Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, by Brantley W. Gasaway
In 1985 evangelical activists marched through the streets of Washington, D.C. As the demonstration began, a spokesperson declared, “We’re showing that we are willing to pay the price, to sacrifice, to go to jail, if necessary, to draw attention to all the assaults on human life that are now so abundant.” By the end of the protest, police had arrested nearly 250 marchers for civil disobedience.
To those who assumed that the reference to human life derived from a singular animus against abortion, the march’s route seemed bizarre. Activists stopped first at the White House to pray for “an end to the arms race and for the poor, its primary victims.” Outside the Soviet embassy they prayed for the people of Afghanistan, “whose country has been brutally invaded by another arrogant superpower.” At the Supreme Court they protested the “barbaric practice” of the death penalty. Not until their final stop at the Department of Health and Human Services did marchers intercede for unborn children.
In his survey of theologically conservative but politically progressive evangelicalism, Brantley Gasaway astutely examines the rally’s idiosyncratic platform. He contends that Peace Pentecost—and the broader evangelical left that carried it out—offered a coherent social agenda. Grounded in a “public theology of community,” it stood in stark contrast to the pervasive individualism of midcentury evangelicalism. The prophetic Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and the pastoral Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action contended that sin expresses itself in more complex ways than person-to-person racism, violence against the fetus, and pornography.