The Tragedy of the Religious Left

What do you get when you hold a conference with 1,200 people who are all afraid of offending one another? I’ll tell you what you don’t get. You don’t get unity, and you don’t get agreement on anything. That’s what happened when the Spiritual Activism Conference took place recently in Washington, D.C. According to the New York Times, this group of religious liberals came together to discuss “taking back religion from the conservative Christians.” But the conference members had trouble getting anything specific done. The Times hit it right on the nose when it explained, “Turnout at the Spiritual Activism Conference was high, but if the gathering is any indication, the biggest barrier for liberals may be their regard for pluralism: for letting people say what they want, how they want to, and for trying to include everyone’s priorities rather than choosing two or three issues that could inspire a movement.” Never mind even setting policy goals; some conference members were afraid that singing hymns might be enough to upset some members. Instead of coming away with a clear set of objectives, the conference members mostly came away frustrated. Ironically for a group that prides itself on tolerance, it seems the only thing the conference could agree on was its opposition to the “religious right.” But frustrating as it was for them, the group had to concede that the “religious right” is a lot better at getting things done. Beliefnet suggests this was because “religious conservatives are willing to argue there is one correct view on policy issues.” You see, that’s the crux of the liberals’ problem. This conflict is not about political or social divisions. It’s about authority—specifically, whether or not Christians are willing to acknowledge that the Bible is our authority. Tony Campolo certainly recognized this. Though Tony and I disagree on lots of things, I really like Tony. He’s honest, and he loves the Bible. He tried to explain at this conference the necessity of following Scripture. But one participant retorted, “I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference. I don’t want to play the game of ‘the Bible says this or that,’ or that we get validation from something other than ourselves.” There you have it. Validation from ourselves simply means you make up your own god. We Christians may interpret the Bible differently; we may apply it to life differently; we may have arguments over exegesis. But the Bible has to be the ultimate authority. Otherwise we end up worshiping the goddess of tolerance and believing that tolerance takes precedence over truth. Dorothy Sayers, the great English writer, said it best: “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” This kind of so-called “tolerance” can never bring people together, but only as we saw in Washington, pull them farther apart.  
For Further Reading and Information
Please help support the Christian worldview ministry of BreakPoint by donating online today or calling 1-877-322-5527. Neela Banerjee, “Religious Left Struggles to Find Unifying Message,” New York Times, 19 May 2006. Daniel Burke, “Progressives Gather to Reignite Spiritual Activist Movement,” Beliefnet, 19 May 2006. Charlotte Allen, “Liberal Christianity Is Paying for Its Sins,” Los Angeles Times, 9 July 2006. Charles Colson, “God and Caesar: Does Religion Belong in Public Life?” speech, 13 November 2000. Joshua Birk, “Wordplay,” BreakPoint Online, 6 June 2006. BreakPoint Commentary No. 050221, “Moral Equivalency.”


Chuck Colson



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