Long post incoming but (I hope) worth the read. We have a huge untapped group of people who would be receptive to progressive ideas such as healthcare for all, being against corporate greed, a green new deal, etc.
To preface, I am a Christian and a progressive. I grew up going to church and I supported George Bush as a kid b/c it seemed like a lot of other Christians did. When I went to a public high school, I got a rude awakening when our government professor described the Republican stance on religion to me. Fast forward to now, and I have learned a lot. I am still Christian, and spending time in San Francisco and Phoenix with different Christians across the political spectrum and age groupings, I came to realize that we definitely can win over those who blindly follow the "religious right" or the Republican party. This will be a bit long because I want to express my thoughts and generalizations about how progressive Christians and conservative Christians tend to think, so bear with me:
Tim Keller, the best American Christian author of our time wrote in his book, The Reason for God, a brief blurb on policy discussion. Here is a brief excerpt:
"When you come out into the public square it is impossible to leave your convictions about ultimate values behind. Let's take marriage and divorce laws as a case study. Is it possible to craft laws that we all agree "work" apart from particular worldview commitments? I don't believe so. Your views of what is right will be based on what you think the purpose of marriage is. If you think marriage is mainly for the rearing of children to benefit the whole society, then you will make divorce very difficult. If you think the purpose of marriage is more primarily for the happiness and emotional fulfillment of the adults who enter it, you will make divorce much easier. The former view is grounded in a view of human flourishing and well-being in which the family is more important than the individual, as is seen in the moral traditions of Confucianism, Judaism, and Christianity. The latter approach is a more individualistic view of human nature based on the Enlightenment's understanding of things. The divorce laws you think "work" will depend on prior beliefs about what it means to be happy and fully human. There is no objective, universal consensus about what that is. Although many continue to call for the exclusion of religious views from the public square, increasing numbers of thinkers, both religious and secular, are admitting that such a call is itself religious."
Lots to unpack there. This is him specifically talking about why we cannot ignore religious beliefs when discussing morality, and even though he uses one specific example and paints with a broad brush, he is just making a good point: You cannot check your own worldview at the door.
Here is some generalizations about progressive Christians I have witnessed. They don't apply to all, but seem to apply to most:
- Their ultimate allegiance is to God, not their country, and definitely not to the democratic party or progressive cause. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I will explain later.
- They are highly educated. The reason why is not necessarily because we try to look through everything from a non-religious standpoint, but because we know about things like the scientific method or have more exposure to actual progressives or people of other religions, we can better digest their arguments and positions and see whether it aligns with the Christian worldview (It actually does)
- They tend to have a higher EQ, spend more time with friends who are minorities, and feel sad when they hear about racial injustice or oppression. They are often minorities themselves
- They tend to be more Biblically literate and theologically tend to believe that we need to imitate Jesus, and that focusing on God's kingdom (what everything looks like when it is the way God wants it to be) means that we should be doing his work on Earth. We show God's love to others by showing them that we love them, which includes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans (pretty much direct quotes from the Bible there). When others see the community of faith behaving in such a way, they will know that our faith in God is genuine and recognize that we believe in a loving, just God who rules the world in righteousness and fairness and love, even though he gives humans free will and (for now) allows evil to persist in the world.
- They are evangelicals in the traditional, old sense of the word, but will often not label themselves as such b/c it has been coopted to mean something else politically and carries too much baggage.
Here are some generalizations about conservative Christians:
- Their ultimate allegiance is to God, but they also value highly (often too highly) country, party, and their own specific way of life.
- They value tradition (not totally a bad thing). Knowing things by tradition saves time. When you go to high school biology class, you can look at the experiments of Gregor Mendel and say "Okay, alleles and genes are a thing and we have genetic inheritance" without going through the motions of repeating his experiment to know that it is true. You don't have to do all those old chemistry and physics experiments to know about protons, neutrons, and electrons. The teacher says "Okay, this is what we know and how we learned it." For a student to stray away from tradition and pipe up and say "Wait a second, how do we know that is true if we did not see it ourselves?" would be stupid and a waste of time.
