[This post is part of a conversation at the Patheos Book Club on the new book Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith In Politics, by Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes (2011, Russell Media).]
The good news in this book: contrary to the assumptions of many, evangelicals are not of one mind on matters political.
The bad news in this book: the wing of the right-wing evangelical co-author of the book is that of a bat, not a bird.
There once was a day when a Republican was a person who was suspicious of government power but a believer in the importance of government as a force for the common good. It was a Republican, after all, who presided over the creation of the interstate highway system. It was a Republican who warned Americans about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. There was a day when Republicans were sober-minded folks who wanted good government, not eviscerated government. They fought against corrupt industrial unions, not against benign public employees’ unions. They defended the social status quo, not teaching six-day creation in public schools.
Today’s dominant members of the Republican Party have gone batty. And if you want a peek into their belfry, look no further than the half of “Left, Right, and Christ” written by D. C. Innes. His is a bizarre brew of biblical fundamentalism, discredited trickle-down economics, and radical libertarianism. His ideas are too gonzo to be put alongside those of Lisa Sharon Harper, herself hardly a leftist. She’s what used to be known as a centrist until the right went into the barely detectable realms of the electromagnetic spectrum. I admire much of what she has to say in this book, but her reflections are demeaned by being put alongside those of Innes. Here’s one of his pronouncements: “For its part, government would gladly expand to take responsibility for everything it could. It would soon have agencies for tying your shoes, blowing your nose, and tucking you in at night. People would become ever more narrowly selfish and childishly dependent.” (p 63) Is there another agency that Rick Perry forgot that should be abolished – the Department of Runny Noses? Is there anybody, anywhere on the political spectrum, suggesting anything even remotely close to that kind of governmental intrusion on matters of personal responsibility? Innes makes a mockery of the premise of the book. It should be titled “Reasonable, Totally Whacked-Out, and Christ”.
For too long, the conservative movement in this country has defined the parameters of political discourse. We see it at work in the skewed version of “fair and balanced” practiced by Fox News. Conservatives define who is right and who is left so that the center is painted as the left. Then the right can be as far-out as it wants. This book falls neatly into that trap. Defining a decidedly uncontroversial writer like Lisa Sharon Harper as a leftist, in contrast to the hyperbolic D. C. Innes, makes the evangelical world look weirder than it really is.
This book doesn’t describe the true diversity of political viewpoints in theologically conservative Christianity. There are plenty of true centrists, and plenty of true leftists, among evangelical Christians. We should not take this book’s bait and assume that half the evangelical world has lost contact with reality. This big constituency can be reached – and ought to be reached – with the gospel message of social justice.
(For more discussion of this book, see: http://www.patheos.com/Book-Club/Harper-and-Innes-Left-Right-Christ.html )
The Rev. Jim Burklo is Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California. He blogs at Musings.