Why Liberal Is Not a Bad Word
Many of us don't share the traditional assessment of the nature of homosexuality. I am among this group. We used to hold the traditional view because it's what we were taught and we hadn't been convinced otherwise, but now, for a variety of reasons both biblical and personal, we can no longer in good conscience agree with that teaching. And we have found that when we remove the assumption that gay people are simply choosing to rebel against nature and God, it's far easier to show compassion. But maybe it makes the compassion seem even more heroic when it is expressed by those who see homosexuality as sin.
I accept your contention that the American evangelical church, historically, became so associated with conservative politics that it lost its capacity to speak prophetically to the Right. Now that the Democratic party is in power, and people on the Evangelical Left like Jim Wallis have positions of extraordinary influence, I wonder if you worry about the same thing happening on the Left. Are progressive evangelicals as prophetic as they should be when it comes to pointing out deceptions and hypocrisies in liberal politicians?
Before answering your question, let me offer a couple of related observations. First, the party in power doesn't seem to have that much power these days! Our government seems to be pretty much deadlocked on many of the issues that matter most, even though it can generate a lot of sound and fury on issues that help parties get re-elected. Second, I have great respect for Jim Wallis, and I think the President does as well, but I don't get the impression that Jim is having the kind of "extraordinary influence" that his counterparts had on the previous administration. Third, even if the White House is listening to people like Jim, I don't think anyone's moral influence on the Congress is close to overcoming the influence of wealthy party loyalists, lobbyists, and major corporations. Fourth, for every Jim Wallis proclaiming the biblical call to social justice, there are lots of other voices on cable news and talk radio and religious broadcasting that are promoting an opposing set of values, often in the name of God. Fifth, I don't think Jim would be terribly happy with the term "Evangelical Left," because he feels, as many of us do, that the typical left-right polarity clouds as much as or more than it clarifies. All that's to say that Jim and the rest of us have plenty of prophetic work to do in relation to people of both parties!
But your question points out a real danger that all of us need to keep in mind. The old cliché about power corrupting became a cliché for good reasons. Whether we're looking at political leaders or religious ones, deception and hypocrisy become all the more dangerous the more power one has. If we think, "Our cause is just, so we're less corruptible," we should hear Paul's words echoing in our minds: Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Scot McKnight recently reviewed your book, A New Kind of Christianity, in Christianity Today. He wrote that "Brian's new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it's not old enough." Your New Christianity may be new for you, he says, but it is actually a rehash of 19th-century liberal theology. How do you understand McKnight's critique, and do you think it's fair or accurate?