Anthony Bradley: How Evangelicals Go About the Business of Addressing Social Issues

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

I recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”

Evangelicals generally develop perspectives on justice down tribal ideological and political lines because they normatively do not source the Christian social thought tradition when constructing perspectives on justice. It turns out, that I was simply being critiqued by a card-carrying, bona fide political progressive who is be also Christian. In this light, I was not surprised by the content of the critique. I do not hold the same presuppositions about creation, the implications of the fall, natural law, human dignity, the role of the state, the authority of Scripture and so on, as progressives do so naturally progressives are going to see calls to personal moral virtue and challenges to the patriarchy, soft bigotry, and historic tendency for coercive government to make things worse off for those on margins through the welfare state as “speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable.”

The exchange provides a clear example of how evangelicals, ignorant of the Christian social thought tradition, go about the business of addressing social issues. It goes something like this:

Step 1: For a variety of well-intentioned reasons, choose a preferred political ideology you believe is the right one and will adequately to address the differentiated problems in society. As David Koyzis, explains it could be libertarianism, socialism, nationalism, conservatism, progressivism, or democracy.

Step 2: Read your preferred political ideology into Bible in a such way that it becomes a tool for interpreting and applying the Bible to social issues. That is, your political ideology becomes your hermeneutic for “Biblical” views on justice.

Step 3: Cherry-pick Bible verses (often taken out of context) and repackage them to make the case that your preferred, tribal, political ideology is indeed “Biblical,” “follows the teaching of Jesus,” is “Christian,” and so on. Here the goal is to prove that God must obviously be on your tribe’s side.

Step 4: Now that you have baptized your political ideology by pouring on a random assortment of Bible verses, you are ready to declare your ideological tribe and those who agree with you, “right.” As a result, any other tribe that does not read the Bible through your ideological lens is not only wrong, they are the enemy and a threat to the church and the world.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Acton Institute
Anthony Bradley

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