During the last century, these two visions have gone through several historical permutations. However, they continue to shape American Protestantism. As a Southern Baptist, Huckabee emphasizes Christian conversion, personal morality, and individual character. Obama, as part of a liberal denomination, articulates the communal vision of progressive Protestantism, appealing to human goodness, optimism, and social justice. Whereas Huckabee speaks of the "zeal" of individuals to "do the right thing" and act heroically, Obama preaches on "building a coalition" to transform the nation through innovation and creating a new global community. They are replaying, in dynamic new voices, an old disagreement in American religion.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Politics and the two poles of Protestantism
Back in the 1920s, maybe before, American Protestantism was divided by the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy. Denominations were divided and polarization set in. For a time Liberal Protestantism was ascendant -- at least publicly -- while conservatives focused on personal piety and conversion. Theirs was an individualist focus, while liberal Protestantism took a more communal approach.
Diana Butler Bass sees in the faith positions of the two victors in last Thursday's Iowa Caucuses representatives of those two poles. Mike Huckabee is a conservative, pietistic, Southern Baptist, who focuses on the role of the individual. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a member of the United Church of Christ, America's most liberal Protestant denomination.
Although we're way too early in this election cycle to know who the final candidates will be, she finds it intriguing that for the first time since the "Great Divide" we could see representatives of these two poles running against each other. A possible "referendum on the Protestant political soul."