What's Left?

This stings a bit. I sit to the left of my Evangelical parents. Someone like Wallis offers us space for a rare compromise on this tender issue. But Schultz is uncompromising in his rebuttal, and ultimately convincing. Abortion, he argues, is fundamentally about power. An undeniable gender imbalance exists where one group has far more power than another. He uses Paul's concept of radical equality to argue that Christians are obligated to combat this gender disparity. "No amount of support for pregnant women or adoption assistance," he concludes forcefully, "will be able to change the equation until the fundamental imbalances of power are dealt with."

Still, I would not give this book to my parents. It is written specifically for those comfortable in "progressive" skin; and, to a certain extent, to Protestants, those in the tradition from which a bulk of the theological backbone emerges. This narrowness is fine. Schultz is wise to identify his location on the political and religious continuum, aim there and hit it hard. He presses his fellow religious progressives to shed their timidity. You can still be religious, he says, and politically potent. In fact, your religion brings something unique and intimately valuable to political life.

Schultz is not interested in a deep exegetical work. He frequently leads a theological claim with the axiom, "God is free," without parsing it out. (At times, I wish he would dig further, for instance, into the sticky but fascinating concept of "power" in Pauline theology.) Yet, thankfully, he deals with tangible policy issues rather than theological abstractions. He does not, however, take an interest in some of the practical hurdles to his proscriptions. He ignores the obvious dilemma: there are simply fewer and fewer progressives in pews, at least the mainstream Protestant ones. Although he leans heavily on their ideas, he has very little explicit dialogue with his progenitors -- the liberation theologies of the past and present. This is a noticeable gap. It stands out considerably when one notes that a rising majority of religious Americans that face leftward, at least electorally, are black and Latino.

For him, an "authentic" response to the financial crisis yields a twofold prophetic witness: a sharp critique to the powerbrokers behind it, and an offering of "hope" to those in its wake. Schultz, I can safely imagine, would contend that this can be done outside the confines of a church. Yet, if that's the case, he doesn't elaborate fully on what this form would take.

Changing the Script feels like a good first step, a foundation for further theological writing that is politically relevant and vital. Schultz pastors a small, United Church of Christ congregation in rural Wisconsin. No stories from the congregation make it into the book. Although I understand why, this is a little disappointing. I would have loved to read about the attempts, undoubtedly messy but rich, to deliver hope and a prophetic voice here in the heartland. Surely, there are those in his church and community buried under the Big Shitpile, or wrestling with the abstraction of torture. In these lives lies the yeoman's work to transform these scripts. This focus would save Schultz from coming across as merely another aggregator of our collective sins.

 

Mark Bergen is a contributing editor at Killing The Buddha.He lives in Chicago and blogs here.This article originally appeared at Killing The Buddhaand is reprinted with permission.

9/24/2010 4:00:00 AM
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