And Zack Exley wants you to know about it.
Zack is a left-wing activist and organizer who writes for the Huffington Post and at his own blog, Revolution in Jesusland. And what is Jesusland, you ask? Well, perhaps you’ve already seen the internet meme that redraws the map of North America thusly:
As Exley puts it:
The image was a hit because it expressed a sinking feeling in the hearts of many progressives that America had been taken over by an incomprehensible cult of ignorance, intolerance and hate—a cult they knew as “evangelical” or “born again” Christianity.
But what he wants us to know is that there are some radical changes taking place among evangelicals. He writes:
…there is an incredibly large and beautiful social movement exploding among evangelicals right now that stands for nearly all of the same causes and goals that secular progressives do. Those goals include: eliminating poverty, saving the environment, promoting justice and equality along racial, gender and class lines and for immigrants—and even separation of church and state.
From mega churches to tiny country churches, evangelical Christians are rediscovering the “gospel of the God of the oppressed.” Perhaps the most surprising among these are the suburban, white evangelicals who are stepping outside of their comfort zones to “get into relationship” with the poor, the oppressed, the homeless, prisoners—the people of whom Jesus said,
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me….Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. —Matthew 25
They are building houses for and teaching job skills to homeless people, they are creating tutoring programs for kids in failing schools, they’re paying health care bills and sending off rent checks for people living on poverty wages—and there’s even a movement afoot among these people to move their young families out of wealthy suburbs and into forsaken inner city neighborhoods, putting their kids into broken and often violent public schools. And in their Sunday services and Bible studies they are questioning the very foundations of modern American capitalist ideology.
So why should secular progressives care about what is happening among evangelical Christians?
By learning to work together with “progressive” evangelicals, secular progressives will stand a better chance of achieving their goals and also learn an enormous amount from these remarkable people and their organizations that will help secular progressives strengthen their own movement.
Even Exley himself has been caught up by this movement. In a recent post at Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog he wrote:
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten acquainted with a movement of Christians that is vibrant, enormous, and yet refuses to let itself be named or to take credit for any of its accomplishments. Some have named subsets or aspects of the movement — for example, “The New Monastics,” “The Emergent Church,” “Ordinary Radicals,” and even “Revolutionaries.” But there are millions of people swept up into this movement who have never even heard those phrases.
I grew up an atheist and a left-wing activist/organizer. I got a view into this movement only when I married a Christian and started going to church (the only way it was ever going to happen) a few years ago. When I first saw thousands of upper-middle-class, white, Southern suburbanites respond passionately to a sermon titled “Two Fists in the Face of Empire,” I knew that something incredible must be going on. Afterward, a minute of Googling revealed that the U.S. was already full of churches preaching that same “anti-empire” gospel — both mega- and mini-churches, suburban, rural, and urban.
I started weeping in worship services myself when I started to see what this movement was actually doing in people’s lives. It was taking very isolated, individualistic middle-class suburban people like me and breaking them open in all kinds of ways. Even though I had spent a lot of time working as a community and union organizer, I had always been careful to keep my life totally unentangled by the immediate needs and troubles of the people I was organizing — that’s what I was most comfortable with, and it’s also what I was taught to do by all my mentors.
I was organizing for “big” solutions and staying away from all the “little” stuff that to me just seemed too messy and complicated to ever solve anyway. But these young Christians I was meeting were “falling in love with each other across class and racial lines,” and wrestling with demons of poverty, addiction, community violence, family violence, sexual abuse, depression, hopeless schools, and all the other troubles that plague American life. They were “making redemptive history” by healing wounds and repairing families and communities one at a time. It’s really the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve had the opportunity to witness it up close in a dozen states and scores of giant mega-churches and tiny house groups.
At any rate, Zack’s blog is, in his words, “A guided tour for secular progressives” into this new Great Awakening among evangelicals. His goal is to help other people like him see that there is more going on among heartland Christians than what the media stereotypes and shocking stories of the extremes would seem to indicate. I’d definitely recommend giving him a read.
Besides the articles I’ve already linked above, I’d also recommend a two part series he recently did for the Huffington Post about Shane Claiborne and his new book (together with Chris Haw) Jesus for President. They are:
Jesus for President, a Book Review for Atheists; Part 1, What is Shane Claiborne?
Jesus for President, a Review for Atheists — Part 2: God’s Story