No Evangelical “Left” Behind
Differences between right and left have been distinct since ancient days. Early tools and musical instruments were designed for those whose dominant hand was their right. Anyone born left-handed was often regarded as being demonic. Even language reflects preference to a right-handed. The French word gauche means “left,” as well as “awkward” or “clumsy.” Droit(e), on the other hand (sorry, pun intended) means “right,” “straight” and “law.”
Over the past several years, there have been attempts to analyze the Evangelical Right. A strong emphasis on personal salvation and piety were hallmarks of being on the right side of the faith spectrum. In the mid-19th century, a split of sorts took place among evangelicals over the issue of social engagement and ecumenical outreach. Fundamental evangelicals rejected a social focus and working with those of other faiths. Their message preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, and conversion to Christian faith.
Such prominent religious figures as Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting Network), Jerry Falwell, Jr. (President, Liberty University), James Dobson (Focus on the Family), and Franklin Graham (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) are all identified as Evangelical Right. They and their adherents have pledged their allegiance with the Trump presidency, in spite of Trump’s moral shortcomings, ethical transgressions, and verbal assaults.
It has been amazing to hear the basis of their support. During Trump’s presidential campaign, Falwell Jr. cast his blessing, calling him “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father, and a man I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” Later, Falwell Jr. remarked, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” Others say Trump was sent by God to save our country.
As expected, their stances have come under criticism. Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist, writes, “The proper role of Christians in politics is not to Christianize America; it is to demonstrate Christian values in the public realm. This was the spirit of the abolitionist movement, of the charitable and legal response to the human costs of the Industrial Revolution, and of the civil rights movement. This commitment does not lead toward a single party or ideology, but it does trace the outlines of an agenda: defending the rule of law, protecting minorities from discrimination and harm, fighting against trafficking and preventable suffering abroad, standing up for the rights of the disabled and vulnerable, shielding children from exploitation and abuse.”
There is another perspective on the effort to “Christianize America.” Those who consider themselves evangelical, yet reject the political right agenda, work to bring about justice for the outcast, and peace in any form it may be achieved. Often, it results in radically different solutions than those from the right. The Evangelical Left has been known for its work for social justice, and its opposition to forces that undermine those principles. It likely got its start from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1940’s. This German pastor actively opposed the rising power of the Nazi party and was ultimately martyred for it.
In the 1960s and 1970s, two brothers, Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, both Catholic priests, were very active in the civil rights movement, along with protesting against the Vietnam War. Both were arrested for various protests over the years. The Evangelical Left also put forth two pastors who spoke truth to power—the Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin and the Rev. Dr. James Forbes. They served as Senior Pastor at Riverside Church in New York City, Coffin from 1977 to 1987 and Forbes from 1989 to 2007. These prophetic voices rallied against nuclear weapons and worldwide torture, and in favor of prison reform and better immigration policies. Riverside Church was also known for its LGBTQ advocacy dating back to 1978.
So, who do we look to as the Evangelical Left leaders of today? Two come to mind—Jim Wallis and Adam Hamilton. The founder of Sojourners magazine, and the worship community of the same name, Wallis has always worked for a better world through radical action. He advocates for LGBTQ equality and broader social justice. Hamilton is senior pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the United States. He has built this 22,000-member church upon the planks of LGBTQ inclusion and Biblical adherence. He is outspoken in his support for all people.
Evangelical Right or Left? Many (not all) on the Right have sacrificed their faith for political expediency. Those on the Left have taken up the cause of equality and acceptance of those from all walks of life. While there are some exceptions, we may confidently look to our Left for direction and inspiration. The Evangelical Left will not be left behind.
Pete Buttigieg, Democratic presidential candidate, said recently on Morning Joe, “I think the time has come for more of a religious left to emerge in our country, that lets people know that they aren’t alone when they look at faith and think that teaches us to reach out to others, to humble ourselves, to take care of the immigrant, the prisoner, and frankly the sex worker.” ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter. Email David Garrett