In the early 1970s, a group of progressive evangelicals challenged the mid-century cultural conservatism of their tradition. Activists associated with Reformed, Anabaptist, and neo-evangelical institutions denounced militarism, racism, sexism, economic injustice, and President Richard Nixon's "lust for and abuse of power." When this coalition met in 1973 to issue the Chicago Declaration, delegates effused a profound sense of optimism. The evangelical left held very real potential for political impact.
Within a decade, however, the movement seemed to be in disarray. This article suggests the centrality of identity politics to evangelicalism in the 1970s and outlines the fragmentation of the progressive evangelical coalition along gender, racial, and theological lines. The formation of the Evangelical Women's Caucus, the growing stridency of the National Black Evangelical Association, and the divergence of Anabaptist-oriented Evangelicals for Social Action and the Reformed-oriented Association for Public Justice sapped the evangelical left of needed resources and contributed to its impotence into the 1980s. The forces of identity politics, which also plagued the broader political left, were powerful enough to sabotage even a group of evangelicals with remarkably similar theological convictions, religious cultures, and critiques of conservative politics. The story of the fragmenting evangelical left, however, reflects more than broader culture's preoccupation with identity. It points to often-overlooked religious elements of the broader left. And alongside the New Left and the New Right, the evangelical left's debates over racial, sexual, and theological difference added to the disruptions of the liberal consensus in the 1960s and 1970s.
- ©© 2011 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture