[FoRK] "True" Christianity in America: Protestant / liberal / black / city slum Social Gospel vs. fundamentalist / literalist / white / "alternative intellectual universe", with a twist

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Oct 21 20:02:10 PDT 2012


Informative and nicely tied together.

TL;DR: Obama, exposed to a wide range of religious traditions, seems to follow a modernized MLK-boosted version of liberal 
Protestantism that centers on Social Gospel which arose in the 1880's because of city slums in the Gilded Age.  The recent 
religious right fundamentalist "alternative intellectual universe" is a direct descendent of the original American 
fundamentalist movement that was pushed underground by the Scopes Monkey trial and popular sentiment that they were 
"anti-intellectual rubes".

Interestingly, the fundamentalist's younger generation are converging on a similar view of Social Gospel and modern extensions 
for economic justice and environmental protection issues.  I think that a decreasing number of young will be able to be 
sheltered from reality and exposure to a wide range of thought in this extended Internet age.

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian
...
>
> Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed 
> people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can 
> be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.
>
> When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of 
> these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that 
> once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say.
>

> “It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of 
> God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
>
> *Some see a 'different' kind of Christian*
>
> Obama is a progressive Christian who blends the emotional fire of the African-American church, the ecumenical outlook of 
> contemporary Protestantism, and the activism of the Social Gospel, a late 19th-century movement whose leaders faulted American 
> churches for focusing too much on personal salvation while ignoring the conditions that led to pervasive poverty.
>
> No other president has shared the hybrid faith that Obama displays, says Diana Butler Bass, a historian and author of 
> “Christianity after Religion.”
>
> “The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath 
> of Christians in the U.S.,” says Bass, a progressive Christian. “He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the 
> public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”
>
...
>
> “In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African 
> mythology,” Obama said in Mansfield’s book. “On Easter or Christmas Day, my mother might drag me to church, just as she 
> dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.”
>
> Obama became a Christian while he was a community organizer in Chicago. He joined a predominately black United Church of 
> Christ. The UCC became the first mainline Protestant denomination to officially support same-sex marriage in 2005.
>
> Obama’s faith showed many of the elements of a liberal Protestant church: an emphasis on the separation of church and state, 
> religious tolerance and the refusal to embrace a literal reading of the Bible.
>
> In a 2006 speech before a Sojourners meeting, Obama talked about his approach to the Bible:
>
> “Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and 
> that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or 
> should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense 
> Department would survive its application?”
>
...

> Bass, the church historian, says another black pastor shaped Obama’s theology more: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
>
> He attended liberal Protestant seminaries where he learned about the Social Gospel’s concern for the entire person, soul and body.
>

> King once wrote that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums 
> that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them …is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
>
> But King and the black church also fused the Social Gospel with an emotional fervor missing from white Protestant churches, 
> Bass says. Other presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were influenced by the Social Gospel, but they weren’t 
> shaped by the black church.
>
> “This is the first time we’re hearing the Social Gospel from the perspective of the black church from the Oval Office. It 
> makes it warmer, more emotive, more communal," Bass says. "There is less fear of linking the Social Gospel with the stories of 
> the Bible, especially the stories of Exodus and Jesus’ healings.”
>
> The emphasis on community uplift - not individual attainment - may strike some Americans as socialist. But the emphasis on 
> community is part of King’s “Beloved Community,” Bass says.
>
> King once wrote that all people are caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality… I can never be what I ought to be until 
> you are allowed to be you ought to be.”
>
> “When I listen to Obama, I don’t hear communism, I hear the Beloved Community,” Bass says. “But a lot of white Americans don’t 
> hear that because they never sat in those churches and heard it over and over again. It’s the whole theology that motivated 
> MLK and the civil rights movement.”
>

