Churches in the Age of Neoliberalism (was Re: Historical Roots of Evangelical Social Justice Traditions)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Jun 7 17:03:44 PDT 1998

Michael Eisenscher posts _Evangelicals, Populists, and the Great Reversal: Protestant Civil Society and Economic Concern_ by Allen D. Hertzke:
> In the urban milieu, too, it was often the most sectarian Christians who
>strove to practice the biblical injunction to "preach good news to the poor."
>Indeed, "holiness minded evangelicals" took the lead in work with the poor.
>They operated a vast array of social service organizations, rescue missions,
>homes for unwed mothers, job programs, industrial institutes, orphanages,
>relief efforts, and settlement houses. Evangelists preached and ministered
>among the skid rows and red light districts, striking in their close contact
>with the most marginalized of society.
> Notable here is the Church of the Nazarene, whose founder "felt called
>in the 1890s into ministry to the poor of inner-city Los Angeles." That
>vision inspired missionaries across the country who saw their "field of labor"
>in the "neglected quarters of the cities." Also conspicuous was the work of
>the Salvation Army, which offered food, shelter, clothing, legal aid, and day
>care centers to allow mothers to work. Rescue missions for prostitutes, such
>as the Crittendon homes, provided "fallen women" with jobs and other support.

One of the ways that neoliberal budget-cutters have and will try to use churches, evangelical or not, is to enlist them in their scheme of _privatization_ of social services: from 'welfare' to schooling. Neoliberals have and will look to churches and other places of worship and exhort them to provide food, shelter, ect. to the poor who are deemed 'undeserving' of social citizenship and entitlements to state aids that it entails. The best thing that the Religious Left can do in this context is to _refuse_ to be used in this drive for privatization. They must say to neoliberals, 'we will not be used as excuse for cutting social programs and public school funding.' They must refuse to be incorporated into the 'workfare'/legal slavery scheme in which churches and other 'non-profits' are made to play a role in providing places where 'workfare' workers are supposed to gain 'work experience' (as if people on welfare had never worked in their lives!). They must turn down a neoliberal invitation to benefit from 'school voucher' programs. Left clergy and lay leaders got to be in the forefront of this struggle _against privatization_. (Some of the best ones are, but the rest have yet to get anywhere near there.)

> And now for a coda to our story. Revivalist Christians, as we know,
>have re-engaged in spectacular fashion in our own day. But the economic
>concern is muted. There are charitable agencies, to be sure, and a few
>efforts reminiscent of the 19th Century, such as Charles Colson's Prison
>Fellowship. And we even occasionally hear distant echoes of the egalitarian
>impulse, such as when Pat Robertson shocked the Wall Street crowd with his
>plan for a year of Jubilee -- when debt would be forgiven and economic burdens
>lifted. But more often we hear an uncritical defense of the free market or
>some version of the prosperity gospel.
> Animated, instead, by a sense of moral and cultural crisis, evangelicals
>now address what they see as the catastrophic collapse of the family...fraying
>of the social fabric and...marginalizing of people of faith. Economic
>inequality ranks low in such calculations, or is seen as a consequence of
>cultural collapse.
> Now, this understanding of the cultural and moral underpinnings of
>economic advancement may be a genuine contribution to the debate about our
>economic challenges. But what modern evangelicals fail to appreciate enough,
>I think, is that global capitalism itself is a great engine of the secularism,
>materialism, and hedonism they decry. So unless deeper linkages can be
>forged between economic tides and cultural concerns, we will not see
>revivalist Protestants contributing much in fashioning responses to inequality
>in the global age.

Many Right-wing evangelicals _have_ made a linkage between the cultural and moral and the economic; it's just that they have made a _wrong linkage_ from the Left point of view.

In the minds of Right-wing evangelicals, there is no contradiction between economic neoliberalism and social conservativism; both are integrally united in their _punitive_ worldview. They want to use MARKET DISCIPLINE and LABOR DISCIPLINE as punishment and negative incentives for the ideas and behaviors that they think are 'morally wrong' or 'sinful.' Cut welfare checks, and poor women will stop having sex and babies and start behaving, or so the Religious Right think.


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