The Rise, Expansion, and Fall of the Evangelical Left
The Evangelical Left's influence on "establishment evangelicalism" in the 1960s and 1970s, through leaders like Hatfield, is an important part of the collective identity not only of American evangelicals, but of global Christianity as well. While in the United States the priorities of the Evangelical Left have taken a back seat to those of the Religious Right in recent decades, Swartz makes a compelling case, particularly in his chapter on the Latin American evangelical Samuel Escobar, that the Left's priorities remain latent in the global South. The dissonance between the priorities of the Religious Right in America and the priorities of global evangelicalism was symbolized by the 1989 Lausanne II conference in Manila. While the Evangelical Left in America was still licking its wounds from the Reagan Revolution, its impact on the global evangelicalism of the Lausanne Movement was deepening. With justification, Ron Sider could claim that the "holistic concern for both evangelism and social action" that defined his group Evangelicals for Social Action was the accepted mainstream of the Manila gathering.
Far From Dead
The resemblance between the social action agendas of the Evangelical Left in America and the evangelical mainstream globally is not an accident. As Swartz tells it, the shared vision is a result of decades of sustained, intentional interaction between individuals and institutions representing both groups. Within these circles, shared concerns over environmental degradation, economic inequality, consumerism, and racial divisions have existed for decades alongside profound commitments to world evangelization and Christ-centered witness.
Seen from a global perspective, then, the demise of the Evangelical Left in American religion and politics is an anomaly open to change as American evangelicals come into deeper communion with their brothers and sisters around the world. Far from being dead, Swartz suggests that the deep stirrings for justice and peace that burst into the mainstream of American evangelicalism in the '60s and '70s have impacted and been impacted by the "New Christendom" of the global South. It is precisely this possibility that makes Moral Minority not only a stirring account of recent American history, but also a necessary tool for understanding our global Christian moment. Buy it, read it, debate it, disagree with it, but do not ignore it.
Gregory Metzger is a freelance writer from Rockville, Maryland.