restricted access Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics after the Religious Right (review)
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Individual Reviews Heath W. Carter T he era of the religious Right is over,” exclaims E. J. Dionne in his new book, Souled Out (4). Both the “fatal” electoral setback of 2006 and the recent emergence of progressive evangelical voices stand, in his view, as compelling evidence that “many evangelicals are boarding a new train” (124). Dionne intervenes into this unfolding historical moment with characteristic insight, eschewing the shrill tone of so much contemporary cultural commentary. His is a humane and thoughtful appeal for the common good. It will not be easy to restore sanity and dignity to the public square, he reminds the reader: Americans of all faith traditions must first reclaim a comprehensive commitment to social justice, resisting along the way the cynicism of politicians in both parties who would deploy religious rhetoric solely for partisan gain. But from Dionne’s vantage at least, the movement seems to be gaining momentum. He may be right. Certainly when Rick Warren—pastor of one of the nation’s largest megachurches, located in the heart of staunchly conservative South Orange County, California—exhorts his congregation to take action on issues like AIDS and global poverty; and when Rich Cizik, vice president for government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, rebuffs the efforts of the once-mighty Colorado Springs crowd—led by James Dobson, founder of the fundamentalist parachurch organization Focus on the Family—to remove creation care from the organization’s lobbying agenda, there are reasons to think that a sea change might be underway. But are most evangelicals really ready to pursue a holistic vision of social justice with the vigor of, say, a William Jennings Bryan? (minus the racism, which Michael Kazin’s recent biography aptly cites as a blight upon the otherwise progressive record of this evangelical forebear). Don’t hold your breath just yet. A venerable line of wistful liberals , extending back to H. L. Mencken and even before, have heralded the imminent demise of conservative Protestantism. So far, no such luck. Dionne strikes a more generous tone than the vituperative Mencken, and his claims are more measured than many others in this tradition: he makes clear that only the religious right, not evangelicalism itself, is a thing of the past. Still, some cautionary words are in order. Consider the long view. Dionne’s book leaves one with the impression that evangelical progressivism was forged only lately in the crucible of George W. Bush’s presidency . In fact, however, the most prominent leaders of this movement—such as Jim 111 “ Wallis, founder of the left-leaning Sojourners magazine, and Ron Sider, author most recently of The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (2005)—got their start in the late-1960s and early-1970s. It was then, amidst the cultural convulsions induced by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, that a distinctly evangelical left first emerged. Imagine this: at the National Governors’ Conference in both 1965 and 1966 it was the evangelical governor of Oregon, Mark O. Hatfield, who cast the lone vote in protest of the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam. Hatfield’s opposition to the war sprung directly from his faith, as he went on to explain in his book Not Quite So Simple (1968). His themes resonated deeply with the work of a cadre of young evangelical scholars, who were even then taking up the progressive mantle as their own. In books such as Protest and Politics (1968) and The Cross and the Flag (1972) historians Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, and Robert D. Linder rebuked their fellow evangelicals for having too closely identified Christian practice with conservative politics. The time was long past due to throw off this “unequal yoke,” they argued. Meanwhile, a renegade band of ex-seminary students calling themselves the People’s Christian Coalition sounded similar notes in their newly founded publication , The Post-American. Decrying the church’s complicity in the nation’s imperial and racial sins, this group—spearheaded by Wallis—demanded that evangelicals disavow the politics of Nixon in order to embrace what Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was by then calling “The Politics of Jesus.” In late November of 1973 the various strands...


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