Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recovering Christian Rightist? Or a "compassionate conservative" who just happens to agree with the Christian Right?

I came across an intriguing post by Alisa Harris, author of Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics (2011), called How I didn't "untangle my faith from politics" 09/09/2011 at her blog also called Raised Right.

The title of the blog post, of course, plays on the title of her book. She's explaining in what ways religion does relate to politics for her now. Her description of her disillusionment with Christian Right politics is certainly sensible and a reasonable statement of Christian humility:

... I had to realize that the Bible does not contain a political platform for the 21st century, a dramatic departure for someone raised in political theology like I was. Although it has plenty to say about broad principles like justice, power, oppression, and mercy, the Bible does not spell out exactly how the the United States tax code should be structured or what we should cut from the FY2012 budget. We don’t know whose taxes Jesus would cut or whose platforms he would endorse, in part because Jesus repeatedly turned down political power, lived in first-century Israel, and hasn't yet released his jobs plan in either paperback or full-color Kindle form. But despite this uncertainty, the Christian right takes it as self-evident that God supports their crusades against gay marriage, for instance. To a somewhat lesser extent, the Christian Left co-opts religious language to attach Jesus to a very particular political agenda. I think it strips religion of its transcendent meaning when we reduce it to partisan proof texts and the lowest-common-denominator language we need to make everyone feel that God would approve what they're voting for. Religion should not be another hammer in our political toolbelts.
This is a sensible perspective. As much as I admire the insights of Catholic "liberation theology" as expounded by Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino, it always concerned me that they seemed to dismiss the importance of separation of church and state, a keystone of democracy.


But I'm also leery of political conversion narratives, because they inevitably raise the question, if you're telling me you were so deluded before, why should I trust your judgment now? In the realm of dialogue among Christians and political activists around the Christian Right and it's causes, the "common ground" efforts to find areas of practical cooperation between Christian progressives and a supposed new breed of compassionate-conservative evangelical like Rick Warren also didn't leave a good impression. Warren himself punked Obama by inviting him and McCain to present their candidacies at his megachurch, then turned around and said he would never support a candidate who defended women's right to choose on abortion.

So I also had to wonder about Harris' perspective when I saw some of her occasional articles at World magazine. They include A chilling statistic 01/21/2011 and A 'filthy fraud’ 01/20/2011, both antiabortion advocacy pieces. There's also a piece about Warren, Rick Warren recovering 07/22/2010, which reads like little more than fan gossip. Californians use welfare cash at casinos 06/24/2010 is a short, standard welfare-queen type post, a favorite conservative hobby horse.

So unless her conversion from Christian Right delusions happened within the last year, I'm not sure how her new, mentally-liberated position differs from the standard Christian Right ones.

In her 09/09/2011 post at Raised Right, she also writes:

After I separated Christianity from the old politics, I was able to see scripture’s political promise differently, in a way that is both less specifically political and more generally radical. Its clear, constant teaching on equality and individual dignity are still very radical. They're ideas that turn traditional power structures on their heads. The Bible preaches the insanity that the poor will inherit the earth. It unwaveringly sides with the defenseless, the low, and the powerless over the strong, the high and the powerful. These principles are inescapably political, but they are hardly partisan in a liberal-vs-conservative or Republican-vs-Democrat sense. They make me deeply passionate about politics, to the point where I still read, tweet, and yell about it every day. But no longer do I take for granted that God is on my side in the voting booth, or that Jesus would endorse my imperfect, infallible struggle to make the world a little more fair.

I realize it's unavoidable that people will say I merely exchanged religious conservatism for a religious liberalism. That's not entirely inaccurate. But the point of telling my story was neither to promote a utopian politics-free centrist Christianity nor to suggest that leftist politics are God’s politics. It's to show the trajectory of one brainwashed girl who realized her faith and her politics didn’t fit together, and to tell what happened when I began to untangle the two.
The unhappy experience of Democrats with the "common ground" advocates after 2004 suggested that it didn't amount to much more than concern-troll scolding of Democrats for still advocating for women's right to choose. Antiabortion activists include some of the most fanatical characters in politics. And their willingness to just bald-faced lie about things like the risks of abortion to the women having them gives everyone else good reason to be cautious about the hidden agendas of people who prominently identify themselves with the antiabortion movement.

It sounds nice to declare that the Bible "sides with the defenseless, the low, and the powerless over the strong, the high and the powerful." But antiabortion activists routinely claim that they are siding with innocent unborn babies in pursuing their cause.

She seems in that recent post to be responding in part to this review by Andrew Walker at The Gospel Coalition.

This has made me curious about her book. She may have some interesting insights into highly politicized conservative Protestantism in the US as it's lived by a reflective young person.

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