October 4, 2004
Human Rights Bedfellows
Martin E. Marty
David Neff, in October's Christianity Today, acknowledges that evangelicals,
the front-liners in nineteenth and twentieth century Protestant missions, were
slow to advance religious freedom in the places they served. Knowing that they
needed to maintain good will with their host governments, they did not immediately
perceive the need. Now, Neff, calling attention to Allen D. Hertzke's Freeing
God's Children: the Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights, sees them
in the front line of this cause today. According to Neff and Hertzke, evangelicals
partner with "Roman Catholics, Jews, secularists, and feminists to address
an array of human-rights issues."
Both stress the "unlikeliness" of the partnership. Evangelicals must have had to hold their noses as they made some of the alliances, in the mode of Alfred North Whitehead's lines, "Great ideas enter into reality with evil associates and with disgusting alliances. But the greatness remains, nerving the race in its slow ascent." The "unlikely" hero of Hertzke's book is Michael Horowitz, who agitated for the cause and got some kinds of evangelicals and some kinds of Jews to link up. I don't share his enthusiasm for Horowitz, but I wouldn't use Whitehead's adjectives. Hertzke has a positive intent about the "great ideas."
University of Oklahoma professor (and friend) Hertzke details the rise and achievements of this "unlikely alliance," in ways that will inform and sometimes surprise. He delights in pointing to the foot-dragging, wrong linking, and even wrong side-taking on the part of those called "mainline Protestants," everyone else's whipping-persons these days, along with "liberal" secularists. He makes it seem as if the mainliners never pioneered, never cared for human rights, almost never chose the proper side in struggles through a whole century. Try again.
Were Hertzke and I across the table from each other, I'd push two fat books over to him: Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective, 1,267 pages in two volumes. Evangelicals would call all but two or three of the essayists therein "non-evangelical," though many are on the conservative side of mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and more. The contributors produce thousands of citations that illustrate pioneering work on the "non-evangelical" front, which gets short-shrifted (e.g., pp. 89-92) in Hertzke. I've not figured out why, while making a case for one kind of "alliance," it is necessary to trash others. In olden days, it was evangelicals who were often scorned.
Sightings does not regularly review books, but we scan the press, so we took note of Neff's reading of Hertzke. He summarizes the learning points for evangelicals: "First, conservative politics need not mean captivity to business interests ... Second, we must successfully partner with those of other faiths and no faith at all to affect the course of history ... Third, we win credibility when we work to do good for those outside our family of faith. And fourth, we sorely need deeper theological reflection on the nature of political activity."
Hertzke's book is "a call to sanctified pragmatism, negotiation, and cooperation," says Neff. Most of the causes they take up merit attention from across the spectrum of religionists in the "free" world.
Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. By Allen D. Hertzke. Rowman & Littlefield.
Religious Human Rights in Global Perspectives: Legal Perspectives (Vol. I), Religious Perspectives (Vol. II). Edited by Johan D. Van Der Vyver and John Witte, Jr. Martinus Nijhoff.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.