This is part three of four parts on Rational/Radical Progressive Churches. Read the whole series for the background!
Continuing our conversation on the two different sides of Nate Silver’s Progressive chart, there’s one element that, by the label, differentiates Rational and Radical progressives: rationality. By naming one group “rational,” Nate automatically places the the radical progressives in the irrational camp. Nate seems to ascribe them with being irrational in implementation (wanting drastic change not incremental change) which isn’t as easy to achieve. Some commentors on the article seem to agree,
One thing of interest I might point out is there does seem to be a larger amount of paranoia on the radical progressive side. While in truth corporations get away with A LOT behind closed doors, it’s always interesting how many radical progressives, who are seemingly intelligent people, will believe the most elaborate and implausible conspiracy theories about them. (IE thousands of individuals involved in a 9/11 coverup, all working together, all keeping things quiet)
Read on to see how radicals (including political figures like Cindy Sheehan) tend to move to the fringe and lessons for the radical church on how to keep on message.
There does seem to be constellations of issues in radical progressivism, perhaps not out of emotion but out of like-mindedness. This like-mindedness can be a hinderance, however. Taking on the System, by the DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, talks about how Cindy Sheehan was originally very captivating and emotion-wrenching to people as she began her stakeout at the Bush ranch asking for his apology for sending her son to die in the unjust war in Iraq. But eventually, she was tolerant of other supportive groups to stake out with her, which watered down the radical message she was trying to proclaim
Sheehan’s tolerance of the likes of communists, socialists, PETA, and others watered down the narrative with subplots, as it were, and tarnished her credibility in the long run…[which] effectively created the type of circuslike protests that Americans had already seen a million times before.Taking on the System, 186
In other words, radicalism is always being lumped with other radical groups, which waters down the message. Whenever a figure tries to be everywoman (like Sheehan) they get lumped (or allow to get lumped) into the greater fringe movement and that neuters their effectiveness. But don’t blame the media, this is often intentionally done by the progressives themselves:
The principal difference, historically, between these two Enlightenment streams is that liberalism was the ideology born of the middle classes: business. In other words, those desiring to acquire democratic rights for themselves to the exclusion of those “beneath” them. Recall, please, how many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Radicalism, on the other hand, was the ideology born of the workers: those exploited by business. In other words, those desiring democratic rights, including the economic sphere, for all. So, of course, liberalism positions itself as rational, and radicalism as irrational. It’s important that the workers be seen as irrational in their desire to end their exploitation.
What does this mean for progressive churches? Be careful of the company you keep so as to not water-down the message. It’s OK to be radical in your message and actions (Jesus was! MLK was!), but in order to avoid diffusing the energy, the radical church must focus on one radical message at a time. There’s a reason why there are so many political organizations…they each have a topic they are passionate about and there are rational and radical groups for each topic.
It takes message focus to cut through the clutter, and it takes message discipline to keep from being distracted by the chatter. If you are going to be a radical church, pick something to be radical about and stay the course.