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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Enduring Relevance of “liberal Christianity”

Great review by Timothy Renick of what looks like a great book by Gary Dorrien called Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice. Some nuggets from the review:
A good history reminder:
Amid a world that seems to be dominated by Tea Partiers and Fox News commentators—and by attacks on labor unions, immigrants and the poor—it is easy to forget that there was a time when liberal Christianity mattered in America. There was a time when Christian liberal theologians had the power to change the course of public opinion; when politicians turned to them for guidance about economics, foreign policy and war; and when the outcomes of elections rested on a candidate's ability to champion principles of Christian social justice. It is easy to forget that there was a time when being progressive was a criterion for public office rather than a damning political epithet.
A thoughtful explanation of difference between liberalism and the political left:
In Obama, Dorrien finds a kindred spirit—someone who defies political labels for all of the right reasons. Dorrien tells us that the political right and the political left make the same mistake about Obama. The right continues to doubt the sincerity of the president's support for U.S. military interventions despite considerable evidence to the contrary; the left sees Obama—who came into office in part because of his opposition to the war in Iraq—as pandering to conservatives in his support of military operations in Afghan­istan and Libya. Both views are mistaken because they are based on the same caricature of what it means to be liberal. For a liberal interventionist with realist tendencies such as Dorrien, there is no contradiction in Obama's support for one war but opposition to another. To Dorrien, liberalism is not ideological but pragmatic.
Reflection on Obama’s faith and liberal Christianity's relevance:
Neither is there a contradiction in another characteristic that confounds the president's critics: Obama's claim to be Christian despite his willingness to ask hard questions about his personal faith and to diverge from the prevailing positions of the mainstream Christians of his day. Through the lens of the Social Gospel, such questioning and divergence is not oppositional to but definitional of Christianity.
Economy, Difference, Empire invites us to question our own understandings of what it means to be a liberal Christian. When we do, we reach a surprising conclusion: liberal Christianity may still matter in America after all.

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