Before the Religious Right: Liberal Protestants, Human Rights, and the Polarization of the United States by Gene Zubovich

Reviewed by LJ Frank

 A perspective: I found this (2022) text to be a thought-provoking, scholarly study. It retains an academic appeal rather than for the general reader yet is accessible to the lay person. It may seem old news for some whereas, others may find it quite informative.

The content:

Part I

The Introduction talks about the Global Gospel, American Politics. (This includes the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the dignity of man, and the role of the World Council of Churches among other concerns.

Part One

Chapter 1 Protestant Political Mobilization in the Great Depression

Chapter 2 The Coming War and the Pacifist-Realist Split            

Chapter 3 The World Order Movement

Chapter 4 “A Non-Segregated Church and a Non-Segregated Society”

Part II. Two Worlds 

Chapter 6 Beyond the Cold War

Chapter 7 Segregation Is a Sin

Chapter 8 The Responsible Society

Chapter 9 Christian Economics and the Clergy-Laity Gap

EPILOGUE. Global Gospel, American Fault Lines

While reading this voluminous (408 pages) study my mind ventured back to the “social Gospel” reminiscent of Walter Rauschenbusch in the early 1900s and his Christianity in Social Crisis.  Yes this is history, both political and religious and the downstream effects of the ecumenical movment among other forces.  Admittedly it’s a very complex subject.  History is complicated and even more so depending on your social, political, economic, and religious views and if you were a participant in some of the events the author describes.

This work focuses on leadership within the church and critical issues ranging from human welfare, racial conflict, segregation, the Vietnam War, the violence of poverty, discrimination, the nature and scope of activism within the the influence of liberal Protestantism.Tthe blurring lens between theology and politics is disturbing. .

The author observes that the New “Christian” Right cannot be explained outside the connection of evangelicalism rising in the early decades of the 20th century and the issues becoming global.

As an aside, Martin Marty (American religious scholar) in his work titled, Pilgrims In Their own Land, 500 years of Religion in America, notes the New Christian Right and the sense of belonging to something greater than oneself that it provided. Culture, religion, and politics overlap.  Issues are never clear cut. With that idea in mind the excellent study, Building a Protestant Left, Christianity and Crisis Magazine, 1941-1993 Mark Hulsether, PhD,  offers an in depth insight to that overlapping nature with an exceptional eye for detail.

Zubovich’s bibliography and footnotes are well worth the review.

I would add that globalism and nationalism have taken many twists and turns beyond the evangelical spirit and to the very premise of capitalism, and materialism. The polarization shaping activism has had far reaching effects. Religious, cultural, and political values are experiencing a metamorphosis.  The nature of activism is being revised with authoritarian overreach, and the lines are purposefully blurred between information and disinformation. The value of this work lay in the questions it generates. This work is a worthwhile reference tool.