Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Synopsis

In this compelling history of progressive evangelicalism, Brantley Gasaway examines a dynamic though often overlooked movement within American Christianity today. Gasaway focuses on left-leaning groups, such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, that emerged in the early 1970s, prior to the rise of the more visible Religious Right. He identifies the distinctive "public theology"--a set of biblical interpretations regarding the responsibility of Christians to promote social justice--that has animated progressive evangelicals' activism and bound together their unusual combination of political positions.

The book analyzes how prominent leaders, including Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, responded to key political and social issues over the past four decades. Progressive evangelicals combated racial inequalities, endorsed feminism, promoted economic justice, and denounced American nationalism and militarism. At the same time, most leaders opposed abortion and refused to affirm homosexual behavior, even as they defended gay civil rights. Gasaway demonstrates that, while progressive evangelicals have been caught in the crossfire of partisan conflicts and public debates over the role of religion in politics, they have offered a significant alternative to both the Religious Right and the political left.

Excerpt

As the nearly 1,000 participants in Sojourners’ “Peace Pentecost 1985” gathering marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., they punctuated their singing of “This Little Light of Mine” with stops for prayer. Eventually the procession of progressive evangelicals and their ecumenical allies arrived across from the White House and prepared to protest. “Let your light shine around this city!” exhorted Jim Wallis, head of the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners. Participants divided into separate groups and marched to six sites that symbolized their idiosyncratic set of political priorities. Outside the White House, demonstrators prayed for “an end to the arms race and for the poor, its primary victims.” In front of the Supreme Court, a group protested the “barbaric practice” of the death penalty while also praying for crime victims. At the State Department, protesters pleaded for the American government to “stop its promotion of violence and terror” in Central America and “instead join in peaceful resolution of the conflicts in that embattled region.” Outside the South African embassy, another group prayed “on behalf of freedom and democracy and in protest of our own government’s accommodation to apartheid.” At the same time, demonstrators at the Soviet embassy “prayed on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, whose country has been brutally invaded by another arrogant superpower.” Finally, protesters at the Department of Health and Human Services prayed for unborn children, called for increased alternatives so that “desperate women would not be driven to have abortions,” and gathered in the formation of the women’s symbol in order “to show that respect for unborn life also requires respect for women.”

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