By Brian Steele-Sierk This book is sold as a polemic against the “Christian Right” and does engage in some fun Democratic party games like “Let’s draw parallels between the American Right and the Nazi Party in the late 20’s!”. If a reader stops there (and many will), they will miss the salient critiques of the political right, the secular left, and the liberal theologies of the “Christian Left”.
At the heart of the book is a sense of outrage at the way religious thought and impulse has been both co-opted and limited by a minority of Americans and Christians. Wakefield, who claims to be a follower of Christ, has been politically liberal whole maintaining a fairly active life in the church for many years. As he looked at the recent ascension of conservative political voices speaking from the evangelical, fundamentalist, and Pentecostal wings of the Church, he began to wonder why there were no voices raised in opposition from the Church that was at the front of and significantly supported the Civil Rights and international peace movements. [Discuss this in the forums]
His answer is that there isn’t anybody there anymore. The political left had rejected all forms of Christian thought and expression as not liberated enough, and the theological left had abandoned the idea that it was possible to hear a prophetic voice form God. For many in the “liberal Church,” social action has become a substitute for spiritual practice, and instead of a reaction to God’s movement, political activism on the left has become a way to avoid interaction with God. What remained was a divided camp that had neither personal conviction or personal piety, and could not be motivated by the sense of shared purpose or shared passion.
The critiques of the political right are not unfamiliar: it has abandoned conservative principles of philosophy of governance (fiscal responsibility, limited intrusion into the lives of individuals) in order to create and foster lines in the political sand (abortion and homosexuality). These lines then make it easy to delineate “us and them” so that the for-profit interests of the rich and powerful will have a significant grassroots base.
The fatal flaw of this book is that it is calling for moderation and an openness in Christianity and the political left to engage each other, but it contains too much fear and vitriol for conservative Christians to feel as if they are really able to be a part of this discussion. The same point Wakefield is trying to make was made more effectively by Jim Walls in “God’s Politics” and Stephen L. Carter in “God’s Name in Vain”