Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Theory of Change #075: Gene Zubovich on the forgotten history of liberal Protestantism

Theory of Change #075: Gene Zubovich on the forgotten history of liberal Protestantism


The middle part of the twentieth century wasn’t that long ago and yet in some ways, it seems like it was an eternity ago. That’s particularly true in regards to the public branding of American Christianity, which nowadays is often associated with right-wing evangelicalism, including among Christians who disagree.

In the Mid-20th century, however, American Christian public discourse was very different, and it was dominated by Protestants who were theologically liberal. Public intellectuals and leaders like John Foster Dulles, G. Bromley Oxnam, and William Ernest Hocking are mostly unknown to people today but, in their time, they were nationally famous.

They often disagreed on the particulars with each other. But overwhelmingly, this group of ecumenical Protestants wanted interfaith dialogue and alliances, and they were some of the earliest white supporters of black civil rights.

They also worked for the creation of global systems that they hoped would protect human rights and religious freedom, such as the United Nations. Nowadays, the only people who use the term new world order are far right conspiracy theorists, but it's worth understanding that the ideas that today's right wing activist rail against actually have a history of their own.

And joining me today to talk about the religious left and how it came to play a major role in the creation of the political order of the 20th century, and what later came afterward with the religious right is Gene Zenovich, and he is the author of a new book called Before the Religious Right, Liberal Protestants, Human Rights and the Polarization of the United States. And he is also professor at the University at Buffalo.


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