Isaiah The political progressive.

I don’t understand how the Right Wing managed to hijack Christianity.  I won’t make the argument that Christ is more left than right.  And things are slowly changing.

I’ve been reading Isaiah tonight.  Probably me talking less and scripture talking more is wise on all kind of fronts.  So I’m simply going to toss out a few verses.  Maybe later I’ll babble some on Jesus’ affinity for Isaiah.

For those unfamiliar, Isaiah is calling out the entire country of Judah.  They’d grown complacent and corrupt, he’s promising God’s mercy if they repent and offering some amazing prophecies of Jesus.

From chpt 1:

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
       I will hide my eyes from you;
       even if you offer many prayers,
       I will not listen.
       Your hands are full of blood;

 16 wash and make yourselves clean.
       Take your evil deeds
       out of my sight!
       Stop doing wrong,

 17 learn to do right!
       Seek justice,
       encourage the oppressed. [a]
       Defend the cause of the fatherless,
       plead the case of the widow.

23 Your rulers are rebels,
       companions of thieves;
       they all love bribes
       and chase after gifts.
       They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
       the widow’s case does not come before them.

Chpt 3:

14 The LORD enters into judgment
       against the elders and leaders of his people:
       “It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
       the plunder from the poor is in your houses.

 15 What do you mean by crushing my people
       and grinding the faces of the poor?”
       declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

Chpt 5:

 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
       is the house of Israel,
       and the men of Judah
       are the garden of his delight.
       And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
       for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
       and clever in their own sight.

 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
       and champions at mixing drinks,

 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
       but deny justice to the innocent.

I’ll stop today with Chapter 10:

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
       to those who issue oppressive decrees,

 2 to deprive the poor of their rights
       and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
       making widows their prey
       and robbing the fatherless.

I’m not claiming that Conservatives, or Republicans hate the poor.  I am saying that on the one hand we claim all scripture is inspired but then overlook or minimize passages that don’t fit into our world view.  These are the smallest handful of verses that I believe tend to get brushed under the carpet.


Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

14 thoughts on “Isaiah The political progressive.”

  1. Jeff, One of the reasons I believe that the “right hijacked Christianity” is because another name for the left is “progressive.” I don’t particularly have a problem with this name because in when it comes to Christianity and the practice of it, I’m sure progressive is a term that could be given to me.
    However, one of the things about progressivism is that it looks for the new thing coming its way. For instance, a “progressive church” today would have really gone hog wild over small groups or rock music or any number of things that were not the primary focus of the church, let’s say, back in the 60’s. In the 2060’s, Progressive churches will no doubt be into something else.
    The same might be true of “progressives” or liberals in the political scene. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, progressives were moving toward an anti-God (or at the very least humanistic) philosophy. By the end of the 60’s, that was actually the norm.
    So it was “progressive” to not believe in God. Or at least question the fundamental beliefs of God’s existence.
    Today, with science realizing that they can know a whole lot of things, but there will probably ALWAYS be questions, it’s more “progressive” to believe in God.
    So while I believe that a lot of liberals now talk about church and God and spirituality in their normal dialogue, I do not believe that has always been the case (as far as majority is concerned).
    You could put it this way. Why did the liberals hijack Saturday Night Live? They didn’t. They were just the first to utilize it as a tool(aka Bill Clinton’s visits or Janet Renos). Because this is what politicians do, utilize SNL or spirituality or the war or any public relations story as a tool.
    One could say that spirituality is more important than SNL (I would say that), but the truth is, any leader of our nation,and group that he or she belongs to, is going to leverage whatever they can in order to build the most powerful niche they can.
    So to sum up my whole writing here: Progressives change faster that Conservatives. This is the very nature of their name. Progressing. Conservatives have always hijacked Christianity, it had never stopped. For years and years, there were a group of conservatives who focused on faith.
    But now that the progression of the world is to think spiritually, progressives are in this game too.
    I should also say that I do believe there are liberals who really are spiritual, just as there are Conservatives who really love the environment.


  2. I’ve got to say. When you throw verses like that out to support your political view vs. that of a republican you are saying that republicans hate the poor and sit in a tower and do nothing. That kind of like saying “no offence but…” Nothing good ever follows.

    “Left wingers” look at the right and think “evil hate mongers.” Simply because their views of compassion and how to help are diffrent from yours. The left thinks “we are responsible for everyone even those that don’t care and only take.” The right thinks “we are responsible for “some” but you must be willing to work for a better future.”

