Is there a version of Christian faith and practice that can lead the nation into a future that is free and just and prosperous?
This is the fundamental question that faces the Christian Community in the aftermath of all the chaos that we call 2020.
There are some clues: such as, the election of a Catholic president, the energy behind the racial justice movement, the efforts by conservative churches to resist the public health protocols and their affection for the disgraced presidency of Donald Trump, and the grassroots consensus on a range of cultural issues.
The inauguration of our second Roman Catholic president motivated Pentecostal-turned-Catholic writer Ross Douthat of the New York Times to postulate that the progressive wing of that church would assert itself in the coming years. Writing in the Sunday edition, he noted the influence of Pope Francis and the trifecta of formative issues: institutionalism, inclusion, and multiethnic commitments. He suggested that “liberal Catholicism is an interesting candidate to claim the religious center, to fill the Mainline’s vanished role.”
My response is a yes and a no.
The vacuum at the center of America’s religious life is due to the disaster that has befallen that first Moral Majority, the White Evangelical Christianity that has dominated public religion for at least 40 years. That movement is not dead, but it has suffered life-threatening injuries inflicted by a trio of terrible judgments.
First, the Pentecostal wing of that movement bought into a series of “prophecies” assuring them of the re-election of Trump. Second, unnamed hordes embraced the speculations of QAnon, drawing them into weird assertions of conspiracies of political intrigue. Third, millions listened to the lie from on high that the national election was rigged (although, strangely, this rigging affected only the presidential ballot).
White Christian America needs to repent of these sins; it would usher in a revival of historic proportions.
But repentance is never easy: not on the personal level and certainly not on the public.
It is not the repentance of White Conservative America but the resurgence of a Progressive Moral Majority that carries our hope for a better tomorrow.
It is, after all, the chief tradition of reform in American history. It was they (we, I might say!) who carried the day for abolishing slavery and expanding the right to vote; of empowering workers and curtailing abuse by the corporations; of welcoming immigrants and supporting civil rights; and yes, of embracing the freedom of the individual to love and marry whom they please and live and work where they wish.
It is this tradition of progressive values, rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus, that has brought to these United States much that we hold dear. It is this tradition of progressive values, embraced by both believers and unbelievers alike, that holds the most promise for enriching our national life.
We now have a President who thinks and prays this way; and he has a Pope in Rome to undergird his vision for a more just and humane America. Behind him, the President has a populace that affirms, by wide margins, the need to care for the environment, address wealth disparities, improve public education, welcome refugees and immigrants, confront racial injustice, affirm the role of government, and resist the criminalization of abortion.
There is even an organization called the New Moral Majority!
The answer to our need for moral leadership and religious rationale is not “liberal Catholicism” (as Douthat proposes) but a progressive Judeo-Christian coalition that reaches out to all people of good will, religious or not. It is one rooted in the long-standing admiration (even adoration) of Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi turned Christian Savior who taught all of us to pray in such a way that we trust God, feed the hungry, forgive our enemies, and resist all forms of evil.
It remains to be seen whether this cohort of American citizens has the cohesion, the leadership, the vocabulary, even the courage to lead us into the future.
But I might suggest that the victory at the ballot box in Georgia of that Judeo-Christian tandem—Senators Jon Ossoff the Jew and Raphael Warnock the Christian—may be a more hopeful signal than the Pope in Rome or the President in Washington.
We can only hope…and pray!