Harvey Cox and the Future of the Christian Left

Millennial writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has a new article at The Nation:

Over the past half-century, many strains of Christianity have seen a “privatization of religious experience and discourse.”

Ever since, Christians on the right have been attempting to reverse this process, whether by invoking a past in which some aspects of traditional Christian thought defined social norms, or by using many of the rights created by liberalism in order to protect the public expression of Christian values…

Indeed, the right’s dominance over public expressions of Christianity has been so pronounced that it has created something of a crisis for liberal and left-wing Christians…How can one invoke the egalitarian and communitarian ideals of the faith when the right has so dominated the public landscape that the very notion of “left Christianity” is often now a puzzling idea?

Without a unified Christian left to contrast against a powerful and already unified Christian right, there is no obvious political program or donor base for an incipient generation of left-Christian activists and intellectuals. Young Christians committed to social and economic justice have to carve out their own lineage and propose their own goals and priorities; on the right, that work has already been done for them.

It’s in the face of these challenges for an emerging new generation of Christian liberals and leftists that Harvey Cox— a Baptist minister, Harvard divinity professor for more than 40 years, and Christian left-wing intellectual to the core—offers a beacon of light. Still writing well into his 80s, Cox has authored more than a dozen books, contributed chapters and papers far and wide, and played a profound role in shaping liberal Christianity in America. He has also served as a model for several generations of Christian activists and intellectuals, reminding both Christians and the left that their programs are not as distinct as they are often thought today….

Even if Cox does not leave us with an obvious intellectual program or organizational strategy that can directly instruct us for the future, by highlighting the limits of our economic and religious lives, and by reminding us of our powers to renovate our current world, Cox clears the space for a new generation of Christians to begin to develop a more public and egalitarian politics. And that alone is more than enough to be grateful for.

The full article can be read here.