A social justice leader disputes an author’s claim that the evangelical left is pushing the bounds of Christianity. Instead he contends that what the evangelical right considers liberal is actually “pretty conservative” because it is based on the Old Testament.
Dr. Paul Alexander, director of Jesus & Politics for Evangelicals for Social Action, says that the evangelical left’s pursuit of social justice upholds the teachings of the Bible and the definition of a Christian, which is to serve Jesus Christ.
“[The] things that are perceived as liberal, it’s actually pretty conservative because the biblical teachings are from the prophets, from the Torah, from the Old Testament, from Hebrew scripture, and from Jesus and the early church,” contends Alexander, offering advocacy for economic policies that help the poor as an example.
Although he acknowledges there are differences between the evangelical left and right, he objects to the notion that the evangelical left is somehow less faithful to the Bible’s teachings.
“Christians disagree about the best way to follow Jesus in the real world,” he simply stated.
On March 3, Mark Smith gave a lecture at the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., outlining the beliefs and tendencies of the evangelical left. Smith, the director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies, researched the political left for his upcoming book, Meandering to Zion, co-authored with Marc Clauson and Tom Mach.
During the lecture, Smith described those who veer left on the Christian spectrum as pushing the bounds of Christianity to the point of breaking. He also commented that the Christian left’s answer to poverty and equality is to create a heavenly society here on earth.
“The goal is to bring heaven to earth,” he stated.
Alexander acknowledges that the Christian left desires to make society more heaven-like. However, left-leaning Christians do not believe that there is no second coming, he clarified. Nor do they desire a utopian society.
“It’s not a matter of utopia. It is a matter about the world being a little more righteous,” Alexander says. “If a man doesn’t abuse his spouse then there is a little bit more righteousness in the world.”
The evangelical left leader also contends that if wealth is redistributed and health care is reformed to help those living in poverty, then society is a step closer to fulfilling God’s plan for humanity.
“This is a form of bringing to reality God’s vision, God’s hope for all of humanity,” asserts Alexander.
By contrast, gender discrimination, racism and poverty are not in God’s vision for humanity.
However, Smith is critical of the view that inequality is a sign of social injustice.
"The reality is [that] 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.
He is also critical of seeking to change inequality with government-imposed reforms.
"Clearly, we have social problems. No one would deny that," Smith said. "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."
Despite criticizing Smith’s assessment of the evangelical left, Alexander acknowledges that Christians need to have more discussion about how best to live up to their name.
Evangelicals for Social Action was founded by Dr. Ron Sider, who is professor of Theology, Holistic ministry & Public Policy at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University in Pennsylvania. The ESA's mission is to serve as a catalyst and connector for a community of Christian leaders by educating and equipping them to do holistic ministry and work for social transformation.