For the growing evangelical left, the social justice agenda is about bringing heaven to earth, an Ohio author and Political Science professor said.
In a comparison study with the evangelical right, Cedarville University professor Mark Smith said the youthful evangelical left are pushing the bounds of Christianity to correct what they have determined to be inequality and injustice.
“Primarily when they look at America, they see a land of inequality and that inequality seems to drive much of their political passion,” explained Smith.
The evangelical left's passion, Smith described, leads them to pursue changes they believe will change America into a just society.
“The goal is to bring heaven to earth,” he concluded.
Smith, also the director of Cedarville's Center for Political Studies, has been studying the political left for an upcoming book, Meandering to Zion. The book, co-authored by Marc Clauson and Tom Mach, focuses primarily on the emerging evangelical left.
During his lecture on Thursday at the Family Research Council’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, Smith clarified that the evangelical left is separate sect from mainline Protestants, the Catholic Church or even the African-American Church.
Who are the evangelical left?
The evangelical left, he said, exists at the tip of the leftist spear and encompasses young, left-leaning Christians and liberals. Some of the evangelical left are actual Christians, he described. Smith supposes these are Christians who may also be the rebelling children of the evangelical right.
“Maybe what we are looking at is a group of young Christians who are challenging their parents’ and their grandparents’ political attachments,” he noted.
However, not all of the Christian left are believers. Others, he said, define their faith by spiritual experiences and their doctrine, by what their peers mutually agreed upon.
Despite his attempts to define the evangelical left, he said it is too early in the movement to tell who exactly makes up that cohort.
But it is clear, he concluded, that the evangelical left are practicing a type of “new gospel” where Jesus is a key political symbol.
The cohort very publicly invokes Jesus’ name to justify their policy positions, Smith pointed out as he displayed pictures of political protest signs to prove this point.
The slides showed protesters carrying signs such as “Jesus doesn’t love torture,” “Who would Jesus bomb?” and “What does Jesus say about homosexuality? Absolutely nothing.”
Smith explained that in the evangelical left’s version of the gospel, Jesus is a social reformer, and His authority trumps that of everyone else in the Bible. In the political sphere, the evangelical left are action-oriented and their action is centered on turning America into an equal society for all, he observed.
“Think of the Lord’s prayer: ‘Our father in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ For the Christian left, this becomes a political doctrine. Our goal is to take what exists in heaven and to bring it to earth.”
The Christian left believe that inequality is not the will of God and is therefore a sign of injustice. "When the Christian left look at America and they see unequal income distributions, their conclusion is by definition those distributions have occurred by some injustice that's taken place," the Cedarville professor explained.
Therefore, instead of focusing on conservative evangelical issues such as family, marriage and abortion, the Christian left tend to focus on issues such as poverty, race and the environment. They believe that social justice is achieved when there is an equal distribution of goods such as education and economic opportunity. They turn to the government to enact their agenda while the right-wing evangelicals champion limited government.
Smith noted that President Barack Obama is seen as a figure head of the evangelical left. There are a lot of similarities between Obama and Smith’s definition of the Christian left.
Obama has asserted his Christian beliefs through his term as president. He also touts his background as a grassroots organizer. Obama champions innovation in green alternative energy industry while maintaining a nuanced view on abortion and gay rights than most Christians.
While Smith spoke favorably about the Christian left’s youthful energy, he was critical of the movement’s “unorthodox” view of Scripture. He equated their efforts to achieve a heaven on earth to a "socialist utopia" based on scripturally vague notions.
He also attacked their view that inequality is a sign of social injustice. "The reality is inequality happens for many reasons that we might not want to confront," Smith corrected. He reminded believers that the Bible gives many reasons for poverty, including slothfulness and lavish spending.
The Bible recommends that poverty by injustice be solved through the legal system, he pointed out, while insisting that government-imposed reforms should not be the answer to all social ills.
"Clearly, we have social problems. No one would deny that," Smith stated. "But that doesn't, by definition, mean that government is the best way to solve those [problems]. It isn't the most efficient, it isn't the most loving and I would say that our recent history would show that isn't the most effective."