Four Reasons Why the Resistance Needs the Christian Left

Catherine M Wallace

 As the Trump administration flounders, the progressive Left has an unprecedented opportunity to reconfigure the national conversation about the role of government and the functioning of democracy. The Left must forge a new consensus. To succeed, our new consensus must gain the allegiance of millions of decent, reasonable Christians who voted for Trump hoping that he was an agent of necessary change in dysfunctional Washington. The progressive Left must convince these voters that we represent the change they are looking for—and the progressive Christian Left is crucial for doing so.

Writing for FiveThirtyEight, Daniel Cox dismisses the Christian Left as a political force. He cites a familiar array of demographic data: shrinking mainline congregations, the growing secularity of Millennials, and liberal-Democratic discomfort with religious language. That dismissal ignores a major fact: liberals and secular Millennials don't need to be persuaded to oppose the GOP. The people we need to reach are those who think of themselves as "conservative Christians." Unlike the secular Left, the Christian Left can speak directly to the hearts and minds of these crucial voters. In an April 2014 report, "Faith in Equality," the Brookings Institution argued that Christian progressives are key to the success of a progressive agenda.

Just for starts, we have the chops to argue with Trump's white-Evangelical and white-Catholic supporters that the GOP legislative agenda is flatly opposed to everything demanded by Jesus of Nazareth. We can use our tradition—its poetry, its passion, its abiding prophetic call for social justice—to explain in resonant ways that the current GOP agenda is neither Christian, nor conservative, nor does it serve the national interest, national security, and our collective future. In doing so we are building on existing fissures in Christian captivity to the political Right. For instance, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has been an outspoken critic of Trump. Pope Francis has demanded action on climate change.

And that's not all the Christian Left has to offer. The progressive Left must go beyond refuting Republicans to offer a compelling vision American national identity. Who are we and who do we seek to become as a nation? The Left must offer the quality of vision without which democracy will perish. The Christian Left has vital resources for articulating this vision.

The Christian Left has in our hearts and at our fingertips the immense Western-Christian literary heritage expressing the human yearning for a life rooted in moral substance, not shabby boasting and pathetic narcissism. We know how to evoke the human desire for a life shaped by integrity, purpose, and social connection rather than greed, self-seeking, and shameless exploitation of the vulnerable. We talk about such yearnings every Sunday. We can with grace and power indict the spiritual shabbiness of a Republican party consumed by the greed of the greedy claiming that whatever makes the rich richer is good for all of us. That's demonstrably false both economically and environmentally, but we have a stronger argument yet. We can argue that the GOP agenda is morally corrupt as a vision of the good life.

The secular Left is too easily embarrassed by talk of spiritual yearnings, larger meanings in life, and honest patriotism. The secular Left is too easily trapped its own corrosive skepticism, postmodern irony, and explicit opposition to "master narratives" like the story that America is a place where people from all over the world have come together as "one nation indivisible," committed to "liberty and justice for all." If we hope to stem the tide of xenophobic alt-Right toxic nationalism, we need to reclaim the honest language of a sane and reasonable patriotic idealism. The Christian Left has a powerful, ancient language for that patriotic idealism, because the great American Idea is historically and conceptually rooted in ancient Jewish and Christian teachings about compassion, social justice, public responsibility, and human moral equality rooted in our joint inheritance of the inward "image of God."

Third, the Christian Left can defend what the secular Left can merely assert. The secular Left asserts that universal human rights and the truth-value of critical thinking are self-evident claims that no reasonable person would question. As a result, it's baffled and all too often outflanked by radicals who are happy to demonize vulnerable groups and lie about anything for their own narrow political or economic gain. The secular Left responds with data charts and fact-checking in mind-numbing detail. That information is necessary but not sufficient: politics is not made of data points. Honest facts must be framed by righteous moral indignation that holds itself above sophomoric ridicule and personal attack. The secular Left has trouble framing such arguments, because they have limited access to the classic Western literary sources of righteous indignation. As a result, the secular Left can come off shrill or worse yet whiny rather than sonorous, confident, and morally self-possessed.

The Christian Left, heirs of Christian humanism, believes that compassion for others is the love of God flowing through us; human intelligence is the light of God shining through us. In our eyes, it is profoundly immoral—a direct offense against God and the image of God in other people—to scapegoat the vulnerable or to deny the actual consequences of legislation or executive orders. We have a powerful, accessible language in which to hold the GOP morally accountable. We can defend the moral heritage of the West in ways that the GOP cannot easily dismiss as "partisan arguments" defending "special interests."

Finally, the Christian Left is nimble, networked, and well-organized. We have publications, websites, and blogs. We have social networks in local communities. Our faith bridges major racial, ethnic, and geographic divides. At the national level, both the Evangelical Left and the Catholic Left have major, long-standing, professionally staffed organizations. Liberal mainline Protestant congregations, having survived their own version of the culture wars, have emerged as lean, focused, nationally-networked advocates for what Jesus of Nazareth actually said. The Christian Left has the National Council of Churches, an outspoken alliance of thirty-eight denominations. All across the Christian Left, organizations have been advocating for the common good for decades. And for decades the Democratic party has politely ignored our support for a progressive agenda.

The Christian Left cannot defend democracy alone. But ignoring us is nonsense