    For every crazy idea one side has the other side has something equally crazy same goes for the few small bright ideas. The world would be a better place if we stopped pointing the finger at the faults of others and started focusing on the common ground and working hard at making the common ground a great place to be.

    On a side note, why are “right leaning” democrats called “progressives,” while “left leaning” republicans are called “moderates?” Progressive sounds new and fresh while moderate sounds like “well they aren’t all bad and crusty.”

    Billy (who sits comfortably in the middle)


  3. Billy-
    Wow. That’s a really fascinating analysis that I hadn’t considered before.
    There’s probably some truth to it.

    On my way to work this morning, I had made a decision I was going to delete this post if nobody had seen it yet. I was afraid it would appear that I was attempting to hijack Christianity in the name of the left.
    If I didn’t make it clear I’ll apologize. I’m well aware that there are verses that a Republican might find that imply adherence to there world view.
    My point is only that these passages are in the bible, and we ought to contend with them. Not that they are more important. We’ve laughed at that bumper sticker that says “God is not a Republican” in huge letters and adds, in much smaller letters “or a democrat.”
    These should both be in equally sized writing. To do otherwise is to make the mistake that Joshua made before the angel, and assume that God participates in our conflicts, rather than the other way around.

    As for the progressive/moderate issue:
    I think that there’s a pretty good explanation for this. Here’s my analysis.
    The Regean revolution attempted to make the term “liberal” a dirty word. Liberal ineptness bought into this attempt. Twenty years later, the term still leaves an unpleasent after taste in many mouths.
    The folks on the far left are the most likely to not particular buy into or care about what words Reagan and his ilk wanted to use. The more moderate among us would care, and so they grab the word “progressive”.
    Personally, I use them both fairly interchangeably. Before you mentioned it I never noticed that it was the more moderate liberals who gravitate toward it. Having considered it, I’ve decided it’s more an issue of perceptions about definitions than the definitions themselves.


  4. hey Jeff,

    Frustrated much? i feel your pain, though i don’t share your grief.

    To me, the answer to your question is less political and more social. i agree with much of what Marty said concerning the ‘movement’ to Fully Rely On Man. If you read Schaeffer’s “The God Who Is There” he makes a pretty good historical time-line of the ‘progress’ of humanistic thought. i forget what his conclusions were, but i know mine are not new. Man has always sought a way to escape accontability to God, or to become his own god.

    The political Right didn’t “hijack” Christianity. Most Christians were drawn to the Right because it naturally opposed what the Left was saying and doing: disrespecting authority (not simply questioning), drug use, ‘free’ love, abortion, divorce, etc. Most of those social issues still divide and define Left and Right. The Left had become very good at using politics and policy to affect social paradigms and the Right fought back with….the Christian Coalition.

    i think it’s more a coincidence that the term “Christian” is associated with Right leaning politics. i encourage you to examine the tension you’re experiencing in your own spiritual v. political world. i’ve had to do that quite a bit over the past few years. i’m extremely conservative in just about every area. i believe that God wants us to make wise and righteous choices in our lives that reflect his best for us. If you look at a social issue from the standpoint of “what ought i do?”, you’re going to end up living conservatively. Now, that doesn’t mean God wants us to ussurp the right of others to make their own choices (i don’t believe abortion is included). It also doesn’t mean we should approve or excuse the poor choices people make for themselves.

    The passages from Isaiah are first an indictment of the hearts of individuals. You can’t get a badly behaving government (Theocratic or otherwise) without heartless leaders. When God talks about the people “Isreal” he’s also referring to the people OF Isreal. Each person has a responsibility to advocate for what’s right. If you happen to be gifted with leadership your responsiblities become greater. The rewards are commensurate.

    Today, our government is not Isreal. It isn’t the Church either. Both Right and Left should stop trying to make it into a Theocracy (Christian, Muslim, or Humanist). For both Right and Left there’s a tendency to shout down the other with “Don’t tell me what to do!” yet they’re both equally willing to bludgeon the other with laws and judicial fiat to achieve their objectives. This must stop or we’re in big trouble. i, for one, don’t think it will. And if by chance it does, it will likely be because one group has gotten the upper hand and is gravely oppressing the other.

