Chomsky, Evangelicals, and a Letter to My Senator

Noam_Chomsky,_2004

By Duncan Rawlinson [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, July 14 Salon posted an interview between Charles Derber and Noam Chomsky under the title “Noam Chomsky: The Left Needs to ‘Find Common Ground’ with Evangelical Christians.” I found it surprising that Chomsky would propose this and perhaps reflective of a certain desperation of the Left to recapture national influence. Reading on, I found that Chomsky had in mind progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, who would be sympathetic to many of the same causes those on the Left embrace. That, of course, makes sense and reflects a reality not apparent to many in the media, that evangelicalism is not monolithic, and that there are many who would not align, apart from a common faith in Christ, with the putative leaders of evangelicalism–Franklin Graham, James Dobson et al. Still, I’m not sure that this is all that helpful and might only perpetuate the existing divides in our national life. I’d suggest something different that I have framed as a letter to the Democrat Senator from my state, Sherrod Brown. Here it is:

512px-Sherrod_Brown,_official_Senate_photo_portrait,_2007

Sherrod Brown, by United States Senate, Public Domain

Dear Senator Brown,

I’m writing to you in response to an interview with Noam Chomsky suggesting that the Left in our country reach out to evangelicals. I’m one of them, an Ohio resident, and I think that is a good idea, with a few cautions.

The first is that the worst thing, at least for the health and vibrancy of evangelicalism, is to treat us as a political block. The alliances between some white evangelicals and the Right have alienated many of our youth who are leaving our churches in record numbers. Part of this is that we are a diverse body, particularly along generational lines, as well as along lines of ethnicity. It would be great if you could bring some of our younger and older leaders together, some of our black, Latino, Asian, and white leaders together, if for no other reason than to hear each other. It would certainly help you begin to appreciate the complexity of the real evangelical movement, and not simply the one its putative leaders represent.

It would help you to understand that many of us don’t recognize the “evangelicals” being portrayed in the media and among the intelligentsia. Many of us don’t have the time or access to readily counter those perceptions. In a church like mine, what energies we have are much more devoted to running our food pantry, hosting our community garden and free clinic, collecting school supplies for a growing number of children from low income households and figuring out how to stretch what resources we have further if our country decides to further eliminate some of the safety nets on which those on the margins have relied. We know you care about such things as well.

It would help if you to understood that evangelicals have had reason to be nervous about religious liberties, and responsive to appeals to uphold these. When Bernie Sanders questions Russell Vought, a nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget on his religious views, in violation of Article VI of the Constitution and does so unchecked, it worries us. When religious student organizations on university campuses have faced de-recognition and loss of privileges simply because they wished to choose leaders who affirmed their religious beliefs, it worries us. When an order of Catholic nuns are forced to include contraceptive coverage in their health plan, violating their deeply held beliefs, it worries us. Yet concerns for First Amendment freedoms extend far beyond us and could be a place for forging common ground as we protect conscience, association, a free press, dissent as well as religious belief.

We are often written off as anti-abortion rather than recognized for the deep care we have for an ethic of life. You might press us to be more consistent with that. How concerned are we to protect the lives of those across socio-economic lines and from childhood to old age? There are a number of us who are consistently pro-life and an important conversation might be had about how to protect the lives of our children in neighborhoods riven by drug overdoses and gun violence, and our elders whose lives may be shortened and made more painful by sub-standard care.

Evangelicals from Cincinnati to Oberlin were on the forefront of nineteenth century movements to end slavery and to advance women’s suffrage. In recent times, evangelicals in this state have been on the forefront of fights against human trafficking and other social causes. At the same time, we could learn from you about some of the structural challenges under-girding some of our most pressing social problems.

We would hope you might understand more of how important marriage and family are to us. Most of us don’t want to campaign against those who see these differently, but we do think families are important places in the formation of the character, faith, education, and vocational aspirations of our children. We sometimes feel that families, and parents are marginalized in some education systems by “experts” who sometimes disparage the values we teach in our homes. Many of us don’t want to eliminate public schools, but do want a greater sense of participation as stakeholders in the education of our children.

There is much more we could discuss, but one last area I might touch on is care for our creation. Christians are often disparaged for their ideas about creation (although here as elsewhere, our views are quite diverse), but this is in fact basic to better care for our planet because we understand we will have to give an account for the care of the creation to the Creator, as well as to our children and grand-children. We differ among us about climate science, but any of us who are conscientious about our faith recognize that in our care for the earth, as elsewhere, we must answer to God.

I do hope you will reach out to evangelicals, here in Ohio and elsewhere, not to win us over as an electoral block, but for our common interest in the good of the country. It could be one more of many steps in healing our divided land, and finding ways to pursue the common good, rather than particular goods.

