CNN's Roland Martin and Guests Tout 'Progressive Evangelical' Future
Martin began the segment, which started 41 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program, with his usual criticism of social conservatives: “I’m an evangelical, but I think the faith should focus on more than just abortion and whether marriage should just be between a man and a woman. As police brutality, poverty, funding inequality in our schools, the high infant mortality rate in our inner cities -- they’re all issues that I, as a Christian, care about, but they rarely top the religious right’s agenda.” He then asked as his general question to his guests, “So, is there a place for progressive evangelicals in this country?”
As you might expect, all three of his guests -- the Reverend Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, Reverend Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary, and Frank Schaeffer -- all answered this question affirmatively, and each one had their criticism of religious conservatives. Martin first asked Schaeffer if he believed that “progressive Christians have been meek and silent, and frankly, being bullied by social conservatives into submission.” Schaeffer not only acknowledged that he believed this, but later went so far of blaming the “religious right” for the Iraq War and the bad economy. He even accused them of being “anti-American,” because in his view, “they hate pluralistic diverse America. What they want is a homogenous white America most of the time.”
Martin asked Reverend Jones to define what she thought defines a progressive evangelical. She replied, “To be evangelical means that you have a good news to profess to the world. Unfortunately, the right has absconded with the term.” She also acknowledged that her institution, the Union Theological Seminary, was “a social justice school, one of the most radical in the world.”
Rev. Hunter then outlined what his top issues were: “Poverty, climate change, justice issues, all of these things are -- health care. All of these things are things that Jesus addressed in his ministry, and so we are oriented toward what Jesus addressed, not just a couple of issues that are still important. But we’re not narrow, we’re not totally negative. We’re not just automatically combative. We want to be constructive in this whole arena.” Jesus addressed climate change?
Later, Martin seemed to despair of the challenge ahead for “progressive evangelicals” in facing their opponents on the right: “Serene, but how do you build this movement though, because the reality is the right, they have an infrastructure. They have organizations. They understand media. They know how to work the system. So how do you try to build this progressive evangelical movement?” Reverend Jones answered in part, “ One of the challenges is that progressive Christians do not have a politics of exclusion, and exclusion organizes people. When you’re open and you’re trying to bring as many people to the table as possible....You’re always going to have a hard time rallying the same kind of attention.”
Near the end of the segment, Schaeffer tried to sell President Obama as a “progressive evangelical” leader: “The fact of the matter is we actually have a progressive Christian who’s a leader right now, and his name is Barack Obama. He is a born-again Christian. He is a progressive Democrat. I happen to be an independent voter. I’m not going out there for Democrats, but we do have a progressive Christian leader. He’s sitting in the White House right now having just come back from a wonderful tour of Europe where he’s wowed the world and shown them a new face of America, a more compassionate and inclusive face, and that’s really what we have to be about in the future. So I’m very optimistic.”
Martin concluded by thanking his guests and by making a promise: “Well, Frank, Joel and Serene, I’m going to be watching to see what happens. And so we’ll see if you guys are able to put this movement together, and we’ll follow it to the conclusion. I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot.”