Prophetic Politics: Christian Social Movements and American Democracy

By Lawrence, John Shelton | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2006 | Go to article overview

Prophetic Politics: Christian Social Movements and American Democracy


Lawrence, John Shelton, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Prophetic Politics: Christian Social Movements and American Democracy David S. Gutterman. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

I began reading this book with radio reports on Hurricane Katrina in the background. I paused to listen for an interview with a weary pilgrim from New Orleans. Having escaped from Superdome hell, he had arrived in Houston with nothing more than his MacDonald's uniform as a badge of his earnestness. After resting a few hours, he wanted to search immediately for a job. Framing himself within an Exodus-shaped story of wilderness crisis escaped through wandering, he felt that he had struggled through to redemption: "This here is the Promised Land. I ain't gom' back to New Orleans." At that very moment, David Gutterman was pulling my attention to the social level of biblical Exodus narratives that surface as themes of evangelically inspired political movements. For me, and probably for you, his persuasive analysis will change your estimate of the Bible's flexible vitality as a source of calls to transformation.

Gutterman, a political scientist at Linfield College with an ethical bent, is concerned about the compatibility between religious discourse and democratic practice -and this defines his book's timely relevance. Since the presidential elections of 2000 and especially 2004, many Democratic party members have felt a dilemma. Sensing that they have been defeated by the religiously motivated who scorn secular indifference to spiritual matters, they wonder how to recover political power. But pretending to be religious would be dishonest. And even when they possess religious beliefs, they are so wedded to the "wall of separation" First Amendment interpretation that they feel constitutional inhibitions against bringing them to discourse about public issues-preferring to shun any alliance predicated on faith. Without being a political handbook for such Democrats, this book will clarify many issues for them.

Gutterman's interdisciplinary analysis derives its theory and democratic norms from cultural studies and its conceptual orientations from Sacvan Bercovitch's American Jeremiad (1978), and the diverse writings of Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricoeur. He gains primary guidance from Arendt's notion of a democratic story telling in which participants offer their visions as opinion rather than certitude; it invites perspectives from other stories told in the same spirit of search for sensus communis-that condition in which we are drawn out of private perspectives into contemplating things as others see them. The democratic mentality, so understood, is a state of doubt about what we personally believe while we entertain options suggested by others. Apart from developing this interesting conception of how democratic citizens would create a distinctive story culture, Gutterman focuses on the Hebrew Bible's Exodus narrative and selected American evangelical movements that have emphasized it in prescribing for America's ills.

Gutterman follows Bercovitch in mapping a recurrent Exodus paradigm in social polemics: identification of failures in the wilderness, threat of divine punishment, and promise of redemption after self transformation (9). Biblical Exodus moves from hellish bondage, to a covenant for release, a period of journey and test of worthiness as God's covenant partner, and redemption through delivery to Canaan, the promised land. Gutterman's impressive ingenuity lies in showing how four separate evangelical movements accept this "narrative scaffolding" of Exodus to imagine their situation in the American "wilderness" as they tell the new stories of Mosaic redemption. Those movements are sketched through the twentieth-century prophets Billy Sunday (1862-1935) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), and two significant formally organized contemporary groups, Promise Keepers and Call to Renewal. How the Exodus story is retold among them is used as a measure of their compatibility with democratic politics. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Prophetic Politics: Christian Social Movements and American Democracy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.