus were in a conversation with someone about the pervasive human pull towards war—what?—“I think he might say something like this:” (Hold on, because this is going to be a bumpy ride in the imagination of the emergent church! What follows is only an excerpt of the whole page of fabricated words that Bri puts in Jesus’ mouth so that Jesus becomes a charter member of moveon.org.)
“My message of the kingdom of God is intended to replace the drugs of nationalism, tribalism, partisanship, ethnocentrism, and religious elitism—and the war addiction they support.” Translation: America really isn’t as great as you’ve been led to believe. Moreover, some Bible-thumping Christians believe that Christianity is the only way to be saved. Finally, America is a war-mongering nation, delirious with the joy of inflicting as much civilian collateral damage as possible—unlike our peace-loving enemies, who go out of their way to avoid such casualties, with the exception of millions who were raped and tortured—, and addicted to building empires for the sake of self-aggrandizement.
But the Jesus of Bri’s imagination isn’t finished yet. He continues, “Instead of resorting to violence for national or other lesser interest, my kingdom invites you to defect from all war making and invest yourselves in peace-making for God’s global interests and the common good of all God’s creations on the planet.” When you stop and think about it, this sounds just like the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? Right. Then WMJS (What Might Jesus Say) ends on this high note: “So replace your craving for security with a passionate hunger and thirst for justice, and you will be immune to the temptation to snort the tempting white powder of war, or shoot the mysterious yellow syringe of war, or swallow the sparkling, bubbling, golden champagne of war.”
Wow. There are only a couple of small, insignificant details that need to be ironed out and this might qualify as an addition to the canon. First, old Bri is already on page 178 and his readers don’t have a clue precisely what constitutes “justice.” It might have been somewhat helpful if Bri would have let us know what he thinks justice is. He could have given us some biblical references, but that would be asking too much because you simply cannot quote Scripture while wearing Birkenstocks. It’s so uncool. Besides, Bri might be mistaken for a Bible-believing fundamentalist, which is a fate worse than death for a theological liberal.
Second, he might have given us some specific information about who, exactly, is the war junkie. Is it the Republican Party? Is it Republicans in general? Does his definition include Democrats who voted for the war? We’re just not sure.
Third, Bri could have explained why when Jesus and the apostles dealt with those in the military that they never told them to go AWOL or otherwise to get out of the armed forces. At the very least, he could have told them to stop snorting and shooting up the opium of “rape, pillage, and plunder.”
It’s stylish to write books to people as if you’re just having a casual, neutral, and non-tendentious conversation with them. Or, like Bri, you can get your point across through a character in your book like Neo. If a person on the RR used such a name as Neo, it would have to be a nickname for Neo-Neanderthal. When Bri uses it, it means Neo-Cool-Cutting-Edge. Campolo’s characters are Timothy and Junia. Listen to what he instructs these two young mushy-brained evangelicals on page 265: “There was no question in our minds that in the struggle for justice, God sides with the poor and oppressed against the strong and powerful. For the first time, these students understood liberation theology, and they supported it—if by ‘liberation theology’ we mean the declaration that in the struggle to end injustice God sides with the poor and oppressed against their oppressors.”
We can only wonder why Campolo found it necessary to mention liberation theology and then try to weasel his way out of it. He could have simply stated that Scripture provides the true liberation man needs, both in terms of the doctrine that the Bible teaches and in terms of the ethics that flow forth out of that doctrine. Instead, Campolo conjures up images of Moltmann and Gutierrez. Their brand of “liberation theology” is thoroughly Marxist and it would take a Junia and Timothy with a lot of discernment to decipher what Campolo really means.
 That’s Brian McLaren’s term.
 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972). The 2nd edition appeared in 1994.
 Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 19842).
 J. Richard Middleton & Brian Walsh, The Transforming Vision, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984).
 David Gushee & Glen Stassen, Kingdom Ethics, Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
 Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, (San Francisco: Harper, 2005).
 Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening, Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, (Nashville: Tom Nelson, 2007).
 James W. McClendon, Jr., Ethics, Vol. 1 in his series Systematic Theology, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002). What is striking about the order of McClendon’s work is that before he addresses the doctrines of Scripture and God, he begins with ethics.
 McLaren, EMC, 178.
Labels: Emergent Church