Bob Riley, the Republican governor of Alabama, wants to overturn
Roe v. Wade and clear the way for a ban on abortion. He wants to
repeal the Brady bill and earn an "A" rating from the National Rifle
Association. He wants to return a Ten Commandments monument to
Alabama's state courthouse, calling the commandments "an important
foundation of American government."
And last week, Bob Riley tried to raise taxes. Lots of them. From
On Sept. 9, Alabamians voted overwhelmingly to reject Mr. Riley's
proposed $1.2 billion tax hike. The increase would have closed the
state's $675 million budget deficit and provided new revenues for
its public schools, the worst-funded in America. A good chunk of
this money would have come from timber companies, which own 75
percent of the land in Alabama but pay less than 2 percent of its
Contradicting the GOP gospel of tax cuts, Riley managed to
alienate most of his Republican constituents. But he also made
frequent reference to the actual Gospel, which enjoins Christians to
share their wealth. And that message could provide a saving grace
for American liberals, who have forgotten the religious passion that
used to inspire them.
"Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least
among us," Riley argued, campaigning for his tax measure. "We've got
to take care of the poor."
His plea sounds incongruous to contemporary American liberals,
who associate Christianity with right-wing politics. For the first
200 years of US history, however, Americans used the Bible to attack
inequality and injustice. Indeed, it's hard to think of an important
liberal movement that wasn't powered by a strong religious impulse.
Consider the abolitionist crusade of William Lloyd Garrison, who
condemned slavery as a "sin against Heaven." Blacks and whites were
"children of a common Father," Garrison thundered, "created in the
same divine image." After the Civil War, workers invoked the Bible
in their struggle for higher wages, shorter hours, and safety
regulations. "What was right in the time of Moses, Mordecai and Ehud
will be right forever," a mineworkers' union declared in 1894. "God
shall judge the poor of the people; He shall save the children of
the needy, and shall break into pieces the oppressor."
In the early 20th century, Protestant ministers preached a
"Social Gospel" on behalf of antitrust laws, women's suffrage, and
international arbitration. Many of them drifted toward Theodore
Roosevelt's Progressive Party, which sang "Onward Christian
Soldiers" at its 1912 convention.
Most of all, Christian leaders - and Christian rhetoric -
dominated black Americans' quest for civil rights. …