The Roots of the Tea Party War on Social Justice

The orthodox Protestant critique of the Social Gospel has been inverted: Capitalism is the Social Gospel.

By + More

Since Andrew Sullivan kindly linked to my post on the ongoing proxy culture wars, I'd like to preemptively clarify what I meant by the "older intradenominational debate" over "social justice" among Catholics.

Sharp readers may already have asked, "Galupo, what could you possibly mean by 'older'? Orthodox Protestants have been arguing against 'social justice' for at least as long as Catholics have—and probably longer!"

This is true.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

Here's my train of thought: Speaking of the period between 1896-1925—the Age of William James Bryan, he calls it—the great historian of Christianity Mark A. Noll wrote

The more self-consciously evangelical groups within American Protestantism had begun to make a distinction between the application of the gospel to society and a gospel defined by the social needs of the period. They were, that is, beginning to be suspicious of what Walter Rauschenbusch would call the Social Gospel.

In other words, orthodox Protestants were concerned, not unjustifiably, that the core gospel message—Jesus Christ died and rose again to atone for the sins of humanity—was being bent for secular purposes. Fundamentally, the gospel is about the next world, not this one. This critique actually predates by quite a few decades the rise of " seamless garment" Catholicism, a pro-life-across-the-board movement that opposes the death penalty and "economic injustice."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

So what did I mean by implying that Protestants are up to something new?

I grew up in a nondenominational Bible church, and I'm a regular churchgoer today, and this is my sense of what's going on in the age of Prosperity Theology. Conservative evangelicals no longer merely oppose the social justice perversion of the basic gospel message. Many now go further; they believe that capitalism and the free market are part of God's blueprint for human society. And so, even if politicians are inclined to limit economic liberty for reasons that have nothing to do with the Social Gospel, they are, in effect, violating not just the gospels, but all of scripture.

(If you think I exaggerate, watch this video series on " Christian Economics" by Summit Ministries.)

The orthodox Protestant critique of the Social Gospel has thus been inverted: Capitalism is the Social Gospel.

This is the energy that that Tea Party has tapped into.

This is culture war by proxy.