Dear Common Grounders, Religious Progressives, and Ecumenical Seminaries…

Dear Common Grounders, Religious Progressives, and Ecumenical Seminaries, 

A close read of historian David Hollinger’s fascinating interview with The Christian Century may help with a question that so often plagues religious progressive leaders: Why is the religious right so much more politically effective? (Hint: it’s not just messaging.)

In addition to giving credit to 20th-century mainline (or “ecumenical”) protestants for leadership in “antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural [initiatives],” and tweaking the conventional wisdom of “mainline decline,” Hollinger questions whether today’s liberal protestant leaders aren’t pulling a few too many punches with their conservative evangelical brothers and sisters:

The ongoing accommodation between ecumenical and evangelical Protestants may well continue, but if it does, I fear that it will be at the cost of an opposite accommodation that deserves more attention than it has received. Perhaps voices like that of the Christian Century and the intellectual leaders of the ecumenical seminaries and denominations should more aggressively criticize the religious ideas proclaimed by the most visible of the evangelicals in American life today.

To be sure, secular intellectuals and journalists comment on these ideas in The New Yorker and now and then on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, but believing Protestants have an authority with the faith-affirming public that the rest of us do not have.

A more vigorous attack on obscurantist versions of the faith, a more insistent discussion of the latest in biblical scholarship, a yet more widespread commentary on the tendency of many of today’s evangelical leaders to focus on tiny segments of scripture—this might be a valuable service. And might it cement an accommodation not with the evangelicals, but with secular intellectuals? That might be a good thing. The salient solidarity today may not be with the community of faith but among those who accept Enlightenment-generated standards for cognitive plausibility.