In early April, OLLI @Berkeley hosted its third Town Hall of the acadmic year "A Path to Unity? American Democracy, Social Trust, and Civil Society in the Biden Era" with a panel four esteemed campus colleagues who explored the topic from their unique vantage points:

  • Geeta Anand, Dean, Berkeley School of Journalism
  • Sandra Bass, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Public Service Center
  • Eliah Bures, visiting scholar, Berkeley Center for Right Wing Studies
  • David Hollinger, professor emeritus, History, UC Berkeley

Professor Darren Zook moderated. Over the course of an hour, the panel explored the prospects for rebuilding civil society and social trust, and possible pathways to racial justice and national healing. 

Follow-up Q&A with David Hollinger

After the Town Hall, we posed three questions to Professor Hollinger, which he was kind enough to answer here.

Rev. William Barber II says that when the rise of the Moral Majority became an important of our political scene, the Left overreacted and gave up on all American Christians. Did the Left go too far in dropping the whole constituency of Christians? Can the Left re-engage with progressive evangelicals?

The left-liberal critics of the Moral Majority rarely criticized Christianity as such, but only the versions of it offered by people like Falwell. Those criticisms were pretty much the same whether offered by secular liberals, or by progressive Protestants. The growth and increasing sectarianism of the Religious Right from the 1980s onward does appear to have motivated some people to leave the churches altogether, but the decline of ecumenical, mainline church membership had its own dynamic apart from that, determined largely by 1) declining birth rates as a result of the progressive ideas about sex and gender increasingly popular in those churches, and 2) the appeal of secular progressive movements that promised wider solidarities without having to wait for slower-to-modernize churchgoers to join in. The Left did not abandon Christianity as such; they abandoned versions of it that refused to move more decisively against racism, sexism, imperialism, homophobia, etc. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are people of faith. They are examples of how easy it is to be politically liberal and Christian at the same time.

Is the primary motivation for Evangelicals to the Republican party the single issue of overturning Roe v. Wade? If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, is it likely that they will remain in the Republican party? Or is it possible that the young Evangelicals who care about the planet and others might be equally charged to address climate change? 

Lots of younger evangelicals are indeed moving away from the kinds of attitudes that make Trump appealing. But their numbers, like Hayhoe of Texas Tech, remain quite small, and lots of evangelical pastors are reluctant to say what they believe because their parishioners will throw them out. Abortion is a big part of it now, but that is not a result of Roe v Wade. Five years after that decision in 1973, there was very little “pro-life” organizing. But Ronald Reagan’s advisors worked up a plan to use abortion as a way to get the support of evangelical voters who were committed to tradition gender roles, and could be perusaded that female reproductive autonomy was a threat to "the family" as they undrstood it. The issue was largely manufactured, and have almost no Biblical basis, but was pushed by Phylllis Schaffley and others as a way of defending “the family.” It was anti-feminism, not Biblical authority that created the issue and continues to sustain it. 

Do you recommend any authors or leaders of progressive Christianity?

For progressive Christianity working from an evangelical foundation I recommend SOJOURNERS, and Jim Wallis. For those working from an ecumenical foundation, I recommend CHRISTIAN CENTURY, and William Barber.