    As for your concern that the widows, fatherless, and poor are being oppressed and denied their rights in today’s USA, i’d really like to hear more about what you believe those “rights” actually are. I’m worried that you might believe that “The New Deal” manifest is the standard bearer for the rights to which God refers. If that’s the case, i’m afraid you may be advocating the thing we should detest the most.


  5. Oh, i thought of something else. The title of your post is “Isaiah, the Political Progressive”; it occurred to me that Isaiah wasn’t progressive at all – he was conservative. He wasn’t advocating something new, it was old and traditional and should have been innate in the Hebrews! God had given those edicts a long time ago.


  6. Hi Garret-
    Before I begin I want to affirm our unity in Christ and my respect for you.
    I wouldn’t characerize myself as frustrated. I think I often come across more intense emotionally than I actually feel in writing.
    Just so I’m clear:
    The comment that you agreed with about the movement to fully rely on man… Was that in Billy’s post? Or did Marty say something that I missed on that topic?

    I agree with all concerned that humanism is the lefts dangerous secular side… A bit like unchecked free market capitalism is the right’s unchecked secular side.

    I disagree 100% with the premise that there is something inherent in Jesus message that naturally lends itself to the right. It’s an interesting possibility that the left tends to be more changeable than the right… during certain periods, perhaps, the possibility is true. There are certainly a variety of elements of the 60’s counter culture that you point out which are inconsistent with Jesus message.
    However, I also think that there is a level on which conservatives are heavily influenced by the liberals of five generations ago… A radical idea for the 50’s is quite tame today. Confusingly, the liberals are quite busy simply responding to the conservatives, and so it becomes a dog chasing its tail.
    There are tensions within my politics and my spiritual life. I have explored these, sometimes even in posts. If I’d opened the Isiaiah posts with some of these, it would have probably been both fair and wise.
    That said, I’d like to reaffirm my claim that there is also considerable tension– in my opinion– between the politics of the right wing and Jesus’ life and message. In this particular post, those were the ones I was considering. There are things that a conservative response to the question “What ought I to do?” will yield a result that would, I think, please Jesus. There are also results that would not.

    There is truth in the claim that Isaiah is speaking to individuals. That, of course, is the only way we can speak to people. There are 2 things, though, that I notice about this:
    Thing 1: Isaiah mentions systematic injustices quite explicitly. He is speaking to the nature of the laws, the fairness of the courts, etc.
    Thing 2: To whatever extent the US actually is what it claims to be, we the people can not ignore this fact. If in fact we are a representative democracy, then we all bare the guilt for whatever unfairness there is in our courts, for whatever unjustness there is in our laws.

    It is very difficult to figure out how to draw the line between private morality and public policy. I don’t claim to have a good way of knowing where and when to back off. I’m wondering if you do; the fact that you make a statement but then parenthetically exclude abortion from this makes me suspect that maybe this is equally hard for you to navigate. I’d love to hear more though, maybe I’m wrong.

    As for the rights of widows and the fatherless…
    I am increasingly convinced that an over reliance on the concept of rights isn’t the best way to go. I know that you can make an indirect connection in Isiah 10:1-2, but I think the more direct biblical connections are more fruitful. These aren’t rights of widows and orphans, rather they are obligations to the widows and orphans.
    Specifically, we have an obligation to not prey on them, not rob them, deny justice to them (o.k., this is based on the assumption that they are innocent) not grind their faces (assuming that they are also poor); we are called to plead their cases and defend them; and encourage them.

    How does this play out on the ground?
    Who does it apply to?
    Well, if I might be permitted to switch gears (and testaments) I notice that Jesus was quite action-oriented; he speaks of visiting, feeding, clothing.
    When people started the process, sometimes he fed them directly by multiplying loaves and fishes. Other times he told them where to cast the nets so that they could feed themselves.
    Maybe more later… Looking foreward to your response,


  7. It should be pointed out that the Right gives more to charity on average than the Left does. Conservatives give 30% more money, even though they’re slightly poorer on average than progressives. (It’s also the case that the working poor give the largest percentage of their incomes to charity of any social group. The middle class give less, as a percentage of income, than both the poor and the rich. The non-working poor give hardly anything at all.)

    Although, actually, the largest predictor is religious belief. And it’s not just to churches. Religious people are more likely to give blood and more likely to give to the homeless. They’re more likely to give to charity and, when they do, they give four times as much. (Full disclosure: I’m an atheist myself.)

