Readers learn in the book that the Religious Right was not founded around the abortion debate, but was founded in defense of Bob Jones University’s fight to retain racist admissions policies. That fact doesn’t nullify the anti-abortion argument, so does the history matter?
It doesn’t nullify the argument at all, but what it does is it nullifies the myth that this is a movement that was born as a crusade for justice, a crusade to help the vulnerable. In fact, there’s a narrative out there that places the Religious Right in the same position as the abolitionists of old. They’re here to free the most vulnerable or the people who are in bondage, which are the unborn children. That is a lie. That is not how the Religious Right was formed.
Ironically, the Religious Right was literally formed in the fight to keep African Americans subjugated. It was birthed in the context of the Bob Jones University vs. The United States of America fight, and, that had a lot to do with Regan’s ascendancy to the presidency and our coalescing around him, because he made a promise during his run for the presidency that one of the first actions he would take would be to write a brief siding with Bob Jones University, which he did. One of his first acts as president was to visit Bob Jones University and put his support behind the university in that fight.
In the introduction to Left, Right, and Christ, you talk about your own ethnicity and family history of Native American, Peurto Rican, African and White descent and Innes talks about coming from Canada where he was shaped both by a conservative personal ethic and what he perceives as a “politically correct” liberal political environment there. Are we ever able to escape our own stories in order to look at the world objectively or are those stories part of what God uses to bring forth those perspectives?
What we see and how we interpret what we see will always be interpreted through the grain of our experience. Not only our experience, but our families’ experience, because wisdom is passed down to us, or lack of wisdom is passed down to us, through our families, and our collective experience through the ages.
Some of us like to believe that we are self-made individuals. That is never the case. What is also true is that the Bible itself was written by people who were shaped by their context. The original readers would have read the original text in light of their contexts. What I’m most fascinated by is that the context of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament and the first century Christians in the New Testament is that we’re talking about an oppressed people.
The original writers and readers of the Bible would have been people with their backs up against the wall, as Howard Thurman put it in his seminal book, The Jesus and the Disinherited. He says Jesus is one who identifies with the oppressed because Jesus lived with his back up against the wall. This was an occupied territory. It was occupied by Rome and it was a brutal empire. People were being gouged for tons of money in the way things worked with Rome and also with the tax collection system that they had. And so, I think people who have rubbed up against some experience of oppression or exploitation inherently have lenses that when they look at the Scripture they will see things that others without that experience may not see.
Wilkes said in his column that an audience member at the panel discussion he attended said technology plays an often overlooked role in configuring labor markets and purchasing patterns. Have you given any more thought to how technology plays into issues of employment and justice?
Not a whole lot. I will say that when I was at Columbia University and I was getting my master’s degree in Human Rights, there was someone in my Human Rights class who was focused on that. Back then, everybody thought his questions were far out there, but they’re really not. In a matter of five, six years, those questions are really beginning to come to the fore.
I was facebooking back and forth with a publisher recently, who was talking about the effect of Amazon.com on bookstores. This is a very big deal. The reality is that Amazon serves a purpose for middle class America. We can get big, big discounts at Amazon.com, kind of very much like Walmart, but there are big issues right now that are coming to the fore about the way that Amazon.com treats its workers, and also about the effect of its predatory practices on local bookstores.
Poor people have less access to the internet and less access to those great deals. And so, poor people are either relegated to not having books at all or to going to their local stores where they’re having to hike up prices because of the effect of Amazon.com, or, more likely, going to the library, and libraries are being cut through austerity measures in governments. So the poor are suffering, not just because of Amazon.com. I don’t mean to overstate the case, but in an age where the language of affluence is now synonymous with the language of technology, poor people lose out.
We started the interview with essential differences in your and Innes’ positions, so let’s end with the essential common ground that you share. There’s a short chapter in the book on that and Wilkes noted the civility of your discourse when he heard you speak together. How are you able to maintain that kind of civility?
What we have learned over the course of the last few months and over the course of writing the book is that respect of the other is really key. If you approach the other with respect — respect for their intellect, respect for their faith, respect for the basic reality that we both really do love Jesus and we both really do love Scripture — then we’re really able to have good, meaty conversations about the issues at hand. But the minute that we devolve into the catty, sardonic banter that you normally hear on talk radio or see on cable news shows, then the conversation devolves and we don’t have a chance to have real conversation about the issues. It becomes about winning an argument and not about the truth. It becomes about winning rhetorically versus discovering something. I don’t think we started here, but I think we’re beginning to get to the place where we have a deeper level of respect for each other, and not just as human beings, but also for the reality of each other’s faith and love for Jesus and love for the Word.