Saturday, March 8, 2014

Schrag Lecture Recap

David Swartz
David Swartz's Schrag Lecture on Thursday night was very well-received by the 70+ members in attendance in Messiah College's Alexander Auditorium. Swartz's lecture, "Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America," focused on some of the main themes of his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Swartz talked extensively about how the so-called "Evangelical Left," represented by Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Doris Longacre (author of the More-With-Less Cookbook), John Howard Yoder and others, struggled to navigate a middle ground between the Christian nationalism and free market principles of the Religious Right and the secularism and pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party in the 1970s.  

The audience was filled with people interested in the history of Messiah College, Anabaptism, evangelicalism, and the Brethren in Christ Church.  Their questions focused on the relationship between the Evangelical Left and the largely secular New Left, the role that the Internet is playing in strengthening the followers of the "third way," and how many evangelical pastors such as Bruxy Cavey and Greg Boyd are either finding a home in Anabaptism or seriously considering moving in that direction.

It was fascinating to chat informally with some members of the audience after the lecture.  So many of them had lived through the early days of the Evangelical Left.  They followed Jim Wallis and the Post-American (later Sojourners) community, supported Ronald Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action, or used the More With Less Cookbook.  They had come to hear Swartz, a young historian from Asbury College, treat their 1970s evangelical world as a subject worthy of historical investigation.  It was a great night.
My comments were brief.  I wondered aloud what role Catholic Social Teaching might have played in the thinking of the Evangelical Left.  I also noted, borrowing from James Davison Hunter, that it appeared that the Religious Right and the Evangelical Left were both trying to "change the world" through politics.  In other words, they both wanted to create their own version of a "Christian nation."  I also wondered what role Messiah College played in the Evangelical Left.  Ron Sider wrote his famous Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger while he was directing the Messiah College Philadelphia campus.  How did the administration of a very apolitical Anabaptist school like Messiah College handle Sider's willingness to use politics as a means of social change?

It was great to finally meet David Swartz.  I am so glad that Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the director of the Sider Institute, invited him to deliver this year's Schrag Lectures on Anabaptism.  Both of them hit a home run on Thursday night and I was glad to be a part of it.