    I suspect part of the reason progressives give less is because many of them seem to think that advocating more government giving is just as good as a contribution of their own. Thus, in 1997, Al Gore gave $353 to charity from his $198,000 income, half of what the average family gave that year and one-tenth of what people making over $100,000 gave on average. Gore was publicly shamed by the GOP into making a large donation to charity.


  8. Garret:
    It occurs to me that if there is nothing new under the sun, (and I believe it is) then in fact any plan is inherently conservative. We’re all harkening back to some age or another. Isaiah is a conservative in that sense that we all are. If we get too focused on this sense, though, we end up losing a useful definition for progressive vs. conservative.

    As always your data is a useful part of the discussion. Thank you for sharing it.
    I’m going to question a little bit. (And this is probably ironic, because the atheist is saying church-goers do the right thing and the church-goer is wondering if it’s true.)

    When you state that religious people give to charity does this include their local church? On one level it would certainly be fair to count this. I believe that we should give to the local chuch whole-heartedly.
    But in fairness, it might be objected that giving to the church is a little bit easier than other charities for 2 reasons:
    #1) Church goers are given an oppurtunity to give every time they attend.
    #2) Church goers directly benefit by giving to the church.

    Your statements about the homeless and giving blood certainly imply that convenience isn’t the whole picture. But I wonder if that is part of it.


  9. “The same might be true of “progressives” or liberals in the political scene. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, progressives were moving toward an anti-God (or at the very least humanistic) philosophy. By the end of the 60’s, that was actually the norm.”

    This was the section from Marty’s post i was alluding to when i ripped off F.R.O.M.

    i think it’s really funny sometimes how i can say something i think is indesputably clear and you hear something polar opposite of what i intended.
    i believe your quote below was in reference to my assertion beneath it:

    “I disagree 100% with the premise that there is something inherent in Jesus message that naturally lends itself to the right.”

    “Most Christians were drawn to the Right because it naturally opposed what the Left was saying and doing: disrespecting authority (not simply questioning), drug use, ‘free’ love, abortion, divorce, etc.”

    The context was built upon Marty’s piece about the progression of the ‘Anti-God’ movement culminating with the social rebellion of the 60’s. i was intimating that many Christians responded viscerally to that by gravitating to the other political spectrum. It just happened to be the Right. i don’t think responding to Jesus’ message had much to do with it.

    i’m going to digress for a moment: was the ‘thing I’ and ‘thing II’ usage purposeful with the upcoming Dr. Suess week?

    Before i get a head-ache trying to keep track of all the streams we have going, i’m going to try to be more succinct. This is where we dissagree on charity:

    i believe the fact the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and the importance of cooperating with him through free will demands that we don’t advocate stealing from people to provide for the needy. Think about it; using the power of the government to extract involuntary contributions from people for missions work. And then to do that with the vehement prohibition to communicate any real hope to the needy?

    Find me some real widows and orphans and not just the ones abandoned by their sperm donors and we’ll talk. Justice for the abandoned is tracking down the fathers like the dogs they are and holding them accountable. The current safety net is a twisted encouragement to abdicate personal responsibility because someone else will take care of it.

    And since you asked about my parenthetical exception on abortion:

    If biological science helps us with anything it’s with the ontology question. In ’73 when Roe was decided there wasn’t sufficient technology to discern what was really going on during the gestation process. There were lots of theories but one certain thing never entered the debate, and to my knowledge still has not. At the moment of conception there is a fetus (Latin for baby). It is such because it contains the DNA of a person – not just human tissue, but all the ordered information of a person. Without harmful intervention that person will be born. It is profoundly immoral to suggest that a person only has value if it’s wanted by its parents.

    Since you’re so fond of the O.T. i have some suggested reading. The story of David and Bathsheba is most salient to the unwanted-pregnancy-what-to-do-about-it debate. As far as what the response of a secular government should be; under our system it’s a state issue and not a constitutional one. And you will never convince me -no matter how hard you try- that a person’s “reproductive freedom” trumps the protection of the unborn. That freedom is a “whether or not to”. You have reproductive freedom right up to the point of actually reproducing. Once that sperm and egg come together…you’ve reproduced.

    gotta go…more later?


