Weekend Reads: The religious left and campus censorship

by James Bruce & Mark Moland
Posted 3/14/15, 08:11 am

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

By Brantley W. Gasaway

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (UNC Press, 2014) offers a sympathetic portrait of progressive evangelicalism but never descends into advocacy.

Author Brantley W. Gasaway focuses on prominent leaders like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo and seems to have read everything written by or on progressive evangelicals in the last 40 years, which gives us an excellent look at the movement’s history from its principal actors as well as its supporting cast.

The book is full of delicious details. For example, it chronicles the efforts of Evangelicals for McGovern, the first evangelical political action committee, which sent letters to 8,000 evangelical leaders in 1972, hoping to raise money for the Democratic senator’s presidential campaign. Gasaway records the results of the group’s efforts, based on his own research: “a mere $5,762 from 358 donors.”

Two words stand out from the author’s analysis of progressive evangelicalism: equality and liberation. In Gasaway’s words, progressive evangelicals believe “the biblical vision for social justice requires substantively equal opportunities that depend upon the equitable distribution of socioeconomic resources.” Since Campolo called the movement “theologically orthodox but with a progressive social agenda,” I wish Gasaway offered more examples of how progressives have used the Bible to support their agenda.

Progressive evangelicals have had difficulty relating to fellow evangelicals who question their biblical orthodoxy and leftists who doubt their commitment to equality and liberation. Gasaway considers what progressive evangelicals believe about racism, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, welfare, and war, and demonstrates how they predictably take leftist positions on almost every issue: anti-war, pro-welfare, pro-women’s ordination, etc., but they are largely pro-life and, until recently, they defended biblical marriage. —James Bruce

Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate

By Greg Lukianoff

Posting a cartoon. Reading a book. Showing a movie. For each of these seemingly benign activities, college administrators disciplined, suspended, or expelled the students involved, reports Greg Lukianoff in Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (Encounter Books, 2014). Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), describes an education system where overly cautious administrators, ideologically driven professors, and conforming students stifle open debate and free expression.

An Association of American Colleges and Universities nationwide study found only 30 percent of college seniors felt safe expressing an unpopular view on campus. And Lukianoff presents some of the reasons—campus indoctrination, speech codes, viewpoint discrimination, diversity policies run amok—and illustrates what is, and is not, protected by law. A liberal Democrat, Lukianoff argues that censorship cuts across political, ideological, and theological perspectives and provides examples both shocking and absurd. (Warning: He uses graphic language.)

Unlearning Liberty is grounded in the idea, credited to Abraham Lincoln, of “The philosophy of the schoolhouse in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next.” Lukianoff writes, “When you remove the process for open debate and discussions from colleges, you take away higher education’s reason for existence.” He encourages readers to develop “the intellectual habits of a free people” by humbly engaging others’ ideas, respecting unpopular opinions, and defending their right to speak. —Mark Moland

James Bruce

James, an associate professor of philosophy at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow him on Twitter @JamesEBruce.

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Mark Moland

Mark is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.

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