- Tend to have big objection to socialism or communism. Either "yeah, wealth inequality is a big problem, but I do not trust the government to redistribute the wealth. I would trust Jesus, but not anyone else," or "Those leftists are godless and anti-religion."
- Tend to believe that either allowing the government to help people will take things out of the hand of the individual and thus remove the Christian's own moral agency and give them an inability to do what we as Christians should do, or believe that the church should be more focused on spiritual things (whatever the hell that means) and let other "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (A better way to put their interpretation of Jesus' words there is "Let Rome worry about Rome").
- Often believe that the Republican party is more "Christian"
- May be a one issue voter (abortion). This might be less common than you think. Just let them know that they do not have a seat at the table with the younger generation because by being a one issue group, and not caring about what other communities facing, they will never be a part of a diverse coalition as the one that once outlawed booze (yeah, that was a mistake but oh well). The morality of abortion is a philosophical and theological quagmire that I will not get into here. Just tell them the truth. There's no such thing as landmark anti-abortion legislation and public opinion will never be with anti-abortion folks so long as they continue to advance their cause at the expense of other communities' problems. The same people that got women the right to vote had a huge overlap with the group that got minorities the right to vote (minus Susan B. Anthony but whatever). Both movements needed each other, and unless single-issue voters recognize this truth, they will never have a seat at the table.
- Will accuse progressive Christians of being believers of a "social gospel" or mistaken belief that the goal of Christianity is to just make the world a better place. While the "social gospel" is theologically heresy no matter whether you are Catholic, Baptist, or whatever, that is simply not where we are coming from.
- Might not have a lot of non-Christian friends
I will admit I am biased but I have some really big problems with the theology of the religious right. The American Protestant church is sick for the following reasons:
- There is no central authority figures. Sometimes, this is a good thing, but it is really terrible in the age of the internet. With no powerful authority figures, a lot of Christians with nothing better to do except watch youtube or browse facebook are more susceptible to BS like Qanon. When a vacuum of leadership exists, the loudest voices have the most authority. You sort of have a weird thing in American Christianity going on where you have the most influence because you have the most influence, which sounds weird but is a big problem. When Tim Keller and a bunch of other evangelical leaders gathered together and many meeting attendees ended up denouncing Trump, one of Trump's advisors, the heretic Robert Jeffress (a heretic pastor of a heretic megachurch who wrote a few books) said, "They're a bunch of nobodies."
Here is an article about the spread of Qanon amongst susceptible evangelicals:
2) The Republican party has claimed a monopoly on God and created a church sub-culture that equates God to country. This is blasphemy (funny word and sounds old-fashioned, but it's the best word to describe it). Here is a recent example:
The religious right should be considered an abomination by Christians. How can one party have a monopoly on God? Is God really pleased with everything that one political party does and everything they do is right in his eyes? No, and that would be terribly wrong. Jesus would be neither Republican nor Democrat. But the lack of dialogue from the Christians on the left is what sinks us. When one party continually talks about God, many Christians who are not paying attention might go along with it (and some who do might even believe it wholeheartedly) because the opposite view is often presented in a more objective way. In the Bible, there is a story about how a King took a bunch of Jews and told them to bow down to a national idol that represented the nation of Babylon. All they had to do is worship it. We do not bow down to idols today, but when we glorify the nation and exalt it to the same level as God, we are committing the same sin. The Jews who did not bow down to the idol were protected by God and the king saw the error of his ways, but the modern version of this is definitely more insidious and sneaky than the story in the Bible but ultimately the same conundrum.
There's way more to talk about, but I don't want to drown you all with words, especially since there is a decent chance nobody reads this post.
Here's a TL;DR: Progressive Christians are not heretics. The religious right is full of them. Once policy discourse is presented to religious Christians in a world view and you judge progressive policies from a theological perspective, Christians will be surprisingly open, because God cares about the widow, the orphan, the foreigner. To live as God intended us to live includes the human desire to fight for the person who does not look like you or the oppressed. Christians, step up your game and work to heal the church. Non-Christians, maybe seek to find common ground and help them work things out, starting from their worldview in a broad sense and seeing what things actually look like to a policy discussion. Obviously, American Christians will need to stamp out heresy within the church.
What do y'all think?