...
>
> But Wallis of Sojourners says Obama’s push for health care was a supreme example of Christian faith.
>
> A situation where 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance is “a fundamental Christian problem,” Wallis says.
>
> “Health is such a Gospel issue. Jesus was involved in healing all the time, and to have some people excluded from health care 
> because they lack wealth is a fundamental Christian contradiction.”
>
...
>
> “I think he’s an anti-Christ,” Andrew says.  Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, says Obama’s emphasis on 
> helping the poor through social justice isn’t Christianity.
>
> Christians who talk about “social justice” are often practicing “warmed-over Marxism,” Cass says.
>
> “Do I believe in caring for the poor and oppressed? Yes. But you don’t do it along the lines of communistic redistributing.”
>
> Obama’s support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights also disqualifies him from being a Christian, Cass says.
>
> “It’s the most pro-abortion administration in the history of America.  On every social issue – the sanctity of life and of 
> marriage between men and women – Obama is on the wrong side of every moral issue,” he says.
>
> He says a progressive Christian is a contradiction.
>
...

> *How progressive Christianity lost the public square *
>
> There was a time when Obama’s brand of Christianity would have been understood by millions of Americans, historians say.
>

> The Social Gospel and progressive Protestantism dominated the American religious square from the end of the 19^th century up 
> to the 1960s. At times, the traditions blended together so seamlessly that it was hard to tell the difference.
>
> The Social Gospel rose out of the excesses of the Gilded Age in the 1880s, when urban poverty spread across America as 
> immigrants crammed into filthy slums to work long hours in unsafe conditions.
>
> Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in a New York slum, urged the church to take “social sins” as seriously as they took 
> individual vices. Churches began feeding the poor and fighting against other social ills.
>
> “The notion that religious people should be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless is a carryover of the Social 
> Gospel,” says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at Wooster College in Ohio. The Social Gospel was adopted by many 
> Protestant churches in the late 19th and early 20th century, says Bass, the church historian. Some of the Social Gospel 
> churches grew popular because they provided the poor with everything from English classes to sewing instructions and 
> basketball leagues.
>
> “The first American megachurches were liberal, Social Gospel urban churches,” Bass says.
>
> The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. 
> They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve.
>
> But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high 
> school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.
>
> Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states 
> suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felton, author of “Living the 
> Wisdom: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.”
>
> The trial drove fundamentalists underground where they created a subculture, their own media networks, seminaries and 
> megachurches, he says.
>
> That subculture thrives today, Felton says, and has infiltrated the political arena. It has created an “alternative 
> intellectual universe” that denies science, rational thought – and any beliefs that violate their definition of being a 
> Christian, Felton says.
>
> “They have millions of adherents who believe in a literal six day creation and a literal Adam and Eve – so it’s not a stretch 
> to believe that President Obama is a Kenyan-born secret Muslim bent on destroying the country,” Felton says.
>
> Progressive Christians eventually lost the messaging wars to this fundamentalist subculture, Bass says. Their nuanced view of 
> faith couldn’t compete with the “spiritual triumphalism” of conservatives.
>
> “If you get up and say we’re right and we have the truth, then you have a powerful public message,” she says. “They have a 
> theological advantage in the public discourse. It’s comforting to have things clear, to have things black and white.”
>
> The result today is that the Protestant tradition that shapes much of Obama’s Christianity is fading from public view.
>
> White mainline Protestants make up only 15% of the nation’s population, the survey revealed. The study also found that the 
> fastest growing "religious group" in the country is people who are not affiliated with any religion.
>
> Another generation of Christians, though, may bring a new version of progressive Christianity back.
>
> The lines between younger conservative Christians and progressives are blurring, says Marcia Pally, author of “The New 
> Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”
>
> Pally spent six years traveling across America to interview evangelicals. She says her research revealed that more than 60% of 
> young evangelicals support more governmental programs to aid the needy, as well as more emphasis on economic justice and 
> environmental protection issues.
>
> “What’s interesting is that these values, associated with Obama and the black Protestant tradition are now also the values of 
> a growing number of white evangelicals,” she says.
>
> Her perspective suggests that Obama’s faith may be treated by history in two ways:
>
> He could be seen as the last embodiment of a progressive version of Christianity that went obsolete.
>
> Or he could be seen as a leader who helped resurrect a dying brand of Christianity for a new generation.
>

sdw





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