From the support given to Reagan and Bush's conservative economic agenda by the Religious Right, to the questioning of some features of American capitalism by the Catholic Bishops, Christians have been highly visible in the public forum during the last decade. In What Does the Lord Require?, Stephen Hart shows that the views on economic issues held by less vocal Christians are also grounded in deeply-held religious beliefs. For these grass roots Christians, Hart writes, faith lays in the foundation for views that range from staunchly conservative to radical.
Hart paints a rich portrait of how everyday Christians actually connect their faith to such issues as economic equality, government intervention, and the rights of private enterprise. Drawing on lengthy interviews, he makes a comprehensive analysis of forty-seven diverse Christians--Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, mainline Protestants, Jehovah's witnesses, and others--who range from manual laborers to corporate executives, from conservatives to socialists.
The results are sometimes surprising. On economic issues, Hart shows, evangelicals and fundamentalists are at least as liberal as mainline Protestants. One Missionary Alliance member, for example, bases her populist views on the ideas that we are all children of God and God favors the lowly. Many traditionalists come to liberalism through the belief that economic life should be governed by an ethical vision, not just market forces. Modernists, on the other hand, often desire and unbridled free market out of concern to maximize individual freedom.
Hart identifies five themes from Christian tradition--voluntarism, universalism, love, thisworldliness, and otherworldliness--that respondents repeatedly draw upon when they think about economic justice issues. He shows how these themes are used to support both conservative and liberal views, arguing that Christianity is a terrain of debate with no single inherent set of political implications, let alone the monolithic conservative ones promoted by the Christian Right. In fact, he writes, the respondents tend to speak in more liberal terms when they articulate the social implications of faith than when they talk about economic issues in purely secular terms. Christian faith this provides many Americans with a vision that can contribute to change in the direction of greater equality, community, and economic justice.
Most Americans are members of Christian churches, and the last decade has shown the tremendous impact politically active Christians can have. In What Does the Lord Require?, Stephen Hart offers a new understanding of how faith shapes the capacity of grass roots Christians to participate in public debate about economic life.show more