[Editor’s note: This article first appeared at “The Stream.”]
The elites have long viewed conservative Christians as intolerant and obsessed with politics. It’s a simple view that few people have managed to transform into a more realistic image. George Yancey and Ashlee Quosigk may have done it in their new book “One Faith No Longer: The Transformation of Christianism in Red and Blue America”. From sociological research data, they argue that progressive and conservative Christians are heading for a permanent split.
by Lewis Waha
Two different social identities
The authors contrast the social identities of two groups of Christians: progressive and conservative. Their method begins by discerning the values in each group’s “cultural toolbox”, then by identifying the goals that bring each group to life.
Descendants of early 20th century fundamentalists, they tell us, conservative Christians seek to preserve church teachings of the past. The authors describe this as expressing the value of curators in honoring “historical theology.”
Progressive Christians are descended from liberals of the same era. They judge according to a “humanist ethic of social justice”. And they are more systematically rooted in their politics than the Conservatives.
Islam evokes the passions of progressives
The question the authors attempted to answer concerned the opinions and feelings of the two groups towards each other. However, they struggled to find out. While conservatives do not hesitate to criticize those of other religions, progressives would not say what they feel. They are reluctant to label anyone, even themselves.
So the authors found a creative way around that – they asked both groups about a third group, Muslims.
Their talks showed that conservatives see Islam as a theology and reject it. Progressives see Islam as a culture and are open to learning from it. Conservative Christians blame Islamic terrorist attacks on the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran. Progressives blame everything except Islam.
Socially diverse conservatives, unwelcoming progressives?
They found that progressive Christians have very low regard for conservatives, calling them “narrow-minded” and “ignorant” about Islam. Ironically, it was the conservatives, many of them, who in their talks recited Quranic verses from memory. The progressives did not.
It was a surprise to those who would characterize conservative believers as narrow. Another has emerged for those who think conservative Christians are more socially isolated than progressives. It is in fact the reverse.
Yancy and Quosigk found that Christians on the right are more “socially diverse” than those on the left. Their social circles are more likely to include Christians who disagree with them about Islam. In contrast, one progressive rejected the partnership with conservatives on raising awareness among Muslims: “I wouldn’t work with someone who thinks differently. “
Christians on the left tend to label conservative views on sexuality and Islam as “phobias”. This marks them as irrational, fearful and in need of a “cure.” The general conclusion was that progressive Christians lack “openness” to those on the right, the authors say, and have an “unwelcoming and negative response” to them.
An obvious double standard
All of these findings put progressive Christians in a bad light – especially if unqualified tolerance is the standard of judgment. And since those on the left are known to advocate tolerance, these findings show them appearing as hypocrites.
There is more. The elites and those on the left see Christians as intolerant because they base their borders on theology. But they don’t mind when progressive Christians exclude others on the basis of politics. Which give?
We might assume that they believe that politics should trump theology. But for Christians it cannot be right. Human sin places limits on what politics, or just activism, can accomplish. Yancey and Quosigk view this as a strong belief for right-wing Christians. But it is absent among those on the left.
Theology is upstream of truth and justice, or in any case should be. Sin and the finite nature of humans should make us humble about what we can know and the righteousness we can embrace. Christians on the left do not seem to recognize this limit.
Humility, not pride
Jesus’ words apply to progressives no less than to the rest of us: “Why do you see the chaff that is in your brother’s eye, but notice the log that is in your own? eye ?
Many on the left imagine themselves as prophets telling the truth forever to the Christian power on the right.
They should remember that true Bible prophets speak infallible, and progressives are not infallible. They too can be wrong. They can dominate others and be intolerant, despite all of their stated good intentions.
Progressives may find the book’s findings surprising. This is what happens when people have blind spots. Will they ignore it or listen? This is their chance to show how truly progressive they really are: progressive enough to keep learning, even about themselves.
[Lewis Waha holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and is a freelance writer focusing on faith in the public square. This opinion column is provided by the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City (Penn.) College.]