Much of the Evangelical Left, so influential on Christian college campuses and increasingly prominent in Washington, D.C., relies on neo-Anabaptist beliefs. Sojourners activist Jim Wallis, who last week launched a crusade against "cuts" in the 2012 federal budget, adheres partly to this tradition. These neo-Anabaptists demand total pacifism and reject the military. Unlike traditional Anabaptists, they are not separatists, and many exuberantly advocate Big Government control over medical care, food, energy, and virtually all of life. The godfather of sorts for these disjointed neo-Anabaptists was the late Mennonite theologian and Notre Dame professor John Howard Yoder. He joined most Anabaptists in assuming that Christianity was massively corrupted by 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine's embrace of Christianity. The resulting Christendom created over 1,600 years of wars and oppression ostensibly in the name of Christ.Read the whole review here.
It strikes me as right that Tooley, who is such a keen observer of all things having to do with theological liberalism, should identify John Howard Yoder as the "godfather" of the Evangelical Left. This is precisely why I was drawn to him in the 90's and also precisely why I now find his theology to be pretty much useless, except when it is dangerous.
Someone asked me just this morning how I became so conservative (politically and theologically) and I am never sure if I fully understand it all yet myself. But one major flash of insight came when I realized that the cultural Marxists - who are so powerfully influential today in academic and cultural elite circles - hate the traditional family, traditional sexual ethics and the sanctity of human life as much as they hate capitalism. That ended my ability to posit moral equivalence between the Left and the Right. Compared to the Right, the Left is far more evil. They simply are not equivalent.
I mention this because Tooley's paragraph above makes clear that Yoder's influence was to train a generation of younger Evangelicals to hate and despise their own cultural heritage - to reject as violent, colonial, patriarchal and racist the legacy of Western Christendom over the past 1500 years. By doing so, Yoder helped create a void into which cultural Marxism could move. Marxism Has been in the process of colonizing the ecclesiastical structures of a dying Christian faith in the West for over a century now. As faith in Jesus Christ declines, Marxism offers a modern, this-worldly substitute complete with eschatology, guilt, martyrdom, holy books, a prophetic stance and much more.
This is part of the explanation (which of course is far more complex than this one little point) for why the Evangelical became "Left" politically and economically. And it explains why those who first embrace economic Marxist theories are so susceptible on all the other "culture war" issues: sanctity of life, traditional marriage, sexual morality etc. There is a connection between rejecting one's cultural traditions, embracing the sexual revolution and using Marxism to criticize capitalism. These three moves fit together and reinforce one another.
But maybe it all starts with a loss of confidence in one's tradition, one's culture and one's heritage. If so, the influence of Yoder has been massive - and tragic.