Make No Mistake - We Absolutely Need a 'Christian Left'

According to New York Magazine columnist Ed Kilgore, the possible fracturing of the Christian Right, a long-dominant religiopolitical force in American politics, should NOT be seen as an opportunity for the rise of a similarly politically-motivated group of Christian leftists. Kilgore puts it beautifully, but wrongly, with his summation: "Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon -- God willing -- be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right."

I have written much on this topic before, and I'm glad to see it cropping up again and being discussed by people like Kilgore, even if my opinion on the matter is diametrically opposed to his.

Kilgore writes dismissively of these hopes for a Christian Left: "The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed." This is a fundamental misunderstanding not just of the progressive Christian movement, but of Christianity at its heart.

Christianity is centered in Christ, in the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth. While differing denominations of all stripes argue about which doctrines one must believe in order to be a "true Christian," to my mind Christianity as a whole, and especially progressive Christianity (which is itself not a political ideology but a theological position) is centered in Jesus.

Who was Jesus? What did he do? What did he stand for?

He was a peasant, a nobody, who became a religious leader and prophet despite the commonly-held notion that God spoke through the Temple's high priest. That Temple in Jerusalem, by the way, was the center not only of religious but also political power in 1st-century Judea, as the province was ruled collaboratively between the high priest and the Roman governor.

Jesus subverted Mediterranean patriarchy through his inclusive meal practice and negated the exclusivity of access to God's grace when he healed on the Sabbath (another testament against the Temple).

Jesus railed against wealth and championed the poor, who had become so not because of religion, but because of politics and capitalism. Jesus's theology was rooted in the magnificent Wisdom tradition of Job, which challenged the notion that poverty was punishment for some sin.

Jesus spoke of a Kingdom of God not in Heaven, but on Earth, as it is in Heaven. His use of the term "Kingdom" is inherently political, by the way; the Roman political establishment billed itself as a "Kingdom" and Jesus's use of the term was meant to invalidate the Roman imperial cult of Caesar and contrast it with what the rule of God would look like.

Finally and most importantly, Jesus was crucified for his radical notion of God. Not beheaded, hung, drawn and quartered, or stoned. Crucified. Crucifixion was a punishment used for escaped slaves and political insurgents. Since Jesus was not a slave, he must have been the latter.

The notion of a smiling, celestial Jesus unconcerned with the goings-on of our world may be comforting to some, but it does a disservice to the real man who lived two thousand years ago and would today be considered a radical leftist for his egalitarian views, harsh critiques of capitalism and commerce (rooted in the Old Testament prophets; see Amos 8:4-6), insistence on active nonviolence as a form of political protest, and negation of worldly views on gender, class, race, and hierarchy.

The Christian Right's stranglehold on politics in America over the past several decades has done irreparable damage not only to the country as a whole with their obsession with sexual ethics and straight-white-male-hetero supremacy, but on Christianity as an idea by tainting its reputation among the younger generations. It is the direct cause of declining religiosity among Americans.

If Christianity is to survive long-term, it must not compromise the ideals of its founder. Instead, it is not only good and right, but imperative, that a new Christian Left rises to become the dominant voice of Christianity in politics. This Christian Left can fight for immigration rights (Matthew 25:35), worker's rights, feminism (Mark 14:9), universal healthcare (Mark 6:13), peace (Matthew 5:39), religious pluralism (Luke 10:25-37), an end to structural racism (Mark 7:24-30), and economic justice (Mark 10:21), all in the name of God, which will be a more powerful tool to recruit conservative Christians than forced secularism will ever be.

Christian liberals are told constantly that we cannot exist, that the very label "Christian Left" is an oxymoron. If you meet a Christian character in a movie or television series, they are likely to either be completely apolitical or a conservative parody. Liberal Christian erasure is a very real thing, and it's time we pushed back.

Our time of silence is over. It's time to roar.