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A religious devotion to the left

Sojourners continues its decline into infidelity

Members of The Episcopal Church march at the L.A. Pride Parade in Los Angeles on June 11. Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes

A religious devotion to the left
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In a move that should shock absolutely no one at this point, Sojourners Magazine ran a series, “The Joys of Being Queer and Christian.” The title says it all. It was yet another attempt to meld the Christian faith with popular sexual licentiousness and liberationist ideologies. Christianity is incompatible with such confusion, but that has not stopped folks from attempting to square the circle. Sadly, the temptation to worldliness is nothing new to church history. But, for those of us who have cared to know, it has been especially troubling to observe many denominations and ministries cave in to the sexual revolution.

The most flagrant examples have been the Mainline Protestant denominations. Generally, these church bodies and their members not only influenced but founded and formed American culture. They were not outsiders; they were the insiders. Most ended up adopting the various cultural and ethical trends of the country at large, even when those strayed far from the dictates of Holy Scripture. Typically, it was the evangelicals and fundamentalists, generally proverbial “outsiders,” that would prophetically critique the Mainlines as they fell into fatal doctrinal and spiritual compromises—the sorts of things that violate the faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Liberalizing denominations, congregations, and ministries nudged out faithful Christians of various stripes, often into the arms of the evangelicals. Former Mainliners may or may not have been consistent, drawn the right line in the sand, or liked all the aspects of the evangelical subculture. At least they once knew that gay marriage was beyond the pale, and that their new evangelical home was a better alternative due to fidelity to certain fundamentals of Christian faith and practice.

Well, it turns out that no theological-devotional heritage, no institution, and no movement is immune from compromise on Christian sexual ethics, especially when our wider culture exerts so much narrative power and pressure on the issue. Many alive today remember when Sojourners expressed some genuine commitment to Biblical sexual morality, even while advocating certain policies of the political left in America. Well, as observed before, the progressivism has superseded traditional Biblical commitments. Now, theological and Biblical concepts get twisted to serve progressive agendas and positions. While earlier evangelical leftists often reveled in the tensions involved with religious fidelity and political activism, now very little tension seems to exist, and not because progressivism became more Christian. 

The example of Sojourners clearly proves that there are shocking lapses on the part of the religious left.

So what?

As a friend recently observed, there is so much talk about how, for conservative evangelicals, politics has reshaped theology. Some of that criticism is valid, but Sojourners is a case in point that progressive politics has also reshaped theology, albeit for a different demographic and in the opposite direction. And while there seems to be a veritable cottage industry that critiques how the Religious Right corrupted the faithful, little circumspection exists in most mainstream circles regarding the problems of the religious left. Surely this is because the religious left’s agendas, concerns, and values align with the progressive mainstream.

After all, when is the last time we’ve seen a high-profile “deconstruction” story of a progressive Christian who became more traditional and criticizes his revisionist background and forebears? It wouldn’t fit a particular narrative that would insist that orthodox Christianity must be sloughed off to achieve progress, however that is to be defined (if it ever is).

How many ex-Mainliners and now evangelicals have been “left behind” by increasingly progressive organizations like Sojourners? How many leaders have drummed the Scriptures and theological insights into service for liberal goals? How many churchgoers have become increasingly extreme in their progressive views in order to suit political ideology? Would it be more shocking to an ancient church father that those that claim the name of Christ should fall under the sway of populist demagogues or should engage in gender-bending and the wholesale redefinition of marriage? In fact, from the standpoint of Christianity, isn’t this collapse into revisionism the more notable historical trend, especially considering how this falls in line with Conquest’s Second Law?

Could it not be that all the hand-wringing over evangelicals becoming too politically conservative is motivated by folks who harbor politically and socially liberal views? Yes, there have been some ugly examples of bad political theology on the right. But we must beware the distortion field. The example of Sojourners clearly proves that there are shocking lapses on the part of the religious left. It’s just that those fatal compromises are amenable to the demands of progressive secularism.

Revolts from reality can exist on the left or the right. But we live in a time when leftward revolts by nominal Christians are more radical and yet profoundly glossed over. To discern such problems, Christians must cling to permanent truths, often passed on through traditional wisdom and especially as found in God’s Word. Why? Because our rebellious world has little interest in doing that for us.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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