Invisible Evangelicals' Insight on the Common Good

By Andrew Wilkes 8-27-2008

Evangelical women and minorities, it seems, exist on the muted margins of political discourse in America. If a justice revival is to sweep over America once more, from the suburban megachurch to the urban storefront church, then Christians must pursue a vision of the common good for all -- and not the common good of a few.

The public narratives of the media often chronicle the broadening social concerns of white evangelical males such as Rick Warren and Richard Cizik -- and rightfully so. Their story deserves to be told. But their story is not the only one.

As an African-American summer intern at Sojourners, I labored alongside two African-American women, two Asian women, and four white men and women -- all of whom persistently link spiritual renewal and social justice. To borrow an image from Gabriel Salguero, this technicolor portrait of evangelicals critiques the Alpine storyline, which is the subtle suggestion that only the broadening social concerns of progressive evangelical white males is newsworthy. Meanwhile, the stories of progressive evangelical minorities and women, the stories I heard at Sojourners, remain as invisible as the protagonist of Ralph Ellison's famous novel.

We stand at a critical moment in the socio-religious history of America. And before us lie two roads. One path pursues the common good of white evangelical men, while relying on the common labor of evangelical women and minorities. This path is marked by denominational positions that define minstry by gender and not gifting (shout-out to Dr. Mimi Haddad of Christians for Biblical Equality), theology that clarifies doctrine while obscuring the correlations of race and poverty, and well-intentioned civic disengagement that nevertheless stacks an already tilted deck of cards against the marginalized.

The other road, a glimpse of which I saw at Sojourners, relies upon the common labor of all evangelicals to pursue the common good of all. This pathway also has signposts: more women serving as bishops and pastors; theology that rhythmically alternates between digesting scripture and dismantling the poverty-race correlation; and wise engagement that represents the broad concerns of the evangelical constituency to the public and private sector. If we take creation care as a representative example, following this path would mean, amongst other things, advocating for green jobs as a response to structural inner-city unemployment.

For understandable and yet lamentable reasons, some evangelicals head down the first pathway; precious few are moving down the second. Of course this ''two roads'' dichotomy simplifies the complex phenomenon of American evangelicalism. Hopefully, however, it also underscores the urgency of now. Christians must toil for, and not just wish for, a technicolor justice revival that pursues the common good of all.

Andrew Wilkes is a policy and organizing intern at Sojourners. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. He offers reflections at Foursquare, a blog that encourages abstinence as a spiritual discipline with social consequences.

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