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Straws of liberalism in the evangelical wind

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Dave Belden
22 December 2005

If democracy is extended in any way in the coming year, in any part of the world other than Europe, it will largely be thanks to religious believers. This may be a bitter truth for some secular folk, but the logic is obvious. Most people outside of Europe are believers. Democracy cannot be imposed by a small educated elite, who may be more secular than the general population, any more than it can be imposed by foreign armies. If the people make democracy, then believers make democracy. It’s strange that this should even have to be said.

It’s even happening in the United States. Secular liberals are so mesmerized by the fact that the most avowedly Christian administration in US history is promoting torture and war, that they forget that the strongest whistleblower on that torture, Captain Ian Fishback, is a devout Christian. Fishback follows Christian precepts rather more closely than does his commander-in-chief, whose own church is against the war.

The religious left is waking up in the US. The trade-union-based WakeUpWalMartcampaign, to force the highest revenue US company to treat its workers right, is making much of the religious support for its campaign. I am looking to see Rabbi Michael Lerner’s The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right do as well in 2006 as born-again Jim Wallis’s left-leaning God’s Politics – fifteen weeks on the bestseller list – did in 2005.

Even more surprising in 2006 will be signs of liberalism on the religious right. In March the conservative Cal Thomas felt he had to write against this dangerous tendency in his widely syndicated column: “The religious left has long tried to sway evangelicals into embracing its social agenda. It would appear they are finally succeeding.” He was referring to Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals, who got worried about global warming after scuba diving coral reefs. Haggard said about global warming, "We do represent 30 million people, and we can mobilise them if we have to."

Evangelicals in recent decades have been deeply involved in global campaigns against slavery and religious persecution. Now, through initiatives like the One Campaign and bestselling Christian author Rick Warren’s PEACE campaign, they are being alerted to Aids and extreme poverty. These campaigns may seem a little naïve, if you are on the left. But then, hasn’t a lot of left activity also been naïve? It’s the intent and the energy that counts, and the learning takes place through the doing. American evangelicals are discovering world poverty and plague: be grateful.

In 2006 I would love to see an end to the Iraq war and a significant Walmart pay raise. None of these will happen. But I am expecting more signs of what will eventually be the most powerful antidote to fundamentalism, religious totalitarianism and religious terrorism: a reawakening of religious liberalism.

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