Your fellow citizen,

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Chomsky, Evangelicals, and a Letter to My Senator

  1. This reads oddly — like a description of earthlings to a tourist from Mars, which presumes the letter’s recipient knows nothing about the phenomenon of evangelicalism. Brown is a 65 year old Lutheran with a degree from Yale. I can’t say, but maybe he knows a little about American Christianity. We might even recognize he is a Christian, though perhaps with theological and political views not fully in line with the majority of white evangelicals. This does not recognize him as either a fellow Christian or as someone who might have been observing American religion for decades. Instead he is cast as a representative of The Left, and nothing more. He is identified with Chomsky and Sanders, (two secularists) not with David Beckmann, another Lutheran, who happens to be head of Bread for the World.
    At the same time, I find it odd to read your request of Brown to “bring some of our (evangelical) younger and older leaders together, some of our black, Latino, Asian, and white leaders together, if for no other reason than to hear each other.” While I agree that should happen and would hope Brown would cheer such a meeting, I wonder why it would be the job of a senator to organize listening sessions among members of one particular faith community. (Evangelicals.) Isn’t that something Christian leaders should do for their communities? For the leaders of Sojourners to organize listening sessions with the leaders of the Southern Baptist convention for example?
    According to his Wikipedia page, these are Brown’s committee assignments:
    Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry;
    Ranking Member Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs
    Finance
    Veterans’ Affairs
    Perhaps you are suggesting that evangelicals would be unlikely to gather to hear one another unless a politician brought them together, and then they might come in hope of capturing some political power? Brown’s plate looks rather full, but perhaps he could be persuaded to do something which evangelicals can’t do for themselves. But that would be a sad commentary, no?

    • Terry, thanks for your comments. I am aware of his Christian roots and actually have high regard for his service in Ohio, and nationally.

      Indeed, these diverse evangelicals should be talking to each other. What I would not want to see is only conversation with Jim Wallis style progressives, which Chomsky commends.

      At the same time, at least in this last election, Brown’s party wrote off conservative people of faith, unlike 2008 and 2012. Brown himself is up for re-election and it would be a good time for him to have conversations like this in Ohio.

      • Maybe you don’t want to continue this discussion, and I understand. But if you do –can you offer an example of “progressives” not Jim-Wallis style?

        What I imagine you mean (though I might be wrong) is progressives who aren’t pro-choice or anti-LGBTQ (forgive the shorthand–I mean LGBTQ-friendly policies.) . And here is where the discussion becomes circular. “Talk to those of us who aren’t Jim Wallis. “Oh”, a Brown might respond. “A William Barber?” “No not him.” A series of other names might be offered, and none of them would qualify if they didn’t pass the pro-life, not-lgbt-positive litmus test. Am I wrong about that?

        If you’re asking politicians to work with people they don’t agree with on everything, that seems reasonable. If you’re asking them to compromise their agenda and convictions in order to “work with” others, we are back to the same problems (some) evangelicals say they have with Democrats. Democrats think that as long as we are going to have employer-based health insurance, (crazy as that is) and as long as the Catholic Church is going to employ Jews and atheists and Rastafarians as nurses and playground supervisors and accountants and social workers and the like –while spending federal dollars to do so– contraception is just not negotiable.

        In the end, I’m not sure what you are asking of Brown, or why. I understand that the language of disdain is not helpful — but we haven’t heard that from Brown. What do evangelicals in Ohio want or need him to do?

      • Terry, one thing I allude to in the preface to the letter is that this is a writing device to address a larger audience and not simply Senator Brown. You are right that he has refrained from disdainful language of believing people from more conservative backgrounds. Part of the reason I address this “letter” to him is his efforts to represent all Ohioans. I’ve seen that in responses from his office, which are much less “boiler-plate” than many I’ve received.

        I’m not suggesting that he and evangelicals would always agree on everything but rather that there are more areas of shared concern and opportunity to work for common good than our media portrayals suggest. Also, in areas of disagreement, respectful listening might lead to better understanding of grounds for those disagreements, as well as what acceptable compromises might look like in a pluralistic society.

        My reference to progressive evangelicals is simply to say that neither they, nor the Republican-supporting evangelicals represent many of us who want something better than the binary options often presented to us.

        I can’t speak for “evangelicals in Ohio.” What I wanted to suggest in the post were both some of the things Democrats might be more attentive to and some of the places where common cause for the common good might be made.

        Thanks for writing and sharpening my own thinking. Given that I have a day job, I will need to sign off with this reply!

  2. You lost me on this one, Bob. Chomsky is in the camp of Bernay, Alinksy and other progressive propagandists. “Compliant Media”, repetitive power words and social control are Marxist principles not the principles of our founding. Individual liberty and freedom not the tyranny of progressive social justice can not be debated.

    • Bill, what I find interesting is that Chomsky would propose this. I’m reminded of Jesus’s word that “whoever is not against you is for you.” This is the Jesus who had both Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot as disciples. I want to advocate for a church that is not politically captive to the left nor the right, but engaged with both, finding places where there is common ground for the common good, as well as places to which we must speak prophetically. You are right that there are matters of tyranny we cannot affirm, but are there not also matters of injustice, of the accumulation of power and wealth (a modern version of the robber barons) that result in some people having much less liberty and freedom than others. As gospel people, I believe we need to challenge both as a people of the third way. It means the risk of being dismissed by both but also offers the prospect of reconciliation, as we “turn neither to the left nor the right.”

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