An Alternative Soul of Politics: The Rise of Contemporary Progressive Evangelicalism Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Gasaway, Brantley W.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation traces the development of the contemporary progressive evangelical movement and analyzes how leaders responded to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Beginning in the late 1960s progressive evangelicals became vigorous advocates for social justice. Perceived inequality and injustice represented the primary moral issues that compelled their social and political activism. Yet the emergence of the Christian Right and its conservative agenda in the late 1970s soon overshadowed progressive evangelicalism. Alarm over assaults on both America’s ostensible Christian heritage and traditional standards of family and sexuality inspired the politicization of Christian conservatives. As the Christian Right became the most conspicuous form of evangelical political engagement, progressive evangelical leaders found themselves on the defensive. They protested that their alternative soul of politics represented the most faithful and comprehensive expression of Christian public engagement. Focusing on three primary representatives—Sojourners and its editor Jim Wallis; The Other Side; and Evangelicals for Social Action under the leadership of Ron Sider—I argue that contemporary progressive evangelical leaders embraced a public theology of community that prioritized social justice. Community membership not only safeguards individual rights, they believed, but also entails responsibilities for the common good. In abstract terms, the common good results from basic social and economic conditions that allow all of a community’s members to prosper. Justice provides the vital framework for achieving the common good, they argued, and thus represents the highest ideal of public life. Both racism and sexism denied the equality of minorities and women, and each injustice became a natural target of progressive evangelical activism. Leaders campaigned both for anti-discriminatory laws such as the Equal Rights Amendment and for distributive justice programs such as affirmative action. With respect to abortion, most progressive evangelical leaders concluded that unborn children deserved the same protection as other community members. Yet these pro-life advocates refused to separate their opposition to abortion from their campaigns against other injustices and threats to life. Finally, progressive evangelical leaders disagreed on the legitimacy of homosexual behavior for Christians but united in defending the full civil rights of gays and lesbians.
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  • In Copyright
  • Ariel, Yaakov
  • Open access

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