  10. Thanks for your thoughts.
    I see your point around why Christianity ended up on the right. My apologies; as I look back I do see that your point was clear.
    Thing I and Thing II were indeed Suess references, though I wasn’t thinking about the upcoming movie.

    I believe that single moms and kids being raised by single moms are todays widows and orphans. I think an important first step is holding the sperm donors accountable. You are 100% correct. But I don’t think that this problem is anywhere near solved by an efficient system to hunt down these dogs. We might imagine an efficient system at extracting money from these idiots. But money is only a small part of the issue. The real issue is that they need a man to raise them, not a boy in a man’s body. So even if we could track them down and extract money from them, I’m not sure how we get them to step up and act like a man.

    I hear what you’re saying about God wanting us to give with willing hearts. But I have trouble with the idea that someday I might stand before God, and explain this line of reasoning to him:
    “I could have fought, Lord, for free school lunches. I could have battled more fiercely that everybody would recieve health care. I know that people starved to death, God, I know that many people died who could have made it through… But you see, God, if I’d fought for a government requiring all these things, then I would have robbed individuals of the privilige of doing these things themselves.”
    I guess I don’t see it as an either/or proposition. It’s true that we should have some freedom to choose where our money goes. I think you are right, that this is where our disagreements boil down.
    Hope all is well,


  11. Jeff, to be honest, I believe you’re much too parochial in your worldview. When a John Edwards tells me he’s fighting for the poor, I always ask myself, “Why the American poor, who are so rich in a global context? Is it because they can vote?” Give a read to this article by Bob Geldof.

    If we’re really concerned with poverty (and I agree with you that we should be), it begins in Africa and parts of Asia. Compared to the holocaust of AIDS and malaria, kids without fathers (and I was one of them) are pretty small potatoes.


  12. You might be right.
    My line of work brings me into contact with the American poor, the under resourced, the disenfranchised. I feel a little frustrated because I think there are lots of folks who just don’t get; people who live in isolated little bubbles who think that the system is working fine.
    In some sense I do that too: my bubble includes certain populations. But it certainly leaves out others. Somebody with malaria desperately needs my help. I don’t brush shoulders with them every day, though, so it’s hard to make this need feel concrete in the same way that I feel the need of a student who is upset because a half day means that the school won’t be providing lunch, and he’ll end up hungry.
    (No, not all my students are this poorly off. Yes, I do everything I can to help. No, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.)
    I suppose I am guilty as charged around being parachial… But seriously, do you people want me to take on an internet presence that’s even more self-rightous and full of causes? 😉


  13. Jeff, where I disagree with the Left is that their solution to every problem is usually a massive government program which is expensive, inefficient, and chock full of unintended consequences (frequently making the people they’re trying to help worse off rather than better off). Where I disagree with the Right is the same reason you do – they frequently want to pretend that there is no problem at all.

    This is why I pointed you to the link above. My interest is primarily in solving those problems which can save as many lives as possible as cheaply as possible. (I’m willing to save lives which are expensive to save as well, but only after we’ve saved those lives which can be saved cheaply.) To this end, my top four projects are: 1) AIDS prevention in Africa, 2) malnutrition (micronutrients can be provided very cheaply), 3) free trade, eliminating subsidies and tariffs in the West which keep the global poor from benefiting from our markets, and 4) malaria prevention. All of these things can save massive numbers of lives for very cheap prices. Meanwhile, the Left wants to focus on global warming which would be massively more expensive and do far less good. (The good it does is primarily aimed at people 100 years from now, when the Third World, even in pessimistic scenarios, will be about as rich as the Dutch are now, the Dutch being of course much richer than that by then.)

    George W. Bush is pushing all of these projects. To be fair to the Left, he is getting their support on all of them except free trade. He is, however, receiving no credit at all from anyone. The Left are too busy hating him and the Right seem somewhat embarrassed by it. Of course, it’s partly his own fault. Bush is really quite abysmal at public relations; his father was similarly bad.

    The problems you seem to be focusing on A) certainly do not have cheap solutions (we have implemented all the cheap solutions here in America – the poor in America do not die of malaria), B) have unclear solutions (we know what we have to do to cure malnutrition, figuring out how to bring up fatherless boys is much harder), and C) would do far less good than the problems I am advocating we solve.


  14. Hello

    I’ve just uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]–i.e., Christopher Closeup– and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues with Catholic Worker homes in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s